Who Is In Charge

SBE races fly under political radar

If history, voter registration and fund raising are any indications, the State Board of Education after Tuesday’s election will look similar to the board that’s been operating for the last two years.

Colorado Department of Education
Colorado Department of Education

The board has four Republicans and three Democrats now, and most observers expect those numbers won’t change, but there will be at least two new faces in seats that are being vacated.

The new group faces major tasks in the next year, including the hiring of a new commissioner, implementation of the educator effectiveness law and selection of a new testing system.

And the new board will face a changed political landscape, with a new governor and possible changes in party control at the legislature.

Here are snapshots of candidates in this year’s races:

2nd District

Kaye Ferry (R) – A businesswoman and active party member, she also served 19 years as executive director of the Vail Chamber and Business Association. (Website)

Angelika Schroeder (D) – An accountant and former Boulder School Board member and college professor, Schroeder was named to the board in 2008 to fill a vacancy and is on the ballot for the first time. (Website)

5th District

Karl Beck (D) – The Colorado Springs resident is studying to be a teacher and has worked in the non-profit sector. (Website)

Paul Lundeen (R) – A businessman and investment advisor from Monument, Lundeen also has worked in politics and journalism. (Website)

6th District

Debora Scheffel (R) – A resident of Parker, Scheffel has extensive education experience and specializations in literacy, special education and assessment. She’s a special assistant to the commissioner for literacy, dean of the school of education at Jones International University and formerly taught at the University of Northern Colorado. (Website)

William Townend (D) – A retired medical researcher who started his career as a teacher, Townend lives in Aurora. (Website)

History of SBE races

State board races are generally low-profile affairs, with very modest campaign spending and little visibility for many voters. (For example, in 2008 273,994 votes were cast for the two candidates in the race for the 6th District seat in the U.S. House, while 258,288 votes were case for the two SBE candidates in that district. There was a similar under vote in the 3rd District.)

Election results for SBE candidates historically mirror voter registration patterns in individual districts. A review of election results back to 1996 shows that Democrats have won every SBE election in the 2nd District, while Republicans always have won in the 5th and 6th districts. (District boundaries changed somewhat for the 2002 election because of the 2000 census.)

Among active registered voters, the 2nd District currently is 38 percent Democratic, while Republicans are at 47 percent in the 5th and 43 percent in the 6th. Unaffiliated voters are the second-largest group in all three districts.

In the last 16 years, all SBE incumbents who sought election (including those appointed between elections) were victorious.

This year, Schroeder, Lundeen and Scheffel lead in fundraising in their respective races (see this story for details).

Candidates on the issues

Education News Colorado surveyed the six candidates for their view on state education issues. Here’s a summary of what each said:

2nd DISTRICT

Kaye Ferry
Kaye Ferry

Kaye Ferry

  • School funding: “My first guess would be that education has a lot of waste in the system. … Education, like every other component of government, needs to take a long hard look at how it operates and cut back like everyone else.”
  • Selecting a new commissioner: “There’s no need to move at record speed, it’s far more important to pick the right person. It will have to be someone unafraid to confront the status quo because we know that hasn’t worked.”
  • Common Core Standards: Favors rescinding Colorado’s adoption.
  • Testing: “Education has to be about more than that [testing] but it also must have some methods for measuring not only what the students are learning but how we stack up against other states and other countries.” Open to Colorado participation in a multi-state testing program.
  • Race to the Top: Would want to review the criteria if the program is extended but generally is concerned about losing control to the federal government.

Angelika Schroeder
Angelika Schroeder

Angelika Schroeder

  • School funding: She didn’t comment in detail because board members are defendants in the Lobato v. Colorado school funding lawsuit but did say she feels constitutional change probably will be required.
  • Selecting a new commissioner: Wants a new commissioner who can continue Jones’ strong relationships with a wide variety of education groups and interests. “While there remain some areas of needed improvement and alignment, I do not support bringing in a new leader to take us in a new direction. The current efforts have not had enough time or work to see them through.”
  • Common Core Standards: “Using common core standards for our students just makes sense.”
  • Testing: Supports a new testing system that has shorter tests, faster results and both formative and summative tests. Supports including results on a student’s transcript. Supports participation in multi-state tests while reserving the option for Colorado to withdraw.
  • Race to Top: Would support reapplying but only if district backing of the state plan is stronger than was the case with the last application.

5th DISTRICT

Karl Beck
Karl Beck

Karl Beck

  • School funding: “I really don’t think that it is the amount of money that is spent per student as much as how it is spent.”
  • Selecting a new commissioner: “The commissioner should have experience both in business and education. … I think the replacement should be found as soon as possible.”
  • Common Core Standards: “I truly believe that there should be some common core standards that are taught to all students in math, science and language arts.”
  • Testing: “We must also remember that some of us may know the curriculum in question but do poorly on tests. One solution may be to develop other ways to test our students.”
  • Race to the Top: Supports applying if the program is continued.

Paul Lundeen
Paul Lundeen

Paul Lundeen

  • School funding: He says schools need to figure out how to “provide an increasing level of service when increased dollars aren’t necessarily available.”
  • Selecting a new commissioner: “I would like to see a visionary who’s not afraid to challenge well-worn, shopworn conventional ideas.” He complimented Jones’ work but said, “Does that mean we stay exactly on the same path? Probably not.”
  • Common Core Standards: “I believe that education should be local” and generally leans toward state standards.
  • Testing: “Deserves more attention and study on my part.”
  • Race to the Top: “We’re looking for funding wherever we can get it” but doesn’t want “to get sucked into some common denominator, a lower common denominator.”

6th DISTRICT

Debora Scheffel
Debora Scheffel

Debora Scheffel

Scheffel did not respond to EdNews’ questions. On her website she writes, “We must preserve what is best about public education and reform those aspects that do not serve our students and families well” and that focus needs to be placed on “parental choice and involvement, accountability, teacher empowerment and instructional excellence.”

In a May interview with the Colorado Statesman, Scheffel said she believes her special education background would be helpful on the board, supports the educator effectiveness law, wants to make sure the public is getting excellence in exchange for education funding and supports financial help for parents who place special needs children in non-public schools.

William Townend
William Townend

William Townend

  • School funding: “K-12 education is not adequately funded under the present structure. …
    The best short-term solution is increasing operational efficiency. This should start with a complete and careful cost accounting, followed by a cost benefit analysis for all programs.”
  • Selecting a new commissioner: “I would like to see a commissioner who is at least as committed to sensible change as Dr. Jones. I would like to see greater change. … I would certainly favor someone who would set individualization and use of 21st century technology as priorities.”
  • Common Core Standards: Does not support state participation in the program.
  • Testing: Supports quick turnaround testing that helps teachers work with students who are lagging and supports use of multi-state tests.
  • Race to the Top: Favors reapplication only after a careful cost-benefit analysis.

All candidates who responded to the survey said they generally support the directions established by recent education reform legislation, including the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, the Innovation Schools Act, the new district accountability system and the new educator effectiveness law. Townend expressed some concerns about the innovation schools and educator effectiveness laws.

About the SBE

The board has operated in relative public harmony since the 2008 election, which brought one newcomer, Republican Marcia Neal of the 3rd District, to the board. Democrats Elaine Gantz Berman of the 1st District and Jane Goff of the 7th District also were elected that year but had been appointed earlier to fill vacancies. Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District was elected in 2006.

Leaving the board are Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, after one full term and Randy DeHoff, R-6th District, vice chair, the board’s longest serving member and former head of the Charter School Institute. He was first elected in 1998.

Members are part-time, unpaid and can serve two six-year terms. (Map of districts.)

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: