changing of the guard

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia resigning two state posts

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia (Manual Martinez/Viva Colorado)

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration’s most prominent voice on education issues, is resigning both his elected post and as head of the Department of Higher Education.

Garcia will become president of the Boulder-based Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, an organization of 15 western states that works to improve access to higher education. The timing of his leaving the state roles is to be determined.

Garcia told Chalkbeat Colorado he decided to leave state service because of the timing of the career opportunity. Longtime President David Longanecker is retiring and urged Garcia to seek the job.

“It was tough, because I love what I’m doing now,” Garcia said. But moving to the new position “gives me the opportunity to work on the same things I’ve been working on for the state,” such as college access, completion and affordability.

Asked if he felt any dissatisfaction with his current roles, Garcia said, “Not at all. This governor has been great to work for. Most lieutenant governors don’t have the kind of support I’ve had.”

Garcia, a former president of both Colorado State University-Pueblo and Pikes Peak Community College, was something of a surprise pick when Hickenlooper chose him as running mate in 2010. Garcia hadn’t previously run for elected office.

Hickenlooper popped another surprise in January 2011 when he named Garcia executive director of the Department of Higher Education. The lieutenant governor’s office has few duties of its own, and appointing the lieutenant governor to head a state agency was unprecedented.

The appointment signaled a key administration role for Garcia on education issues, including implementation of K-12 reforms, early childhood education and college affordability, which the governor and Garcia made their top education priorities.

Garcia has been closely involved in such issues and initiatives as coping with college and university budget cuts, creation of a higher education master plan and implementation of the higher education performance-funding system mandated by the legislature in 2014. He also was a leading voice on issues of higher education access, affordability and completion.

He’s also had a high profile on early childhood issues, including centralization of state early childhood education programs and the state’s ultimately successful bid for federal Race to the Top early childhood funding.

Last January, as criticism of testing and other state requirements mounted ahead of the 2015 legislative session, Garcia spoke out and urged state leaders not to back down on education reforms.

Garcia said he is most satisfied with his role in passing education legislation, including READ Act early literacy law and early childhood education bills.

“I’ve been very pleased with the progress we’ve made,” he said.

Asked about future education challenges for the state, Garcia cited lack of investment in education.

“We should not be cutting higher education and K-12 in a time of rising prosperity,” he said. “… One of the biggest challenges will be convincing the people to invest in our future by investing in our educational institutions.”

Hickenlooper has joked that Garcia was the more glamorous half of the team. Garcia’s shaved head, goatee and fondness for motorcycles made him a distinctive figure.

Garcia said he kept Hickenlooper informed about the opportunity with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education all along.

“I listed him as a reference,” Garcia said. He was offered the new job about a week ago.

Hickenlooper said in a statement, “Joe will be nearly impossible to replace. He has been an exceptional lieutenant governor and in leading education efforts for Colorado. He has given five years selflessly to the success of this state and the future education of our children.”

The state constitution requires Hickenlooper to nominate a candidate for lieutenant governor who must be confirmed by majority vote of both houses of the legislature. The terms of Hickenlooper and the new lieutenant governor will end after the 2018 election.

Garcia said he’ll stay in office as long as Hickenlooper wants him to but needs to start his new position by July 1.

Asked about any future interest in elected office, Garcia said, “I have not thought about it. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it is the right role for me.”

Higher ed leaders praise Garcia

Other higher education leaders were complimentary in their assessments of Garcia’s work. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Lt. Gov. Garcia has been a great advocate for higher education in Colorado and will truly be missed. I wish him well at WICHE and know that he will continue to be a leader nationally in higher education and a strong advocate for student access and success.” – Nancy McCallin, president of the community college system
  • “I am sincerely happy for Lt. Gov Garcia. His unique background as a community college and university President, as well as the executive director of CDHE will be a true asset to WICHE. I look forward to continuing to work with him to enhance student opportunities and higher education policy among the WICHE institutions and states.” – Steve Jordan, president of Metropolitan State University
  • “Joe Garcia has had a long history of service to education and has added much to the discussion.” – University of Colorado President Bruce Benson

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.