A push for change

Governor-elect’s proposal would make future Indiana schools chiefs appointed, not elected

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov.-Elect Eric Holcomb presents his 2017 legislative agenda.

Gov.-Elect Eric Holcomb today announced that beginning in 2021, he wants to make Indiana’s elected schools chief a governor-appointed position.

“This is not about the person, me or the superintendent,” Holcomb said, referring to the state Superintendent-Elect, Republican Jennifer McCormick. “This is about the position and how it can be aligned (with the governor’s office) and work truly together.”

Holcomb said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, would author the bill. Despite earlier comments from Bosma that he might not push for such a proposal this year, Bosma has said he’s long supported appointing the state superintendent.

Holcomb would not say whether McCormick supported the proposal. The secretary of education would report directly to the governor as part of the cabinet.

McCormick, formerly a school superintendent in Yorktown, near Muncie, could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Less than two months ago, legislative leaders in both parties were not definitive about whether they’d want the superintendent position to be elected or appointed, or when that change might take place.

Politically, this move has been a long time coming. Former Gov. Mike Pence, now the U.S. Vice President-Elect, frequently butted heads with former Democrat state Superintendent Glenda Ritz over issues of testing, school A-F grades and who shapes the state’s education policy.

Those battles sparked conversations among lawmakers as recently as 2015 about making the position appointed, which most states already do. Ultimately, those conversations did not end with a change to the elected office. Instead, the law said that the state superintendent would be removed as the automatic leader of the Indiana State Board of Education after 2016.

Ritz served in the position through last month. Until a stunning loss in November, Ritz was the only Democrat elected to statewide office.

The proposal, if it passes the General Assembly, would not take effect until after McCormick’s upcoming term as Indiana’s top education official. She will be sworn in Monday and serves through 2020.

Today, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said he could be convinced either way about whether electing or appointing is better, which marks a change from recent Democrat priorities to keep the state superintendent position strong and independent from the governor’s office.

“This idea has been kicked around between the parties for a long period of time,” Pelath said. “I just have to say as an individual taxpaying Hoosier, I can see the merits both ways. I’ve had an open mind to those things.”

However, Pelath said, he’s not sure the public will be as understanding. And really, he said, what matters is whether this change will result in any improvements to education overall.

“Making an office appointed when it’s been elected is always a bit of a tough sell,” Pelath said. “It’s one thing to make a change in how the office is picked. What policies follow — those are what really matter. And if it doesn’t make a change, then it’s not really much of a reform.”

Holcomb is expected to present his full budget plan next week, and Bosma said his bill will be filed on Monday.

March for Our Lives

Memphis students say Saturday protest is not just about school shootings. It’s about all gun violence.

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
A student at Columbine High School holds a sign during a protest of gun violence, on March 14, 2018 in Littleton, Colorado.

Students marching Saturday in Memphis against gun violence say they are not only protesting the shootings that killed 17 people last month at a Florida high school. They also are speaking out against shootings that happen daily in their own city.

Seventeen-year-old John Chatman says he fears school shootings, but he especially fears the common gun violence in his neighborhood of South Memphis. He has lost close friends to shootings.

“It can happen anywhere, anytime,” Chatman said. “I think [this march] is a great stand. We should protest against school shootings. But we have to talk about what kids like me are seeing in Memphis on the daily.”

Memphis had 200 homicides in 2017, down from 228 the previous year, the deadliest year recorded in the city in two decades.

Chatman is one of hundreds of Memphians expected to participate in this weekend’s March for Our Lives event as part of a nationwide protest sparked by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The largest march will be in Washington, D.C., where up to a half million protesters are expected, but smaller demonstrations are planned in cities and towns across the nation. In Tennessee, other marches are slated for Jackson, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Clarksville, Cookeville, and Johnson City.

The Memphis march will start at 10 a.m. at Claiborne Temple, and Savanah Thompson will be there. One of more than a dozen student organizers, she worries that news about people getting shot has become commonplace.

“Being in Memphis, you get used to hearing about gun violence,” said Thompson, a freshman at White Station High School. “This affects the youth in our city. … We never want a school shooting to happen in Memphis or anywhere ever again.”

Alyssa Kieren, a student leader at Collierville High School, hopes the march fosters a sense of unity.

“We’re trying to stress that this isn’t a partisan issue,” Kieren said. “We have to acknowledge there is a problem and we have to come up with solutions. … The thing we’re upset about is that children are dying in our schools, and they’re dying in our city.”


Memphis candidate no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s school turnaround district is no longer under consideration.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him with the news that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

“Given the visibility of the ASD role, I think there are too many questions about his time at Miller-McCoy for him to be credible,” wrote Mollie Mitchell, president of The K-12 Search Group, in the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second time to meet with local stakeholders. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked to be eliminated, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration are Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools, the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Editor’s note: We have updated this story with comment from the Tennessee Department of Education.