bowing out

MiDian Holmes steps aside, will not take Denver school board seat

MiDian Holmes was a volunteer leader with the education reform group Stand for Children (photo courtesy Stand for Children).

MiDian Holmes announced on her Facebook page Thursday night that she would not accept her appointment to the Denver school board, saying she did not want to be a distraction after details of a misdemeanor child abuse conviction became public.

“When I ran for the school board appointment, my intentions were pure,” the longtime parent activist wrote. “I did so not thinking that my past would be the focus…I did so with my eyes and ambition on the future.

“The reality is clear that my past has the media and several members of the community mystified and I would be doing a great disservice to the 90,000 students of Denver Public Schools if I continued to allow this to be a distraction.”

DPS board president Anne Rowe released a statement saying the board accepts Holmes’ decision. The board will continue to search for a member to represent northeast Denver, Rowe said.

Court records show that Holmes was charged on two occasions with offenses relating to children: once in November 2005 and once in March 2006.

In 2005, she was charged with “wrongs to minors” in violation of the Denver municipal code. Documents explaining what led to the charge were not immediately available. Holmes was sentenced to a year of probation, after which the case was dismissed.

In 2006, she was charged with child abuse in violation of state law. Documents reveal that Holmes left her three young children — age 7, 6 and 2 — home alone for more than eight hours while she was at work. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abuse and again was sentenced to probation.

A DPS background check conducted as part of the appointment process turned up the child abuse conviction. Holmes said she called the district to explain, saying that it stemmed from her two-year-old daughter wandering out of their apartment, being found by a neighbor and police being called.

Holmes provided the same explanation to the media. She denied there were two cases.

In the statement on her Facebook page, Holmes said she decided to keep the details of the one case private because she “was not aware (they) would be of public record.”

“I made this decision to protect the privacy of my children and my family,” she wrote on Facebook. “It was an omission, by design, to protect them from, what I thought would be, unwarranted backlash.”

Holmes also addressed the details of what happened, writing, “were my children too young to be left at home alone? Absolutely. When this happened, 10 years ago, I was a young mother and was faced with making the choice of either going to work (which was my only source of income) or staying at home with my 3 children.”

She said she made the difficult decision to go to work and faced the consequences.

Holmes also thanked her supporters and vowed to continue speaking out.

“Reluctantly, I am not going to accept the board’s appointment and will not take the seat,” she wrote on Facebook.

Holmes added: “Those that have offered me support through this process…shall we meet, again, in 2017? *wink, wink*.” The northeast Denver board seat became vacant when former board member Landri Taylor resigned in February. The person who replaces him will serve out the term, which expires in 2017.

Rowe said in her statement that the board believes “what drove MiDian to apply for the vacancy position was her deep concern for not only the well-being of her own children, but the educational opportunities that face all of Denver kids.

“As a young single mother over a decade ago, MiDian faced some of the same wrenching challenges many of our DPS families struggle with every day,” Rowe said. “While we don’t condone some of her decisions in response to those challenges, we appreciate her statement to take responsibility for those actions.”

For more, read Chalkbeat’s previous coverage here and here.

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: