Who Is In Charge

Superintendent: Waiver best for small district

A tiny Eastern Plains school district is seeking a waiver from one education reform law by invoking the terms of a different reform statute.

The 109-student Kit Carson district wants to be declared an innovation district, allowed under a 2008 law, and as part of that move basically wants to be exempted from the 2010 educator effectiveness law.

Kit Carson School gym
Kit Carson School gym

It’s the first time a district – however small – has requested innovation status, and the application is the first “challenge” to Senate Bill 10-191, the effectiveness measure, a law that isn’t fully in effect and for which regulations haven’t been written.

Because of the unusual nature of the case, the State Board of Education Thursday heard a briefing on the application, even though it won’t be heard formally until next month.

“Today we have an interesting example of competing state and local priorities for all of you to grapple with,” Associate Commissioner Rich Wenning told the board. “The application before you is an important one in terms of the precedent it sets.”

Gerald Keefe, Kit Carson superintendent and a long-time advocate for the special needs of rural districts, pitched his case to the board.

“This is an application that’s rural based … very specific to Kit Carson. … We’re not trying to set a precedent.”

Kit Carson’s innovation application proposes to waive many of the educator evaluation procedures of SB 10-191 and allow the district to give teachers multi-year contracts, change the basis for evaluations and hire non-licensed teachers.

Keefe pointed out the absurdity of applying SB 10-191’s requirement that principal evaluations be based 50 percent on student growth. Noting that he’s both superintendent and principal, Keefe asked, “What’s the school board going to do, fire half of me?”

“This is about the future of the school. … We think it meets the intent of Senate Bill 08-130,” the innovation law.

The district has a single building for its preK-12 student body and about 30 staff members, including 17 teachers.

Some board members expressed skepticism at the idea.

Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, said, “I haven’t heard the innovation” in the plan. She suggested Kit Carson should help pilot implementation of SB 10-191.

“This is an application that works best for Kit Carson R-1 School District. … This works well in rural Colorado,” Keefe said.

The Kit Carson discussion came just a day after the board received a new report on rural districts. Much of that document was in line with Keefe’s overall sentiments.

One part of the study noted, “Superintendents feel that the reform initiatives coming from Denver and Washington, D.C., one after another, have not really addressed the needs or concerns of rural schools. … This churn of new initiatives and reform efforts has lead to considerable frustration and distrust.” Read the report.

School districts of all sizes have become increasingly restive about the flurry of state mandates in recent years, not necessarily with the direction of reform but about the difficulties of implementing new systems without adequate funding and support.

Read Kit Carson’s innovation application here and see comments by CDE officials.

Board acts in Prospect Ridge Academy appeal

Also Thursday, the board voted 5-2 to assert its jurisdiction in a case involving the Prospect Ridge Academy charter school and Adams 12-Five Star district. The school board had unanimously passed a resolution prohibiting Prospect Ridge from developing a proposed site following concerns raised by the Broomfield Zoning Commission. Prospect Ridge Academy appealed to the state board, but Adams 12 claimed the state board does not have jurisdiction over site location issues.

The action sends the issue back to the local school board and probably will return to the state board on appeal. Charter school appeals usually involve differences between only a school board and a charter and don’t involve a third, independent government entity such as a city.

Next steps in commissioner search

The state board Thursday got an update on the hunt for a new education commissioner by the search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea. The consultants told the board they’ve completed their surveys and interviews of education leaders and groups about desired characteristics of a new commissioner.

The board is tentatively scheduled to meet by conference call Monday to try to narrow that list of characteristics so that the consultants have a better of idea of what kinds of candidates to look for.

Read the consultants’ report on their surveys and interviews about what’s needed in a new commissioner.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.