Archives for category: Administrators, superintendents

Bertis Downs lives in Athens, Georgia, in one of the state’s poorest communities. He is a great advocate for public education and is also a member of the board of the Network for Public Education. He made his mark as manager of the rock group R.E.M. We are very proud to have him advise us, given his devotion to public schools, where his own daughters are students. This article he wrote was posted by Valerie Strauss on her blog this morning.

One of the amazing things about Athens and the Clarke County School District is that its superintendent, Philip Lanoue, was chosen as National Superintendent of the Year by his colleagues.

He writes that the over-testing culture has not been good for the local public schools. Parents and teachers don’t like it. But Superintendent Lanoue has led the way in making positive changes.

Bertis writes:

I mean, really, if this over-testing, high-stakes culture is really such a great idea, wouldn’t reformers want this environment for their own children? Wouldn’t they push the elite private schools their children attend to adopt those “innovative reforms” too? The fact that they don’t is telling. These are not educationally sound ideas, and reformers know it, even as they call these policies “innovative” as they push them to the public. Do they think we don’t know better? Of course the schools exempt from the public mandates don’t nurture this absurd over-testing culture, especially the ones labeled “innovative” by those passing the laws. Balderdash, by any other name…

Our family lives in Athens, Georgia, a community that – like most communities – values public education, and our kids go to our local public schools. Our school district has been innovating, really innovating in some pretty creative ways, some of which might even sound old-fashioned or simple. I actually prefer the word “intuitive.” Especially for the past six years, we are grateful for the leadership of Phil Lanoue, who was named 2015 National Superintendent of the Year.

He deserves the honor, and here’s why: he works to build up all Athens community schools by focusing on teaching and learning, using technology where it enhances the overall mission of educating students, working with community partners to try new techniques, enhancing efficacy, and emphasizing our community’s capacity to support the work of our neighborhood schools. Dr. Lanoue is the first to state that he isn’t the only one putting in the work. He sets a tone, supports his team members and advances good ideas that foster high-quality teaching and learning. Many of these ideas are proving themselves effective over the years.

Read on to learn ahow Lanoue has provided positive leadership to the schools and the community.

New York State’s historic opt out of 2015 was fueled by angry parents on Long Island, the Lower Hudson Valley, and Upstate New York. Parents were angry because Governor Andrew Cuomo bullied a compliant Legislature into passing a state budget that contained a radical, educationally invalid high-stakes testing mandate. Parents, led by the New York State Allies for Public Education  (NYSAPE), knew that upping the weight of testing would hurt the quality of their child’s education, and they rebelled. 

On Long Island, which has some of the best public schools in the state, a group of respected superintendents understood that the state mandates were bad for education, motivated by politics, not by evidence, research, or experience. 

One of the clear-thinking, outspoken superintendents is David Gamberg. He is the superintendent of two adjoining districts on the North Fork, a semi-rural region of farms and vineyards, with Long Island Sound on one side and Peconic Bay on the other. Gamberg is proud of the music and arts in his schools and the gardens where children raise vegetables for the school cafeteria. His vision of good education is diametrically opposed to the testing mandates imposed by the politicians in Albany. 

He and other fearless superintendents on the Island have been holding forums for parents in Nassau and Suffolk counties and plan for another half dozen such public meetings by the end of the year. 

Meanwhile, David Gamberg has been writing a series of articles about “what’s worth fighting for.” This is his latest

Funny to think of David Gamberg as a fighter. He is a gentle, soft-spoken man who loves children and understands education. He knows there are principles, practices, and people “worth fighting for.”

Florida superintendents issued a statement saying that they have lost confidence in the state’s accountability system.

Read it here.

A grou of “civic leaders” met with Los Angeles school board president Steve Zimmer to ask him to put them in charge of screening candidates for the new superintendent.

Some of these groups are funded by the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, the Billionaire Boys Club. They supported Former superintendent John Deasy, whose autocratic style antagonized teachers and whose legally dubious iPad plan is under FBI investigation.

Of I recall correctly, some of these individuals helped build the multi-million war chest to defeat Steve Zimmer for re-election.

Oh, dear. How shocking it would be if the LAUSD board picked a leader who didn’t buckle to the pro-privatization gang? What if it were an educator who was unafraid of Eli Broad? He has admitted he knows nothing about education, but he can’t stop trying to control it with his billions.

David Gamberg is the superintendent of the Southold Public Schools and the Greenport Public Schools, two small contiguous districts on the North Fork of Long Island. I have visited the elementary school in Southold and was wowed by the student garden and by the musical groups. These are schools and communities that care about their children, not just their test scores. Large proportions of students in both districts opted out of state testing last spring.

Gamberg spoke out against the Common Core standards and testing to his local newspaper. When Governor Cuomo announced that the Common Core was “not working” and that he would appoint a commission to find out why, Gamberg agreed that the standards and tests are not working. He worried that the Governor’s commission might not be independent.

He said:

The group might not sufficiently represent educators’ beliefs, Mr. Gamberg cautioned, if Gov. Cuomo hand picks the members.

“We need a completely independent commission, not one that is constructed by the governor who has no right nor position to do so,” he said. “When we look to bring expertise into the equation, we should be the ones developing and finding those individuals.”

In this video on YouTube, Gamberg addresses the faculty and staff at the opening of school and poses a question: What is worth fighting for? The answer: public education. He discusses the philosophy of the districts he leads, which prioritize children and their needs and help them grow into responsible adults. He offers no bonuses or threats to his staff. He knows they are working as hard as they know how to meet common goals, focused on the students in their care.

David Gamberg is a stand-up superintendent and leader.

Parent activists in Los Angeles have started organizing a campaign to have a seat at the table when the school board picks the next superintendent.

They call their campaign “Vet the Supe.” See links here and here.

They are concerned that the Board might select another Broadie like Deasy, who collected $350,000 a year, wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in a botched plan to buy iPads, and now works for the Broad Foundation, training other superintendents. Is that the definition of chutzpah?

The previous post included the letter that Dr. Michael J. Hynes of the Patchogue-Medford school district sent to teachers.

Parents in the district on Long Island in Néw York received this letter from Dr. Hynes.

The letter is straightforward. It says parents have the right to opt out without penalty.

Did your superintendent say that to parents in your district? If not, why not?

Thank you, Dr. Hynes, for leveling with parents and siding with students. I hope other superintendents follow your example.

Critics of opt out have likened the state tests to taking a vaccination. If the state tells you to do it, you must. The importance of a vaccination is based on science, not whim or politics. Children should be vaccinated whether their parents approve or not, because public health is at risk if they don’t.

But in light of the fact that the standardized tests now used are social constructs that arbitrarily label children as failures, parents should feel no obligation to subject their children to the tests. There is no risk to public health if children don’t take the tests. Opting out is the only way that parents can send a strong message to their elected representatives, who mandated the tests.

The following letter was sent to teachers in Patchogue-Medford, Long Island, in New York state by the superintendent, Dr. Michael J. Hynes. Hynes is a hero of public education. He joins the honor roll of this blog for his thoughtfulness, his care for his staff and students, and his willingness to stand up and speak out. When State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia met with Long Island superintendents to help them understand why they must take a firm position against opt outs, Superintendent Hynes of Patchogue-Medford, Superintendent David Gamberg of Greenport-Southold, Superintendent Steven Cohen of Shoreham-Wading River, and Superintendents Joe Rella of Comsewogue, were not invited. All have been outspoken against the state’s misuse of standardized testing. Gamberg and Cohen did not encourage opt outs, but they both sent letters home to parents explaining that there was no penalty for opting out.

August 28, 2015

Dear Ms. ——-,

The purpose of this letter is to let you know that I DO NOT CARE what your state growth score is. Let me be clear … I DO NOT CARE. It does not define you. Please know that I understand nobody likes to be reduced to a number.

The fact is, you are much more than a number; not only to me, but most important to the children and parents you serve. Keep your head up and your eye on what is more important … your students and your teaching craft. The Patchogue-Medford School District fully supports you as an educator, regardless of what this meaningless, invalid and inhumane score states. Let me know what you need and it is my sincere hope you have a great year.

With warm regards,

Michael J. Hynes, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Lillian Lowery stepped down as state superintendent in Maryland. Republican Governor Larry Hogan has now named six of the 11 members of the state board and will influence the choice of the next superintendent. His last two appointees were Andy Smarick and Chester Finn Jr., both conservatives and supporters of charter schools and the Common Core.

The article speculates that the Governor and state board might select Finn as state superintendent.

Soon after MaryEllen Elia was selected unanimously by the New York Board of Regents to be the State Education Commissioner, she gave me a call to introduce herself. We had a very pleasant exchange, and I made one request of her: Would she be willing to meet with the board of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE)? I explained to her that NYSAPE was the primary organizer of the historic opt out from state testing last spring, leading to about 200,000 students refusing to take the mandated tests. That’s 20% of the children who were supposed to take the tests. I told her that I thought it was important for her to meet them and hear their concerns. She readily assented.

Commissioner Elia took office on July 6, and she met with the leaders of NYSAPE (a few were away on vacation) on August 4. I joined the meeting to hear the discussion. From the outset, it was clear that Commissioner Elia intended to listen and that she is warm and personable. She may have heard that parents had a serious problem with her predecessor John King, who lectured them and seemed never to listen. Commissioner Elia asserted that there would be no teacher-bashing from her office; she was a teacher, and she wants the public to respect teachers.

That was a good start. Then the parents and educators expressed their views candidly. They do not like high-stakes testing; they do not like teachers’ evaluations tied to test scores, because that distorts the educational process. They are not opposed to testing, so long as testing is used only within the school for diagnostic purposes. The parents of children with disabilities complained that the tests were too long (three hours a day for six days), and in some cases, meaningless to their children. There were complaints about the State Education Department’s failure to answer FOILS (freedom of information requests) in a timely manner (or at all!) and complaints that the SED had failed to appoint a chief privacy officer, as a state law required.

What was striking was that this group of leaders are very well-informed. They have testified at hearings in Albany and in their towns. They are active in their communities and interact with elected officials. They are determined and they are not going away. One promised that if there were no policy changes from the Regents or the Legislature, the number of opt outs would grow.

Commissioner Elia was very cordial, but she hinted that there might be some kind of sanctions for opting out. It is hard to see how the state could withhold funds from school districts without incurring the wrath of some powerful state legislators. She also said that although Pearson had been replaced by Questar, Pearson’s tests would be used again this coming year. The new tests would be used for the first time in 2016-17. I am not sure if the change of vendor breaks the trend line, nor do I know anything about the record of Questar.

Commissioner Elia calmly but clearly stated her support for evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students. She did it in Florida and says that the teachers supported the practice. She is also a fan of online testing and raised the question of “embedding” online testing into instruction.

Carol Burris, the recently retired principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center (and new executive director of the Network for Public Education Fund, of which I am chair), participated in the meeting. She read off the ratings of teachers at very low-performing schools in Buffalo; many of the teachers in those schools received high ratings. Then she read the ratings of teachers at the high-performing Scarsdale public school, and an extraordinary proportion were rated “ineffective.” Commissioner Elia agreed that these results made no sense. Carol Burris wrote about this same meeting here. She suggested that New Yorkers hoping for a change in direction should not hold their breath waiting.

Of course, Commissioner Elia has to deal with the political realities. New York has a governor, Andrew Cuomo, who loves high-stakes standardized tests and wants to find and fire teachers who don’t “produce” them. Elia can’t write her own laws. But the story isn’t over. The leadership of the Board of Regents might change next spring when new members are appointed. There is already a strong bloc of retired educators on the Board who don’t like the current regime of high-stakes testing and don’t think the tests are either valid or reliable. That bloc might become the majority, and the realities would change.

It was a friendly and cordial meeting, but the differences in opinion were large. If NYSAPE was hoping for a change of direction, it seems unlikely to happen soon. Commissioner Elia agreed to meet again, and NYSAPE will no doubt continue to try to change her views. If nothing changes, the number of opt outs could increase in a big way next spring.


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