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.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: