stump speech

At rooftop garden party, 2013 candidates tout budding principal

From left, Christine Quinn, Kelly Shannon, Scott Stringer and Vicki Sando, founder of the Greenroon Environmental Literacy Laboratory, and state Senator Tom Duane.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn are likely in for a year of confrontation as they prepare for their prospective mayoral bids.

But on Friday morning at the opening of P.S. 41’s new 7,000 square foot rooftop garden, they were happy to agree on one thing.

“We agree that you’d be on any mayor’s short list for chancellor,” Stringer said to P.S. 41’s principal Kelly Shannon during a speech in the Greenwich Village elementary school’s gymnasium.

The Democratic primary is still a year away, making serious contenders unlikely to make any declarative statements on education or anything else. But who a mayor considers — and eventually selects — to be his or her chancellor is one of the most telling hints for how a candidate plans to guide education policy, which is shaping up to be a defining issue in the race.

“There are two major decisions the next mayor’s going to make in this town. The first is, who’s gonna be the police commissioner? And then who’s gonna be the schools chancellor?” Stringer said.

Stringer later clarified that his comments were meant to be more of a reflection of Shannon’s ability to run a school and coordinate a large scale project that took six years and cost more than $1.5 million to complete than an indication of who he’d pick to run the school system if he were elected mayor.

But he still praised her abilities as principal. “The skill set that she demonstrates is really a skill set that we should look at for whoever the next chancellor may be,” said Stringer, who combined with Quinn contributed $1.3 million to the project.

The garden party eventually moved upstairs to the converted roof, which is now home to more than two dozen species of plants, solar paneling to fuel rooftop electricity and a water fountain that runs only when the sun is out. The roof, called the Greenroof Environmental Literacy Laboratory, opened last week for students, who teachers said would use it to enhance learning units on solar energy, plant biology and the scientific method.

When asked to discuss what they considered important qualities for a schools chancellor to have, Stringer and Quinn agreed again. Both said an extensive education background was important, but neither would say it was absolutely necessary.

“I think there are a lot of different kinds of folks who can bring a lot to our education system,” Quinn said.

There isn’t much precedent in New York City for schools chancellor appointment since control of the system was moved under the mayor’s office. Bloomberg’s shortlist in 2002 consisted of just one person with an extensive background in education, then-Cleveland schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, according to the Daily News at the time. Byrd-Bennett, now second-in-charge below Jean-Claude Brizard in Chicago, was then-Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott’s pick, but the job ultimately went to Joel Klein, a lawyer with business experience.

Bloomberg’s two succeeding chancellors, Cathie Black and Dennis Walcott, had barely any experience working in schools.

James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University, said he believed that both classroom and management experience were important for the job. But “the most important factor for success will be the capacity to attract a leadership team that brings all of these skills to the task,” he said.

For her part, Shannon didn’t shy from the flattery and said she was honored to be mentioned. But she said as a veteran teacher and principal who has worked for 18 years in the school system, “experience is important.”

“You have to remember to bring it back to the people who are living on the front every single day,” Shannon added. “Make sure their voices are heard.”

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led to changes in school improvement strategies. Leaders also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

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