Who Is In Charge

Higher ed strategic plan has a name

A day after a prominent legislator questioned the need for a new higher education strategic plan, members of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education got a look at what that process might look like.

Rico Munn, new director of the Department of Higher Education, gave commissioners a three-page “concept paper” for what he’s calling the Colorado P.E.A.K Plan. The document was to be circulated to college presidents around the state later in the day.

The newest entry in the thick lexicon of education acronyms stands for:

  • P – Purpose
  • E – Excellence
  • A – Access
  • K – K-12 transition

According to Munn’s brief memo, the strategic plan is designed to address what the state needs from its higher ed system, the current funding crisis, other challenges and its relationship to the K-12 system.

And, the memo says, the plan “must provide for clear accountability measures.” (Accountability, including such ideas as tying funding to students graduated, not just students enrolled, is a hot topic in higher ed nationally.)

Munn plans to meet with college presidents about the plan next week, “with an eye toward doing some sort of launch event on Dec. 15.” According to the document, “the strategic planning process should be launched by a clear articulation of goals by the governor.”

The memo said the goals “could include some mix of” doubling the number of postsecondary degrees and certificates awarded (Gov. Bill Ritter’s Colorado Promise), increase in overall postsecondary participation, a larger role for community colleges, “targeted” improvements in remediation and retention, developing “some measure” for affordability and accessibility and “a standard for efficiency and sustainability” of the state system.

What’s envisioned is a steering committee, with two co-chairs, that would supervise the work of subcommittees. The memo says the steering committee would focus on developing accountability measures while the subcommittees would be organized by the P.E.A.K. acronym, to wit:

  • Purpose – Would examine changing demographics and projected needs for higher ed, institutional roles and relationships with business.
  • Excellence – In charge of examining governance and regulation, construction and data gathering.
  • Accessibility – Responsible for working on budget issues, financial aid and system efficiencies.
  • K-12 Transition – Assigned to work on admissions, remediation and retention.

The memo ends with this cryptic sentence; “Adequate project funding has been identified in the budgets of the governor’s office and the Department of Higher Education.”

Munn told the commissioners, meeting at Community College of Aurora, that the steering committee would periodically report back to them, and the final report would be done by the fall of 2010.

Commissioner Greg Stevinson, noting the group had received the memo only three hours before the meeting, said, “We need time as a group to sit down and look at this.”

Commissioner Happy Haynes, noting the governor’s role in the plan, said she “would hope we can have a dialogue with him.”

But, the commission had no further discussion of the matter Thursday.

On Wednesday, Munn and CCHE Chair Jim Polsfut met with the Joint Budget Committee for the panel’s annual higher ed briefing.

JBC Chair Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, questioned the need for a strategic plan, noting that Ritter’s first term will be ending and that many are calling for action now to deal with higher ed’s financial crisis (see story about that meeting).

Munn gave the commission a cursory rundown on that JBC meeting, noting facetiously “that was as pleasant as root canals can be.”

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.