Who Is In Charge

“Leave it to the strategic plan”

“Leave it to the strategic plan.”

For months, that’s been the standard answer from Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration whenever anyone suggests any initiative or idea about the state’s struggling higher education system.

The “strategic plan” is the effort that got underway Jan. 27, when a Ritter-appointed panel held its first meeting to begin the work of creating a new blueprint for Colorado public colleges and universities. (See the bottom of this story for details on that effort.)

There’s been some push back against the administration’s desire to put all pending higher education issues into the strategic planning process, and two events last week illustrated the tension.

On Feb. 2 the House Local Government Committee killed House Bill 10-1157, a measure that would have created a method to generate county tax revenues for community and state four-year colleges (but not research universities).

The bill was dispatched without malice – even sponsor Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood agreed to the idea. John Karakoulakis, Department of Higher Education lobbyist, told the committee that the department would prefer the idea by considered as part of the strategic plan.

Things were a little more complicated Friday at the Colorado Commission on Higher Education meeting, where commissioners spent a couple of hours discussing pending legislation and whether to support or oppose individual bills, bucking the department in one case.

After about half an hour of discussion, and despite urgings to the contrary, the commission voted to endorse Senate Bill 10-079, which would allow Mesa State College in Grand Junction to offer graduate degrees. Mesa President Tim Foster, speaking to the meeting by telephone, said the college wants to offer such degrees in health care and education to meet regional demands.

The DHE opposes the bill in timing grounds because the strategic plan process is underway. Kathleen Bollard, representing the University of Colorado System, said CU “is concerned about the kind of mission creep that bill represents.” Bollard is assistant vice president for academic affairs at UCD.

But, the commissioner couldn’t come to agreement on another degree proposal, Senate Bill 10-101. It would allow Colorado Mountain College to offer bachelor’s degrees. (While it receives some state support, multi-campus CMC is governed by a locally elected board and supported by local property taxes in several central mountain counties.)

The department also opposes this bill, and other speakers Friday expressed concern about letting a two-year college offer four-year degrees without more study.

Alan Lamborn, a Colorado State University vice provost, called the bill “deeply troubling.” Lamborn has a non-voting seat on the CCHE, representing the statewide Faculty Council. (Lamborn, Bollard and CU lobbyist Kirsten Castleman provided a steady chorus of “yes, but” testimony during various parts of the CCHE meeting.)

Commissioners couldn’t achieve a majority for either “monitoring” the bill or opposing it and ultimately took no position.

The commission also discussed a trio of bills designed to smooth students’ transition from community colleges to four-year institutions, proposals that have caused discomfort in some quarters.

Senate Bill 10-108 is the touchiest, because it would allow private and for-profit colleges to join the state’s system of courses that are transferrable from any college to any other colleges.

Sponsor Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, made a spirited pitch for his bill, Lamborn had issues, some commissioners raised questions and DHE Director Rico Munn said such concerns “are legitimate issues.”

The commission voted to “monitor” the bill

House Bill 10-1208 is seen by some interests as a little more benign. It would require the higher ed system to develop statewide credit transfer agreements in 14 subject areas by 2016. Part of the reason this bill has raised fewer concerns is that the state already has four transfer agreements in place and hopes to have seven more done by spring. Community college system executives pitched the bill to the commission.

Bollard, again, had issues, saying CU would be comfortable with 10 transfer agreements. Lamborn said, “If academic council had its druthers, there wouldn’t be a bill.”

The commission voted to support the bill. The department also supports the measure – contingent on it not imposing a significant cost burden on the higher ed system.

Finally, Senate Bill 10-088 would allow community college students to basically have majors, rather than just receiving associate’s degrees in general studies. The idea is to encourage students to focus earlier on the subjects they want to pursue after transfer to four-year schools.

The commission decided to monitor the bill, which also is what the department is doing.

Those issues are on lots of agendas this week. The community college major bill and the Mesa graduate degrees proposal will be considered by the Senate Education Committee Wednesday, and the statewide transfer agreements measure will be heard by House Education on Thursday.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

About the strategic planning process

The steering committee

The 14-member steering committee is headed by co-chairs Jim Lyons, head of the Governor’s Jobs Cabinet and a prominent Democratic lawyer, and Dick Monfort, vice chair of the Colorado Rockies and a member of the University of Northern Colorado trustees.

The committee’s other 10 voting members include four current or former CCHE members, a member of the state community college board, a member of the Denver Public Schools board, a former top CU administrator and another Ritter cabinet member.

There are no faculty or student members on the committee.

Munn and Don Elliman, the state’s chief operating officer, serve as ex-officio, non-voting members but play a prominent role in panel discussions.

(At the meeting Friday, citizen gadfly George Walker, a fixture at CCHE meetings, complained the steering committee is “still just the same white people.”

The commission usually listens politely to Walker but doesn’t engage with him. In this case, Commissioner Happy Haynes said, “I would like to get some information about the composition” of the steering committee and its subcommittees.

Munn responded by explaining how the department had sought ethnic and geographical diversity on the subcommittees, adding that he’s trying to pull together another advisory panel of legislators.

JulieMarie Shepherd, a non-voting student member of CCHE, asked about the lack of student representation. Munn gave a supportive but non-specific answer.)

The committee has scheduled 10 monthly meetings between now and November. The next meeting is Feb. 24. Meeting schedule

EdNews list of members and their backgrounds


The steering group has established four subcommittees to focus on specific topics and make recommendations. Each subcommittee will have eight or nine members, including three from the steering committee and three others from the three tiers of the state system – research, four-year and community colleges.

As of Friday, subcommittee members hadn’t been formally announced.

The four subcommittees are:

Mission: The panel is assigned to examine what should be the role and mission of various kinds of colleges and universities (including private and technical), whether Colorado has the right mix of different institutions, what partnerships or relationships higher education should have with “external entities” and whether the state needs to change its oversight system, including CCHE and the current systems of institutions.

The group had an organizational meeting on Feb. 3.

– Subcommittee webpage and meeting schedule

Sustainability: This group is supposed to examine funding levels, efficiencies, new or substitute sources of funding, possible connections between funding and institutional performance, allocation and prioritization of financial aid and the appropriate funding balance for different kinds of institutions.

This subcommittee also has a second charge – to try to develop proposals for helping meet the short-term financial crisis in higher ed. The idea is to come up with ideas that can be considered by the 2010 legislature while it’s still in session. Lawmakers are holding up on some legislation, including Senate Bill 10-003, the higher ed financial flexibility measure, while waiting for the subcommittee.

The group met Feb. 1 to get organized and kick around ideas, but no members had any concrete suggestions except for tinkering with tuition. The panel meets again on Feb. 10.

– Subcommittee webpage and meeting schedule

Accessibility: This subcommittee is assigned to consider how both the state should define accessibility overall and for various types of institutions, how schools and the system should be held accountable for maintaining accessibility and how Colorado can address it serious ethnic and income college completion gaps.

– Subcommittee webpage and meeting schedule

Pipeline: This group is to consider how to reduce the state’s 30 percent freshman remediation rate, how to expand dual and concurrent enrollment programs, incentives to encourage return to college and degree completion by older students and reduction of average time to graduation.

– Subcommittee webpage and meeting schedule


The steering committee plans to finish a preliminary report by early fall and a final document by November, the same month when Ritter’s successor as governor will be elected.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: