Who Is In Charge

Reform group makes endorsements

Election 2012 LogoDemocrats for Education Reform has issued its 2012 legislative endorsements, backing three Senate candidates and seven House contenders, all of them Democrats.

All of the candidates endorsed by DFER’s Colorado chapter also have received contributions from political committees related to teachers’ unions.

There’s also considerable overlap between the candidates endorsed by DFER and those supported by Stand for Children, the other education reform interest group that endorses in legislative races. Stand endorsed six Democrats and five Republicans.

In one contest, House District 28 in Lakewood, the two reform groups are on opposite sides of the fence. DFER is backing Democratic community organizer Brittany Pettersen while Stand supports Republican businesswoman Amy Attwood. The race is one of several battleground contests in Jefferson County.

Here are the other candidates endorsed by DFER:

House

District 18 (Colorado Springs) – Rep. Pete Lee. Also endorsed by Stand, Lee is in a tight race with Republican businesswoman Jennifer George.

District 32 (Adams County) – Dominick Moreno. The mayor pro tem of Commerce City, Moreno faces Republican Paul Reimer, a counselor.

District 42 (Aurora) – Rep. Rhonda Fields. Her name was on several education bills in 2012, and she’s considering possible dropout and truancy legislation for 2013. She faces Republican Mike Donald, a businessman.

District 47 (Pueblo and Otero counties) – Chuck Rodosovich. A former state agency executive, Rodosovich helped found a Pueblo charter school and faces Republican Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff in a closely watched race.

District 50 (Greeley) – Rep. Dave Young. The former teacher faces Republican insurance agent Skip Carlson. Stand endorsed Young.

District 61 (Central mountains) – Rep. Millie Hamner. The former superintendent of the Summit County district, Hamner has emerged as a key figure on major education bills. She’s in a three-way race, facing Republican Debra Irvine and independent Kathleen Curry, who formerly served in the House as a Democrat. Stand also has endorsed Hamner.

Senate

District 26 (Arapahoe County) – Sen. Linda Newell. This is considered one of the closest Senate races in the state. Newell faces Republican businessman David Kerber. She was one of the prime sponsors of Senate Bill 12-046, the law that rolls back most zero-tolerance school discipline policies.

District 25 (Adams County) – Sen. Mary Hodge. As a member of the Joint Budget Committee, Hodge is deeply involved with K-12 and higher education funding. Her GOP opponent is retired federal ICE agent John Sampson.

District 35 (San Luis Valley) – Crestina Martinez. A Costilla County commissioner, she faces GOP community activist Larry Crowder. This is another close race.

All three Senate candidates also were endorsed by Stand.

DFER also endorsed Democratic State Board of Education member Angelika Schroeder, who’s running in the 2nd District.

The DFER Advisory Committee, which issued the endorsements, includes such well-known figures as Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, State Board of Education member Elaine Gantz Berman and state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: