We hardly knew thee

Colorado education commissioner resigns suddenly after brief stint in job

Education Commissioner Richard Crandall (right) talks about teacher recruitment with the Senate Education Committee. Also speaking were Richard Mitchell of the Department of Higher Education (left) and Colleen O’Neil of the Department of Education.

Colorado Education Commissioner Rich Crandall announced his resignation Thursday just four-and-a-half months into the job, shocking the state’s education community and roiling the state Department of Education as it embarks on a number of critical initiatives.

The former Republican lawmaker from Arizona, who also served a brief stint as Wyoming’s top school officer, cited family reasons and the demands of the job as factors in his decision.

“The realities of my large family being out of state, including school age children, as well as the demands of the position and the time required to fully serve a state as diverse and expansive as Colorado, lead me to this decision,” Crandall said in a statement. He has seven children and six stepchildren living outside Colorado.

The State Board of Education, which is often divided but unanimously voted to hire Crandall after selecting him as sole finalist, will meet Friday afternoon to vote to formally accept Crandall’s resignation and discuss next steps.

“On behalf of my state board colleagues, I want to thank Commissioner Crandall for his strong and effective advocacy for quality public education for all Colorado children,” state board chairman Steve Durham said in a statement.

Durham and other state board members did not immediately return calls seeking additional comment.

Crandall’s exit comes as state departments of education nationwide face a major shift in education policy. Last year, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which shifts most of what has been the federal government’s role in public education to the states.

Crandall had hoped to use that newfound freedom to create a new statewide plan for Colorado’s schools. He also made it clear that he wanted Colorado to be one of a handful of states allowed to try out alternatives to standardized tests for accountability purposes.

As part of that effort, Crandall and the department launched a statewide listening tour to seek input from school officials, parents and taxpayers across the state. Stops are still scheduled in Limon on Friday and Thornton on Monday.

State board members, however, publicly questioned whether Crandall was moving too quickly and expressed a desire to have a greater say in the process.

“I wish the state board and staff well as they work on implementation of ESSA and the many key policy issues facing the board,” Crandall said in his statement. He did not immediately return a call from Chalkbeat seeking comment.

One of Crandall’s final significant decisions was to cut a deal with the Douglas County School District to settle a long-running fight over enrollment counts. The district agreed to repay the education department about $2 million — half of what the state said it originally owed — as a result of a disagreement about whether students met state requirements for full-time funding.

Crandall’s exit also comes shortly after a rash of high-profile resignation announcements in the department, including from the department’s chief of staff, associate commissioner of innovation and the director of capital construction. That followed an earlier exodus of top staff after the retirement last summer of Crandall’s predecessor as commissioner, Robert Hammond.

On Monday, Crandall sent an email to department staff announcing the appointment of a new chief of staff to replace Katy Anthes in the role. James Bailey, who for the past seven years has been superintendent of Uinta County School District 1 in Evanston, Wyoming, accepted an offer to serve as chief of staff and associate commissioner of rural education, a new position, according to Crandall’s email.

The job offer to Bailey was rescinded on Thursday, said Bill Ray, a public relations specialist on contract with the department to handle inquiries about Crandall’s exit and the commissioner search.

Nora Flood, executive director of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, said the staff departures at the education department, especially in the charter school department, put a strain on her association and charter schools.

“Whenever you deal with a large bureaucracy such as CDE, relationships become even more important,” Flood said. “Otherwise, it’s really hard to navigate. And when the people who leave are people you’ve developed strong relationships with, it’s hard.”

Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said Crandall’s exit puts the state board and the education department in a perilous situation.

“This kind of quick departure is going to cause disruption,” Caughey said. “It’s causing disruption already … It’s a very important time right now for public education. It’s critical the state board find a path forward to create some sort of environment to think of what’s next.”

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, urged the state board to move quickly but diligently.

“Who they place in the interim position will be incredibly important,” she said. “Colorado and its 179 school district have a lot of work to do in a short period of time regarding ESSA.”

Before the public announcement of Crandall’s resignation, Crandall shared the news with a group of leaders from various advocacy organizations he was previously scheduled to meet.

“I was in absolute shock and still am,” said Michelle Murphy, executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance. “He was just out touring our rural districts in southwest Colorado.”

Murphy said Crandall made big promises to rural schools during his short tenure, including relief on paperwork.

“We hope the state board and the next commissioner will honor his promises,” she said.

Crandall, 48 at the time of his January appointment, was to be paid $255,000 a year. Considered to be a moderate Republican, Crandall in his seven-year legislative career played a key role 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.

Crandall also was a longtime school board member and school board president in the 71,000-student Mesa, Ariz., school district — Arizona’s largest.

In 2013, Crandall left Arizona to head the Wyoming Department of Education. He 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, and Crandall was out of a job after nine months.

Crandall boasted an extensive business background, as well. 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.

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.