the commish

Former Arizona lawmaker, Wyoming schools chief is pick for Colorado education commissioner

The Colorado Department of Education.

A Republican former state lawmaker from Arizona who briefly served as the chief of schools in Wyoming is in line to become Colorado’s next education commissioner.

The State Board of Education, which has been bitterly divided over a number of contentious issues over the last year, voted 6-0 Monday to name Richard Crandall, 48, sole finalist for the position.

Considered to be a moderate Republican, Crandall played a key role in ushering in major changes to education policy in Arizona, including backing the state’s adoption of the Common Core state standards and crafting a teacher evaluation law.

He is poised to begin work in Colorado at a critical juncture, as a hard-fought rewrite of the nation’s signature education law shifts responsibilities away from the federal government and to states.

“It’s my goal to be very open and transparent, to listen to all regardless of political persuasion, whether it’s the far right, far left or right in the middle,” Crandall said Monday in an interview. “The passion for education in Colorado is off the charts. And that’s probably why we’ve had some of the big blowups over the last few years …”

“If people want to have engaging conversations about data privacy, about assessments, about teacher evaluations … I’d rather have people who are engaged than people who say, ‘I don’t care,’” he said.

Crandall signaled an openness to move Colorado away from the Common Core and its membership in PARCC, the multi-state testing effort. At the same time, he praised the importance of high academic standards and the value of comparing test results from several states.

Richard Crandall
Richard Crandall

He noted that two months ago, Arizona cancelled its contract with PARCC, and did so “for the right reasons … They said,  ‘We want to control our own destiny. We want to be able to add questions, take questions away …'” He said Arizona officials concluded, “‘We want to craft what is best for our state.’ That is my position now — let’s craft what is best for our state.”

Crandall also acknowledged the political reality in Colorado. For changes on either front, buy-in is needed from not just the state board but from the state legislature and the governor’s office.

Past legislative efforts to pull Colorado out of PARCC and the Common Core have fizzled because most Democratic lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper have remained committed to both.

“Wherever the state of Colorado decides to go, we are going to be there to strongly support them,” Crandall said.

The board chose Crandall from a field of 65 applicants. State board chairman Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said the board interviewed five “very outstanding” candidates last week. The identities of those candidates, however, will not be made public because the board chose Crandall as the sole finalist.

Durham declined to go into detail about the other four candidates, but did say some were from Colorado. The board vote on Monday was 6-0. Democrat Val Flores of Denver missed the vote but said she, too, supported the move.

The board will be able to formally offer the job to Crandall in two weeks. Under statute, the board must wait 14 days before extending an offer after the names of a finalist or finalists are made public, said Tony Dyl, an assistant state attorney general.

State board members described Crandall as a strong communicator well-versed in education policy.

Durham credited Crandall’s “breadth of experience” as a longtime school board member and school board president in the 71,000-student Mesa, Ariz., school district — Arizona’s largest — as well as his seven years of legislative experience. Crandall served as chairman of the education committees in both the Arizona Senate and House. Durham, too, is a former state lawmaker.

Durham said Crandall’s references praised his work ethic and energy.

“You’d like to have someone who is really going to take this on, recognizing we have a really tough job ahead of us,” Durham said. “I think he’s committed to state solutions as opposed to federal solutions. He expressed that in his interview.”

In 2013, Crandall left Arizona to head the Wyoming Department of Education. But his tenure proved to be short. Crandall became director of the department after Wyoming adopted a law replacing the statewide elected superintendent of public instruction as head of the education department with a director appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The state Supreme Court, however, ruled the law was unconstitutional because it left too few duties for the superintendent, and Crandall was out of a job after nine months. Crandall said he knew going in that was a possibility and does not regret taking the position.

Angelika Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat and the state board’s vice chair, said that although Crandall lacks experience as a teacher and principal, his deep knowledge of education policy was a plus. She said she was surprised, given the board’s recent divides, it could unite around a pick.

“This particular process is one that can and should help identify the commonalities,” Schroeder said. “It did give us an opportunity to talk about the things we have in common. We now need a leader to help us articulate that. We really did come together on this, in some cases for different reasons.”

The state board tilts 4-3 in favor of Republicans, although votes have not always fallen along party lines — a reflection of how issues such as standardized tests and how teachers are evaluated can unite policymakers from different parties.

Crandall is set to replace Robert Hammond, who retired last summer. Hammond is credited with helping transform the state Department of Education from a largely regulatory body into one that serves as a support system for school districts, especially rural ones. Hammond’s special assistant, longtime administrator Elliott Asp, has been serving as interim commissioner.

While in Arizona, Crandall helped spearhead teacher effectiveness legislation that tied evaluations to student performance. On Monday, Crandall noted the difficulty of measuring student achievement and growth as instruction has evolved to take in competency-based learning, blended learning and more personalized instruction. He noted that with more collaboration, students have multiple teachers. He said there are ways to adjust evaluations accordingly, “but they are complicated.”

“If we can make sure that it’s fair to teachers, you’d definitely want outcomes to be part of the teacher evaluation,” Crandall said. “But it has to be fair, and it has to be definable and defensible.”

Colorado has yet to fully put in place its own teacher effectiveness law, 2010’s Senate Bill 191, and the law could come in for more scrutiny this upcoming legislative session.

Crandall also has extensive business experience. He is CEO and founder of CN Resource, which “provides oversight and audit services of USDA child nutrition programs for state education agencies,” according to the education department. The company has an annual budget of $2.5 million and employs 65, Crandall said in his application to the state.

He is also chief financial officer and partner of Crandall Corporate Dietitians, which consults for long-term care and assisted living facilities and employs about 400 employees and contractors.

Crandall said he will not continue working in either of those positions. Dana Smith, a spokeswoman for the education department, said Crandall mentioned he has done consulting for the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. Neither he nor his firm has done work for the education department, she said.

In his application to the state, Crandall emphasized his non-traditional background, citing his “entrepreneurial streak” and qualifications in finance, large organization management and operations.

He acknowledged his lack of classroom experience and wrote that to compensate for that, “I made sure that my top executives in Wyoming were classroom teachers with a variety of leadership experience.” Crandall also formed a task force of 15 teachers to regularly provide recommendations and suggestions — a practice he said he hopes to bring to Colorado.

Crandall earned an accounting degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and a master of business administration degree from the University of Notre Dame. He is working toward a doctorate in education leadership. Crandall is father to seven children and six step-children. His job references include the president of Arizona State University and former Florida governor — and Republican presidential candidate — Jeb Bush.

The state board hired Iowa-based consultants Ray and Associates to help with the search for a new commissioner. The position’s salary is set “in the range” of $245,000 plus benefits but will be negotiated between the board and the candidate. Hammond’s salary was $245,000.

Coming soon: extended comments from Crandall from his interview Monday with Chalkbeat Colorado. 

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.”


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.”