All Over But the Shouting …

2014 Begins with New Richmond Public School Board Chair, Vice-Chair and Superintendent

When the members of the City of Richmond School Board convene their first meeting of 2014 tonight, School Board insiders say the first order of business will be to elect Donald Coleman, current vice-chair and 7th-District member, to serve as chairman for the coming year.  Coleman is replacing the current school board chair, Jeffrey Bourne, 3rd-District.  

As of 3 p.m., sources on the school board were unsure whether Kristen Larson, 4th-District member, or Mamie Taylor, 5th-district member, will garner a majority of votes to be elected to serve as vice-chair.  Shonda Harris-Muhammed, who also wanted the vice-chairmanship, bowed out today and told colleagues she is supporting Taylor's bid for the position.  

Once the new chair and vice-chair are chosen, the board's agenda has a few perfunctory housekeeping items to resolve, prior to going into closed session to discuss the details of the employment contract the board is expected to sign with Dr. Dana Bedden, chosen last month to be the district's new superintendent.  Bedden is expected to be sworn in as Superintendent on January 13, 2014.  

Contacted before convening the Student Disciplinary committee meeting today, Coleman seemed pleased and circumspect when asked about his ascent to the chairmanship.  "I am pleased that I have earned the confidence of my colleagues and I do hope that at the end of the evening I will be the new chair."  Coleman said that he hopes to bring "greater communication and cooperation" to his chairmanship in the coming year.

Outgoing school board chairman Bourne acknowledged that while the last year has been difficult, the board has much to be proud about and said that he is looking forward to finding his voice as an advocate and activist on behalf of the city's children.  "For the sake of all of Richmond's children, we need to redouble our efforts and show everyone that we can all work together for the greater good," he noted.

Check back later for more developments on this story and for details about the contract Bedden is expected to sign tonight.  Meanwhile, read the following research about Richmond's new Superintendent, Dr. Dana T. Bedden.


Editorial: Irving ISD incumbents will represent all students

The Irving ISD races are worth a close watch. The challengers of current IISD Place 1 trustee Nancy L. Jones and Place 2 trustee Adrian “A.D.” Jenkins both are proponents of English immersion. This process differs from bilingual education in that English Language Learners comprehend English without the aid of their native language. In some cases, the students are distanced from their culture and linguistic background. In order to cut the fat out of their budgets, some school districts have considered eliminating expensive bilingual education initiatives and opting for cheaper immersion programs. The election of Steven Jones and Marilyn Gail Conder Wells to Place 1 and Place 2 trustee seats, respectively, could be the death sentence for bilingual programs and the board’s move toward a body that represents the district’s diverse population. Therefore, the North Dallas Gazette’s endorsement for Irving ISD Places 1 and 2 go to incumbents Nancy Jones and Jenkins.
Steven Jones wants to serve the best interest of those who want to continue to live in the 1960s and keep district the way it was. Recently, the Place 1 candidate came under attack for questioning a Hispanic Irving ISD staff member because of the way she pronounced her name. Personal attacks as a means to spew ignorance and disrespect is not warranted. Steven Jones is playing too much into the hands of politics, feeding the egos of those who fear the day when they are not the majority (that day has come), and lacks the competence to make the right decision to help children.
Steven Jones wrote in his candidate profile to The Dallas Morning News that he would “do everything … to make English the language of the IISD and ensure we give every student the number one tool to succeed in the United States of America – a mastery of the English language.” His comments beg to question Steven Jones’ ideology on a student’s right to a public school education. There is not a problem with teaching Spanish speakers English, but there is no justification in ordering a certain population to abandon their heritage, an attribute of English immersion programs. The endorsement of these programs is assimilation at its worst.
Second, the election of two more Caucasian school board members defies the importance of diversity on the board of a school district that is 70 percent Hispanic (IISD Superintendent Dana Beeden is an African American). In early 2010, a federal judge struck down a lawsuit filed by Manuel Benavidez that challenged the school board’s at-large election system. It is not hard to imagine that should the board revert to all Caucasian once again, another lawsuit will follow.
Incumbents Nancy Jones and Jenkins understand it is not representing a chosen few that helps the children of Irving ISD. Steven Jones and Wells have yet to comprehend division achieves very little. The board of trustees needs individuals who will embrace diversity, not sweep it under the rug. It also requires leaders who never forget doing what is best for all students is the desired end result.

Looking at Wake County superintendent finalist Dana Bedden

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I'm going to do separate posts, probably one per day, about the three finalists for Wake County schools superintendent.
Today's article has an overview of all three finalists. I'm going to start first with Dana Bedden, superintendent of the Irving Independent School District in Texas, as he's the least known locally.
Bedden was also the lone finalist willing to talk Wednesday. He called close to deadline so I was only able to put a fraction of what he said in the print article. Consider this the bonus coverage.
In addition to his education experience, Bedden was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, serving some stints of active duty when his unit was called up. Bedden said he was accepted into West Point but chose to go instead to the University of Florida.
Click here for a letter from Bedden that he sent to the staff of the 35,000-student district that's a summary of his tenure as superintendent.
Bedden said he started during a period when Texas was starting the new STAAR testing system and implementing a major state education budget reduction.
After the initial hit, Bedden said they weathered through the challenges to raise teacher pay and avoid more layoffs while not raising taxes and maintaining their financial ratings. While Bedden said it's not something he could necessarily do in Wake, he proudly noted that the starting teacher salary in Irving will now be $50,000 a year.
At the same time, Bedden said he worked to address the adversarial relationship that he had inherited between the school system and business community. He said it's improved to the point now where the local chamber of commerce is raising money for the school system.
Bedden also pointed to increased parental involvement at schools through the  "Our House Is Your House" campaign. He said there's now a parent center established at every school.
Bedden said that while they're not saying that all schools should be exactly the same, they're working to set the same expectations for what they should all be doing.
“Every decision I’ve made is based on how we can make our children successful,” Bedden said.
Bedden also pointed to how he commissioned an audit of the special education program.
In terms of academics, Bedden said that the SAT participation rate has shot up from 39 percent to 85 percent. While the scores are still below the state average, Bedden said they've gone up even as more students take the exam.
Bedden also pointed to how the numbers of students taking Advanced Placement exams is going up along with the percent who are passing by getting 3s or higher.
Bedden noted that Irving is one of 487 districts nationwide invited to participate in the AP STEM Access program. The program was created to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented minority and female high school students taking Advanced Placement courses in STEM disciplines.
While 82 percent of Irving's students receive free-and-reduced lunch, Bedden said that shouldn't be a road block or a barrier to academic success.
Bedden said they've increased foreign language instruction to the point where students can be trilingual instead of just bilingual.
They've also increased the number of students participating in performing arts programs during the tight budget times, according to Bedden.
"He was really progressive when he came here,” said Gwen Craig, who until recently was a member of the Irving school board, called the board of trustees. “He’s done a wonderful job of leading the district.”
Bedden was unanimously hired by the Irving board of trustees in 2010. But, after the May 11 election, six of the seven board seats are now held by Bedden's critics.
At the first meeting Monday of the new Irving board, the new majority announced plans to hold a special closed-session meeting Friday to review Bedden’s performance.
Bedden has clashed with some board members about having replaced a staff-developed curriculum with a third-party curriculum and for expanding a program that allows Spanish-speaking students to take some of their core classes in their native language through fifth-grade. The new board majority has advocated rolling back those programs.
For instance, the Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday that the new Irving board dropped the CSCOPE curriculum Monday against staff’s advice,
The article says that about three-quarters of Texas school districts buy the suite of teacher guides and lesson plans instead of writing their own curriculum. Irving ISD is one of the first to drop the program.
The article says that conservative groups across the state claimed CSCOPE’s lessons contained socialist and Islamist propaganda.
Craig and former board president Ronda Huffstetler both charge that the real problem isn’t Bedden’s job performance. They say he’s in danger of being fired from Irving, a city outside of Dallas, because of his race.
“Irving is a white community and we have an African-American man,” Craig said. “They’ve never given him a chance.”
Both former board members predict the new majority will fire Bedden, something they say is undeserved.
Steven Jones, president of the Irving board and a longtime critic of Bedden, did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
Bedden has been reluctant to publicly criticize board members. He declined to say if he felt race was behind his current difficulties with the board.
"I can't speak for other people," Bedden said. "Every day I come in ready and focused on improving the district's performance."
Bedden said that he is lawfully required to carry out any action by a majority of the board that doesn't violate state law or doesn't violate ethics.
Bedden said his job is to advise the school board. If they reject his advice then it's his job to go back to the drawing board and come up with something else.
Despite the job uncertainty, Bedden said he didn't seek the Wake job. He said he was contacted by McPherson & Jacobson, the board's search firm. He noted that his wife grew up in Wake and his son now attends UNC-Chapel Hill.
“It’s one of the best districts in the country,” Bedden said. “It’s also an opportunity to bring my family home. It’s a win-win situation.”
Bedden said he's also aware of the controversy in Wake that has seen superintendents exit at a rapid rate over the past three years.
"I want to see if I can be part of moving the district forward and providing some stability," Bedden said. "I don't want to add to the revolving cycle."
Wake school board chairman Keith Sutton said they hadn’t been aware of Bedden’s difficulties with his board when they decided to name him a finalist. But Sutton said he doesn’t think it will hurt his chances.
“He’s been a superintendent with three different districts so we know he’s capable, he’s experienced,” Sutton said. “The board change is something that’s happened here where there’s been a change in political philosophy. That happens.”
Wake school board member Tom Benton said that Bedden offered a compelling vision for what he’d like to do in Wake.
Craig and Huffstetler both say Bedden is capable of leading Wake, which is more than four times the size of Irving.

Irving ISD superintendent, trustee silent after peace deal ends their 3-year battle

Steven Jones
Dana Bedden
They say the victors write history. But if Irving ISD has any victors after Superintendent Dana Bedden’s resignation, they can’t even talk about it.
The behind-the-scenes struggle between Bedden and a growing faction on the school board pitted trustee against trustee, turned board meetings into public theater and stressed one staffer to tears.
After three years, it ended July 1 with the stroke of a pen. Bedden took a conditional buyout worth up to $325,000 and quit. The board looked forward to a new “philosophical direction” for the district and its 35,000 students.
And the old saying took a twist: Now that he’s out of power, Bedden’s allies are free to praise him as a transformative leader who pulled the district from crises into modernity but never got the credit he deserved.
Those who might dispute that history, like board President Steven Jones and other trustees who took over the board after Bedden’s 2010 hiring, have sworn silence as a price for his departure.
No comment
“I can’t comment on anything related to Dr. Bedden,” Jones said, pointing to terms in the exit contract forbidding the superintendent or trustees from discussing accusations or private information.
If he could, Jones might recount Bedden’s career differently than Jerry Christian and Ronda Huffstetler, who both voted to hire him and who retired from the board in May — on the same day Jones’ allies took control of it.
“Dr. Bedden came at a time when the district had some pretty serious challenges,” Christian said. “He obviously had big shoes to fill.”
Jack Singley, who led the district for two decades, left it with something of a mess after his retirement and death in 2009. There were record-keeping problems, including Social Security numbers stolen from a trash bin; state and federal concerns about racial inequalities; and a new state exam that teachers weren’t prepared for.
Meanwhile, Irving’s decades-long shift from a mostly white, middle-class suburb to one with a large poor, Hispanic population left the district with mediocre state ratings and an image problem.
When Bedden moved to Irving in 2010 — recruited by a nearly unanimous board from a Georgia school system — he said his real estate agent tried to show him houses in every district but the one that hired him.
Bedden would later say he steered Irving through “the perfect storm.” In his first year, the state slashed millions from the district’s budget, Irving ISD cut hundreds of staff positions, and a hasty rollout of a new curriculum system aligned to state standards irked many teachers.
But most laid-off teachers returned, and complaints about the curriculum ebbed. Meanwhile, the district started reaching out to area real estate agents and hired the local chamber of commerce to help with fundraising.
Christian and Huffstetler also praised Bedden for cleaning up record-keeping, securing scholarships from corporations, and pushing students to take SAT tests and prepare for math and science degrees.
“That man has done more for this district in three years — way more than we asked him to, and everything we asked him to,” Huffstetler said.
But some of Bedden’s achievements are disputable. Despite his curriculum overhaul, Irving’s first-year scores on the new state test dropped by double digits in many subjects — more than for most of its neighbors. The district blamed bad data keeping by the state.
Staffers credited his discipline overhaul for drastically reducing the rate of suspensions for black students. But the program made headlines in 2011 for a consultant’s study claiming Irving schools experienced a “race war” between black and Hispanic students.
Christian blamed the bad press on decisions or circumstances beyond Bedden’s control. If the superintendent had a flaw, he said, it was “not being able to deal more effectively with people like Steven Jones.”
Jones’ arrival
The founder of a respected local theater company, Jones burst onto the local political scene about a year after Bedden’s hire. Charming and staunchly conservative, he campaigned for the board against the “status quo,” Bedden’s contract extension and “the lock he has on the seven trustees.”
It wasn’t Jones’ first run-in with a local government body. Two years before he ran for the school board, the Irving Arts Board discussed reducing his theater’s public grant based on “consistent disregard and public disrespect” for his benefactors.
Meeting minutes from 2009 recount some alleged incidents involving Jones at the public arts center: evicting the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra from the rehearsal hall; berating a theater tech who couldn’t open a locked door for him on Memorial Day; getting an Irving City Council member to intervene so he could borrow a spotlight; and loading city theater equipment into his car after being told he couldn’t use it.
The arts board decided to withhold part of Jones’ grant that year and release it only if he behaved well. Jones said earlier this month that he didn’t know anything about the matter.
As a candidate in 2011, Jones peppered district staffers with information requests, according to district emails: How many bilingual teachers weren’t U.S. citizens? How many administrators had math or science degrees? How much did Bedden’s office renovation cost? Bedden asked him to stop calling so many employees.
A blowup in Bedden’s office ended when the superintendent asked the candidate to leave district headquarters. The story became something of a folk legend, with Bedden or Jones playing the aggressor, depending on who told it.
Christian said he warned Bedden that the school board that backed him could change. But “he probably thought Steven Jones might not win. And if he did, he might not ever gain control of the board.”
Jones did win. He and another candidate with the same platform ousted two incumbents. In the next year’s election, Jones gained another ally — just short of a board majority.
Jones continued to contact Bedden’s staff directly, eschewing more senior trustees’ deference to the superintendent. Associate Superintendent Melody Paschall once emailed that Jones had asked her to forbid principals from attending noon board meetings.
“Another example of behind-the-scenes directives that are not appropriate,” Bedden replied.
The district’s internal auditor got caught in the conflict after Jones contacted her about an employee suspected of electioneering on school hours, according to a 2012 grievance she filed against Bedden that was obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
Misty Shipley recounted the superintendent “storming into my office” and accusing her of passing information to Jones, which she denied. Bedden called that an exaggeration but wrote that he apologized to Shipley after he saw her crying later that day. She eventually dropped her grievance.
Board censure
Thanks to an uncontested open seat, it was inevitable by spring 2013 that Jones’ supporters would soon control the board.
But after two new employees wrote to Bedden that Jones had told them they might not have jobs after May’s election, the superintendent’s supporters on the board took drastic action.
News of the April vote to censure Jones for “usurping” Bedden’s authority caused a sensation in the hallways. A flurry of staff emails obtained by The News recorded the shock:
“Never ending drama!!” “How can teachers work with this going on?” “I’m going to have to get out pretty soon. I think it will all go to the dogs come May.”
With a 4-3 majority, the superintendent’s allies censured Jones, condemning him for breaking policy and law. Days later, Bedden ordered a private investigator to follow up on the accusations.
But it didn’t matter. Jones’ three endorsed candidates swept May’s election. About an hour after taking power, the new board threw out Bedden’s curriculum overhaul. Six weeks later, Bedden resigned in return for paychecks through September, a quarter-million-dollar buyout if he doesn’t find a similar job by then, and a promise to keep any accusations to himself.
Like Jones, Bedden has stayed silent about his career in Irving and its end. Huffstetler said she talked to him the morning after he quit.
“He was like I was,” she said. “Relieved that the battle is over.”