new faces

Governor’s new appointees to the Indiana State Board of Education offer some clues to his education priorities

PHOTO: AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool
Gov. Eric Holcomb, right, responds to a question during a debate for Indiana Governor.

Gov. Eric Holcomb today announced two new appointments to the Indiana State Board of Education — although one will be familiar to those who follow state education policy.

Tony Walker, a lawyer from Gary who served on the board until 2015, will join Kathleen Mote, the interim chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College’s Columbus/Southeast Region, on the board beginning July 1. Both have terms that last until June 2020.

Current board members Vince Bertram and Gordon Hendry will return to the board until their new terms end in 2021. Bertram was appointed for the first time by then-Gov. Mike Pence in 2015, and Gordon was first appointed in 2013.

The move marks Holcomb’s first attempt to actively shape the state’s education agenda after a string of successful legislation, including more funding for preschool. His picks reflect some of his priorities, such as college-to-career transitions and school choice, but he hasn’t yet gotten as involved in education issues as his predecessors. Pence pushed hard for the state’s initial preschool investment, and Gov. Mitch Daniels was at the helm of Indiana’s major charter school and voucher expansions in 2011.

Mote, a Republican from Madison, joined the Ivy Tech Columbus/Southeast Region in 2009, before which she was a deputy prosecutor for several central Indiana counties. Under her leadership, Ivy Tech created initiatives that helped high school students earn college credits and developed career-focused programs with local businesses.

Walker is a Democrat and a strong supporter of school choice. He is also on the board of Thea Bowman Leadership Academy charter school in Gary, and he’s involved in plans for the state takeover of Gary’s public school district that lawmakers approved earlier this year.

The governor appoints eight individuals to the SBOE, each from a different congressional district. At least six of the eight must have professional experience in education, and no more than five of the eight may be members of the same political party.

Over the last two years, the state board has been absent the drama that the previous iteration engaged in under Pence and then-state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. The board was intensely critical of Ritz at the time, and the reshuffle in May of 2015 reduced much of that tension until she left office in January.

The current board members have worked fairly smoothly with state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who they voted to be the board’s chairwoman earlier this year. In 2015, lawmakers removed the requirement that the state schools chief lead the board. Critics asserted it was a move targeted at taking away power from Ritz, who often disagreed with the board and Pence.

For the last few months, two seats on the board have been open. Eddie Melton left after being elected state senator in November, and LeeAnn Kwiatkowski resigned after taking a position as chief of staff in McCormick’s administration.

Here’s the full list of who’s on the state board, effective July 1:

  • Vince Bertram
  • Byron Ernest
  • David Freitas
  • Gordon Hendry
  • Kathleen Mote
  • Tony Walker
  • Maryanne McMahon
  • B.J. Watts
  • Cari Whicker
  • Steve Yager
  • Jennifer McCormick


Double whammy: Indiana schools could see two A-F grades in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students work on an assignment at Decatur Central High School. (File Photo)

Indiana schools could get two A-F grades in 2018 — one official grade based on state requirements, and a separate calculation based on the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The proposal comes as changes in graduation rate calculations and dual credit teacher training have complicated the state’s plan to comply with the new law, which went into effect this school year.

There was an opportunity to make adjustments when the plan was introduced in June, but Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana education officials endorsed it with few major changes. It’s unclear why separate state and federal grades weren’t considered earlier.

The proposal highlights the pressure Indiana and other states face to quickly adjust to ESSA and changing expectations from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education. A number of regulations were either thrown out when she came into office or could not be finished in time by the Obama Administration. Indiana, too, saw a dramatic election that brought in a new schools chief, governor and other key education policymakers.

The idea to create dual standards was revealed tonight when Ken Folks, chief of governmental affairs for the Indiana Department of Education, spoke with educators and community members at Noblesville East Middle School.

Adam Baker, state department of education spokesman, said officials need more time to figure out how to meet the federal rules for graduation rate and new regional rules regarding dual credit teaching. Both factor heavily into high school A-F grades, and the changes could result in lower grades for many schools.

“We are trying to support schools and trying to do what’s best to make this transition a lot smoother,” Baker said.

Read: Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

Here’s how it might look:

About a year from now, after students take the spring 2018 ISTEP test, schools will get a letter grade from the state that won’t encompass any of the changes proposed in Indiana’s ESSA plan.

The state grade would determine where a school falls on the timeline for state intervention — public schools, for example, can only have four consecutive years of F grades before takeover or other serious improvement plans are on the table.

But nothing about the ESSA rules will change or pause. Unlike in 2016, federal officials have no plans to give states a reprieve from accountability sanctions. Every school will still receive a percentage calculation based on federal guidelines using the same 100-point scale that state letter grades are based on, where 90 percent is an A, 80 is percent a B, and so on.

The federal calculation would count under rules for identifying struggling schools and those that govern Title I funding. For example, any high school where the four-year federal graduation rate is lower than 67 percent would be considered under “comprehensive support” from the state.

Conversations with the governor’s office and the state board around the specifics of the state/federal split are still happening, Baker said, and the dual system would only be for 2018.

Grades based on 2017 ISTEP tests that are set to come out next month, which schools have already seen, are not part of this change.

This idea was floated a month ago at a state board of education work session that was held to build consensus around the state’s ESSA plan. Board members asked state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and her staff why there couldn’t just be two grades next year.

At the time, Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, McCormick’s chief of staff, told board members that in the past, Indiana did operate two accountability systems, one for state and one for federal.

“The reason Indiana moved from two accountability systems to one was because it was confusing and caused chaos,” she said. “We would have schools that could look very different in the two systems.”

But as the ESSA plan’s due date rapidly approached and diploma and dual credit situations remained in limbo, Baker said the department changed its mind. Keeping the state’s grading system consistent, even if it meant a separate federal piece, ended up making more sense than a series of state grades with big fluctuations.

“The extra time wasn’t like, ‘OK, let’s give ourselves a fifth quarter,” Baker said. “It was more or less like, this is coming down the pipeline — what can we do (for schools)? Our hope is that things will change.”

See all of Chalkbeat Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.

the race is on

Stand for Children chooses not to endorse in northeast Denver school board race

DENVER, CO - March 16: A Denver Public Schools emblem and sign on the Evie Garrett Dennis Campus that houses five separate schools with 1,600 students in Pre-K through 12th grade in Northeast Denver, Colorado on March 16, 2016. (Photo by Katie Wood/The Denver Post)

Stand for Children Colorado on Tuesday announced its candidate endorsements for this fall’s Denver school board races — and one notable non-endorsement.

The pro-education reform group chose not to endorse a candidate in the three-person race in District 4, which encompasses a diverse mix of northeast Denver neighborhoods. The group said both incumbent Rachele Espiritu and challenger Jennifer Bacon had surpassed the group’s “threshold for endorsement,” and that “Denver’s kids would be well served by either candidate.”  

Recent Manual High School graduate Tay Anderson is also vying for the seat.

With four of seven seats in play, this fall’s election could swing the balance of a school board that unanimously backs the school district’s education reform efforts.

Stand is a significant player in Denver school board elections. It donates money to candidates and helps marshal resources on the ground, including door-to-door canvassing.

Kate Dando Doran, a spokeswoman for Stand for Children Colorado, said in an email the group will not contribute financially to candidates in District 4. She said that families Stand works with in southwest Denver are supporting former teacher Angela Cobián’s campaign in that part of the city, and that Stand would focus its energy and resources there, too.  

Cobián has the support of incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who is not running again. Stand endorsed Cobián in her race against parent Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who has teachers union backing.

Stand for Children’s other endorsements do not come as a surprise: incumbent Barbara O’Brien in the citywide at-large race that includes former Denver teacher Julie Bañuelos and parent Robert Speth; and incumbent Mike Johnson for District 3 in central-east Denver, who is facing English language development teacher Carrie A. Olson.

To be considered for Stand’s endorsement, candidates agree to answer a candidate questionnaire and to be interviewed by a committee of parents. Doran said O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson, Bacon and Espiritu went through the group’s process.

That Stand could not settle on an endorsement in District 4 adds to the drama in the three-person race. Opponents of the district’s reforms haven’t united on a pick, either. The Denver teachers union endorsed Bacon, a community organizer and former teacher. The advocacy group Our Denver, Our Schools and a progressive caucus of the teachers union are backing Anderson.