Who Is In Charge

Tucson superintendent gets Dougco job

Elizabeth Celania-Fagen will become superintendent of Douglas County schools July 1. (Tucson Citizen photo)

It’s official: 35-year-old Elizabeth Celania-Fagan, superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District for the past 21 months, will take over leadership of the Douglas County School District on July 1, board members decided Tuesday night.

But she wasn’t there to accept the job. She gave birth to her second child on March 19, the same day she was named the sole finalist for the Douglas County position, and she is on maternity leave.

Fagen got a unanimous show of support from the school board. That’s something she lacked when she took over the troubled Tucson schools in 2008. At that time, she was hired on a 3-2 vote, with skeptics worried that she lacked the experience to run a large district. In 2008, she was still in her first year as assistant superintendent of the Des Moines, Iowa, schools, a district half the size of Tucson.

But by all accounts, Fagen quickly won over most of her critics.

“Her obvious impact, her energy, her attention to accountability – that was completely evident throughout the entire system,” said Cliff Stahl, one of two board members to visit the Tucson school district. “It was quite a statement. It wasn’t the easiest thing to meet with them, because they’re losing their superintendent, and their only concern was that she was leaving. That’s what they’re upset about, across the board. Without exception, every group was very respectful, very complimentary of Dr. Fagen’s obvious abilities.”

The Douglas County board voted 6-0 in support of Fagen; the seven-member board currently has a vacancy.

Board member Dan Gerken, who also visited Tucson, agreed with Stahl. “I came away with increased confidence that we made the right choice,” he said. “I met with a state representative, the president of the University of Arizona, a number of business leaders. It was 99.6 percent positive. I don’t know how it could get much better.”

The two school districts, Tucson and Douglas County, are roughly comparable in size: around 56,000 students. But in most other respects, they couldn’t be more different.

Douglas County is an affluent area and its schools are among the highest-performing in the state. Tucson Unified School District, by contrast, serves a high-poverty, high-minority population, with all the attendant challenges.

And although Colorado school districts are facing enormous budgetary problems – and Douglas County is no exception – Arizona’s funding of its schools makes Colorado look flush by comparison.  Per pupil funding in the TUSD is just $3,300 per student – less than half the funding ratio in Douglas County.

“It puts our own plight in perspective here,” said Gerken.

In fact, the perpetual school funding difficulties in Arizona may well have contributed to Fagen’s decision to leave that state.

“We found her to be very bright, very talented,” said Billie Stanton, managing editor of the Montrose Daily Press, but previously the opinion page editor of the now-defunct Tucson Citizen, which ceased publication last May. “But I think one bit of research she didn’t do before she came was how viciously the legislature treats school funding in Arizona. All Arizona schools are horribly under-funded, and Tucson is a tough district to be in. I can see how Douglas County would be very appealing to her.”

Fagen, a one-time pre-med major at the University of Iowa, has a bachelor’s degree in science education from William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa. She received a master’s degree and a doctorate in education leadership from Drake University in Des Moines.

She taught high school science for several years in Iowa. She also served as a high school principal and as an administrator for the Des Moines Independent School District. She was named associate superintendent there in July 2007 and served a year before taking the Tucson appointment.

Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, said Fagen’s quick job-hopping doesn’t worry her. “You hear the same thing about new teachers not having enough experience but that’s not necessarily a negative,” Smith said. “Experience doesn’t always predict ability. So no, I’m not concerned about her lack of experience in Tucson or before that in Des Moines. I think she has the ability to be very successful in Douglas County.”

Gerken said that Fagen “hit a home run” in each of the three areas the board members determined were most important in their new superintendent: being passionate about the success of all children; being supportive of school choice; and commitment to performance-based pay.

Look for more changes in Douglas County leadership in coming months. Board vice president Ryan Stuart announced his resignation last month. Formerly a deputy district attorney, Stuart has been sworn in as District Court Magistrate in the First Judicial District, and judicial officers are prohibited from serving on an elected government board. The school board will be looking for candidates to fill Stuart’s unexpired term.

Also leaving will be Steve Herzog, the one-time chief operating officer for the school district. He has served as interim superintendent since October, when former superintendent Jim Christiansen stepped down.

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”