Interview

McQueen: Working with Haslam on education was ‘a perfect match’ — and it’s time to move on

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen meet with members of his teachers advisory group in 2015.

When Gov. Bill Haslam recruited Candice McQueen to take the helm of Tennessee’s education department in 2015, he wanted someone close to the classroom who shared his passion for preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow.

Four years later, the former teacher and university dean calls their work together “a perfect match” and her job as education commissioner “the honor of a lifetime.” But she says it’s also time to transition to a new challenge as Haslam’s eight-year administration comes to an end.

In January, McQueen will become CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, a nonprofit organization that works to attract, develop, and retain high-quality educators.

Haslam announced her impending departure on Thursday from a job that has elevated McQueen as a national voice on public education, whether testifying before Congress about Tennessee’s work under a 2015 federal education law or serving on the boards of national organizations seeking to improve student achievement.

The announcement ended months of speculation about whether the 44-year-old McQueen would stay on in Gov.-elect Bill Lee’s administration, either as an interim chief or permanently (although headaches from the state’s testing program last spring decreased the likelihood of the latter).

McQueen said the institute was among a number of organizations that approached her this year as Haslam’s administration was winding down.

“I had a conversation with Gov. Haslam some time back to let him know that I was most likely going to be making a decision about one of these opportunities,” she told Chalkbeat in an interview following the announcement.

Asked whether she had entertained a role in the next administration, McQueen said her focus had been on her current commitment.

“When I came into this role, I came to work with and for Gov. Haslam. I always felt that four years was the right time period for me to accomplish as much as I could, and that’s what I’ve done. It’s been remarkable to work with a governor who has been so intentionally focused on improving education on the K-12 and higher education side and be able to connect the dots between them.

“It was a perfect match in terms of vision and what we wanted to accomplish,” she added.

"I always felt that four years was the right time period for me to accomplish as much as I could, and that’s what I’ve done."Candice McQueen

Under McQueen’s tenure, Tennessee has notched a record-high graduation rate of 89 percent and its best average ACT score in history at 20.2 out of a possible 36, compared to the national average of 20.8. The state has risen steadily in national rankings on the Nation’s Report Card and pioneered closely watched reforms aimed at improving teacher effectiveness.

McQueen called her new job with the teaching institute an “extraordinary opportunity that I felt was a great fit” because of its focus on supporting, leading, and compensating teachers.

“It’s work that I believe is the heart and soul of student improvement,” she said, citing research that high-quality teaching is the No. 1 factor in helping students grow academically.

At the institute, she’ll be able to leverage nationally the work that she’s championed in Tennessee. The group’s goal is to ensure that a skilled, motivated, and competitively compensated teacher is in every classroom in America.

“Coming in as a CEO of an organization that breathes this work around human capital is the work I want to be part of going forward,” she said. “And CEO roles of large national nonprofits don’t come around every day.”

A Tennessee native, McQueen will work from Nashville under her agreement with the institute.

In announcing her hiring, Chairman Lowell Milken said the organization will open a Nashville office, with much of its teacher support work moving from its current base in Phoenix, Arizona.

McQueen will succeed Gary Stark, who stepped down over the summer after a decade with the organization.

Rosters

Meet the Tennessee lawmakers who will shape education legislation this year

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Newly named committees for the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will soon begin reviewing legislative proposals.

Twenty-three legislators in Tennessee’s House of Representatives and another nine in the Senate will serve as the gatekeepers for hundreds of bills dealing with public education over the next two years.

The highly anticipated committee assignments were announced Thursday by House Speaker Glen Casada and Senate Speaker Randy McNally to close out the first week of the 111th General Assembly.

Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville will return as chairwoman of her chamber’s education committee, while Rep. Mark White of Memphis will lead a newly combined House panel.

Both Republican leaders are strong advocates of Tennessee’s score-driven accountability systems for students, teachers, schools, and districts. And with 24 years of legislative experience between them, their appointments are viewed as stabilizing forces as Tennessee transitions to a new administration under governor-elect Bill Lee and a large class of freshmen in the House.

The Senate lineup doesn’t look significantly different from the previous session, but the House panel is markedly changed in both membership and structure.

Casada consolidated two House committees that have handled education since 2015. He also named four subcommittees to manage the heavy flow of legislation related to K-12 and higher education, which last year numbered more than 400 bills.

“The purpose of the subcommittees will be to vet the bills from the beginning,” said White. “If a bill isn’t written well or it’s not a good idea, the subcommittee should get rid of it.”

With this year’s legislature under another Republican supermajority, the GOP dominates membership on all committees. For Senate education, Raumesh Akbari of Memphis is the only Democrat, while Democrats comprise only a fourth of the membership of the House committee.

Each legislator files preferences for committee assignments, but the speaker of each chamber makes the final call on membership and leadership.

Rep. Mark White

White’s elevation to chair the House panel was anticipated, since he was the only one of four education leaders in his chamber to return this year following the retirements of Harry Brooks and Roger Kane of Knoxville, and John Forgety of Athens. Last year, White chaired his chamber’s education subcommittee on administration and planning.

But the rise of Rep. David Byrd to chair a new subcommittee raised some eyebrows. A former teacher and principal, the Waynesboro Republican has been accused of sexual misconduct by three women when he was their high school basketball coach 30 years ago. Last fall, Casada defended Byrd, likening him to then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was also facing allegations of sexual assault from decades earlier. Byrd eventually sailed past his Democratic opponent to secure a third term in office.

The committees will get to work the week of Jan. 28, and you can learn about their schedules on the General Assembly’s website.

Newly named members and chairs are:

House Education Committee

  • Mark White, R-Memphis, chair
  • Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, vice chair
  • Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro
  • David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, chair, Administration Subcommittee
  • Scott Cepicky, R-Colleoka
  • Mark Cochran, R-Englewood
  • Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, chair, Higher Education Subcommittee
  • John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis
  • Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville
  • Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville
  • Jason Hodges, D-Clarksville
  • Chris Hurt, R-Halls
  • Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington
  • Harold Love, D-Nashville
  • Debra Moody, R-Covington, chair, Curriculum, Testing and Innovation Subcommittee
  • Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis
  • John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, chair, K-12 Subcommittee
  • Iris Rudder, R-Winchester
  • Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station
  • Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville
  • Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster
  • Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville
  • John Mark Windle, D-Livingston

Senate Education Committe

  • Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, chair
  • Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, first vice chair
  • Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, second vice chair
  • Mike Bell, R-Riceville
  • Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City
  • Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville
  • Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin
  • Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald
  • Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol

Chicago mayor's race

7 questions for mayoral hopeful Bill Daley about his plan to merge Chicago’s public schools and community colleges

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel
Chalkbeat Chicago sat down with mayoral candidate Bill Daley at his office in the West Loop to dig deeper into his proposal to merge Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago.

Bill Daley has a big idea.

The mayoral contender on Tuesday proposed merging the $6 billion Chicago Public Schools with the $723 million City Colleges of Chicago.

It’s one of the first disruptive education policy ideas that has surfaced so far in the crowded campaign to replace Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The proposal would create what Daley, who faces 14 opponents in the Feb. 26 election, is billing as a first-of-its-kind K-14 public school system.

The proposal, who would require a change to state law, builds on the the district’s Star Scholarship, which already allows Chicago graduates with GPAs of 3.0 or higher to attend city colleges for free. Daley’s plan, by contrast, would offer all graduates the option of two free years at one of the city’s seven community colleges.

Daley, a former banker who served previously as U.S. commerce secretary and White House Chief of Staff, is a brother of the former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and a son of Richard J. Daley, one of the most powerful mayors in Chicago history.

Related: Chicago’s mayoral hopefuls are starting to release education plans. Here’s what we know so far.

During a press conference outside Malcolm X College Tuesday, Daley touted the merger plan as a way to prepare young city denizens for the labor market, and to help minimize college debt they accrue. Daley estimates Chicago would save $50 million from the merger. But combining two education agencies has some likely challenges — given that both the public school system and the city colleges are losing students, have a history of financial brinkmanship, scandal, and spotty records of student success.

Following the press conference, Chalkbeat Chicago sat down with Daley at his office in the West Loop to dig deeper into his proposal.

Where does the inspiration for this idea come from?

I’ve lived here my whole life, and we’ve seen the struggles of CPS. There’s been some improvement. You see the number of kids going to college increasing, but their graduation from college, four-year college, and preparation for life is really not what it needs to be in this new economy.

Related: Preckwinkle leading in union poll; voters also see Chicago schools on the wrong track

[In the past], we’ve kind of looked at [education] as three phases: grammar school, then high school, and then college, whether it’s a four-year or a two-year. It just seems to me that with the new world we’re in, that we ought to look at this as really K-14, for the point of getting people really ready for life, be that a four-year college or a job. Many jobs today, all you need is maybe two years of college.

The first community college in Chicago was created by CPS in 1911. So it began within that system. Maybe it’s time to put it back together, and have the mindset of the educators being a [K-14] program.

That would be a very big system, though, especially from a bureaucratic standpoint. How would the city manage it?

Well when you combine big systems, you should get efficiencies and effectiveness.

Both systems would bring some baggage to this new relationship. Why does marrying the two make sense?

They’d have baggage standing alone, too.

Obviously, a part of this has to be that it gets better.

I know there are a lot of challenges to [public education] and a lot of questions around it, but that we’ve got to stop doing things the way we’ve done it and think we’re going to get a different result.

I know there will be a lot of naysayers who say you shouldn’t do this, you can’t do this, but it just seems to me that in the 21st century, that we ought to be looking at some of these things very differently.

Both institutions have had their share of financial challenges. So how would the numbers work?

[Financial challenges] are going to be in existence if there’s two systems or one system. Hopefully, there would be some savings.

Where would savings come from?

If you have two widget companies and you put them together, and you have two accountants, you may be able to save on one of the accountants.

So maybe take some of the teachers in high school who are well-trained, and you won’t need as many teachers, possibly. You can look at skills of high school teachers and the city college teachers and professors, and see whether or not there are skills that can be shared between the two of them.

How would governance of this entity work?

You would pick a CEO, obviously, who had the ability to run a different [kind of school system], not just a K-12 or just a City College [system], but you’d get somebody who had the ability management-wise and the experience running a big agency. There are a lot of other big agencies — not only in government, but in the corporate world — that seem to provide pretty good leadership.

There would be a merged [school] board. You’d have some talents of people who know something about higher education, and some that know more about secondary or grammar school and management of a system.

How would the board be chosen for this K-14 system? Would it be elected, appointed by the mayor, or more of the hybrid approach you’ve backed?

I’m not a big believer that elected school boards produce any better system than a [mayoral] appointed one.

I put out a plan on the CPS school board. I’m against [a fully elected school board].

Related: On returning school control to voters, Chicago mayor candidates are split

I think the mayor should have some skin in the game — for the mayor to walk away and say “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t have anything to do with this” [would be wrong]. And then [we would have]  a bunch of people running, raising money, more politicians promising everything, thinking about if they can keep their jobs or win another election.

One of the other issues is non-citizens can’t participate in the election process. There are a lot of kids in the CPS system that are children of non-citizens. They should be able to participate.  So what I laid out was developing through the local school councils a system where non-citizens can participate [in the school board selection process], and would end up selecting three people (out of seven total members) who would be put on the board. Basically, the mayor would have to accept them along with his appointments.