Wednesday, June 20, 2012


            You will be assisted by a life insurance agent to get the perfect type of life insurance instead of getting life insurance quotes. The life insurance agent will introduce you with whole life insurance and term life insurance. Each kind of insurance has different policy, terms, and conditions. The decision to get a particular type of life insurance depends on your needs. Therefore, you may be interested to get an annual renewable term life insurance.
            An annual renewable term life insurance has one year term. If you think that other kinds of insurance policies are too complicated, you can just get this one since it is able to last for only one year. If the insured person dies within that one year, the beneficiary will receive the death benefit. Otherwise, there will be no benefit paid if the insured person dies more than one year such stated in the insurance policy. People usually get this annual renewable term life insurance from five to thirty years. A person must renew this term life insurance every year. You should know that the annual premium will increase each year. Hence, at the end of the term, the premium becomes higher. People should considerate this matter properly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Three Innovations of Payday Loan Online

In case you haven’t familiar with it, the newest innovation in finance and technology is payday loan online. This service indeed relieves customers for it makes them easier in applying the loan. This means, the customers are able to apply for the loan anywhere they are, as long as there is internet connection around them.
However, online application is not enough. Payday loan is now even more beneficial for the customers who are away at that time for most money lender companies are not requiring their customers to submit their paperwork needed. The information of the paperwork is no longer needed to be faxed for it is the customers themselves should mention it in the form that they should fulfill. Therefore, the form will me more detail in terms of personal identity and the financial history such as banking account and credit card.
However, there are also some money lender companies that do not require the credit card checking as well. That is obviously pretty reliving news for those who have bad credit history.
Thus, payday loan online are now getting easier and easier. Now the customers do not need to visit the money lender office anymore to apply for the loan. Moreover, they do not need to compile their documents either. If they are lucky, they can even get the loan without credit checking. Wow!

Auto Insurance and Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage

            Car insurance coverage that deals with protection to you and others consists of five coverage which one of them is uninsured and underinsured driver coverage. This type of coverage is useful when you are in a car accident and you are the victim of that accident and the person who is in fault has not insurance or their insurance is insufficient. There is an illustration to use this type of coverage. You are in a car accident due to other person crash into your car. Everybody from both sides is safe but the problem is your car get the result of the accident.
            You do not need to worry if the incident aforementioned above happens to you. You just have to make sure that the person who crushes you does not have insurance or his insurance does not enough to pay the expenses resulted from his mistakes. There are two possibilities that might happen if the incident above happens to you. First, if the other driver has not auto insurance car, you will get advantage from uninsured car accident coverage. He will pay the expenses on your car reparation and injuries you are suffering.  The second possibility is the other driver has auto insurance but his coverage is not high enough to pay the damage. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

CMS morale: Good and bad news

North Carolina has released preliminary results from its biennial Teacher Working Conditions Survey.

A quick scan indicates Charlotte-Mecklenburg educators are slightly less satisfied than state averages on most items,  but happier than they were two years ago (although it's called a teacher survey,  it's open to all licensed school-based educators, including administrators).  About 80 percent of CMS teachers said their school is a good place to work and learn,  compared with almost 85 percent statewide. That result was up about one percentage point in CMS and virtually unchanged statewide.

I actually expected to see more dramatic gaps or changes,  given all the talk about dismal morale in the last couple of years. Because this poll happens every two years,  we don't have data from spring of 2011,  when frustrations with layoffs,  pay freezes, school closings,  performance pay and excessive testing may have peaked.  Teachers took the 2012 survey in March and April.

The biggest thing that jumps out is that about 3,100 of the 9,795 eligible educators in CMS didn't do the online survey.  The state participation rate was 86 percent.  In CMS it was 68 percent,  down from 77 percent two years ago.

I don't have time to dive deep or compare individual schools today.  But I expect a lot of you are interested and will have good insights  --  as always, please share.

Spin or service?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools needs a bigger communications department to keep up with the times, Executive Director LaTarzja Henry told the school board during an update Wednesday.

I almost feel bad about raising the topic in this forum,  which tends to be heavy on taxpayer watchdogs who consider her department a $2 million-a-year spin factory (read about the costs and results here).  I'm not trying to hang Henry up as a virtual piƱata.  In fact,  I thought the presentation gave an interesting overview of all the balls her crew is keeping in the air,  from delving into social media to handling "reputational crises" (think performance pay and bad data) to helping school staff cope with tragedy.

This has been an especially tough school year on that last front,  Henry said,  with 30 student deaths and 17 "staff tragedies."  Many of those didn't make headlines,  but still had to be dealt with among the school communities.

While working with the media is the most visible task,  the department reported on some items that played out below the public radar.  CMS increased its volunteers from 45,700 last year to 67,233 this year.  And the communication folks helped get Ident-A-Kid sign-in systems into 81 schools. That means visitors and volunteers are matched against the sex offender registry and other databases;  people who might pose problems are flagged before they enter.

Of course,  there was a bit of spin on display,  too.  I had to grin when Henry described February news about a driver who got her kids off a smoldering school bus as "exactly the kind of story we love to do."  Personally,  I'm not sure school buses bursting into flames qualify as good news, even when kids escape unharmed.

I don't know if incoming Superintendent Heath Morrison will agree that the communication staff needs more people to handle multimedia and revive CMS-TV.  I do know that communication staff can play a vital role in getting information to the public,  whether it's through reporters, CMS outlets or direct citizen requests.  And ultimately,  it's the person at the top who determines how well that system works.  A bad PR staff might discourage the release of clear,  accurate information,  but I think it's more common for a good one to be forced to run interference for recalcitrant officials.

Balancing communication needs with the push to channel money into classrooms is just one of the tough decisions waiting for Morrison. And it's just one more thing for the rest of us to keep an eye on in the coming months.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sexy emails abort Omaha superintendency

Explicit emails between newly hired Omaha Superintendent Nancy Sebring and a man she was having an affair with have led her to resign before she started work, the Omaha World-Herald reported this weekend.

The emails became public after requests by that newspaper and the Des Moines Register, which covers the job she was leaving. The Register reports that Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the search firm that handled Sebring's hiring in Des Moines and Omaha, does not request candidates' work emails but may do so in the future.

The public records request turned up 40 emails between Sebring and her lover (both married), discussing their sexual relationship and referring to photos of the man's penis (read an edited and photo-free version here). They were sent to and from her district email account, some on a laptop and iPad belonging to the district, the Des Moines paper reports.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I linked to an Omaha World-Herald series that looked at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as a reform model that Sebring might learn from. Now it appears that Omaha is offering an unsettling example of how difficult it can be to vet a new leader.

According to published accounts,  Des Moines school district staff who were filling the newspapers' public records requests came across the explicit emails. They notified the Des Moines board, which confronted Sebring.  In a closed meeting with the board,  Sebring abruptly changed her resignation date from June 30 to May 10.  Both Sebring and the board president cited the demands of getting ready for her new job,  and apparently did not disclose the revelations to the Omaha board.

Meanwhile, the Des Moines paper reports that Sebring tried to get rid of the emails, while staff  talked the Omaha reporters into modifying their records request so the personal emails wouldn't turn up. When the emails went public Friday,  Sebring tendered her resignation to the Omaha board at a hastily-called Saturday meeting.

I have no reason to think Heath Morrison,  who starts as CMS superintendent on July 1,  has been engaged in anything like this.  But it does provide a great illustration of why reporters and the public should be wary when public bodies try to block access to officials' correspondence.

Here in Charlotte, I filed a request on May 21 for school board emails related to travel spending and the Chamber of Commerce's trip to London. I modified the time frame of the request when I was told emails more than a month old would require time and expense,  only to be told eight days later that it would cost $855 to get the recent emails. CMS appeared to back away from that pricing, but more than two weeks after the initial request,  I have yet to hear a timetable for when those emails might be provided.

Tahira Stalberte in the public information office says she's just starting to review them: "There are nearly 900 emails in Ericka's inbox,  so it will take time.  After Ericka's,  I will need to review the inboxes for the other board members as well."

Chances are,  those emails will only provide a few more details on the story I've already reported about Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart's attempt to pay for the London trip.  But if I needed a nudge not to let the request slide, the Sebring episode surely provides it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Charlotte hosting business/education summit

Next week Charlotte will host the first of four national summits on how businesses can partner with public schools,  with the public-private Project LIFT partnership showcased.

The main sponsor is America's Promise Alliance, a coalition focused on improving graduation rates,  youth engagement,  early childhood programs and data analysis.  The Alliance has more than 400 partners,  including children's advocacy groups,  major foundations and a long list of professional, educational, business and governmental associations.

The agenda for the June 11-12 event includes speakers from around the country, as well as those from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and its business partners.  Business people and educators are invited to register for the free event.

The Charlotte event is co-hosted by the Foundation for the Carolinas,  a key player in the philanthropic coalition that's trying to raise $55 million to improve the nine Project LIFT schools.  Later sessions are planned for Boston, Denver and Los Angeles.

Monday, June 4, 2012

New blogger: Rhonda Lennon

Welcome to a new member of the blogosphere:  Rhonda Lennon, the District 1 representative to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, has launched her own site.  To my knowledge, she's the first board member blogging.

I suspect she'll make a good blogger.  She voices strong opinions and inspires strong feelings,  pro and con.  One of the best-read posts I've ever done on this blog was about her heated exchange of words with a parent over middle school sports.  With more than 11,000 page views and 143 comments,  it's been topped only by a live blog about the superintendent announcing layoffs.

Lennon has already been posting her views on Facebook,  and she says she created a blog because it gives her more space to elaborate.  Her first post is on a dinner she hosted with incoming Superintendent Heath Morrison,  and she says she's working on items on per-pupil spending and the board's travel budget.  She says she plans to post twice a week.

I hope it goes without saying,  but I'll say it anyway:  I'm simply pointing readers to another avenue for information and discussion,  not allying myself with Lennon or endorsing anything she posts.  If other board members dive in,  I'll be sure to let you all know.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Weigh in on fast-track N.C. ed reform

N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg Republican, has sent out an electronic newsletter urging constituents to read up and weigh in on the Excellent Public Schools Act that's moving through the legislature this summer.

This bill's a bit of a puzzler.  I understand frustration with snail-paced change.  But I'm also skeptical of the notion that a bunch of lawmakers can whip out the answers during a "short session" that's generally designed for minor touch-ups to the budget,  rather than deliberation on changes that will reshape education in North Carolina.

For instance,  Rucho offers this explanation for the benefit of grading schools A to F:  "To ensure improvement in schools that receive failing grades, we're creating a new North Carolina Teacher Corps program  --  modeled on Teach for America  --  that will give the best and brightest recent college graduates and mid-career professionals training and a direct path to teach in low-performing schools where students need the most help."

Even the folks who love Teach For America don't claim it's the solution for failing schools,  and those who don't like it are going to be doubly wary of a reform plan that relies on pumping in a new flow of inexperienced teachers.

There's also a performance-pay mandate with no money attached.  Ask Peter Gorman how that worked out for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools last year.  The idea of intensive reading instruction before children reach third grade is also straight from Gorman's playbook.  It makes so much sense,  but for CMS,  it fell into the "easier said than done" category  (read this study on the results, which found little benefit).

All of those questions and quibbles make Rucho's basic message well worth sharing:  "Our children deserve better than the status quo. They deserve bold solutions, outside-the-box thinking and robust public debate about which policies will make a better North Carolina for our students. Our plan is not partisan, and we welcome suggestions on ways to improve it. We may need to scale back some aspects, or press harder on others. Regardless, creating better classrooms requires constructive cooperation from both sides of the aisle, not inflammatory rhetoric and wild accusations about who really cares for our children. I hope you'll read our bill, SB 795, at and weigh in with letters and calls."

The link in the first paragraph will take you directly to the bill, and the link gives you easy access to your representatives. Have at it!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New life for New Leaders in Charlotte

After a major setback earlier this spring, Charlotte's New Leaders program is coming back fresh with an infusion of private money from Project LIFT, says Executive Director Eric Guckian.

New Leaders is a 12-year-old national program (originally known as New Leaders for New Schools) created  to develop urban principals with the skills and drive to make transform struggling high-poverty schools. Superintendent Peter Gorman announced its partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 2008, with promises that it would put more than 50  "highly talented and motivated new principals"  into local schools in six years.

In March, interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh blindsided New Leaders backers with the announcement that he planned to drastically cut back spending midway through the effort, saying CMS was spending too much money and had gotten only a handful of principals. Not long before, Hattabaugh had renewed a partnership agreement, but changed his mind when federal money that helped pay for it dried up.

Being publicly proclaimed a poor investment of taxpayer money was a serious blow, Guckian says. He credits his local board, the national organization and a panel of local philanthropists for not only keeping the local project alive but helping it develop a new focus on making classroom teachers better leaders.

"While it was indeed a hardship that the district reallocated our funds, other partners and supporters have made clear that there is strong and diverse community support for our work here in Charlotte," he said in a recent email.

Guckian says it was CMS leaders,  not his group,  that pitched New Leaders as a sort of principal factory.  The partnership with Project LIFT,  a philanthropic coalition which aspires to pump $55 million in private donations into nine west Charlotte public schools,  will put five principal trainees into LIFT schools while  providing leadership training for 40 teachers a year.  Those teachers could move into administrative posts or exercise their skills while staying in a classroom,  Guckian said.

"In addition to the LIFT partnership, we recently learned that the Women’s Impact Fund will be supporting us at $100K,"  Guckian noted.  "As you may know, grants from the Women’s Impact Fund are voted on by hundreds of influential women in Charlotte, so it’s a really nice vote of confidence from across the community."

A digital science boost

With all the buzz about digital learning, one of the biggest questions is how much educational bang schools can get for their electronic bucks.  Discovery Education, a vendor to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  has released a study showing its interactive science lessons contributed to significant student gains in high-poverty CMS classrooms.

Discovery Education provides reading passages, videos and virtual labs to get students engaged in scientific exploration.  For instance, fifth-graders studying insect life cycles would look at photos of insects such as butterflies, grasshoppers, beetles and dragonflies. The teacher would get them to talk about different ways those insects grow, and to make predictions about how each changes during its life cycle. Students would watch a digital video on metamorphosis.

CMS uses federal Title I money to provide Discovery Education digital science lessons for all its highest-poverty schools (75 percent or higher), along with training for teachers in how to use those lessons.  But participation wasn't required during the study years (2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-12),  so some teachers in Title I schools opted out.

The study compared results on state fifth- and eighth-grade science exams for students of 457 Title I teachers who used Discovery Education, 295 Title I  teachers who did not and 538 teachers in lower-poverty schools that didn't use Discovery Education. Researchers found that the Title I teachers using the program saw eighth-graders go from 38 percent passing to 57 percent, outperforming both other groups by significant margins (Title 1 non-users went from 19 percent to 32 percent passing, and the non-Title I group went from 41 to 43 percent). The results for fifth-graders weren't as dramatic, but the Title I teachers using Discover Education saw the biggest gains in two years.

The study factored in the benefits that some of the Title I schools got from support provided through CMS' Achievement Zone and/or the strategic staffing program, and there still appeared to be benefits attributable to the digital program.

I'm always cautious of drawing oversimplified conclusions from numbers, especially a study done by an interested party.  But this does seem to reinforce what CMS and many thoughtful commenters have been saying:  Technology can be a helpful tool when it's combined with good training and enthusiastic teachers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's a bird! It's a plane!

Superintendent Heath Morrison may need to move faster than a speeding bullet to deliver on a statement in a recent email to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees: "I intend to visit all schools in CMS during my first three months."

I asked him about the mathematics of that plan.  CMS has 159 schools.  He starts work July 1.  School starts Aug. 27, which gives him 24 days with students and teachers in school by the time his first three months end in September.  He's already been visiting during interviews and follow-up trips to Charlotte,  but even if he knocks 39 schools off the list before the starting bell,  he'd have to hit five schools every school day to meet his goal.

Morrison says his plan is ambitious but not impossible: "I have already visited many and have another visit in June. There will also be summer programs and back to school events in July and early August. Don't forget Saturdays in August and September. I may not make it, but the effort and intent is important."

He's probably right about the effort.  After Peter Gorman made his high-profile entrance in 2006,  I remember hearing grumbles from staff at schools he hadn't visited.  And Morrison makes a good impression in face-to-face meetings.

Classroom Teachers Association President Judy Kidd tends to be skeptical of politicians and officials. She says when she first read Morrison's line about being "a teacher on special assignment,"  it sounded phony.  But after meeting him recently, Kidd said Morrison strikes her as genuine. 

Board member Rhonda Lennon hosted Morrison and a group of north suburban parents and community leaders Friday night (joined, she says, by a few south Charlotte folks).  "He took time to talk to each family who was here -- and they shared the good/bad/ugly about their experiences at CMS,"  Lennon posted on Facebook.  "It was truly amazing watching Heath interact with the students and talk to them about their schools and personal academic accomplishments."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Morrison chooses South Meck zone

Soon-to-be Superintendent Heath Morrison and his family have a contract on a home in the Rea Woods neighborhood in south Charlotte, which means his daughter will enroll as a 10th-grader at South Mecklenburg High.  His son, who will be in seventh grade, has South Charlotte Middle as his home school. But Morrison says Zach is interested in auditioning for Northwest School of the Arts (there was no waiting list after the first magnet lottery, so it shouldn't be hard to find a spot for the superintendent's son).

I asked Morrison if he'd chosen schools, then found a home in the desired zone.  He said he left the home-shopping to his wife and daughter.

Morrison is in town to present his entry plan,  which includes efforts to make sure all neighborhoods and groups  have a voice in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools decisions.  He's having dinner tonight with school board member Rhonda Lennon and some of her constituents from the north suburbs, and lunch Saturday with Carol Sawyer and Pamela Grundy from Mecklenburg ACTS, a group that's focused on equity for high-poverty urban schools.

Here's Morrison's schedule for this visit:

Thursday, May 24, 2012
6:45 pm Meeting with Dan Habrat

Friday, May 25, 2012
7:00 am Meeting with cabinet
8:15 am Kim Brazzell/Teresa Shipman/Vincent Smith – Orientation
10:00 am Meeting with Ericka Ellis-Stewart
11:00 am Press event with Board
11:40 am Meeting with Tom Tate
1:00 pm Principal interviews
2:00 pm Meeting with Eric Davis
3:30 pm Meeting with Mayor Foxx
4:45 pm Meeting with zone superintendents
6:00 pm Meeting with Rhonda Lennon
7:00 pm Dinner meeting with Rhonda Lennon and northern parents, businesses, etc.

Saturday, May 26, 2012
7:30 am Meeting with Ann Clark
9:00 am Meeting with Joyce Waddell
10:30 am Meeting with Richard McElrath
12:00 pm Meeting with Pamela Grundy and Carol Sawyer
1:45 pm Meeting with Sheila Shirley
4:00 pm Meeting with Tim Morgan
6:00 pm Meeting with Amelia Stinson-Wesley

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Omaha paper: Learn from CMS

Like Charlotte, Omaha, Neb., has a large,  urban school district with a new superintendent.  It has tried a battery of programs to solve academic failure among its low-income and minority students.  A team of reporters at the Omaha World-Herald set out to find districts that seem to have answers,  and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is one of seven they're highlighting in a series running this week.

"Leaders of the Omaha Public Schools have tried everything from shrinking class sizes to busing kids between schools to waging political fights for more funding — only to see many of its most disadvantaged students scrape bottom on the latest Nebraska state achievement tests,"  Joe Dejka, Jeffrey Robb and Paul Goodsell write. "Yet, elsewhere in America, some school districts battling similar, entrenched poverty produce significantly better results. A select few districts outscore their urban peers on state and national tests, win national prizes and attract researchers and educators eager for a glimpse inside their playbooks."

The Broad Prize and CMS' performance on the "nation's report card" exams played a role in the decision to highlight CMS as a success story.  The findings won't be much of a surprise to those who follow CMS, and the reporters acknowledge the district has hit snags,  such as a backlash to increased testing.  But it's always interesting to see the district through others' eyes  --  in this case, a "virtual field trip" to glean the best lessons from across the country.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

$4,800 for London networking

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart was on the plane for the ill-fated Chamber of Commerce trip to London last weekend.  But the cancellation due to airplane mechanical problems may have been a blessing, because Ellis-Stewart has already spent most of her travel allotment for this fiscal year.

CMS provides $5,150 a year in travel money for the chair and $3,100 for other members.  Ellis-Stewart took office (and the chairmanship) in December,  about halfway through the budget year that ends June 30.  She had a tad over $2,800 to spend,  and had already used all but $283 on two trips to Raleigh and a National School Boards Association conference in Boston (see the board's spending as of Monday here).

The chamber's trip to London cost $4,800 for public officials. Ellis-Stewart said Tuesday that she had been talking to other board members about letting her use their unspent travel money.  It's not clear whether she'd gotten that money lined up,  or even whether CMS had actually paid the bill.  Rhonda Lennon, who had the biggest chunk of unspent money (just over $3,600),  said Tuesday that Ellis-Stewart asked her Saturday, the day the flight was supposed to depart, to help cover her cost.  Lennon said she declined. She said was concerned about CMS officials spending money beyond what's budgeted, especially while they're trying to get additional money from Mecklenburg County commissioners.

It's not unheard of for board members who don't travel much to offer some of their budget to those who do. Richard McElrath  --  who, like Lennon, has spent nothing so far this year  --  transferred just over $500 to Vice Chairman Mary McCray this year.  Nor is it unusual for board members to join other public officials and executives on the chamber's annual visits to check out business, economic development and government in other cities.  Eric Davis went to Seattle with the group when he was board chair last year.

But the overseas trip and the expense it entailed was unusual.  During the last budget year,  CMS board members spent only about $12,500 of the $29,950 allotted for travel,  with individual spending ranging from nothing for Lennon to $3,847 for Davis (see the 2010-11 travel report here).

Ellis-Stewart said Tuesday she thought the trip was valuable because of the opportunity to network with business leaders.  At a time when CMS is working to build public-private partnerships, "it's good to have them on your side,"  she said.

Lennon was skeptical.  "You can buy a whole lot of lunches for $4,800," she said.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New era of testing, ratings in NC

Say goodbye to the year-end exams and the N.C. school labels we've gotten to know over the past 15 years, where schools are rated from "low performing" to "school of excellence" based on the percent of students who pass exams. The state will issue its last "ABCs of Public Education" report this summer. Next school year will bring a new set of tests and a new "READY" accountability system.

It's part of the state's Race to the Top push to make testing more meaningful and comparable to other states, while holding schools accountable for a wider array of results and using student results to rate teacher effectiveness.

A lot of this will sound familiar to those who followed Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' efforts to forge ahead on these fronts in 2011. Remember the 52 new tests that drew so much outcry? The state Department of Public Instruction is working on 90 new tests (officials prefer "measures of student learning") to ensure that there's data for teachers in all topics. New versions of high school End of Course exams and year-end language arts, math and science tests for grades 3-8 are also in the works.

State officials who updated me recently say this isn't just about newer and more tests, but better ones.  The "bubble in the right answer" format that has drawn so much criticism will be replaced with online tests that include some open-ended questions. Teachers should get results faster than they do with paper tests, and testing software can offer a more refined gauge of student knowledge by adjusting the level up or down as students get answers right or wrong.  (Next year is a transition year, so it's unlikely all of this will be in place right away.)

The new exams are also designed to reflect the move to national "common core" academic standards, which are supposed to push students across the country to higher-level learning.

The school labels that have graced banners on high-scoring schools since the 1990s will be gone after this year.  So will the promise of  "ABC bonuses"  for principals and teachers based on growth ratings. Those rewards, which provided up to $1,500 for high growth, disappeared from the state budget when the recession kicked in.

There's no money budgeted for a new statewide bonus program, said N.C. Race to the Top Director Adam Levinson, "and none in the foreseeable future."  The state is using Race to the Top money to provide bonuses for teachers with high effectiveness scores at 118 of the state's lowest performing schools, including some in CMS.

After 2012, high schools will be rated on graduation rates and performance on the national ACT college-readiness test, as well as pass rates on the new state exams.

The state is also working on "value-added" ratings of individual teachers,  based on three years of test data. Those individual ratings aren't designed for public release, officials say,  but two consecutive years of low scores could lead to dismissal.

"We're certainly not intending for that to be anything but part of the personnel file," Levinson said. "This is about helping teachers and principals grow and get better."

The change in testing also means that CMS and other N.C. districts will essentially push "reset" on gauging academic success and failure. Scores almost always fall when new tests are introduced, and North Carolina is likely to follow that pattern in 2013, says Angela Quick, the state's deputy chief academic officer. The good news for incoming Superintendent Heath Morrison and the school board:  A climb in subsequent years is almost as predictable.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Which schools got CMS iPads?

CMS has provided a list of the teaching teams that won grants for classroom iPads and training. Groups of educators competed for a share of the $3.5 million in county money Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools had available to provide the digital boost.

The classroom iPads, which follow the presentation of iPads to all school administrators in January, are part of the district's push to provide wireless internet access and digital learning opportunities in all schools. The original  plan was a districtwide "bring your own technology" rollout when schools reopen in August, but CMS has slowed its approach because of leadership turnover and the need to prepare.

(I'm wading through a week's worth of emails after taking vacation, so I know there's a lot more going on in the world of education. Keep me posted on what you all know.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Reno grad-rate jump too good to be true?

During Heath Morrison's short tenure with the Washoe County School District, the graduation rate jumped from 56 percent in 2009 to 70 percent last year.  It's perhaps his signature accomplishment there, one that helped him win national acclaim and get the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools job.

It has also raised questions, because it relies on data that his staff recalculated and because it rose so fast. Newspaper columnist and labor activist Andrew Barbano dubbed it "The Mythological Morrison Miracle," and the local NAACP branch is reviewing the data,  with the branch president saying he suspects the jump is too big to represent reality.

By any national measure, the four-year tracking rate that Morrison introduced is more reliable than the old Nevada method (read details of both rates and see the Washoe County numbers here, starting on page 50). It's the one North Carolina and many other states use.

Morrison also introduced a door-to-door campaign to locate the hundreds of students a year who were listed as "vanished,"  along with those who had officially dropped out,  and get them into school. If dropouts who are 18 or older enroll in the Washoe Adult High School, they are switched into the "transfer out" category, which means they're removed from the calculation entirely, counting neither as graduates or dropouts.

Morrison says it's better to have those young adults working on their education than sitting at home,  but he acknowledges it's too early to say whether they'll be successful.

In April, the Reno Gazette-Journal did an extensive "fact checker" analysis of the grad-rate jump. Reporter Mark Robison found that some of the improvement comes from better tracking of students, and he quoted a statistical expert as saying that makes year-to-year comparisons questionable.  However,  he also found experts agreeing that both data-tracking and graduation rates are improving in Reno,  even if one can argue over the amount.

"What rises above in this discussion is the fact that the district is using the same standard measurement in 2011 as it did in 2009. And no one is questioning the accuracy of the numbers," he wrote. "In fact, there is agreement that improving the accuracy of the dropout rate is praiseworthy. Should the increase come with an asterisk? Perhaps. But the numbers are the numbers, and therefore it's fair for the district to report a 14 percentage-point jump in its graduation rate."

Unfortunately, the Gazette-Journal doesn't offer a free link to this article; if you want to pay for an archived copy, go here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Challenge: Say something nice about CMS

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is marking employee appreciation month with a chance to post compliments about teachers and others who do the work it takes to educate 140,000 kids each year.

This forum tends to draw a lot of complaints.  That's understandable.  CMS is a big, political organization that spends lots of tax money and has its flaws.

But here's a challenge:  If you've commented on what's wrong with the district, take time to honor at least one employee who's worth a kind word. There are more than 18,000 people teaching classes,  driving buses,  serving meals,  keeping the schools clean  --  and yes, crunching data and manning administrative offices.  Surely you can find one who's doing good work for kids or providing good customer service for adults.

If you want to go straight to the CMS appreciation form, here it is.

If you have children in charters, private schools or other districts, I can't give you a link. But it's always nice to drop a thank-you note.  And if you're into tweeting, a reader just shared this Twitter campaign to #thankateacher.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Heath Morrison entry tour

Heath Morrison, who starts as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent July 1, is in town for house-hunting and meetings with key players. Who made the cut? Here's the schedule CMS provided, with some titles and connections added.

10:27 am Arrive in Charlotte
12:00 pm Meeting with LaTarzja Henry (head of communications)
1:00 pm School visit at Dilworth Elementary
2:15 pm Principal Interview
2:30 pm Meeting with Ann Clark (chief academic officer)
3:30 pm Videotaping for Teachers for Excellence
4:00 pm Meeting with Ericka Ellis-Stewart and Mary McCray (school board chair and vice chair)
6:00 pm Dinner with Tyler Ream (area superintendent in charge of Title I elementary schools)

7:30 am Meeting with Hugh Hattabaugh (interim superintendent)
8:30 am School visits at Metro and Morgan
10:00 am Meeting with Harry Jones (county manager)
11:00 am School visit at First Ward
12:30 pm Meeting with Observer Editorial Board
2:00 pm Meeting with Cabinet members
5:00 pm Meeting with Mike Raible (school planning official)
6:00 pm Dinner appointment

7:50 am Meeting with Michael DeVaul (YMCA)
10:00 am Meeting with Harold Dixon (PTA Council President)
11:00 am Meeting with Natalie English (Chamber of Commerce)
1:00 pm Meeting with Bill Anderson (Meck Ed)
2:30 pm Meeting with Scott McCully (student placement director)
3:30 pm Meeting with Dan Habrat (HR chief, tentative)

All day house hunting with family

7:35 am Flight back to Reno

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

CMS board: Who's leaving, why?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is back to pre-recession hiring levels,  HR Chief Daniel Habrat told the school board Tuesday night.

"CMS is open for hire, and we have about every kind of job that you can think of," Habrat said during an update on his department.  "Let our community know that we are interested in strong performers. Come talk to us."

The latest listings show 295 instructional positions  (teachers, counselors, etc.)  and 107 other jobs, including two in the $140,000 to $160,000 pay range:  Chief accountability officer (testing and data) and chief information officer (technology).

Several board members wanted to know more about what's creating the openings.  Rhonda Lennon said she's seen online comments indicating that people are fleeing because the district is so bad.  She asked whether Habrat had information that could counter that claim,  such as a report putting CMS turnover into national context.  He said he'd look into it,  but repeated what he's said before:  The biggest reason for increased turnover is educators seeking jobs in other fields.  "Our people are good,  they're attractive and other people want them,"  Habrat said.

Joyce Waddell asked which employers are luring away CMS employees.  Habrat said exit surveys don't ask that question.

Vice Chairman Mary McCray asked for numbers on teacher and principal retirements.  Habrat said the numbers are "not huge,"  with about 600 teachers retiring this year  (CMS has almost 8,800).  He said he didn't have numbers on principal retirements handy.

"Could we get those?" McCray pressed.

Waddell asked whether assistant principals are getting opportunities for promotion. She said she's been hearing from African American men that they tend to be assigned to handle discipline and get stuck there.

Habrat said principal openings are  "highly competitive,"  with four assistants for every principal job. (The latest payroll indicates a 2:1 ratio, counting assistant principals and deans of students. Habrat said today his calculation includes facilitators, who are also part of the leadership "pipeline.")  Habrat and interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said assistant principals need to seek leadership opportunities so they'll have a track record when an opening occurs.

Board Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart told Habrat that she has been hearing diversity concerns similar to what Waddell voiced,  and urged his department to "do what we can to remove barriers."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

NYT on Murdoch, Klein and Gorman

Peter Gorman's resignation as superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in June put Rupert Murdoch's new educational technology venture on the radar for many of us in this area.  Gorman took an executive post with the new education division of News Corp.,  working for former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein,  shortly before the British phone-hacking scandal rocked Murdoch's empire.

Today the New York Times reports on how the scandal has absorbed Klein's energy and sidetracked him from pursuing the educational venture. Gorman is cited as one of the "biggest names in education" hired to assist Klein.  "They’ll most likely carry out Mr. Klein’s vision without his full attention as long as News Corporation remains caught up in the hacking scandal," writes reporter Amy Chozick.

Meanwhile, yesterday's inbox brought the news that Wireless Generation,  an educational software and assessment company acquired by News Corp. in 2010,  has bought Intel-Assess, a California test-development company.

Intel-Assess  "helps school districts meet their instructional goals by providing well-researched,  rigorous assessment content to drive student achievement,"   the Wireless Generation release says.  "With the acquisition of Intel-Assess,  a premier developer of custom and finished education content,  Wireless Generation will significantly increase the number of assessment items and related tools available to complement its formative assessment platform.  In addition , the acquisition will help Wireless Generation make available high quality assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards to customers in thousands of districts across the U.S."

Monday, May 7, 2012

Magnets and choice in Reno

Reader Ashley Holmes wanted to know what incoming Superintendent Heath Morrison thinks about magnet schools.  His short answer:  "I love having options for students." 

The Washoe County School District doesn't have as many magnets as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  but Morrison recently launched magnet programs for gifted and talented students in four middle schools  (I'll be writing more about that).  Like CMS partial magnets, they're housed within a nonmagnet school.  Morrison said when it comes to the full vs. partial question,  his most important rule is "that form follows function."

Morrison has also started "signature academies" in high schools,  which offer themes ranging from health sciences to International Baccalaureate and offer seats to students who live outside the school zone.  Morrison says they're not the same as CMS magnets,  but it's another form of academic choice.

Like North Carolina,  Nevada also has charter schools  --  including eight that are sponsored by Morrison's district.  They were created about 10 years ago,  well before he arrived in 2009.  While I was in Reno,  Morrison told a parents' group he doesn't think charters are the answer to the nation's educational challenges,  but he supports those that provide a clear benefit to students.

"I am a fan of great schools,"  he said.  "If they're great charter schools I'm happy.  If they're great public schools I'm happy."

I visited the district-sponsored Academy for Career Education, a charter high school that trains students for careers in construction, architecture,  design and diesel technology.  It was created by construction executives and former Washoe County School District employees who thought the district wasn't doing enough career education.  Morrison calls it one of the district's best charters.

Mike Cate,  a contractor who helped create the academy,  said Morrison has been more supportive than his predecessors.  "The previous superintendents,  they looked at us more as a competitive school,"  Cate said.  "As long as it's an environment where the kids learn,  (Morrison) is for it."

ACE students go to school in a converted building at the Reno airport and do a lot of hands-on work -- everything from building houses to using the latest design software.  One advantage of being a charter,  Cate said,  is that students who fight are "fired,"  just like they would be on a construction job. When you have students working with nail guns, hammers and power tools,  he said,  you can't afford discipline problems.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Project LIFT starts making grants

Project LIFT will report on its first round of grant recipients at Tuesday's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting.

According to the powerpoint, those will include an array of local and out-of-state groups working to recruit and develop staff, provide summer programs for kids and help families tap into technology. Project LIFT, as most of you know, is a public-private partnership focused on West Charlotte High and the eight schools that feed into it.  While the organizing has been in the news for more than a year,  this summer marks the start of services for kids.

Several weeks ago, I requested numbers on teachers who were offered retention bonuses or forced to transfer from the LIFT schools, as well as results on the others who were given a choice.  I've renewed that request and hope to have more to report next week. (Update: Tahira Stalberte said today those numbers will be ready "in about a week.")  I'm also curious about how close the group is getting to its goal of having $55 million pledged by June to spend over the next five years.

While I'm updating (and giving blog readers a respite from Reno reports),  I didn't forget about doing a story on the 2012 CMS payroll.  I had one written and ready to run,  but after I hopped on the plane,  CMS reported that the file they'd given me omitted Race to the Top bonuses.  I'll update the database and the story soon.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bell schedules and Heath Morrison

When a caller asked if I knew the superintendent finalists' stands on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bell schedules, I politely dismissed the question, figuring they had bigger issues to grapple with.

Now that I'm in Reno, I'm thinking that caller was wiser than I was.  Turns out Heath Morrison,  superintendent of the Washoe County School District,  has been dealing with some of the same issues his new district has:  Changing the times schools start and dismiss, and adding more class time for elementary students. The difference in his approach may say something about his ability to sort out hard feelings in CMS.

The short version:  CMS leaders simply announced changes in school hours and added 45 minutes to the elementary day.  Morrison,  who is widely described as a guy who likes to move fast,  decided he needed more time to talk through these issues with faculty and parents.

The situations are not identical.  Former Superintendent Peter Gorman pushed back the hours of some elementary and middle schools to save money on busing and extended the elementary day by 45 minutes, effective this school year.  At the time,  CMS was in turmoil over school closings and possible layoffs,  so those changes got little public discussion.  Now some parents and teachers are saying they were blindsided by changes they should have been asked to help shape.

Washoe has also faced severe budget cuts, but Morrison says that's not what's driving the possible scheduling changes. He wanted to revise his district's complex school calendar and add 30 minutes to the time elementary students spend in class. Like Gorman,  he figured he could keep the kids in class longer without extending the paid day for teachers. And he was hearing from middle school parents who wanted their schools to start later.

Morrison's team launched an extensive public discussion of the calendar changes,  including more than 40 community meetings.  He says he heard from teachers that squeezing out planning time wouldn't be good for them or for students. The result: Washoe slowed down on the changes, with the calendar shift slated for 2013-14 and the others farther in the future.

Morrison says many of the things people are upset about in CMS  --  whether it's bell schedules or testing and teacher evaluations  --  are not bad ideas,  but ideas that were rushed through without listening to people who could have refined them.

It's worth noting that Washoe's unionized employees have more power to push back,  and that it remains to be seen whether Morrison's current district can craft more popular solutions than CMS has. CMS leaders have also made extensive efforts to engage the public on tough decisions,  though many have complained that those efforts fell short.

During the last two days,  I've repeatedly heard that Morrison is good at listening and rethinking his plans when he hears a better idea.  His notion of public engagement seems to go deeper than what CMS is used to doing.

Pretty soon we'll start to see whether that's enough to win hearts and minds in Mecklenburg County.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Teachers: It's not a prank call

You can't blame Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers for being skeptical when some guy calls from out of the blue saying he's Heath Morrison,  the just-hired superintendent.  Morrison says after he introduces himself, he tends to get reactions such as "No, really -- who are you?"

Morrison,  an early riser who makes his Charlotte calls before he starts his job in Reno, Nev.,  is working an entrance strategy and an exit plan at the same time.  He won't be in Charlotte for the CMS budget pitch to county commissioners,  but he says he's left messages for all nine commissioners to make his introductions.

As he was calling civic and political leaders,  he realized the symbolism of talking to them before he connects with his own work force.  So he asked zone superintendents for names of teachers to talk to. Now,  he says,  he's trying to match his contacts with Mecklenburg officials with calls to teachers, principals and parents.

Meanwhile,  in Nevada,  it's been interesting to watch Morrison do an extended farewell tour.  At 6 a.m. Tuesday,  he was at Channel 2,  where he does a monthly TV appearance. He got hugs, handshakes and hearty praise for his three years leading Washoe County Schools from the staff there.

"So you're going South?  Don't mix jelly with your grits,"  one cameraman said.

Morrison on 96.5 radio
Shortly afterward,  he was doing the Bill & Connie morning show on a local radio station,  where the hosts laughed about their introduction to Morrison.  They had done an April Fool's show announcing that his budget-strained district was going to start charging fees to ride the bus  --  as well as offering movies and popcorn during the ride for a price.  People who didn't get the joke deluged Washoe County Schools with outraged calls,  and Morrison asked to go on the show the next day.  He's been a frequent guest ever since,  and the hosts keep a toy school bus with Morrison's photo taped to it.

Morrison didn't bat an eye when asked to join in on a "Hollywood Trash" discussion of Whitney Houston's drug addiction,  using it to talk about making connections with students and staff:  "We owe it to people we care about and love to push past what's visible."

Host Bill Schultz told Morrison he was "super stoked about everything you've done for the last three years, glad to be able to call you friend."

Morrison does have his media critics.  Andrew Barbano,  a labor activist and columnist for the Daily Sparks Tribune, has been writing about what he dubs "The Mythological Morrison Miracle," questioning whether the increased graduation rate Morrison touts reflects reality (Sparks is a city adjacent to Reno, also in Washoe County). But overall,  Morrison is clearly adept at building relationships in the media and the community,  a skill the CMS board hopes to tap as it strives to rally confidence.

(I'm also visiting schools and discussing serious issues while I'm here; more to come.)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Heading for Reno

I'm bound for Reno, Nev., to check out the home turf of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's newly hired superintendent, Heath Morrison.  If you've got questions, let me know.  I've already forwarded reader questions about magnet schools,  how Morrison involved faculty in handling budget cuts and what he'll do for suburban schools.  I can't promise there will be time to get every question answered, but I'll try,  and Morrison seems receptive.

Between CMS stories last week, I caught up by phone with David Fullenwider, president of the Washoe Schools Principals Association.  He's been with the district 23 years,  and says Morrison has re-energized and revamped a district that had gotten used to doing things the way they'd always been done.

Fullenwider describes Morrison as the hardest worker he's ever known,  saying it wasn't unusual to log on and find emails he sent at 4:30 a.m.  (maybe I shouldn't be surprised that my tag-along agenda for Tuesday starts at 5:30 a.m.).  The down side,  Fullenwider says,  is that some principals think the high standards can be unforgiving:  "If you mess up,  man,  it's pretty harsh."

But Fullenwider calls Morrison one of the most impressive people he's ever met.  His message for CMS:  "The employees of your school district are going to work harder than they've ever worked in their lives,"  he said.  "But you're going to see positive results that will make it worth it."

Update from the Minneapolis airport: The Reno Gazette-Journal ran pieces this weekend about the transition in Reno and Morrison's departure package.

Friday, April 27, 2012

More school payrolls are online

Updated Saturday: The database for surrounding school districts is up now. Strangest thing discovered on my first click: Gaston County's deputy superintendent makes more than the superintendent.

The 2012 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools payroll is ready, and there's more to come.

When the Observer first posted CMS salaries in 2008,  most of the questions I got were along the lines of  "Why would you do such a thing?"

Over the years,  as people came to expect access to public pay,  the queries changed to "Why can't I find the same information for other nearby districts?"  My answer was always simple:  I don't have time to request and post them.

Gavin Off
This year, database reporter Gavin Off took on the task,  rounding up salary lists from Cabarrus, Catawba, Gaston, Lincoln, Hickory, Iredell-Statesville, Mooresville and Union counties. He's working on some of the details, but we should have that posted later today.

As to why we do this:  It's public money,  and the way it's spent -- on teachers, on principals, on high-level administrators  --  is a matter of legitimate concern for taxpayers, public officials and all the people who depend on public education.  With more than 18,000 employees,  CMS is one of the largest employers in Mecklenburg County and North Carolina.

If you've got questions or comments about the surrounding districts, get in touch with Gavin at I'm the point person for CMS, as usual.  Look for a story in Monday's Observer.

We don't have the 2012 salaries for Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte yet, but those should be coming soon.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The mystery of disappearing principals

The families of Polo Ridge Elementary are living the latest installment of an ongoing mystery series in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:  "What happened to our principal?"

After a confusing communique from fill-in administrators at the south suburban school, CMS officials explained that Principal Patricia Riska had recently been sent on a special assignment to help evaluate teachers, while Assistant Principal Cassandra Gregory had been reassigned to Eastover Elementary.

Things got even odder today,  when someone discovered that Riska was listed as a principal at West Charlotte High on the school's web site, along with Principal Shelton Jefferies. Spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte said Riska's special assignment is at West Charlotte, but she's not serving as a principal there.

Rumors are flying,  and people are asking why the Observer is accepting an official explanation that's clearly incomplete.  Some have suggested it's due to staff shortages here.

There's some truth to that.  CMS is seeing an unusual level of churn among administrators at its 159 schools this year,  and we could probably keep all our reporters busy checking out the changes.  Even when a principal retires,  there are often questions about what led up to the decision.

But the bigger issue is this:  There's a limit to what reporters can get  --  and what CMS can release --  when it comes to personnel issues.  N.C. law makes personnel files confidential.  CMS must disclose  promotions, demotions, suspensions and transfers,  but officials don't have to give explanations.  At Polo Ridge,  Stalberte has said only that the moves were not for disciplinary reasons.

We generally run checks of public records on lawsuits and arrests when questions are swirling about a school situation.  In this case,  as in most,  nothing popped up.

With unlimited staff time,  we could call everyone who might have heard something.  But without records to confirm or refute rumors,  we might just end up with a thick stack of unusable notes.

It's frustrating,  I know.  Principals play such a vital role in schools and communities that people legitimately want to know whether they've been treated right by their bosses,  or whether CMS is withholding information about incidents that affect the school or its students.  I wish there were a better way to get the answers without violating the confidentiality of employees  -- or the law.

The Gorman years through a rosy filter

"Bold" is a favorite term with education reformers.  A dose of boldness would have been a help to "Within Reach: Leadership Lessons in School Reform from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools."

The 98-page book was commissioned by former Superintendent Peter Gorman and paid for with almost $60,000 from a $250,000 grant the C.D. Spangler Foundation gave him. The five fascinating, tumultuous years he spent leading CMS are sanitized to the point of blandness:  Gorman rallied a community that had soured on CMS.  A dysfunctional board learned to work together.  Strategic staffing created remarkable gains.  Teacher performance pay created  "a great deal of nervousness and distrust,"  but "Charlotte is holding firm."  The CMS agenda  "included several strategies that were in the giving 'sweet spot' for several national foundations,"  bringing millions into the district.

Gorman's detractors may scoff at the idea that he has anything to teach the district's future leaders and others across the nation. I think he does  --  but the lessons came from the setbacks and stumbles as much as the victories,  and nothing was ever simple.  I'm willing to bet that when current and former superintendents get together,  they tell the kind of war stories that would have made this book gripping.

The account of his arrival is interesting,  especially as CMS goes through the replacement rituals again. Gorman tells the authors,  Tim Quinn and Michelle Keith,  that he followed news on CMS closely during the year the district was seeking a leader,  and brought his family to Charlotte for four days before  applying.  Between the hiring vote and his arrival,  he used the California/North Carolina time difference to lay groundwork,  making calls to key figures in Mecklenburg County from 5-8 a.m.  Pacific time before starting his job in Tustin.

"Every minute of every day during the first week was carefully mapped out,"  from a 6 a.m. meeting with support staff  (schools weren't open in July) to a walk in the Matthews Independence Day parade.  "This action spoke volumes about the new superintendent's level of interest in this part of the district and helped to overcome the talk of secession,"  he writes.

Why did he decide to leave the job he writes so glowingly about?  What was the personal toll of five years as the face of CMS?  Why did the superintendent who seemed to thrive on communication and community ties abruptly walk away without public comment or farewells?

This book doesn't give the faintest hint.  Peter Gorman the textbook leader pays tribute to all the good folks he worked with and vanishes into a rosy memory.  Peter Gorman the human being still hasn't broken his silence.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Testing mania: At least we're not New York

A national push-back against standardized testing debuted this week, with groups from Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham signing a petition for the federal government and state legislators to ease up on exams.

The petition calls for developing better ways of holding schools accountable for student achievement. Sponsors include such national groups as the NEA, FairTest, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Parents Across America, with Pamela Grundy of Charlotte as a spokeswoman.

As most of you recall, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools created an uproar last year by launching dozens of new local exams, from science and social studies tests for kindergarteners to multiple-choice tests on high school journalism. CMS has since backed off,  but state and federal mandates continue to demand heavy use of standardized tests to grade students, teachers and schools.

It's probably not a coincidence that as this effort was kicking off,  the most bizarre test question I've ever seen began making the electronic rounds.  You may have seen the story of "The Hare and the Pineapple," a hilariously surreal tale used to test reading comprehension.  I really thought someone had been tricked by an item from The Onion or some other satirical site, but it's posted on the web site of the New York State Education Department, responding to criticism about its use on a state exam created by Pearson Inc.

Meanwhile, a former colleague shares this article about 3- and 4-year-olds in New York City taking test-prep classes so they can get into public kindergartens for gifted children. Yikes!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Getting to know Heath Morrison

After a hectic couple of weeks, I'm taking a deep breath and trying to learn more about Heath Morrison, who has been offered the job of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent.

Update: He's in town for the contract signing. See a video of his remarks at the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum.  

The website of Washoe County Schools  has a lot of good information  --  starting with the entry plan Morrison drew up when he took the job in Reno in 2009.  It talks about building relationships with the board and senior staff,  figuring out student achievement issues,  building a media strategy and planning a first day full of thoughtfully chosen  "symbolic"  visits.

Soon after starting that job,  Morrison worked with the Broad Academy to do a study of the administrative structure.  The consultant reported that the district was top-heavy,  that administrators were widely seen as being part of a "good old boys club" and that it was a mistake not to have a chief academic officer.  (Even if Morrison doesn't feel like CMS needs that much of a shake-up,  there are openings in top jobs,  so it's interesting to scan his executive cabinet and wonder who might eventually join him in Charlotte.)  Morrison also commissioned a detailed critique of Washoe County's communications department.

Morrison and his board  (Washoe has a seven-member board of trustees) eventually crafted a strategic plan, Envisioning WCSD 2015.  Much of it will look familiar to those who follow CMS.  For instance, both boards use  "managed performance empowerment,"  an approach that involves tight central-office control for failing schools,  while principals with a record of success get freedom to run their own schools.  Both districts strive to create a performance-driven culture,  and both are trying to find better ways to identify,  recruit and reward effective principals and teachers.  Both have launched a Parent University to help engage families.

That's not to say Washoe is a CMS clone, or vice versa.  I'm intrigued by Washoe's "culture of respect resolution," the door-to-door campaign to get at-risk kids back on the academic track and the emphasis on diversity,  including study circles for teachers, students and parents to talk about race, ethnicity and achievement. The district has multi-track year-round schools,  which CMS is exploring for 2013-14,  and sponsors eight charter schools.

I'll visit Reno next week to get a look at the reality behind all these links and plans.  Let me know if you have questions you'd like to have the new superintendent answer,  or ideas about what you'd like to learn more about.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Postmortem on the public parade

So Heath Morrison,  who's been tapped to Charlotte-Mecklenburg's next superintendent,  says he wasn't crazy about having to come to Charlotte for a public audition.  It's hard enough to announce you're leaving a district you love working for, he said.  Telling your board and your public that you're applying somewhere else but might be back  "creates some interesting dynamics."

Search firms and school boards face that issue every time there's a search.  Jim Huge of PROACT Search,  who ran the CMS search,  says the trend is toward districts bringing only one person to meet the public,  as the Dallas Independent School District is doing.  (As an aside,  that board has also sent members to visit finalist Mike Miles' district in Colorado before voting.)

Huge said the vast majority of PROACT's clients still bring more than one finalist before the public,  but Charlotte's two-day tour for three finalists was more extensive than most.  Board members got huge stacks of feedback forms and had follow-up conversations with many who met the trio.  While I've heard some skepticism that they paid attention,  every board member I talked to said they spent serious time reviewing the PROACT summaries and the individual forms.

The downside,  of course,  is that people who got excited about Memphis Superintendent Kriner Cash or CMS Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark were disappointed.  And both of them put themselves on the line without getting the job.

For Clark,  the whole thing played out on her home turf, with people she continues to work with.  During the two-day meeting marathon,  Clark said she found the events energizing rather than exhausting,  because  "I finally get to be Ann Clark."  She showed a more personal and engaging side of herself than people see in formal meetings and reports to the school board,  and she said afterward that she has no regrets.

She said her run for the top job inspired many former students to get in touch, including people in their mid-30s whom she taught as kindergarteners.  "That, to me, has been the most amazing part of this process,"  she said.  "I heard from kids from all over the globe."

Cash's candidacy inspired strong commentary for and against him,  from residents of Mecklenburg and  Memphis.  He apparently notified the school boards in both cities that he no longer wanted to be considered on Wednesday,  the day the CMS board was making its choice.  Late Thursday,  his staff sent this statement from him:  “After thoughtful consideration and the counsel of my family,  I made the decision to withdraw my name from the list of finalists.  We have made a tremendous amount of progress in Memphis City Schools during the last four years and it is my hope to see our students and staff members continue on an upward trajectory.  I congratulate CMS on the selection of their new superintendent and I wish them the best as they move forward."

It's interesting to speculate about what would have happened if Morrison had insisted that the board make a decision on him without a public tour.  But he did it and says he enjoyed it.  Certainly he made a good impression with a lot of the folks he met.

An amusing footnote:  When the CMS board did its first round of interviews at the airport,  hoping to keep the names and faces confidential,  WBTV reporter Dedrick Russell and I got past security and tried to spot contenders.  At one point,  Dedrick saw a man with a briefcase bearing some kind of educational leadership logo and asked if he was interviewing to be superintendent.

According to Dedrick's account,  the man said something like "Charlotte is certainly a nice place to be" and dashed off.  Dedrick used his phone to snap a photo of his retreating back,  and we spent the rest of the afternoon chuckling over whether he'd scared the poor guy off.

You guessed it:  That was Heath Morrison.

Buzzword bingo: Get a head start

With a new superintendent coming to town,  lots of folks are going to be looking for the inside track.  It never hurts to drop the right buzzwords,  so here's my tip:  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is going from good to great.

Reno Superintendent Heath Morrison,  who got the nod from the CMS board Thursday,  made repeated references to Jim Collins'  "Good to Great,"  and it seems to be his catch phrase for CMS.  Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark also told me she wants to help Morrison take the district from good to great.  They may be working on banners as we speak.

I know I should read the book,  but I've already got Peter Gorman's leadership book on order and a second management manual might make my head explode.  So if you've picked up on some other key phrases, from the book or from the public appearances,  pass them along. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

CMS publishes Gorman leadership book

Updated 4:30 p.m.. with cost details:
If the new superintendent wants to take a page from the Pete Gorman leadership book, he or she will literally be able to do so.

CMS has quietly released  "Within Reach: Leadership Lessons in School Reform from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools," focusing on the Gorman years.  It's co-authored by Tim Quinn and Michelle Keith,  who helped create the Broad Superintendents Academy that trained Gorman,  with the former superintendent listed as a contributor.  The book costs $13.50,  and proceeds will go to the CMS Foundation.

"We have not witnessed a sustained reform story any more successful than that of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools from 2006-2011,"  the introduction says.  "As Dr. Peter Gorman assumed the district superintendency in July 2006,  the  'stars were aligned'  for significant strides in district transformation and subsequent leaps in student achievement."

In his forward, Gorman writes that he was "in the right place at the right time"  to experience  "the most outstanding professional experience an educational leader could have."

From the samples available on Amazon,  the tone is pretty much what you'd expect from a leadership guide:  Upbeat and a bit dry.  My copy hasn't arrived yet,  but I'm guessing this won't be a candid tale of Gorman's encounters with the city's politicians,  pundits and activists,  nor will it offer details about challenges that ranged from a gay penguin book-ban controversy to a teacher caught shooting heroin in a classroom.  People who see Gorman in a less rosy light,  thanks to such things as school closings,  teacher layoffs and a controversial rollout of performance pay,  may take issue with the official view of the Gorman era.

County Commissioner Bill James and others quickly began raising questions about whether CMS labor or money was spent on the publication. Tahira Stalberte with the public information office says all costs were covered by a grant Gorman received from the C.D. Spangler Foundation.  That includes $57,778 to the authors,  $1,740 to the CMS print shop for layout and design and about $30 to the self-publishing site that created 100 copies of the book.  So far,  Stalberte says,  the CMS Foundation has gotten about $25 from sales.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Memphis teachers give Cash low grades

Updated 7:20 p.m. with comments from Cash.
Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash returned from his tour as a finalist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent last week to a report showing his employees give him low grades as a leader.

The city district Cash leads is being merged with the suburban Shelby County Schools, and the commission overseeing the merger polled employees of both districts on a range of issues. Of the 1,225 Memphis City Schools employees who responded, most of them teachers, about 3.5 percent gave Cash an A, 14 percent  B, 30 percent C, 22 percent D and 26 percent F (the rest didn't answer that question). They rated county Superintendent John Aitken much higher. (Read the report here; ratings of the two superintendents by Memphis City Schools employees are on page 18, and by Shelby County employees are on page 36).

Cash said 1,225 of his 16,000 employees is not a representative sample.  He said his district is going through a stressful time,  with budget-driven job cuts in the past, a merger in the future and a quest to rate teacher effectiveness in progress.

"You're not going to win a popularity contest" while trying to make a "sea change" in failing schools, he said.  But Cash,  whose recently deceased wife was a long-time teacher, said values their work.
"I have the highest respect for good teachers,"  Cash said.  "Everything I do is with teachers at the helm."

Almost 1,000 Shelby County employees responded to the survey, and their view of the two leaders was an even sharper contrast. Cash got an F from 48 percent of that group, while 74 percent gave Aitken an A.

Cash said what he hears from his staff doesn't jibe with the survey results.  "No one is paying a whole lot of attention to that here," he said.

Updated 8:30 p.m.: The same panel did a phone poll of about 1,200 members of the public in March and got similar opinions about Cash's performance (see page 16).

Friday, April 13, 2012

Board members: Vote-swap story is false

If you've been reading comments on recent posts,  you've seen Keith Hurley's theory about a deal among school board members to name Heath Morrison as superintendent in exchange for a vote to launch some type of busing for integration next year.

Hogwash,  the board members say.  Hurley seems to be the only one putting his name to the rumor,  but I've heard it from others so it's probably worth addressing.

Richard McElrath,  the member who is allegedly throwing his support to Morrison in exchange for his busing plan,  says there's no such plan and he hasn't made a choice for superintendent,  let alone brokered a deal with other members.

"I would never vote for busing,"  McElrath added.  "Busing was the worst thing we ever did."

Tim Morgan,  Rhonda Lennon and Amelia Stinson-Wesley,  whom Hurley casts as seeking McElrath's support for Reno, Nev., superintendent Morrison,  say the tale is completely fabricated. (I haven't reached Eric Davis, who's also on Hurley's list.)

"That moves beyond ridiculous to the sublime. I haven't been part of a conspiracy like that. That's just crazy,"  said Stinson-Wesley, the board's newest member.  She has never run a political campaign  (she was appointed to fill Morgan's seat when he was elected at large)  and seemed shocked to be the target of such a rumor.

Morgan and Lennon seemed less surprised that Hurley,  who was defeated in the 2011 at-large election,  would circulate the story,  but found it particularly unbelievable.  Both said they've had no vote-swapping conversations with McElrath.

"That is the kookiest stuff I've ever heard," Lennon said.

"There has been no discussion about trading votes for policy decisions,"  said Morgan.

Hurley said today he got the story from a board member who isn't part of the deal.  "The ones that are involved aren't going to tell you,"  he said.

I'm not naive enough to think there are no behind-the-scenes deals hidden from reporters.  But this one doesn't ring true.  McElrath makes no secret of his concern about racially and economically segregated schools,  but he has consistently said the solution is to change housing patterns, not to bus kids.  I don't know much about Stinson-Wesley's philosophy,  but I have a hard time imagining Lennon, Morgan and Davis entering into any deal that would involve a shift from neighborhood schools to busing.

And changing student assignment is an extraordinarily complex effort.  Even shifting a boundary takes months and involves public hearings.  The idea that members could cut a quickie deal to reshape the entire philosophy and put a new plan in place for next year ... well,  I'm going to have to quote former board member Larry Gauvreau: It blinks reality.