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.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.