Tuesday Churn: One of each

Updated 2:40 p.m. – Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper today reached back into the Owens administration for his new budget director – and he put the current budget chief into a new role.

Henry Sobanet will be director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, a role he held from 1999 to 2004 under Republican Bill Owens. In recent years, Sobanet has run a private consulting firm and he was a legislative staff economist before joining the Owens team.

Todd Saliman, a former legislator who has been Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s OSPB director, is becoming a “senior advisor” to Hickenlooper. According to a news release, “He will serve in his new role part time for several months and advise the Hickenlooper-Garcia administration on budget, policy, legislative, efficiency and operational issues.”

The key takeaway from the appointments is that the incoming administration will have two members intimately familiar with the state budget and its problems, including the financial challenges facing both K-12 schools and higher education.

Hickenlooper has made a flurry of cabinet appointments this week, but there’s no word yet on the executive director of the Department of Higher Education, currently lawyer Rico Munn. The governor, of course, doesn’t appoint the commissioner of education. The State Board of Education has hired a search firm to help in its hunt for a Dwight Jones replacement.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

U.S. Department of Education officials have invited district and union leaders from 2,000 school districts to participate in a “conference on labor-management collaboration” set for Denver on Feb. 15 and 16.

“We have seen how good labor-management relations can create the conditions that drive student success so we want to bring together leaders in labor and management who are committed to collaboration around bold reforms,” federal schools chief Arne Duncan said in Monday’s press release.

To participate, a district’s school board president, superintendent and teacher union leader must all agree to attend. And all three must “further pledge to collaboratively develop and implement policies in such areas as: setting strategic direction to advance student achievement and aligning all labor-management work with this overarching focus … ” the release states.

You can read the full release here. Denver Public Schools spokesman Mike Vaughn said Douglas County is co-hosting the event, perhaps because the Denver teachers’ union is an NEA affiliate and Dougco’s union is an affiliate of the AFT.

In August, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel chose Denver as the first city in a weeklong national tour highlighting reform initiatives in which teachers’ unions are playing a key role. In Denver, that includes the teacher-led Math and Science Leadership Academy and work around a major Gates grant on teacher effectiveness. But the Denver Classroom Teachers Association is no pushover in district-union matters and its president, Henry Roman, has yet to confirm he’s attending the February conference.

“I think it’s always a good idea to have conversations about how we can improve the work we’re currently doing in DPS, because the working conditions of teachers are the learning conditions of students,” he said late Monday. “We’re definitely willing to be a part.”

But the union and district are beginning some tough conversations about contract changes to article 13, which governs teacher assignments and transfers. Roman said there’s disagreement about the implementation of the educator effectiveness law, particularly in its changes for teachers unable to find jobs without district placement help.

The new law limits how long teachers with more than three years of experience can remain on a district’s payroll if something happens at their current school – such as an enrollment decline – and they can’t secure a position elsewhere. Denver union and district leaders disagree on when that clock is supposed to start, Roman said.

“The law is very open to interpretation,” he said. “We have to know the bottom line about this issue by Jan. 15,” in time for the spring staffing cycle for 2011-12.

The outcome of the talks will determine whether he attends the labor-management conference, Roman said, or begins preparing for court to seek a declaratory judgment on the “mutual consent” portion of the educator effectiveness law.

What’s on tap:

Tonight, Aurora Public Schools board members continue their conversation about changing graduation requirements, including adding a year of math and allowing students more freedom in choosing their electives. Changes would likely be effective with the Class of 2015. Board action on the issue is slated at their next meeting, Jan. 18. We’re still waiting for that handy link to the proposed changes and we’ll post it as soon as we get it. Meanwhile, here’s the full agenda for tonight’s 6 p.m. meeting, which includes minutes from the last board discussion about the issue. The meeting is at the usual place, 1085 Peoria St.

Good reads from elsewhere:

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”