Who Is In Charge

Educators blast teacher certification rules

Jill Shedd, executive secretary of the Indiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, testifies to state board members.

Opponents of changes to teacher licensing, which were pushed through by former state Superintendent Tony Bennett as one of his final acts before leaving Indiana, sought a retroactive veto Tuesday.

The rules brought a wave of protest in 2012, as educators complained that changes they outlined could hurt teacher quality by making it easier for those with no education background to become classroom teachers. Proponents say the rules give schools needed flexibility to hire would-be teachers who are talented and knowledgeable but could be scared off if getting a classroom job means years of study first.

The Indiana State Board of Education approved the rules last February. But Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office objected to last minute changes by the state board and kicked the new rules back for fixes. The board was unable to meet his request by a March 31, 2013, deadline, requiring the entire year-long rule-making progress to be restarted.

The delay means angry educators get a second chance to try to dissuade the board from adopting the rules.

Teacher certification rules are back on display for public comment online and in person through a a series of public input meetings. At the second such meeting this morning at the Indiana Government Center, the feeling of educators, especially those who train future teachers, hadn’t changed much in a year’s time.

The deans of the education schools at Indiana University, Butler University and the University of Indianapolis again spoke against what they said were diminished expectations for those who want to be a superintendent, principal or teacher in Indiana.

“These provisions lower education standards in Indiana,” said Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of Indiana University’s school of education. “They require significantly less preparation, teaching and leadership experience than ever before. It is very strange in light of calls to recruit the best and brightest into teaching.”

The proposed rules

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and fellow state board members Cari Whicker and David Frietas listened to the testimony from a table while state board staff recorded comments to be shared with the rest of the board.

Most of the 15 speakers objected to these provisions:

  • The adjunct permit. The rules allow anyone with a four-year college degree and a 3.0 GPA to teach if they pass a test of content knowledge. They do not need any background in teaching. Adjuncts are required to perform well on evaluations or lose the permit and they must get teacher training while on the job.
  • Leadership jobs. Those seeking to be superintendents who do not hold doctoral degrees could earn the job if they have at least a master’s degree, under the rules. For principals, a master’s degree would not longer be required.
  • Teaching fine arts. A requirement for specific training in art, music or theater would be dropped, instead allowing teachers to add those specialty areas to their licenses simply by passing a content exam.

The second group of teacher certification rule changes proposed by Bennett in 2012 were known as the Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability, or REPA II. After Bennett’s defeat by Ritz in the 2012 election, he sought to finish the rule-making process begun nearly a year earlier in his last meeting as chairman of the state board that December.

Ritz, who was superintendent-elect but wouldn’t take office for another month, opposed the rule changes. In an unusual move, she spoke at the meeting, asking the board to delay and reconsider the rules after she took office. Instead the board approved the rules, but asked for some last-minute adjustments. Under state law, that started a clock by which the rules needed Zoeller’s approval by March 31 to go into effect.

Department staff brought new language incorporating the board’s December alterations that board members approved in February and the department sent them to Zoeller. But Zoeller sent them back, suggesting the board needed to vote one more time on a portion they approved without first reviewing.

Ritz said there was not enough time to arrange another board approval and the deadline passed. That forced the process to restart. At the April board meeting, board members sparred with Ritz about why the deadline was not met and whether there had been time for a board vote. It was the first of several tense exchanges with Ritz over her handling of board business that escalated over the summer of 2013.

Educator complaints

Nearly a year later, however, the teacher licensing issues have not changed at today’s hearing. Many educators still objected and worried that the changes will result in less qualified teachers in Indiana classrooms.

“Today we are saying we don’t need trained teachers, we don’t need trained administrators and we don’t need highly qualified educators teaching our children,” said J.T. Cooperman, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. “We’re not to be treated as a profession any longer. It’s demeaning.”

He wasn’t alone. Risa Regnier, assistant state superintendent, testified that the education department also opposed the rules, saying they could reduce the quality of future teachers and principals.

Ena Shelley, the dean of Butler’s education school, said the adjunct provision was unnecessary because other pathways, including emergency licenses and substitute teacher permits, allow schools to hire teachers with fewer qualifications when there are shortages. She said there was no evidence that the adjunct permit would benefit the state.

“There is no data that substantiates the need for this permit,” she said.

A couple of speakers supported some of the rules, including Sean Steele, a history teacher at Orleans High School, located about 45 minutes south of Bloomington.

Steele said he is an amateur artist and long had interest in teaching art. Since he’s already been a teacher for 18 years and passed the required content exam with a high score, Steele said the new rule would allow him to begin teaching art without any additional study.

“I’ve been an artist all my life,” he said. “Art should not be treated any differently than any other subjects.”

Once public input is complete, the state board will reconsider the rules and vote on them again. State board staff said that could come as early as March.

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.

saying goodbye

Here’s how the local and national education communities are responding to Boasberg’s exit

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As the news of Tom Boasberg’s departure ricocheted through the local and national education community, critics and champions of the Denver schools superintendent sounded off.

Here’s a roundup of comments from teachers, parents, school board members past and present, elected officials, and some of Boasberg’s colleagues.

Alicia Ventura, teacher

“I am shocked! I understand his decision as I have one (child) grown and out of the house and one in middle school. Time with our children is short and precious! I will always remember how fun and open-minded Tom was. He would do anything for children and truly lived the students first vision! We will miss you!”

Michael Hancock, Denver mayor and Denver Public Schools graduate

“I am saddened that DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will be stepping down but full of gratitude for his close partnership with the city on behalf of Denver’s kids and families. As a DPS graduate and a DPS parent, I know firsthand that Tom has led DPS with integrity and commitment. His focus on success for all kids has greatly improved our schools and provided better opportunities for all students to live their dreams.

“We have much work still to do in DPS, but we have an incredible foundation for moving forward and we are committed to continuing in partnership with the next DPS leader.”

Corey Kern, deputy executive director, Denver Classroom Teachers Association

“We were a little surprised by it ourselves. For us, we obviously wish Tom the best. The big focus for us is making sure the selection process for the next superintendent is something that is fair and transparent and open to the public; that it’s not a political appointment but talking to all stakeholders about who is the best person for the job for the students in Denver.”

Anne Rowe, president, Denver school board

“He has given … 10 years to this district as superintendent, and it is an enormous role, and he has given everything he has. … My reaction was, ‘I understand,’ gratitude, a little surprised but not shocked, certainly, and understand all the good reasons why he has made this decision.

“With change, there is always some uncertainty, and yet I look at the people here and their dedication to the kids in DPS and I have full confidence in these folks to continue driving forward while the board takes on the responsibility to select the next superintendent. We won’t miss a beat, and we have a lot of work to do for kids.”

Jeannie Kaplan, former school board member critical of the district’s direction

“I was very surprised. … I wish Tom well. I still do believe that working together is the way to get things done. I’m sorry we weren’t able to do that.

“My one hope would be that one of the primary criteria for the next leader of the district would be a belief in listening to the community – not just making the checkmark, but really listening to what communities want.”

John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor and former Denver mayor

“Tom Boasberg has invested a significant part of his life into transforming Denver Public Schools into one of the fastest-improving school districts in America. As a DPS parent, former mayor, and now governor, I am deeply grateful for the progress made under Tom’s leadership. I applaud Tom and Team DPS for driving the innovations that are creating a brighter future for tens of thousands of young people in every corner of the city.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who preceded Boasberg as Denver superintendent from 2005 to 2009 and has known him since childhood

“As a DPS parent, I thank him for his commitment, his compassion, and his extraordinary tenure. As Tom always says himself, we have a long way to go, but his transformational leadership has resulted in extraordinary progress over the past 10 years. Our student achievement has substantially increased, the number of teachers and other school personnel serving our children has grown tremendously, and the school choices available to children and their families have never been greater.”

Bennet also penned an op-ed in The Denver Post with this headline:

Ariel Taylor Smith, former Denver Public Schools teacher and co-founder of Transform Education Now, a nonprofit that focuses on improving schools through parent advocacy

“I was a teacher during Tom’s first half of his tenure at DPS and was amazed at how often he would walk the halls of North High School during our turnaround. Tom has dedicated 10 years to this work and for that I am grateful. I also believe that we have a long way to go to getting where we need to be. I believe that we are ready for new leadership who operates with the sense of urgency that we need to see in our city. There are 35,000 students who are attending ‘red’ and ‘orange’ (low-rated) schools in our city right now. One out of every three third-graders is reading on grade level. We need a new leader with a clear vision for the future and an evident sense of urgency to ensure that all our kids are receiving the education that they deserve.”

Brandon Pryor, parent and member Our Voice Our Schools, a group critical of the district

“You have a number of people he works with that are reformers. They think he’s leaving an awesome legacy and he did a lot to change and meet needs of the reformist community. You ask them and I’m sure his legacy will be great. But if you come to my community and ask some black folks what Tom Boasberg’s legacy will be, they’ll tell you something totally different.

“I think he has time with this last three months in office to follow through with some of the promises he’s made us (such as upgrades to the Montbello campus) to improve his situation.”

Jules Kelty, Denver parent

“He personally responded to an email that I sent him about my school. I appreciated that.”

Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado

“On the one hand, I’m not surprised. And on the other hand, I’m surprised.

“I’m not surprised because he’s had a track record of pretty remarkable service for a decade, which is amazing. Nobody else has done that. The district has improved pretty dramatically. He deserves a great deal of credit for that. …The surprise is that we’ve all become so used to him being the superintendent, it’s just a little weird (to think of him leaving).”

Lisa Escárcega, executive director, Colorado Association of School Executives

“Tom’s longstanding commitment and service to DPS have made a significant impact on the district. He is strongly focused on ensuring student equity, and the district has seen improvement in several areas over the last 10 years under his superintendency. Tom is a strong and innovative leader, and I know he will be missed by the DPS community and his colleagues.”

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education

“Under Tom Boasberg’s leadership for the past decade, Denver Public Schools has made remarkable academic progress and has become one of the most innovative school districts in the country. Tom has brought tremendous urgency and a deep commitment to closing both opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. For many school districts throughout the country, Denver’s innovative and collaborative approaches serve as a valuable model.”

Katy Anthes, state education commissioner

“I’ve appreciated working with Tom over the years and know that his personal commitment to students is incredibly strong. I thank Tom for his service to the students of DPS and Colorado.”

Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a national group of district and state superintendents 

“Tom Boasberg is an extraordinary leader who has dedicated his life to expanding opportunities for all of Denver’s children. During his tenure, the district has made remarkable gains on virtually every measure of progress. Denver Public Schools is a national model for innovation, district-charter collaboration, and teacher and school leader support. Every decision Tom has made over the course of his career has been focused on helping students succeed. No one is more respected by their peers. As a member of the Chiefs for Change board and in countless other ways Tom has supported education leaders across the nation. He leaves not just an impressive legacy but an organization of talented people committed to equity and excellence.”

David Osborne, author of the book “Reinventing America’s Schools,” which included chapters on Denver’s efforts

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