Who Is In Charge

Departing state board member proud of ‘difficult conversations’ that led to change for Indiana kids

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Sarah O’Brien, a teacher from Avon, announced she’d be stepping down from the Indiana State Board of Education earlier this month to better address her daughter’s medical care. Her last meeting will be in August. O’Brien was originally appointed to the board by former Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2009 and was made vice chairwoman of the board in 2015.

The decision to resign from the board is probably the most difficult decision I’ve made personally and professionally.

I don’t feel like our work is done. I still feel like there is still some really obviously important conversations ahead of us, and I think we have to be very vigilant about setting the path for where we want to be.

There really has been quite a shift from when I started to where we are now.

It was right after my daughter was born, actually. It would’ve been April of 2009. I actually started on the board before I even returned from my maternity leave — it was an odd transition, but an important one.

In seven-and-a-half years, there’s been such a scope of topics and really important decisions we’ve had to discuss and make.

Personally, the testing conversation has obviously been hugely impactful, and I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve forced some difficult conversations in the way that we use assessment, and more specifically, looking at (differences in paper-pencil vs. online scores) was a huge topic last year. I’m really proud … that we’re able to have that corrected so that it was the most accurate picture it could be for our students.

Read: Test format questions hold up state board vote on ISTEP passing scores

The other area I take the most pride is looking at the conversations we’ve had (about) turnaround schools and the schools that have been underperforming. I feel like throughout the duration of the time I’ve been there, at least we’ve been able to … force some real change in those areas so every student has the ability to attend a quality school.

Read: Ferebee pitches an IPS ‘transformation’ plan for troubled schools

I hope that it’s evident that every decision was made with kids in mind. It’s not always an easy decision, and sometimes we were making decisions that I know weren’t popular by any means, but I genuinely feel like every conversation we have had has been with kids at the forefront. I hope that continues to be the path.

Just because it’s uncomfortable for adults doesn’t mean it’s not the path that we need to take.

I’m leaving the board, but I’m not leaving the classroom. The decisions that are made still certainly impact my daily existence and my children’s as well.

I think some of the best advice and opinions and knowledge I have received (as a board member) are from people in the field who take the time to send their thoughts along. I think that’s such an important part of the process, and I think that’s something I absolutely hope continues.

One of the things I’ve appreciated most at a more personal level, is that I’ve been able to be more of a resource for my colleagues or people around me who don’t understand the political implications of the decisions that were made. I hope I can continue to clarify some of those things as they occur.

It’ll be difficult to be on the sidelines and watching from afar, but I definitely plan to stay involved.


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.”