Tackling dyslexia

These parents and educators will decide how Tennessee should help kids with dyslexia

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

A newly required advisory council will tackle the way students with dyslexia learn in Tennessee schools and will include parents, advocates and educators who already have spent years on the challenge.

State lawmakers ordered creation of the council when they passed the Say Dyslexia Act this spring. Now, the Dyslexia Advisory Council will explore ways to screen students for the disability, which could affect how up to 20 percent of students learn how to read and write.

Council members include a Nashville mother who has called for greater efforts to detect dyslexia; a teacher from a Memphis private school that is helping local public schools serve students with learning disabilities; and the top school psychologist in the state.

The group will meet quarterly starting this fall. Each year, it must give lawmakers recommendations about how the state can serve students with dyslexia. The Say Dyslexia Act also requires all Tennessee students to be screened for the disability and all schools to tailor their teaching to students who need it.

“All students deserve the opportunity to succeed and receive the supports necessary to do so, regardless of learning differences,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a press release. “This group of education leaders and advocates will bring insight and expertise as we discuss concrete ways we can strengthen our screening processes and interventions for students with dyslexia.”

Members of the new Dyslexia Advisory Council are:

  • Theresa Nicholls, director of School Psychology Services, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Eileen Miller, advocate and parent, Decoding Dyslexia Tennessee
  • Allison McAvoy, special education teacher, Hamilton County Schools
  • Melissa Miller-Benson, elementary school teacher, The Bodine School
  • Mercedes Chartrand, middle school teacher, Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools
  • Briana Patrick, high school teacher, Lauderdale County Schools
  • Anna Thorsen, parent
  • Morgan Ashworth, speech language pathologist, Loudon County Schools
  • Emily Dempster,  president, International Dyslexia Association
  • Erin Alexander, school psychologist and assistant director for clinical services, Tennessee Center for Dyslexia
  • Susan Porter, instructional coach, Metro Nashville Public Schools


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

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.”