Doug redux

Dougco board incumbents go down to defeat

Moderator Jerry Healey (right) lays out ground rules before the Douglas County candidate forum.

The three challengers for seats on the Douglas County school board easily ousted conservative incumbents in Tuesday’s election.

Majority control of the conservative-dominated wasn’t at stake in Tuesday’s election, but election of the three challengers will significantly change the board dynamics. And the outcome ended the conservatives’ run of success in three previous board elections.

The challengers won convincingly, each tallying 58 to 59 percent of the vote.

Board president Kevin Larsen, who lost to Anne-Marie Lemieux in District C, said, “I hope they come in and are able to assimilate with the remaining members on the board and build on what we’ve done to improve the district. … I wish them well.”

The size of the challengers’ margins was “a bit stunning to us. We knew it could go either way, but it definitely was a stronger percentage than we anticipated,” Larsen said.

The conservative majority first elected in 2009 has shaken up the district by championing policies such as a voucher program, a pay-for-performance salary system, breaking the district teachers union and new budgeting practices.

While the board has had some different faces now than it did in 2009, all seven members were in the conservative camp up to now.

In addition to Larsen and Lemieux, the candidates this year were incumbent Craig Richardson and Wendy Vogel in District A and incumbent Richard Robbins and David Ray in District F.

The three incumbents promoted rising achievement, high school graduation rates, declining college remediation and the district’s top-level state rating as reasons to re-elect them.

But the three challengers argued that the board has gone too far in its initiatives, badly implemented some of them, ruined teacher morale and ignored the views of many parents and teachers.

Larsen said he thought the challengers made points with voters by campaigning on low teacher morale and the need for greater diversity of views on the board. “I think their message was effective enough to give them a victory.”

Two hot issues in the campaign were whether the district needs to carry out a comprehensive survey of parent and teacher attitude about the district and the board’s refusal to propose a bond issue to pay for an estimated $250 million in building needs.

Past Dougco campaigns have seen high spending with significant contributions by wealthy individuals from outside the district.

The challengers raised significantly more money that the incumbents in this campaign, but what’s expected to have been significant spending by independent campaign committees hasn’t yet been reported – or doesn’t have to be reported.

The 2009 Dougco election, with its strongly partisan and ideological tone, marked a change in Colorado school board politics. The push to elect conservative candidates spread to other districts, including Jefferson County, Thompson and others. But that wave seems to have receded in many districts this election.

In addition to shaking things up within the district, Dougco board members and top administrators have been critical of state academic content standards and tests and have touted their own system as superior to what the state requires of districts.

Dougco residents vote on all candidates, but the winners are elected by district.

Read what the candidates had to say on the issues in Chalkbeat Colorado’s Election Center, and learn more about the tone of the campaign in this story about a candidate forum.

moving on up

With Holcomb’s support, Indiana’s next education plan heads to Washington

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Eric Holcomb address lawmakers and the public during his State of the State Address earlier this year. Today, he signed off on Indiana's ESSA plan.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has given his stamp of approval to Indiana’s next education plan under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

In a tweet Monday afternoon, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick thanked Holcomb for his support:

Holcomb was required to weigh in on the plan, but his approval wasn’t necessary for it to move forward. If he disagreed with the changes proposed by McCormick and the Indiana Department of Education, he could have indicated that today.

So far, it seems that the state’s top education policymakers — Holcomb, McCormick and the Indiana State Board of Education — have reached some level of consensus on how to move forward.

The state has worked for months to revamp its accountability system and educational goals to align with ESSA, which Congress passed in 2015.

Although there are many similarities between this plan and the previous plan under the No Child Left Behind waiver, several changes affect state A-F grades. Going forward, they will factor in measures that recognize the progress of English-learners and measures not solely based on test scores, such as student attendance.

However, the new plan also alters the state’s graduation rate formula to match new federal requirements, a change that has a number of educators, policymakers and parents worried because it means students who earn a general diploma no longer count as graduates to the federal government.

You can read more about the specifics of the state plan in our ESSA explainer and see all of our ESSA coverage here.

Politics & Policy

Over pulled pork, rural Indiana parents make the case to Betsy DeVos that public schools are important

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Betsy DeVos met with families at Eastern Hancock High School.

At Eastern Hancock High School in rural Indiana, the hog roast is an annual tradition.

This year, the event was also a chance to show off a thriving traditional public school to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who often highlights private and charter schools and advocates for school choice.

“We wanted to make sure that she understands the importance of public education,” said Natalie Schilling, a parent of two students at Eastern Hancock.

Schilling and her husband, Eric, had the chance to share their perspective sitting with DeVos over pulled pork sandwiches in the high school cafeteria. They were surrounded by families grabbing food ahead of a football game between Eastern Hancock and rival Knightstown. DeVos was there, she said, for a great game.

The visit was the conclusion of a six-state trip branded as the “Rethink Schools” tour. On the tour, DeVos visited several schools serving unusual populations, such as an Indianapolis high school for students recovering from addiction and a Colorado private school for students with autism.

“It was really, really exciting to see all these opportunities that kids have to learn in different environments or different approaches,” she said. “It just once again reaffirms to me the importance of the opportunity for every child to find that right niche for them.”

Earlier Friday DeVos stopped at charter schools in Gary and Indianapolis. But Eastern Hancock was the only traditional public school on her itinerary in Indiana.

Eastern Hancock, however, has been reshaped by school choice policies like those that DeVos has long supported. Indiana allows open enrollment, so students can attend schools in neighboring districts if they can get transportation. At Eastern Hancock, DeVos noted, many students come from other districts.

Eric Schilling said many of those students come because of the strong agriculture programs at the school, including an animal science facility and horticulture building.

The hog roast Friday night was a fundraiser for FFA, an agricultural education program. Students in the organization spent months planning the event, roasted the hogs and pulled the pork themselves, said Gracie Johnson, a senior at Eastern and the chapter and district president of FFA.

It was a little bit thrilling to have secretary DeVos visit her school, Johnson said. “I think it’s pretty awesome. Especially since we’re so small, it kind of makes us feel like we’re important.”

Natalie Schilling said that one of the most important things DeVos can do is support agricultural and career and technical education. But she said that she was a bit concerned about DeVos’ past experience and agenda.

“I think everybody is a little worried,” she said. “We have to keep talking about it and keep pushing it so she will understand what skills students are learning. It’s going to be able to fuel the workforce.”