Who Is In Charge

Momentum builds for career and technical diploma

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

A bill to create a new career and technical diploma won unanimous support in the Indiana House today, despite concerns from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that the state does not need a fifth diploma type.

House Bill 1213, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would direct the Indiana Career Council to name a committee to design the new diploma, including what courses are required. It passed the House 92-0.

McNamara, who is director of Evansville’s Early College High School, argued that the state’s primary diploma, known as the Core 40, has discouraged students from participating in career and technical programs and caused schools to offer fewer of those options.

“We all know that when kids do what they love they are going to shine,” she said. “Having a diploma in classes in which kids can learn English and math skills in the context of doing what they love only means good things for the state of Indiana.”

Indiana has four diploma types — general, Core 40, honors and career and technical honors — and has encouraged students to aim for at least the Core 40. Because that diploma requires more courses, and more challenging courses, some advocates for career and technical education believes students may shy away from career and technical courses to concentrate on meeting their Core 40 requirements.

But Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said his organization opposes the bill.

“We strongly support the general goals that have been laid out in this bill,” he said last week when the House Education Committee heard testimony. “But rather than creating another diploma that might confuse the situation, we’d rather figure out a way to address the diplomas we have.”

The state does offer a career and technical honors diploma, but to earn that credential students must first complete the Core 40 diploma and then add extra classes or academic achievements like a high SAT score.

McNamara argues that some of the advanced courses in the Core 40 might not be needed by students who are aiming for good jobs in careers that do not require college degrees. Her hope, she said, was that a separate career technical diploma would still be demanding but that the coursework could be tailored to skills those students need.

The bill drew praise from Democrats, including Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes. Battles, a teacher, said it was one of the best bills the legislature had seen in years. Battles framed the idea as a step back from a Republican-led push for ever higher standards in recent years, saying the push often fails to consider the needs of all students.

“We get so caught up with rigor,” he said. “That has become a buzzword. We have forgotten about relevance. Rigor is only good if it is relevant.”

Battles said the bill was needed to revive career and technical education.

“Our technical and career programs are being destroyed and it isn’t because we don’t have kids who are interested,” he said. “They don’t have room in their schedules.”

Indiana has moved in recent years to require students to complete the Core 40 diploma. In order to opt for a general diploma, students must demonstrate that they are following an alternative graduation plan that meets all the state’s requirements in basic subjects.

A 2012 study by IUPUI, however found even a Core 40 may not be enough to guarantee a student succeeds in college. Marion County graduates in the study significantly increased their chances of going to, and graduating, from college if they completed the honors diploma. There was little difference in college attainment and completion for students who earned a Core 40 vs. a general diploma.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which will begin considering House bills next week.

General Diploma
English/language arts: 8 credits (Includes literature, composition and speech)
Mathematics: 4 credits (Includes Algebra 1 or integrated mathematics)
Science: 4 credits  (Includes Biology 1 and at least one credit in physical science or earth and space science)
Social studies: 4 credits (Includes U.S. History and U.S. Government)
Physical education: 2 credits
Health and wellness: 1 credit
College and career pathway courses*: 6 credits
Flex credits**: 5 credits
Electives: 6 credits
Total credits: 40*Must select electives with a deliberate purpose to prepare for college or work.
**Courses in college or career readiness, co-op or internships, college dual credits or additional courses in core subjects.

Core 40 Diploma
English/language arts: 8 credits (Includes literature, composition and speech)
Mathematics: 6 credits (Includes Algebra 1, geometry and Algebra 2)
Science: 6 credits (Includes Biology 1 and Chemistry 1, Physics 1 or an integrated chemistry and physics course)
Social studies: 6 credits (Includes U.S. History, U.S. Government, Economics and World History or Geography)
Physical education: 2 credits
Health and wellness: 1 credit
Directed electives: 5 credits (Includes world languages, fine arts and career or technical education)
Electives: 6 credits
Total credits: 40

Technical Honors Diploma

Must complete all the Core 40 requirements plus:
– At least at least 6 additional credits in college or career preparation courses
– A grade of C or better in all courses that count toward the diploma
– A GPA that averages at least a B
– At least two Advanced Placement/dual credit college courses, or a score of 530 on each part of the SAT, or an ACT score of 26 or higher or 4 credits of International Baccalaureate courses.
Total credits: 47

Academic Honors Diploma
Must complete all the Core 40 requirements plus:

– At least 2 additional math credits
– At least 6 to 8 credits in world languages
– At least 2 credits in fine arts
– A grade of C or better in all courses that count toward the diploma
– A GPA that averages at least a B
– At least two Advanced Placement/dual credit college courses, or a score of 530 on each part of the SAT or an ACT score of 26 or higher, or 4 credits of International Baccalaureate courses, or a earn a minimum score on special state math, reading and writing skill tests.
Total Credits: 47

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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