The chosen ones

Meet the 20 people who will help reshape Colorado’s education policies

PHOTO: Wesley Wright
Students at a summer camp this week at Cowell Elementary in Denver.

A who’s who of Colorado’s education community will help shape the state’s new federally required education plan.

The 20-member committee will be responsible for finding consensus while sifting through wide-ranging opinions about how Colorado should run its schools under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which is supposed to give states more freedom to chart their own courses.

Among the topics the committee and its various sub-committees must address: standards, testing and teacher quality.

While it’s still unclear how much leeway the state will get — Colorado officials have called proposed regulations a federal overreach — the process allows the state to stay the course on a number of reforms, start over or strike some balance.

Any plan must win approval from the Colorado Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the governor’s office and a panel of educators and parents who will weigh its viability. The U.S. Department of Education will give feedback during the process, then must give final approval.

The committee includes State Board of Education chairman Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, and vice chairwoman Angelika Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat. Joining them are Republican State Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida and Democratic State Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, both members of the House Education Committee.

Here are the 13 other members:

  • Evy Valencia, governor’s office
  • Ken Delay, Colorado Association of School Boards
  • Lisa Escarcega, Colorado Association of School Executives
  • Linda Barker, Colorado Education Association
  • Don Anderson, Colorado BOCES Association
  • Diane Duffy, Colorado Department of Higher Education
  • Jesus Escarcega, Colorado ESEA Committee of Practitioners
  • Jim Earley, Jefferson County parent
  • Ross Izard, Independence Institute
  • Luke Ragland, Colorado Succeeds
  • Jeani Frickey, Stand for Children
  • Kirk Banghart, Moffat School District, Colorado Rural Alliance
  • Dan Schaller, Colorado League of Charter Schools
  • Sean Bradley, Urban League of Metropolitan Denver
  • Ernest House Jr., Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs
  • Carolyn Gery, GOAL Academy

State education department officials took the lead in choosing committee members. State Board of Education members were asked to nominate potential members, Schroeder said.

One of the goals, Durham said, was to capture diverse viewpoints.

Well, look no further than Early and Izard.

Both were heavily involved in the 2015 Jefferson County school board recall, from opposite sides. The recall campaign became a proxy for a larger debate about education policies such as merit pay for teachers and school choice.

Early supported the recall. Izard did not.

So how might the former foes find common ground?

“We’re gonna have to wait and see,” Early said. “I think that’s the best way to go about this. I can’t go into this with the presumption that Ross is going to be steadfast in one way, or that I’m going to be steadfast one way. … I think the big thing is, ‘Let’s go into this with an open mind.'”

“Any productive policy discussion is going to involve disagreement,” Izard said in an email. “I welcome other points of view and the healthy debate they bring. Hopefully we can tackle the tough issues ahead with grace, honesty, and civility, even if we strongly disagree with each other on some points—and we almost certainly will.”

The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for Aug. 8.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Kirk Banghart’s last name. 

Update: This post has also been updated to reflect a change in the membership on the committee. Mark DeVoti and Robert Mitchell have been replaced by Ken Delay and Diane Duffy, a CDE spokesman said on Friday afternoon. This article has also been updated to include the names of three new members that were announced at the committee’s first meeting on Aug. 8. 

 

Movers and shakers

Former Denver schools superintendent Tom Boasberg lands a new gig

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg, right, high-fives students, parents, and staff on the first day of school at Escalante-Biggs Academy in August.

Former Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg has been named superintendent of another organization 9,000 miles away: the Singapore American School in Southeast Asia.

Boasberg will start his new position July 1. He stepped down as superintendent of Denver Public Schools last month after nearly 10 years at the helm of the 92,000-student district. The Denver school board is in the process of choosing his successor.

Boasberg has spent significant time in Asia. After graduating from college, he taught English at a Hong Kong public school and played semi-professional basketball there. He later worked as chief of staff to the chairman of what was then Hong Kong’s largest political party.

He and his wife, Carin, met while studying in Taiwan. They now have three teenage children. In 2016, Boasberg took a six-month sabbatical to live in Argentina with his family. At the time, he said he and his wife always hoped to live overseas with their children.

“This gives us a chance as a family to go back to Asia,” Boasberg said, “and it’s something the kids are looking forward to, as well as my wife Carin and I.”

The Singapore American School is an elite non-profit school that was established in 1956 by a group of parents, according to its website. It now has more than 3,900 students in preschool through 12th grade, more than half of whom are American.

The school boasts low student-to-teacher ratios and lots of Advanced Placement classes, and sends several of its graduates to Ivy League colleges in the United States. Its facilities include a one-acre rainforest.

Boasberg notes that the school is also a leader in personalized learning, meaning that each student learns at their own pace. He called the school “wonderfully diverse” and said its students hail from more than 50 different countries. High school tuition is about $37,000 per year for students who hold a U.S. passport or whose parents do.

Leading the private Singapore American School will no doubt differ in some ways from leading a large, urban public school district. In his time as Denver superintendent, Boasberg was faced with making unpopular decisions, such as replacing low-performing schools, and the challenge of trying to close wide test score gaps between students from low-income families and students from wealthier ones.

“Denver will always be in my heart,” Boasberg said, “and we’re looking forward to this opportunity.”

it's official

Memphis schools chief Dorsey Hopson calls his work ‘a remarkable journey,’ but seeks new career at health care giant

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones/Chalkbeat
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson announces that he's resigning from the district to take a job with Cigna.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is leaving Shelby County Schools to lead an education initiative at a national health insurance company effective Jan. 8.

Prior to his departure, the school board expects to name an interim before the district breaks for the winter holidays, giving the panel time to seek a permanent replacement, said board chair Shante Avant.

Hopson’s job with Cigna is a new national position in government and education that will be based in Memphis, he said. He called the decision a “difficult” one that he ultimately made because of the demands on his family that are part of his job as superintendent.

“It’s been a remarkable journey,” Hopson said. “I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made together.”

A likely successor the board could tap is Lin Johnson, who was hired in 2015 as chief of finance. Johnson previously was director of special initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Education and director of finance and operations for the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board. He recently overhauled the district’s budget process to be more responsive to student needs rather than to a strict pupil-teacher ratio — a move Hopson lauded as a potential vehicle to reduce gaps in test scores for students of color living in poverty.

Hopson’s future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks, especially after he endorsed Republican Bill Lee for governor in a race that the Williamson County businessman eventually won. A position in the governor’s office, or as education commissioner to succeed Candice McQueen, was considered among the possibilities for Hopson. But Hopson said on Tuesday that he would not be heading to Nashville to work for the Lee administration.

Cigna, Hopson’s future employer, is a Connecticut-based company that manages health insurance for about 19,500 district employees and retirees under a $24 million contract. The company is the third-largest health plan provider in Memphis with about 200 local employees, according to the Memphis Business Journal. In his new role, Hopson will help Cigna expand its services to school districts for health benefits and wellness programs.

“Having an individual with Hopson’s expertise in school administration and school district leadership in this role will be a great asset to Cigna’s consultative work serving K-12 schools,” a Cigna spokesperson said in a statement.

An attorney who had worked for school districts in Atlanta and Memphis, Hopson was named the first superintendent of Shelby County Schools in 2013 following the historic merger of city and county schools.

His hiring came on the cusp of massive change in Memphis’ educational landscape. The district’s student enrollment steadily declined after six suburban towns split off from Shelby County Schools in 2014 to create their own districts, and the state-run Achievement School District continued to siphon off students by taking over chronically low-performing schools in the city. Hopson and the school board eventually closed nearly two dozen schools to shore up resulting budget deficits.

Since then, under Hopson’s leadership, the district has gone from a $50 million deficit to investing more than $60 million in personnel, teacher and staff pay raises, and school improvement initiatives by lobbying for more county funding, dipping into the district’s reserves, closing underutilized schools, cutting transportation costs, and eliminating open job positions. The district has also sued the state in pursuit of more funding, and that lawsuit is ongoing.

“We have accomplished a great deal together, such as eliminating a $100 million deficit, investing more and students, and developing the Summer Learning Academy to prevent summer learning loss. That, in part, is what makes this decision so difficult,” Hopson said. “I would love to see this work to the finish line, but I feel confident that we have laid a strong foundation for the next leader.”

Now, fewer schools are on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools and the district’s Innovation Zone has boosted test scores at a faster rate than the state-run district. Schools across the state are looking to strategies in Memphis to improve schools — a far cry from when Hopson took over. And recently, Hopson was among nine finalists for a national award recognizing urban school district leaders.

“For the past six years, we have worked together to guide this great school district through monumental changes,” Hopson said. “Through it all, our educators and supporters have remained committed to aggressively increasing student achievement.”