State Superintendent Race

Ritz vs. McCormick is the 2016 showdown for Indiana state superintendent

Yorktown superintendent Jennifer McCormick accepts the nomination for Indiana state superintendent at the Indiana GOP Convention.

Yorktown school Superintendent Jennifer McCormick today was named the Republican choice to challenge incumbent Democrat Glenda Ritz in the November election for state superintendent at Indiana’s GOP convention in Indianapolis.

McCormick, who has been backed by supporters of Ritz’s predecessor, Tony Bennett, since she announced her plan to run in January, only faced one challenger at the convention: Dawn Wooten, an English instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne.

Despite a flyer circulated Friday by Wooten’s team highlighting McCormick’s sometimes Democratic voting history in Delaware County, McCormick was the crowd favorite after speeches by both and won easily, taking 1,030 votes to Wooten’s 574.

McCormick said Ritz was a poor leader and manager of the Indiana Department of Education. In her place, McCormick promised to “establish a vision that promises a world class education.”

“Currently, we have a Department of Education that lacks leadership and vision,” McCormick said, “and, when you have that, things become disorganized and disconnected from the local level.”

McCormick was a favorite of party leaders going in because of her background as an educator and school leader. She has been a teacher, principal and superintendent. She will need to capitalize on those strengths in the fall against Ritz, who is popular with educators.

“Indiana students deserve a state superintendent with proven and successful K-12 leadership,” McCormick said. “And I am the only candidate running in either party with that experience.”

McCormick has a doctorate in educational leadership from Indiana State University and has been superintendent in Yorktown, near Muncie, for five years. The district has been rated an A for six straight years, primarily for high test scores.

Ritz is one of fewer than 200 Indiana teachers to earn National Board certified teachers, a challenging credential, and served as both a regular and special education teacher before finishing her classroom experience as an elementary school librarian. She also was president of the teachers union in Washington Township, one of the state’s largest.

McCormick will try to repeat the stunning success Ritz had in 2012, by beating a high profile incumbent seeking re-election. Ritz, a political unknown, was given little chance against Bennett, who had become a national school reform darling for pushing school choice, tougher teacher evaluation and more school accountability in his term in office.

Despite being massively outspent by Bennett, Ritz built a sophisticated word-of-mouth campaign that utilized union contacts, educator networks and skillful social media techniques to build a winning coalition.

Among the issues McCormick is expected to challenge Ritz on big issues from her term, like changes to state academic standards and ISTEP testing. But Ritz’s campaign spokeswoman Annie Mansfield today touted her announcement last week of a plan to expand preschool to make it available to all Indiana children.

“Ritz has maintained a focus on establishing universal pre-K, providing adequate funding for all public schools and investing in high-quality teachers,” Mansfield said

She said Ritz’s team expected McCormick’s nomination.

“Gov. (Mike) Pence has been attacking Superintendent Ritz for the past four years, so it’s no surprise that his handpicked candidate would launch her campaign by doing the same,” Mansfield said.

Ritz, who had no primary challengers, will be formally nominated along with gubernatorial candidate John Gregg at next weekend’s Democratic convention.

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: