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. 

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.