texas hold 'em

Controversial Douglas County superintendent to lead Texas school district

PHOTO: Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post
Douglas County School District Superintendent Liz Fagen.

Douglas County School District Superintendent Liz Fagen, who put in place a controversial market-based pay system for teachers and a voucher program that drew national attention and legal challenges, is leaving to lead a Texas school district.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Douglas County district officials announced that Fagen had been named the sole finalist to take over the 39,000-student Humble Independent School District in Humble, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

Fagen was tapped to head the 67,000-student Douglas County district in 2010. She was hired after a conservative takeover of the school board in the traditionally high-performing, affluent south suburban school district.

But the politics in Douglas County have shifted. The November election spelled the end of what had been a run of conservative domination. The board is still in conservative control, but by the narrowest of margins. Three upstart candidates who opposed the reforms championed by Fagen’s administration won seats in the election, resulting in a 4-3 board split.

Since the election, the district has been embroiled in a controversy over a student protester’s secret tape-recording of a meeting with board majority members, which had led to accusations of intimidation and calls for the board members to resign.

An attempt to revive the district’s controversial voucher program, meantime, has resulted in two legal challenges.

Fagen’s moves have drawn praise from conservative education reform advocates and criticism from supporters of the teachers union and a vocal band of parents.

The district did show gains under Fagen, boosting its high school graduation rate to 88 percent, for example. And in 2014, the district received the state’s highest accreditation rating. But the district recently refunded the state $2 million after the state found some students didn’t meet state requirements for full-time funding.

“The Douglas County School District is truly an excellent school district – one that is a lighthouse in American education,” Fagen said in a statement. “I am proud of all that we have accomplished over the past six years together. I know that our teachers, leaders and support staff will continue to amaze. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to work with the talented students and staff in this district.”

Douglas County school board president Meghann Silverthorn in a statement thanked Fagen for her service and said the district would turn its attention to a transition plan. No details were given.

The Douglas County Federation of Teachers, the county’s teachers union, used Fagen’s announcement to pivot to the next school board election, in 2017.

“Although we believe that this is a positive step towards reclaiming public education in Douglas County, we also realize that Dr. Fagen acted in concert with the school board that directed her,” said Kallie Leyba, the union’s president. “And, until a majority of board members are elected who support public education and who will treat teachers and staff as the professionals they are, there will be no significant change in the direction of the district.”

The Humble school district is Texas’ 31st largest school district. Douglas County is Colorado’s third largest.


meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.