Candidate for ed chief

Regents narrow their choices for New York’s next education chief

Updated — The search for New York’s next education commissioner could wrap up this week, as final candidates have emerged and the Board of Regents has scheduled a last-minute meeting for Tuesday afternoon.

In contention are a mix of superintendents from inside and outside New York state, according to multiple sources. Two of the final candidates, though not the only two, are Christopher Koch, Illinois’s longtime superintendent who stepped down in April, and Dan White, a superintendent for a Western New York region that serves suburban districts.

It’s unclear how many candidates are among the finalists for the state commissioner post, a job that has been unfilled since John King left for the federal education department at the end of 2014. At least one person from outside New York with experience as a district superintendent is also said to still be in the running.

The chosen candidate will oversee the State Education Department at a moment of transition for education policy in New York. He or she will face a department without the extra millions of federal money it had been spending since 2010, a growing movement of parents opposed to state testing, wariness from school districts facing fresh changes to teacher evaluations, and a changing Board of Regents, which oversees the department.

“We need someone who can manage organized change in an effective way,” Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said of the commissioner search last week.

The two known finalists, Koch (pronounced “cook”) and White, are leaders with different kinds of leadership experience. But people who worked closely with the men described them as knowledgeable and practical.

Koch wrapped up a nearly nine-year reign as Illinois’ education chief in April, one of the longest tenures of state education leaders during that period. As the state’s education steward through its Race to the Top era, he worked to introduce new teacher evaluations, boost learning standards, and lower passing scores on state standardized tests — policies that have been rolled out more slowly and thus with much less acrimony than New York’s similar shifts.

“New York would be lucky to get him,” said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, a group that advocates for many of those policy changes.

Koch didn’t steer entirely clear of controversy during his tenure. He was among several state chiefs who accepted trips paid for by the charitable foundation of the publishing giant Pearson, which had $138 million in contracts with Illinois, according to the New York Times. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman investigated similar trips made by New York officials, but found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Koch is now serving as the interim president of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

White helms the Monroe County’s Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which provides special academic and support services to students across districts in Monroe County, a position he has held since 2008. As chair of the Monroe superintendents, who oversee the districts surrounding Rochester, White has had exposure to state-level policymaking and met monthly with Tisch and King in Albany.

White was previously a school counselor, a principal, and superintendent of Perry Central School District, an 800-student district south of Rochester.

The candidate the Regents choose will act as the chief executive officer of the State Education Department, an agency of more than 2,600 employees with a $30 million budget. The department shapes education policy for nearly 700 school districts, including New York City. It also oversees the state’s public colleges, libraries, museums, and broadcasting stations, and provides licenses for 52 professions.

Like most high-profile executive searches, details of the process are kept secret until a candidate is picked. State education officials declined to comment on possible candidates.

“The committee is in the final stages of its work,” said Regents Vice Chancellor Anthony Bottar, who is heading the search committee.

The Regents formally launched the hiring process in early February, a little over a month after King resigned after three-and-a-half years on the job. King’s tenure was marked by controversy around the how quickly the state moved to make significant changes to its teacher evaluations and its standardized tests.

Since his resignation, the state’s education policy debates have only become more heated. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has focused his attention on education issues, passing a controversial new evaluation law that included an overhaul of teacher evaluations and dozens of other policy changes. Last October, he vowed to dismantle what he called the state’s public-education “monopoly,” infuriating teachers unions and local districts.

Meanwhile, nearly one-third of the 17 members of the Board of Regents were elected in the last 14 months. The new members are vocal critics of the policies implemented after New York State won $700 million in federal Race to the Top grants in 2010, which compelled states to overhaul their teacher evaluations and teacher preparation programs and raise learning standards.

Now, the federal grant money has been spent, and pushback from districts and teachers unions has swelled.

“This is probably one of the toughest times ever to become a state chief,” said Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, the nonprofit education consulting group. “New York is particularly difficult because you have a governor who’s out front on many of these issues and a Board of Regents that’s challenging.”

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede