Archives for category: Administrators, superintendents

Carl Cohn is a veteran educator who served as superintendent in Long Beach and in San Diego. He has received many awards for his service.

The selection of a new superintendent in Long Beach prompted him to write his thoughts about previous crises faced by the district and about the importance of teachers today. No superintendent can succeed without building relationships of mutual respect and collaboration with trusted teachers.

I first met Carl Cohn when he was selected to clean up the damage done by the first effort to disrupt a school district. That was San Diego. At the turn of the century, San Diego was one of the most successful urban districts in the nation—perhaps the most successful—but the school board decided it needed a massive overhaul. They hired lawyer Alan Bersin to disrupt the district. I described what happened there—including demoralization of teachers, and a philosophy of changing everything all at once because (as the saying then went) “you can’t jump over a canyon in two leaps.” The philosophy of the leadership was that change had to be abrupt, immediate, and “pedal to the metal.” Billionaires sent money. Books were written about the “bold” reforms. The infighting and controversy became so inflamed that the public eventually threw out the “reform” school board. San Diego, however, was the model for Joel Klein’s disruptions in New York City, which were the model for the same in D.C., and on and on.

I spent a week in the district interviewing teachers and principals and school board members. My last interview was with Carl Cohn. I saw him as a calming figure whose job was to restore morale, order, and professionalism. He succeeded.

After the collapse of the disruption era, the San Diego school board hired an experienced educator, Cindy Marten, who had been a teacher and principal in the district. Although she has had to impose devastating budget cuts, she has been a steady hand at the tiller. I met her in 2006, when she was a principal, running a progressive child-centered school. When I visited San Diego a few years ago, she took me for a drive, and I surprised myself for taking a paragliding ride at Torrey Pines. Needless to say, I am delighted that San Diego has such trustworthy, experienced leadership again.

I began my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education with the San Diego story. It is a cautionary tale. If you read one chapter in that book, read that one. It ends with my interview of Carl Cohn.

Angelica Infante-Green, the Commissioner of Education in Rhode Island, selected Harrison Peters as the takeover superintendent of Providence.

Peters announced his initial plans, which sound sensible, like implementing restorative justice in schools and assessing which schools need emergency repairs.

However, the article suggests that the big reform plan will be rolled out in April.

Keep an eye on this because Peters is already a member of Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change,” where he has been designated a “future” chief. Chiefs for Change is an organization that adheres to Bush’s harsh ideas about testing, school closings, school report cards, and charter schools. And, of course, Jeb is one of the nation’s foremost advocates for vouchers.

Peter Greene writes here about the forgotten role of the principal and superintendent. It is not to promote misguided and harmful policies such as those that were central to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, but to fight against them and to protect their staff as best they can against misguided mandates. For most of the past two decades, however, the folks at the top blew with the wind and went along with what they surely knew were very bad ideas.

He writes:

A manager’s job– and not just the management of a school, but any manager– is to create the system, environment and supports that get his people to do their very best work. When it rains, it’s the manager’s job to hold an umbrella over his people. When the wind starts blowing tree limbs across the landscape, it’s the manager’s job to stand before the storm and bat the debris away. And when the Folks at the Top start sending down stupid directives, it’s a manager’s job to protect his people the best he possibly can.

NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core, the high stakes Big Standardized Tests– each of these bad policies is bad for many reason, but the biggest one is this: instead of helping teachers do their jobs, these policies interfere with teachers doing their jobs, even mandate doing their jobs badly. In each case a bunch of educational amateurs pushed their way into schools and said, “You’re doing it all wrong from now on, you have to do it like this,” like medically untrained non-doctors barging into a surgical procedure to say, “Stop using that sterile scalpel and use this rusty shovel instead.”

That was bad. But it is base betrayal when, in that situation, management turns to its trained, professional workers and says, “Well, you heard the man. Pick up that rusty shovel.”

John Ogozalek teaches in rural upstate New York.

He writes:

Let’s hope we dodge this bullet as a nation.

But it sounds like the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to go sideways.

What if schools close for weeks -if not months?

What will teachers do during this time off? (Assuming we’re not taking care of family in our own homes.)

And, let’s face it, the idea of teaching online just isn’t going to last long if at all for many K-12 schools. Seriously.

Here’s the thing…

Teachers represent an already organized, very locally based force -across the entire nation.

Instead of waiting for the federal government’s response to get organized (which under Trump’s leadership seems like a disaster in the making as valuable time slips by) perhaps our unions and school districts can get moving on this challenge right now.

Hopefully, we won’t be needed. But why not get ready to help?

I do not want to sit around my house if school is closed.

Could I volunteer with a local doctor? Check on shut ins?

At the minimum, schools can have meetings right now to make sure teachers and staff have accurate contact information including alternate means to communicate in case the internet is stressed. What happens to families who are lacking child care? And, those kids who rely on school lunch?

We can start to organize and at least offer our volunteer assistance to the government. A sort of “Teacher Force” at the ready for those of us who can lend a hand.

By moving forward without fear and working together maybe we can create a model for other groups? And, most importantly, offer some help to the children in our communities.

You have contact with people in charge of things in this country, especially union leaders.

I think this idea might get off the ground pretty quickly if an organization like NYSUT, for example, gets local presidents on it. Of course, we’d include administrators and anyone else in the school who wants to pitch in. We’d need a thoughtful template to respond effectively…a plan informed by public health experts. A package of possible options that local schools can consider and perhaps choose from.

Just an idea, Diane. Maybe the higher ups somewhere are already thinking in this direction?

If not, maybe we should….

Educator Jen Mangrum won the Democratic primary for State Superintendent of Education. She had the support of the state’s biggest teacher associations, and she won the endorsement of the Network for Public Education Action.

Jen is a native of North Carolina whose parents were public school teachers. After graduating college, she taught second and third graders and specialized in early childhood education for 15 years. She earned graduate degrees and became a teacher educator.

Distraught with the General Assembly’s disrespect for the state’s teachers, she launched a long shot campaign against the most powerful politician in the state in 2018. She didn’t win but she persisted in fighting to restore respect and dignity to the state’s educators. North Carolina has moreNational Board Certified teachers proportionally than any other state.

Her Republican opponent, Catherine Truitt, was an advisor to Governor McCrory, who led the attacks on teachers and introduced charters and vouchers. She is now leader of an online university.

NPE Action is proud to have endorsed Jen and wish her well in her November race. We hope every public school parent and teacher will help her. She can lead the charge to revive the Tarheel State’s reputation for educational leadership.

Oklahoma has an elected state superintendent of schools. Her name is Joy Hofmeister. Amazingly, she is a strong friend of public schools, and has done her best to shield them from a penny-pinching, anti-education legislature that puts tax cuts first, children last.

So of course, the conservative Republican governor Kevin Stitt thinks it is time to get rid of the elected superintendent and give him the power to choose someone more to his liking, who will not fight to fund the public schools as Hofmeister has. Several years ago, I spoke in the Sooner State and met Superintendent Hofmeister. I thought she was impressive and well-informed. Oklahoma is lucky to have her.

Somehow, a lot of Oklahomans like the idea that they can have some role in picking the state superintendent.

Since they have a very good one, they should keep her. You can be sure that Governor Stitt wants someone who will cut the education budget and demoralize teachers.

The Resistance grows!

Press Advisory: Thirty Regional School Superintendents To Come Together to Defend Public Education, Joining Public District Leaders from Across the State to Urge Reform of Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law

When: Monday, January 27, 2020 10 a.m.

Where: Whitehall Elementary, 399 North Whitehall Road Norristown, PA 19403

Leaders Form Coalition and Support a Moratorium on New Charter Enrollment Until Laws Can be Reformed

Leaders from public school districts in the five-county Greater Philadelphia region are joining with others from across the state in calling for meaningful, substantive reform of Pennsylvania’s charter school laws. They also support a moratorium on new charter school applications and a freeze on additional seats for students at existing charters until reform is enacted. Public school superintendents and other top school administrators recently formed LEARN, Leaders for Educational Accountability and Reform Network, as a way to coalesce around urgent issues impacting public schools, such as charter reform. They are calling for reform to the way charters are funded, as well as an improvement in accountability and oversight. Citing an extremely inequitable funding system, LEARN says charter schools, which are often among the worst performing schools in the state, are straining public systems. Extreme increases in charter costs are sending an increasingly greater amount of public tax dollars to charters, over which locally elected school boards have little-to-no authority or oversight. LEARN wants to bring charter tuition payments in line with actual school district costs and provide more accountability.

Contact: Dr. Frank Gallagher, Superintendent in the Souderton Area School District

 

“School choice advocates argue that every child learns differently, and parents have a right to choose the kind of school best suited to their child’s needs. But the public education system was designed as a public benefit, with a different purpose in mind: to provide education to every person, despite their special or specific needs and limitations. Those advocates aren’t wrong in demanding better options for public education and its current failures. We all should be demanding that. Schools supported by all should work for all. Parents can make a different choice, but shouldn’t rely on the rest of us to pay for it.”

Justin Parmenter is a National Board Certified Teacher in North Carolina.

In this essay, he documents the decade-long effort by Republicans to destroy public education in North Carolina and demoralize teachers. 

He writes:

Out of all the states that have struggled to provide a quality public education over the past decade, perhaps none have seen as precipitous a decline as North Carolina. Once seen as a regional model of progressive education policy, a succession of unfortunate occurrences has severely damaged our public education system. Activists now fight against difficult odds for the change students need most.

Shift of Political Power to Republicans and Impact on North Carolina Education Policy

Like many states, North Carolina was hit hard by the Great Recession and saw funding cuts that greatly impacted our schools. However, the nightmare for our public schools began in earnest in November 2010 when the Republican Party won control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives (Mildwurf & Browder, 2010) in North Carolina’s state legislature. The following year, Republicans gerrymandered electoral districts (Ballotpedia, n.d.a) to ensure they’d be able to hold onto power for the next decade and then set their veto-proof majority to work passing regressive education policies with no opposition.

The policies included significant de-professionalization of the teaching profession in North Carolina through revoking career status protection (Public Schools First NC, 2017) for teachers, terminating advanced degree compensation (Kiley, 2013), and eliminating retiree health care benefits (Bonner, 2017). The GOP majority lifted the cap (Leslie, 2011) on charter schools, worsening economic and racial segregation across the state given that charters serve an increasingly white population (Nordstrom, 2018). The legislature directed a billion dollars (Wagner, 2019) over a decade to voucher programs, despite the fact that the the schools participating in the program were not required to report on student achievement (Public Schools First NC, 2019). Additionally, the legislature cut thousands of teacher assistants (Campbell & Bonner, 2015) and created a school report card system, in which school ratings were highly correlated with levels of poverty (Henkel, 2016). Finally, state legislators passed a K–3 reading initiative (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, n.d.), which promised to improve results through increasing assessment volume and threatening our most vulnerable students with grade retention. And when K–3 reading achievement got worse, legislators added financial pay- for-performance incentives (Clark, 2016) based on questionable value-added data.
Many of these harmful initiatives were passed in budget bills rather than being moved through deliberative committee processes, eliminating the debate and public input so essential to the creation of effective policy. In addition to promoting a neoliberal education reform agenda, North Carolina’s lawmakers passed massive tax cuts favoring corporations and wealthy individuals, which have taken $3.6 billion in potential annual revenue (Sirota, 2019) off the table, all but ensuring schools will struggle for adequate resources for the foreseeable future.

In North Carolina’s 2016 general election, Republican Mark Johnson eked out a 1% victory (Ballotpedia, n.d.b) for the state superintendency—the first time in more than 100 years the office had been won by a Republican. State legislators immediately moved to transfer power away from newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and the State Board of Education and give Superintendent Johnson unprecedented control of North Carolina’s public school system (North Carolina General Assembly, 2016).

As State Superintendent, Johnson has been a disaster. Having only two years as a TFA teacher, he was over his head. His inept leadership outraged teachers and provoked mass walkouts.

Parmenter says that teacher activism is exhausting but worth it.

This year there is an election for state superintendent. The Network for Public Education has endorsed educator Jen Mangrum for the post. There is a chance to revive public education in North Carolina.

 

I am happy to give my personal endorsement to Dr. Jennifer (Jen) Mangrum, who is running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in North Carolina.

Jen has already been endorsed by the Network for Public Education, which concluded that she is far and away the most qualified candidate in the race.

Jen is a career educator who understands the importance of restoring the integrity of public education in what was once the premier state in the South.

She knows that the state’s General Assembly and its current superintendent have not supported public schools or their teachers.

The General Assembly has passed law after law intended to demoralize teachers and harm public schools.

In a  previous election, Jen had the courage to run against the most powerful politician in the state, the one who has led the effort to destroy public schools in the state.

She has proven that she has the knowledge, the experience, the spine and the spirit to run a spirited campaign and to fight for the children, teachers, and public schools of North Carolina.

She has been a classroom teacher and a teacher of teachers. She knows what is needed to lead the state’s school system.

Jen Mangrum understands the importance of attracting and retaining dedicated teachers, and she is committed to improving the public schools of North Carolina.

Her election would be a welcome change from years of toxic policy and state mis-leadership.

I have no doubt that Jen Mangrum would lead the change towards positive policies that is so desperately needed in North Carolina.

Please turn the tide in North Carolina against the politicians who have attacked public schools and their teachers and opened the schools up for profiteers and privatizers.

My many friends in the state support Jen Mangrum for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

I add my endorsement to that of North Carolina Teachers United, which has nearly 40,000 teacher-members.

Early voting starts February 13; the deadline to register to vote is February 7.

Please register and vote.

Please vote for Jen Mangrum.

 

 

NCTU Announces Recommended Candidate for North Carolina State Superintendent

Press Release: 

Mr. Bishay Elshoukarey, Director, Melissa Marie, Communications Manager, with Operation Managers Kristy Elshoukarey and Katherine Harter of  North Carolina Teachers United (NCTU) announced that Dr. Jen Mangrum has been selected as the recommended candidate for North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  A committee of educators, who are members of NCTU, convened and after carefully reviewing each of the questionnaires selected Dr. Mangrum from a field of seven candidates.

 

Dr. Jen Mangrum, an educator for more than 30 years is currently employed by UNC-G in the School of Education as Clinical Associate Professor in Education.  Since she has been at UNC-G, Jen co-founded the STEM Teacher Leader collaborative.  Prior to taking the position at UNC-G, she completed her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and worked NC State University creating the Elementary Education program and department, where she led it for two years.

 

Both of Mangrum’s parents were educators and she followed in their footsteps.  For twelve years, she served as an elementary teacher in two different North Carolina school districts.  She then became a literacy facilitator where she modeled and coached effective literacy instruction.  During this time she began consulting with the National Paideia Center, which advocates that all learners practice the critical thinking, communication skills, and attitudes necessary to earn a living, be an active citizen, and pursue a meaningful life.

 

“Jen Mangrum is the leader we need as State Superintendent as she is an advocate for teachers, students, and families,” said Melissa Easley. 

 

“It is clear that Dr. Mangrum is totally qualified and the best candidate to be the State Superintendent.  She wants to change the current climate of respect for public education that is prevalent in the current leadership of both the NC Senate and NC House,” added Bishay Elshoukarey. 

 

Dr. Mangum indicated on her questionnaire that she is running to be the State Superintendent because she wants to reverse the current trend to dismantle public education.  She also said, “I want to make our state better for our children and future generations.”

 

The North Carolina Primary Election is March 3, 2020 with early voting beginning on February 13, 2020 and lasting until February 29, 2020.  Voter registration deadline is Friday, February 7, 2020. 

Jere Hochman was most recently the superintendent of the  Bedford Central School district in New York State (his third superintendency). He then became the education advisor to Governor Cuomo, where he seemed to have a calming effect on the governor. He went home to St. Louis and took a position within the school system. He writes here about what he sees as the success of what was once a very troubled school district, threatened from all sides because of low test scores. St. Louis, he writes, is back, even though its population is declining and under-enrolled schools must be closed. State takeovers seldom improve schools. In St. Louis, the story is different, perhaps because of the steadiness of local leadership, which did not try to destroy the school district. Public confidence is on the rebound. He explains why.

 

The Surprising Success of the St. Louis Public Schools

Jere Hochman

December 2019

Startling mismanagement,” “emergency managers,” “charters galore,” “Academic Distress Commissions,” privatization maneuvering, dismal student performance and graduation rates and other descriptors cited in Dr. Ravitch’s blogs have characterized state takeovers including those in Detroit, Houston, Providence, Youngstown and most recently, Rochester.  

In St. Louis, words like “trust,” “direction and focus,” “fiscally responsible and economical stable,” “confidence,” and “accredited” describe the outcomes following a state takeover.  

Last summer, Dr. Ravitch asked me “Why did St. Louis work?”

In 2007, the State of Missouri declared the St. Louis Public Schools “unaccredited.”  A news article summarizing the circumstances cited: “The district was graduating just 56 percent of the students it was supposed to. District leaders were staring down a budget hole more than $24 million deep that had been dug out of a $52 million surplus just five years before. The district would force out or say goodbye to six superintendents in five years. The district was meeting only five of 14 state accreditation standards.” (St. Louis Post Dispatch, January 11, 2017).

 At that time, the school district governance was transferred from an elected board of education to a three-person Special Appointed Board (SAB).  The Mayor, the President of the Board of Alderman, and the Governor each appointed a Board member. Subsequently, and, perhaps their most noteworthy accomplishment, was the SAB’s hiring an outstandingsuperintendent who is still leading the district garnering confidence and results.  

Under the appointed board’s governance and the superintendent’s leadership, the district restored fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, operational efficiency, and long-term financial stability.  The district achieved state accreditation in 2017.   Among the accomplishments during this period, the district:

Upgraded aging facilities, new science labs, playscapes, and more.
Passed a 75% community majority vote on a $155 Bond Issue and a ballot proposition to support early childhood, safety and security, equipment, character education, and curriculum advancements.
Minimized obstacles of student mobility and homelessness, partnered with dozens of community agency supports; reduced suspensions, and improved student attendance.
Implemented with teacher union support, a plan for first year teachers to be coached and evaluated by fellow full-time “consultant teachers.”
In 2018, the 4-year graduation rate was 78%.  Two and Four-year college entrance rates were on par with the State average.

And, while academic performance improvement afforded re-accreditation, all concur with optimism and determination, there is much work to be done.

 Throughout this intervention process, local control remained intact and stability in governance and district leadership provided growth, capacity, and sound foundation for the future.  Having attained accreditation, on July 1, 2019, governance transitioned from the SAB to an elected seven-person Saint Louis Public Schools Board of Education. 

It Worked.  Why?

When asked, “Why did St. Louis work?” my response was immediate: 1) A temporary appointed board governance model,2) the individuals serving on the three-person board, and 3) the superintendent all under a microscope.  

It worked because the governance model inherently required the board’s unflinching and self-disciplined attention to policy, protocols, and oversight.   The board scrutinized and directed the district’s operations for efficiency, productivity, and accountability. It worked because these board members left their egos at the door, adhered to the model’s roles and expectations, and did their homework.  

 They stayed the course through initial opposition and they stayed, literally.  They served the interests of the children and the district.  They did not jump on the sweeping educational reform bandwagon or allow infiltration of political interests.  Moreover, they cleared the way for their newly hired superintendent, Dr. Kelvin Adams, to lead, to genuinely lead, the school district.

From day one, Dr. Adams provided direction, focus, and disciplined operations.  He exemplified a relentless mission for every students’ success, equity, and accountability and he held all staff to the same standards and expectations.

 There were no promises of a splashy quick fix turnaround or “take no prisoners” authoritarian posturing. (witnessed by short-lived tenure of superintendents and boards in other districts).  Any concerns about a privatization movement, charter takeover, or special interest board seat takeover were alleviated.  Charter schools popped up, however approximately one-third eventually shuttered their doors.  And, today, Dr. Adams continues to serve with stick-to-itiveness, integrity, and sights set on high expectations for students and employees.

In every meeting, the appointed board stuck to protocols and their responsibilities.  Through the challenges, highly scrutinized decisions, and response to concerns, they supported and protected the superintendent to perform his responsibilities.  Were there problems, unsuccessful efforts, and criticism?  Of course.  They were matched, however, with research-based endeavors, “data driven” goals and accountability, confidence-building audits, and determination.

The governance model kept board members focused on what boards are supposed to do which in turn allowed the superintendent to do what superintendents are supposed to do. Which in turn provided clear direction and allowed district leaders and staff, principals, and teachers to do what they are supposed to do.  They did so well.

In addition to continuous academic improvement in the schools, the district worked with local corporate, and agency partners; religious institutions and faith-leaders; on-a-mission employees and the union; necessary watchdogs and critics and wary but caring parents; and innovative local philanthropists, an academically focused Foundation, and numerous support agencies. 

 Now, as the elected Board of Education resumes governance, the St. Louis Public Schools currently enrolls approximately 22,000 students, a decline from approximately 26,000 in 2009 (overall city population has decreased).  There are 17 charter school entities in the city, enrolling approximately 10,000 students..  

This past year, the “new” elected Board of Education immersed themselves in orientation, development, and preparation to resume governance.  Their preparation and determined effort could serve as a model for board orientation in any school district.  Now, they govern a district where there is confidence in the superintendent; academic, operational, and financial stability; a comprehensive Transformation Plan (3.0); and a solid foundation upon which continued academic growth is occurring.  

In a reform world, particularly in an urban district, stability and success are unusual.  Board stability with “constancy of purpose” is uncommon.  A long-term superintendent methodically leading academics and operations particularly is rare.  A superintendent leading deliberately, instilling confidence, and inspiring all around her or him is as rare. 

In all categories, St. Louis is an outlier upon which to build continued success. Whether it was the appointed board governance model and respective roles of the board and superintendent or it was the individuals who filled the positions, or a combination of both (no doubt the latter), it worked. 

(Disclosure:  I am an employee of the district with a unique lens.  After serving as a superintendent in three school districts for 19 years, I serve as a network superintendent in SLPS).

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