Who Is In Charge

Turnaround bill delayed for more work

A bill that proposes changes in how districts handle turnaround schools drew lots of interest in the Senate Education Committee but was pulled off the table Thursday at the sponsor’s request.

Andrea Merida
DPS board member Andrea Merida testified in favor of a turnaround schools bill on Feb. 24, 2011. Sponsor Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, is behind her.

Witnesses supporting the bill included critics of the Denver Public Schools’ reform plans in Far Northeast Denver and the Colorado Education Association. Opponents included officials of the Department of Education and leaders of education reform groups. The 14 witnesses were equally divided pro and con.

Senate Bill 11-080 sponsor Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, seemed a bit uncomfortable about her bill being tied to the long-running DPS controversy. After testimony had ended, she told her fellow committee members, “I don’t want this bill to be about Denver Public Schools or the Far Northeast neighborhood.”

Later, she told Education News Colorado, “I don’t want to make this about Montbello High School.” A split DPS board last year approved a massive restructuring of schools in the Montbello attendance area; see this story for background.

The bill would require a school board to conduct a public meeting before adopting a turnaround plan and also require that a summary of the meeting along with any recommendations by the school accountability committee be submitted to the Department of Education along with the board’s turnaround plan.

The bill also would add two options to the list of strategies used for turnaround schools – clustering of schools in a geographic area and use of various research-based strategies, such as teacher professional development. (Bill text and legislative staff summary.)

DPS board member Andrea Merida testified for the bill, repeatedly referring to the Montbello area controversy. She said, “This bill will allow a voice for parents.” If the bill had been in effect two years ago, she argued, “We could have had a much more collaborative process” and DPS would have been “compelled to have” genuine stakeholder input.

Merida has been a persistent critic of reform initiatives by DPS administration and the current board majority. District administration is on record opposing the bill, according to a Jan. 20 filing with the secretary of state by lobbyist Tanya Kelly-Bowry.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver (file photo)

Committee member Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, politely disagreed with Merida’s view of the Montbello controversy, saying, “Even though we may have disagreed on the outcome, Landri and others made sure it [public comment] was very, very robust.”

Johnston, one of the legislature’s leading education reform proponents, was referring to Landri Taylor, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver and longtime northeast Denver activist. Taylor testified against the bill.

“You’re saying the current system works and you’re part of it?” asked committee chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins.

“Yes,” Taylor replied.

Rich Wenning, associate commissioner of education, conveyed to the committee the State Board of Education’s formal opposition to the bill. “We are not supportive of additional requirements on districts at a time when we are trying to reduce requirements.” Wenning added that the bill isn’t necessary, saying, “The options in this bill are already permitted by law.”

Representatives of Education Reform Now, Stand for Children, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and Colorado Succeeds also opposed the bill.

After the nearly two hours of testimony ended, Hudak asked Bacon to take the bill off the table so she could “work with the stakeholders to try to come up with a better plan than this first draft.” He quickly agreed.

The bill has an interesting set of cosponsors, including Bacon and committee member Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Gilpin County. Other Senate cosponsors include Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs; Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo and sponsor of the undocumented students tuition bill; Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver and a former DPS board member; and Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver and a former education committee member.

While not signed on to the bill, committee member Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, seemed sympathetic Thursday. “I don’t see why this is such a big deal,” he said of the state board’s objections to the bill.

The only House sponsors are Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora and a retired teacher, and freshman Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs. The measure has no Republicans signed on.

Another pending measure, House Bill 11-1126, also would require districts to formally notify parents of a school’s turnaround designation and hold public hearings. Provisions requiring districts to adopt parent involvement policies were stripped from the bill, which now merely “encourages” districts to do that.

The amended bill received final House floor approval earlier this week. Its sponsors are freshman Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver and a former union official, and Hudak.

A hard week

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster (file photo)

Hudak has had a tough few days promoting her bills.

After SB 11-080 was heard, she presented Senate Bill 11-070 to the committee. The latter measure proposed that the comprehensive services that developmentally disabled high school students receive through individual education plans be carried into college.

There’s been resistance to the bill from higher education, and Hudak acknowledged Thursday that it may conflict with federal law.

She offered an amendment that dramatically changes the bill, removing its requirements and merely adding higher education representatives to the existing state Special Education Advisory Committee and assigning that committee to study issues related to disabled college students.

On Wednesday, Hudak’s Senate Bill 11-069 also got turned into a study assignment for yet another panel, the Charter School and Charter Authorizer Standards Review Committee. The bill originally proposed that CDE regulate educational management organizations, the companies and non-profits often used to manage charter schools.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”

reaction

Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”