Barbara O’Brien to head Get Smart Schools

Colorado’s former lieutenant governor and a longtime advocate for Colorado’s kids will take over Get Smart Schools, the nonprofit organization announced today.

Barbara O’Brien, then the lieutenant governor, at a 2010 press conference. <em>EdNews</em> file photo.

Get Smart Schools Board Chair Eric Sondermann said Barbara O’Brien will become the organization’s new president and CEO succeeding the organization’s founding executive director, Amy Slothower.

Get Smart Schools is a 5-year-old Colorado nonprofit dedicated to expanding the number of charter schools as well as other autonomous schools in Colorado. To that end, the organization offers a leadership development program to identify and train leaders for such schools and works to help charter schools thrive through advocacy at the policy level.

“Barbara O’Brien is not only one of Colorado’s most respected education and policy experts, but is nationally known for her work and commitment to early childhood and literacy initiatives,” Sondermann said. “We couldn’t have found a better person to take Get Smart Schools to the next level.”

Get Smart Schools is in the process of expanding into Front Range districts beyond Aurora and Denver and organization leaders believe O’Brien “brings an unparalleled statewide perspective to lead this effort.”

O’Brien said she has recently become interested in the need to focus on the quality of school leadership – principals, assistant principals and lead teachers. And while the first focus will be on those in charter schools, she said she would like to see programs aimed at boosting leadership quality broadened to more traditional public schools as well.

Beyond that, she was reluctant to spell out her vision for Get Smart Schools, where she also served as a founding board member.

“Everything I’ve done had something to do with children and I’ve never predicted a single thing I was going to be doing except that, in some way, improve the health and education of children,” O’Brien said.

In the past year or so, she has worked extensively on third-grade reading, which has proven to be a critical predictor year for students in terms of their future academic success.

“The issue of school leadership – instructional leadership – of a school plays an incredible role in how successful kids in an entire school are,” she said. “I’d like to get my hands dirty in this issue and see what can be done so we can have more kids in good schools with good principals.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper offered a congratulatory message.

“We are fortunate to have these excellent education leaders working to improve student outcomes,” Hickenlooper said. “Barbara’s experience as a children’s advocate will help all Colorado’s children to succeed.”

O’Brien most recently served as a senior fellow at the Piton Foundation. Prior to becoming lieutenant governor in 2007 she spent 16 years leading the Colorado Children’s Campaign, turning it into a leading children’s advocacy and policy organization, according to a Get Smart Schools news release.

“Barbara’s passion for educational excellence and her dedication to improving children’s lives make her a perfect fit for leading Get Smart Schools. Her grace and intelligence will be an enormous benefit to GSS and Colorado’s children,” said Terry Minger, Piton’s president and CEO.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.