Who Is In Charge

One health bill dies, one lives for now

A bill to require that high schools students learn CPR was politely killed in one Senate Committee Thursday while another measure to ban – sort of – trans fats in school food squeaked out of another panel.

Democratic Sens. Evie Hudak of Westminster (left) and Linda Newell of Littleton
Democratic Sens. Evie Hudak of Westminster (left) and Linda Newell of Littleton had a tough time in the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 16, 2012.

The Senate Education Committee also sparred for a few rounds with a complicated school discipline bill but declared the match a draw and delayed a vote for another day.

All that happened during what turned out to be a very long afternoon – extending into the evening – in the Senate education and agriculture committees.

Senate Education spent about an hour listening to witnesses testify in favor of Senate Bill 12-098, which as originally introduced would have required high schools students to learn CPR as a requirement for high school graduation.

The committee patiently listened to pitches from sponsor Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, and from doctors, paramedics and heart attack survivors about the need for the bill and the importance of immediate intervention for heart attack victims.

A school principal and a superintendent testified against the bill as an unnecessary mandate on school districts already struggling with budget cuts and education-reform mandates.

Williams offered an amendment that made CPR training advisory, not mandatory for school districts, but the committee wasn’t persuaded. The panel rejected the amendment and then killed the bill on a 5-0 vote.

Trans fat ban has better luck

Another health-related mandate, Senate Bill 12-068, was on the agenda of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, meeting in another wing of the Capitol Thursday afternoon.

As originally introduced, the bill would have banned the serving of any food containing trans fats at schools. School district lobbyists opposed the bill as an unnecessary and potentially costly mandate on hard-pressed districts.

Some of those lobbyists testified against the bill, but there was a parade of supporting witnesses, including a beefy school chef, a chiropractor who said he specializes in anti-aging measures and a heart-disease survivor.

Sponsor Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, offered three amendments that weakened the bill, and the committee approved those. The amendments would delay the effective date of the bill until Sept. 1, 2013; exempt food provide at fund-raising events and exempt schools with fewer than 1,000 students from the bill.

The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriation Committee. If it survives that review and the full Senate, it still has to go through the House, and school district lobbyists are still gunning to kill the bill.

Discipline bill flummoxes Senate Ed

Senate Bill 12-046 is one of those big, years-in-the-making bills that is very complicated – and that proved to be a problem on Thursday.

The heart of the bill would roll back existing “zero-tolerance” policies that drive student arrests and suspensions and give schools more discretion in dealing with students missteps and make suspensions, expulsions and police citations that last resorts in student discipline.

The bill came from a study committee that was created by the 2010 legislature, but reaching agreement among school administrators, police, district attorneys, youth advocates and other interest group has been an onerous process.

The bill went through seven versions before being presented to Senate Ed on Thursday.

But that proved to be not enough, and committee Chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins – more than four hours after the committee convened – laid the bill over for later discussion. He told the sponsors, Democratic Sens. Linda Newell of Littleton and Evie Hudak of Westminster, to come back with a new, clean version.

Committee members didn’t have a problem with the concept of rolling back zero-tolerance laws, but they had a lot of concerns about the bill’s detailed requirements for reporting and compiling of data about student arrests and disciplinary actions.

For the record

The full Senate Thursday morning gave final, 33-0 approval to four education-related bills, including:

  • Senate Bill 12-067, requiring all charter schools to be non-profit organizations.
  • Senate Bill 12-061, establishing new requirements for charter school operations and authorization.
  • Senate Bill 12-045, creating a mechanism for students to combine community and four-year college credits to earn associate’s degrees.
  • Senate Bill 12-036, updating state law on the requirement for parental consent to certain kinds of school surveys and questionnaires.


Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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: