a new era

Starting a new era, Betty Rosa named Regents chancellor as Tisch steps down

PHOTO: YouTube / TCICollegeNY

Former Bronx superintendent and principal Betty Rosa was elected chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents on Monday, ushering in a new era in state education policy.

Rosa, who has been endorsed by leaders of a campaign to boycott state tests, has been a vocal critic of many of the sweeping policy changes that have changed education in New York over the last several years, including the rollout of the Common Core learning standards and a new teacher evaluation system. The board has already begun backing away from these policies, and selecting Rosa signals that the Regents are ready to continue that shift.

“We as a board must move away from what was so-called, as people like to label it, reform,” Rosa said, just before the vote, which was 15-0, with two abstentions. Rosa chose a different term for her mission: “I say welcome to the transformers.”

Rosa takes over for Merryl Tisch, who transformed the chancellorship into a visible, and highly influential, position. Tisch oversaw state policy after New York won a $700 million Race to the Top grant and came to represent the set of controversial reforms that accompanied it, including the rigorous learning standards and new teacher evaluation system.

[Read more: Rosa, new head of New York education policy: As a parent, ‘I would opt out’]

Pushback to some of those changes have grown in the last few years. Last year, they fueled a testing boycott movement that spread to 20 percent of students statewide.

Tisch, who announced last fall that she would step down this month, acknowledged the shifting sentiment on Monday. But she said she was confident that she had made the right choices for New York students, and that she trusted the next incarnation of the board.

“They’ll find their own way. They’ll rebalance,” Tisch told Chalkbeat after the vote. “But I think it’s really hard to walk away from all of this.”

As chancellor, Rosa will have significant sway over a new direction. The board is currently overseeing an overhaul of the state’s learning standards, constructing new teacher evaluations, and revamping graduation requirements. Rosa’s new job will require her to help the board reach consensus on these issues.

Rosa has spent time as a student, educator, and superintendent in some of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods. Born in the U.S., she spent her early childhood in Puerto Rico before moving back to New York, where she learned English in school.

As a principal in Washington Heights, she ran a community school that worked to provide extra resources for students. She then became superintendent of District 8 in the Bronx, and eventually superintendent of the entire borough. As superintendent, she became known for equalizing resources between the wealthier and low-income schools in her district and for starting a high-performing middle school.

“Having served with her when she was a superintendent in the Bronx, I know she recognizes that schools – like the students who go to them – are unique, and she pioneered individualized strategies to raise student achievement,” city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

The board also selected Regent Andrew Brown, an attorney from Rochester, as the board’s next vice chancellor.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.