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State board starts to look beyond Dwight

The State Board of Education on Wednesday began the long process of finding a successor to education Commissioner Dwight Jones.

During the longest board meeting in recent months, members also approved the first public release of the state’s new school ranking system (see this in-depth Education News Colorado story) and heard some fervent testimony in favor of something that students might not be so wild about – expansion of state tests.

Jones, who’s headed to Las Vegas to become superintendent of the 310,000-student Clark County Schools in Nevada, made that official Wednesday, telling the board, “It’s about time I submitted a formal letter of resignation. … I don’t think I can hold it off any longer.”

Board Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, said the occasion was “pretty sobering,” telling Jones, “Your impression on Colorado is permanent.”

“All right, what’s next?” Schaffer asked.

Jones outlined his transition plans, saying he’ll work at the department until Dec. 13 and start in Nevada two days later. He then recommended that the board name Robert Hammond as interim superintendent.

“Do you want to do it?” Schaffer, smiling, asked Hammond, who allowed that he did. “I hope I can provide the stability you need.” The board unanimously approved the appointment.

Hammond is deputy commissioner in charge of operations and administration. He joined the department in March 2008 after serving as chief operations officer for the Boulder Valley School District. Hammond is married to Ranelle Lang, superintendent of Greeley schools.

Later, toward the end of the meeting, the board turned to the process for finding a permanent commissioner.

Members informally agreed to a schedule that calls for selecting a search consultant in late December and meeting with the winning firm in mid-January, at the same meeting when two new members elected Tuesday, Republicans Paul Lundeen of the 5th District and Debora Scheffel of the 6th District, take office.

That likely means a new commissioner won’t be selected until next spring.

Schaffer said that he doesn’t think having the current board select the search firm “limits the future board at all. … The experience of Peggy and Randy can be very valuable at this step.” He was referring to Republicans Peggy Littleton and Randy DeHoff, who will be leaving the board.

DeHoff will chair a board subcommittee that will prepare a request for proposals and interview search firms that apply for the job. DeHoff said he’d get started on the RFP Thursday. Other subcommittee members are Littleton and Democrats Elaine Gantz Berman of the 1st District and Jane Goff of the 7th District.

Board discussion indicated that a search could cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000. “I don’t want to cut any costs. … I don’t want to be constrained at all in finding the best candidate on the planet to come to Colorado,” Schaffer said.

Fighting for social studies tests

The board Wednesday heard testimony from a crew of witnesses who urged that the board add social studies to the list of subjects to be tested by the successor to the CSAP testing system.

Kathryn Hill, CEO of History Colorado (formerly the Colorado Historical Society), warned, “Social studies are in danger of extinction.”

Developer Buz Koelbel, a board member of the Colorado Council for Economic Education, warned, “School districts will continue to de-emphasize the teaching of social studies” if the subject isn’t tested statewide. Reading, writing, math and science are the only tested subjects now.

“I urge you to join 20 others states that do include social studies.”

Pursuant to a 2008 law, the Department of Education has been conducting extensive studies to determine the characteristics of a new testing system to replace the CSAPs. That probably won’t happen until at least 2014.

One of the subcommittees involved in the study recommended that social studies be added to tested subjects, but the main advisory committee didn’t include that in recommendations given to the board recently.

Asked by board members why that happened, Assistant Commission Jo O’Brien said the main “stakeholder” panel was concerned about costs, adding to the length of testing and opening the door for debate about inclusion of other subjects such as physical education and arts.

Some board members were sympathetic to adding social studies. “I would really encourage us all to listen to what they said,” said Marcia Neal, R-3rd District and a retired social studies teacher.

Berman said, “I am convinced that social studies should be a tested area. … I look forward to a healthy discussion at our December board meeting as to whether we should add this test.”

Schaffer said the issue presents “a difficult juggling act” but complained that American education is “becoming more of a German model of training people to work” and moving away from the traditional American ideal of training students to be informed citizens.

A hidden bummer factor in proposed budget?

Vody Herrmann, CDE school finance chief, briefed the board on Gov. Bill Ritter’s proposed 2011-12 budget, released Tuesday (see this story).

The plan includes a modest $43 million increase in state support of K-12 schools, well below what schools would get if projected enrollment growth and inflation were covered.

But Herrmann told the board that as much as $13.5 million of the $43 million could be consumed by increased spending on the new Ascent system, a “fifth-year” program that helps some students take college courses while finishing their high school diplomas.

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