Round Two

After turmoil, here’s what’s next in search for new Denver school board member

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
DPS board vice president Barbara O'Brien. left, and board president Anne Rowe.

With their first pick having bowed out amid controversy, Denver school board members must regroup and figure out who will join the board — and how exactly the appointment process will play out.

Longtime parent activist MiDian Holmes was appointed to the seven-member board Tuesday. After a decade-old conviction for misdemeanor child abuse was made public, Holmes announced late Thursday that she wouldn’t accept the position.

Board members and allies have underscored that Holmes, a single mother with young children, had endured challenges many other Denver families struggle with as well.

The board was supposed to meet Friday at 5 p.m. to discuss Holmes’ appointment. But board treasurer Mike Johnson said Holmes’ withdrawal made the meeting moot.

The board is set to meet again Monday at 4:30 p.m. for a previously scheduled work session and special meeting. Holmes was supposed to be sworn in at that meeting.

An agenda has not yet been posted.

Monday is the deadline by which the board must choose a successor for former board member Landri Taylor, who resigned in February after representing northeast Denver for three years. State law requires the board fill the vacancy within 60 days.

If that doesn’t happen, the law says, “the president of the board shall forthwith appoint a person to fill the vacancy.” Other than “forthwith,” the law doesn’t specify a deadline.

Board president Anne Rowe said she was unavailable Friday to discuss how she might approach the process of selecting a board member.

A Denver board president last appointed a new member in 2013. A divided board disagreed over who should fill a vacancy created by the resignation of former member Nate Easley. Then-president Mary Seawell ended up appointing Taylor, who was one of three finalists.

There were three finalists this time, as well. On Tuesday, the six remaining board members narrowed the pool of candidates down to Holmes, Jennifer Bacon and Rachele Espiritu.

In a final round of voting, Holmes got four of the six votes.

Bacon got two. She works as regional director of Leadership for Educational Equity, an organization that aims to help Teach for America alumni become school leaders. She is also an attorney and the board chair of Padres & Jovenes Unidos, an advocacy group that has criticized DPS for discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color.

Espiritu, a parent who works in behavioral health, didn’t get any votes in the final round.

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.”