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.

checking in

How do you turn around a district? Six months into her tenure, Sharon Griffin works to line up the basics.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
When Sharon Griffin became the latest leader of the Achievement School District in June, she said one of her biggest priorities would reconnecting the state-run district with the community it serves most — Memphis.

In a crowded room at a community center in a north Memphis neighborhood, the leader of Tennessee’s turnaround district takes a microphone and addresses the parents and students gathered.

“I’m here because we care deeply about your students, and we know we can do better for them,” Sharon Griffin told the crowd. “We have to do that together.”

This would be one of more than three dozen community events in Memphis that Griffin would speak at during her first six months on the job. The gatherings have ranged from this parent night in Frayser to a luncheon with some of the city’s biggest business leaders. And Sharon Griffin’s message remained unchanged: Stay with us, we’re going to get better.

“One of my biggest goals was getting our communities to think differently about the district,” Griffin told Chalkbeat this month. “People only interact with the superintendent or the central office when there’s an issue. We want to meet people where they are and tell them what we are going to do for them.”

When Griffin became the latest leader of the Achievement School District in June, she said one of her biggest priorities would be reconnecting the state-run district with the community it serves most — Memphis.

Griffin, a turnaround veteran from Memphis, has been assigned the task of improving academic performance and the public perception of the state district. Originally created to boost the bottom 5 percent of schools academically, the district of charter operators has struggled to show improvement. Of the 30 schools in the district, nine have climbed out of the bottom 5 percent.

Griffin’s efforts are in line with what Education Commissioner Candice McQueen asked her to prioritize: recruit and support effective educators, improve collaboration with schools and in doing so, plan strategically with them.

But first she’s doubling down on improving the way the district functions – such as making sure that the district is in compliance with federal and state grants, and that teachers have the certifications they need to teach certain courses. And that’s taken more time than expected.

Researchers, as well as community members and parents, have said that the district should be seeing greater academic progress after six years. Griffin told Chalkbeat that one of her big priorities will be helping the district better its teaching workforce, which she believes will help improve test scores. In the most recent batch of state test scores, not a single Achievement School District elementary, middle, or high school had more than 20 percent of students scoring on grade level in English or math.

But first, she needed to go on a “listening tour.”

“I’ve been to more meetings than I can count, because I wanted people to get to know me in this role, but more importantly, because I wanted to hear from those in our schools about what’s working and what’s not,” Griffin said. “Now, I get to take what I’ve heard and learned and create action steps forward.”

Griffin said those action look like “better customer service for our charters and our families.” That means Griffin has been focusing on improving communication with the district’s central office, one of the longstanding problems she has heard about from operators. She’s also striving to improve the quality of the district’s teacher workforce, and making facilities safer and more usable.

Griffin’s task will be a mammoth one, and she told Chalkbeat that part of her strategy for getting it done revolves around her new central office team. She said that getting the office running smoothly has taken up a large portion of her time during these early months in the job – especially establishing the revamped office so her charter operators can better communicate with the district. A year ago, more than half of 59 central office staff positions were slashed – and Griffin’s team of four is now even smaller.

“We’re still small but mighty,” Griffin said. “But I wanted our charters to know where to go with a problem or a question. Same for parents. We had heard they didn’t know where to go. That’s changing.”

Some charter operators have already benefited from the change. Dwayne Tucker, the CEO of LEAD Public Schools, said the district has become more responsive this year and more respectful of charter operators’ time. LEAD runs two turnaround schools in Nashville, the district’s only outside of Memphis

“Previously, we’d get a request for data or information that needed a 24-hour turnaround because someone just realized that it needed to be fulfilled,” Tucker said. “Versus looking at us as the customer and planning so we didn’t need to drop everything. There’s more of a customer-service focus happening on ASD leadership now.”

Griffin’s also been turning to charter operators like LEAD for lessons learned – specifically about teacher recruitment and retention. She said she wants to see what charters are doing well and replicate those practices across the district. When Griffin visited Tucker at LEAD this fall, he said they talked mostly about hiring practices.

“She asked us a lot of questions about the teachers we’re looking for,” Tucker said. “We know that our teachers need to have a sense of purpose to do this work, because a turnaround environment is very hard work.”

Earlier in the year, Griffin also turned to the Memphis-based Freedom Prep, which runs one turnaround school, for lessons learned in retaining teachers.

“Our retention rate in the ASD in the past has not been great,” Griffin said. “I’m the third superintendent in six years, so you can imagine what the teacher retention rate is. Freedom Prep is one of the schools that has had a higher retention rate. Why? They’re focused on teacher support.”

A goal for Griffin during the first month or so as chief was to establish an advisory team of local parents, students, and faith leaders – and that hasn’t happened yet. But Griffin says the team is being assembled now, and that their input would be a big factor in the future.

Collaboration is key for Griffin, who is known for bringing groups with different interests together to find common ground.

“My goal is to work us out of a job,” Griffin said. “When we have empowered all of our teachers and leaders to build capacity within schools, the hope is that they won’t need us anymore.”

new kids on the block

Meet the newly elected Indianapolis Public Schools board members

Three newcomers were elected Tuesday to the Indianapolis Public Schools board. From left: Susan Collins, Evan Hawkins, and Taria Slack.

In a shakeup of the Indianapolis Public Schools board, two challengers unseated incumbents in Tuesday’s election.

In all, three newcomers will join the school board: retired teacher Susan Collins, Marian University administrator Evan Hawkins, and federal employee Taria Slack.

Learn more about where the new school board members stand on issues such as the district’s budget woes, school closings, and innovation schools, from their responses to our candidate survey published last month.