The pick is in

Head of Eagle County schools named finalist for Jeffco superintendent post

Eagle County Superintendent Jason Glass on a school visit (photo from Eagle County Public Schools).

Outspoken Eagle County Schools superintendent Jason Glass is the sole finalist for the superintendent position in Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest district and one that has experienced political upheaval in recent years.

The Jeffco school board called a special meeting Monday to affirm the pick after two days of interviews with six applicants last week.

By Colorado law, school districts must publicly name superintendent finalists two weeks before they are appointed. During the next two weeks, the district will work on a contract proposal with Glass. The board is set to vote on the contract May 16 in a public meeting.

Jeffco board members at Monday’s meeting spoke highly of Glass, noting his work in Eagle schools on starting a seal of biliteracy and giving him credit for “doing his homework” on Jeffco’s plans.

“I know it sounds funny, but I really was inspired,” said board member Susan Harmon. “And I needed to be inspired.”

Glass would not start the job before the summer.

“I am honored and excited to be considered for the position of Superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools,” Glass said in a statement released by the Jeffco district. “I am genuinely humbled to be selected as the finalist.”

Former Jeffco superintendent Dan McMinimee is still under contract with the district until the end of June, although his role was redefined so that he could step down after the board announced they would launch a search for his replacement.

McMinimee had experience as an assistant superintendent, but had never been a superintendent before being hired in Jeffco in 2014.

The school board put a premium on finding someone with past experience as a superintendent in its search for a replacement. Glass has been superintendent in Eagle County since 2013. Before that, he was Iowa’s Director of Education.

The Eagle County Schools serves far fewer students than Jeffco, but the demographics are somewhat similar.

The Eagle district has almost 7,000 students, of which about 41 percent qualify for free or discounted lunch — a measure of poverty — and about 31 percent are English learners.

Jeffco has more than 86,000 students, of which about 31 percent qualify for free or discounted lunch and about 8 percent are English learners.

Glass frequently writes editorials for the local newspaper, voicing urgency on issues such as state testing and the need to increase school funding in Colorado. He has also not hesitated to take on the State Board of Education. Last year, Glass criticized the board after it voted down a resolution supporting seals of biliteracy, the add-on to a diploma that Eagle County schools offers.

According to an Eagle County district website, Glass has a bachelor’s degree in political science, two masters degrees and a doctorate in education.

Jeffco hired a search firm, Ray and Associates, to conduct a national search for the position the resulted in 69 applicants. Eleven qualified were presented to the board, and six were interviewed.

Jeffco school board president Ron Mitchell said the board asked candidates whether they were open to being named one of several finalists. Mitchell said the candidates in general were open to the idea but only if it was an “authentic” part of the process, and not if the board had a clear favorite.

Mitchell said Glass did rise to the top and said it would not have been fair to publicly name more finalists.

“We would not have wanted the community to point us in different direction,” Mitchell said, noting that the board used input from the community in vetting the candidates.

Leadership in Jeffco has been in flux because of sharp swings in recent school board elections. McMinimee was hired after a conservative board majority took control of the board. Those board members were recalled in November 2015, replaced by three members backed by a coalition of well-connected parents, high-profile county Democrats and the teachers union.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.