bill haslam

Lipscomb dean will replace Huffman

Candice McQueen and Bill Haslam announced McQueen's new job at the state capitol.

A top official at one of Tennessee’s premier education schools will become Tennessee’s new education commissioner, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today.

Haslam’s pick, Candice McQueen, is the senior vice president at Lipscomb University in Nashville.

In a speech following Haslam’s announcement, McQueen stressed that she believes Tennessee is “heading in the right direction,” suggesting she won’t steer away from the path forged by outgoing education commissioner Kevin Huffman, which focuses on higher standards and increased accountability.

McQueen also emphasized that she will be an advocate for teachers, who have often complained of mistreatment by the Haslam administration.

Before becoming an administrator at Lipscomb, McQueen oversaw the growth of the university’s College of Education, highly ranked  by both the state and the National Council for Teacher Quality, an advocacy group often critical of traditional teacher training programs. The NCTQ commended Lipscomb’s rigorous application process for potential teachers.

“Lipscomb’s College of Education produces some of our state’s best teachers, and Candice gets a lot of credit for that,” Haslam said in a press release. “She has taught in a classroom, so she brings both the experience of being a teacher and of preparing teachers to teach.”

She also helped found the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation at Lipscomb. Prior to her work in higher education, she was an elementary and middle school teacher.

McQueen said that her experiences in the classroom at both the primary and university levels will serve her well as she continues Haslam’s and Huffman’s push to make sure Tennessee students will leave high school prepared for college or a career.

“I know first hand what college readiness looks like,” she said. “I also know the academic struggles, the financial implications, and the sense of failure that occurs when students come to college not prepared.”

In the first minute of her speech McQueen reminded those assembled that she was raised in Tennessee, although she didn’t dwell on that. A frequent criticism of Huffman was that he was a transplant unfamiliar with the people of the state.

Her background pleased Tennessee’s two large teacher professional organizations, who often opposed Huffman’s reforms, especially tying test score data to teacher evaluations.

“As a former educator herself, I’m sure she agrees that it is unacceptable for our state to rank below Mississippi in what we invest in our children,” Tennessee Education Association President, Barbara Gray said in a press release, referring to Tennessee’s funding for education.

“Dr. Candice McQueen is well versed in the hard work teachers’ face every day as she has taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools,” read a Professional Educators of Tennessee press release. “She is familiar with Tennessee, one of our major concerns.”

McQueen gave little indication that she’d steer the state away from the path forged by Huffman, lauding teacher evaluations and “high standards,” although she said that whether the standards were Common Core or not was immaterial.

“I am a supporter of high standards, and the forms that they take is somewhat irrelevant,” she said. She said that the ongoing statewide review was one of her top priorities.

In the past, McQueen has been a strong supporter of Common Core. Last year, she testified in front of the General Assembly about its rigor. She is also a board member of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a nonprofit educational advocacy and research organization that has been vocal in its support for Common Core. But the private school associated with her university did not adopt the standards.

McQueen helped lead the education summit held by Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey earlier this fall. At the summit, McQueen presented on accountability and assessments, both of which continue to be hot button issues leading up to Haslam’s second term.

The education summit has already proved to be influential: it was the basis for the review site of the state’s academic standards, as well as Gov. Haslam’s proposals for teacher support across the state.

As commissioner, McQueen faces several challenges. She will have to implement Huffman’s reforms without the benefit of Race to the Top money, and maintain support within the U.S. Department of Education to ensure Tennessee will get a waiver from the stringent No Child Left Behind Act, which would exempt Tennessee from punitive measures that strip funding from schools with low test scores.

Another challenge will be rekindling enthusiasm for Haslam’s education agenda among Tennessee lawmakers and educators.

McQueen will take over from Huffman on Jan. 20.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”