Education Week - May 6, 2015 - (Page 6)

Chicago Schools Probe Prompts AASA to End Alliance With Firm FBI investigating no-bid contract By Denisa R. Superville Aasa, the School Superintendents Association, is moving to end its partnership in a preparation program for new schools chiefs that it runs jointly with the supes Academy, the Illinoisbased firm that's part of a federal investigation in Chicago. Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of aasa, said his organization wants to run the still-nascent superintendent-training program on its own, given the cloud over the company. "The bottom line is that I have no complaints about the work they have done for us," Mr. Domenech said, "but the program that we are running requires that it be beyond any type of reproach, and thus the move on our part to assume the management of the program entirely." The group's pullout is the latest blow to the supes Academy since news broke last month that federal authorities are investigating the company, along with the Chicago district and others. The company provides professional development to superintendents, administrators, principals, and teacher-leaders. The investigation revolves around a $20.5 million no-bid contract to train the district's principals, according to local media accounts. Neither the school system nor the supes Academy will comment on the scope of the investigation. While no one has been accused of wrongdoing, a federal subpoena made public demanded that Chicago school district officials provide records of contracts, payments, and communications between the company and key leadership officials with the school system, including Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who worked for supes Academy as a consultant before joining the school district in 2012. The subpoena also sought information about Gary Solomon, the chief executive officer of the supes Academy; Tom Vranas, the company's president; and the Chicago Public Education Fund, a wellconnected nonprofit made up of civic, academic, and business heavy-hitters, some of whom have close ties to both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. In the wake of the probe, Ms. Byrd-Bennett has taken a leave of absence, and the city's board of education has suspended the district's contract with the supes Academy. A spokesman for the Chicago school district did not respond to interview requests. Mixed Reviews In addition to Chicago and aasa, the supes Academy has worked on leadership training with 14 school districts, one charter network, and two state departments of education, according to the company's website. It also runs superintendent-training programs for aspiring and sitting schools chiefs. The company's website features favorable reviews from supes graduates, and Mr. Domenech said that superintendents who participated in the aasa program found it valuable. The supes Academy helps aasa whittle down the candidates selected to participate in the national certification program and helps choose the sitting superintendents Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the Chicago schools' CEO, is on a leave of absence amid a federal probe into a no-bid contract the district awarded to a company where she once consulted. who provide the lectures, coaching, and mentoring services, Mr. Domenech said. The company also helped develop the curriculum with aasa leaders, Mr. Domenech said. Mr. Domenech said aasa partnered with the company because of its extensive background in preparing school leaders. The aasa program, which started in the summer of 2013, trains and provides support to superintendents with less than five years on the job. Mr. Domenech said the program has gotten strong evaluation results from participants. In Chicago, however, many principals were less than impressed with the company's work through the district's Leadership Academy. Clarice Berry, the president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said the program received "uniformly negative" reviews in the first year. "Most principals thought the contents of the workshops were completely useless and of no value to them," Ms. Berry said. Ms. Berry heard two strands of complaints: that content was not relevant to the work Chicago principals were engaged in, and that courses were taught by educators from districts too unlike Chicago and who did not understand the city's unique local school governance. Ms. Berry said she took those complaints to Ms. Byrd-Bennett, and principals were allowed to sign a waiver to opt out of the program. Although there were rumors that principals feared repercussions from signing a waiver, Ms. Berry said she had heard of no one facing blowback for opting out or simply not going to the sessions. "I wasn't pleased with the supes [Academy] when it came in," Ms. Berry said. "We took it directly to her, and without much consternation on her part, she gave us the waiver immediately. There was no sanctioning or punishment or any issues." Still, she said, the money spent on the contract was not well spent. "Any professional development here for $20 million should have been customized," Ms. Berry said. "That's a lot of money for professional development for principals to walk out of it and say they got no value." Defending Chicago Work But Mr. Solomon, the ceo of the n Breaking news n WHAT'S INSIDE: Expert analysis n n Job listings n Insights from leaders in the field Notifications about upcoming events supes Academy, defended the work in Chicago. Mr. Solomon said the training was customized to the city-as it would be for any district-and lecturers were briefed on the unique attributes of school governance in Chicago. When seeking lecturers, the comSIGN UP NOW. 6 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 6, 2015 | pany looked for school leaders with a track record of success. It then provided the names of possible lecturers, with their backgrounds and expertise, to district officials, who approved the list of practitioners, he said. Further, Mr. Solomon said, the professional-development program was created to address needs that were articulated by the district, and the programs were tweaked throughout based on feedback from participants and the district. For example, Mr. Solomon said, the company added electives to the program based on principals' feedback. Those included a deeper dive into student-based budgeting, staffing, communication, time management, and, at the time of the city's teachers' strike and wave of school closures, managing through "unsettled waters." The courses covered personal leadership, fostering buy-in and support for a school's mission, vision, and goals; parent and community outreach; teacher evaluation; common-core instruction; and financial strategies. Mr. Solomon said there was "constant evaluation [of the curriculum] to make sure that it's best aligned to meet the needs of the practitioner or end user, which, in a lot of places was the principal." He said there was a coaching component, but acknowledged that some relationships between principals and coaches were stronger than others. The feedback the company received on the program was "quite flattering" and "positive," he said. "I am very proud of the work we did in Chicago, and we have a long working relationship with the district, and we think that our work has added value to the leaders that we've been fortunate enough to work with," Mr. Solomon said. But Troy LaRaviere, an elementary school principal and a frequent critic of Chicago's city and K-12 leadership, said he found the courses lacking and that they did not address the issues he thought were necessary for Chicago principals. Mr. LaRaviere said principals need training in understanding and implementing best practices as identified by educational research; improving school climate and culture; improving students' soft skills; and helping teachers improve their instruction. Most importantly, he said, the program lacked follow up. Mr. LaRaviere wrote about his dissatisfying experience with the supes Academy on his blog, including a marketing class he said was taught by S. Dallas Dance, the superintendent of the Baltimore County, Md., district. A request for comment to Mr. Dance's office was forwarded to the Baltimore County School's press office, which declined to comment. Mr. Dance, who had accepted the consultancy with the supes Academy at the same time his own district had a contract with the company, is no longer working with the firm, according to The Baltimore Sun. NOW MOBILE-FRIENDLY M. Spencer Green/AP-File

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 6, 2015

Education Week - May 6, 2015
Some Balk as Testing Rolls Ahead
Nevada Exams Hit Tech Trouble
Science Standards Pop Up in Districts
Undocumented Students Strive to Adapt
State Takeover Gives Mass. District a Fresh Start
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Chicago Schools Probe Prompts AASA to End Alliance With Firm
Researchers Target Ways to Design Better Mathematics Text Materials
GED Revisions Spur Bumpy Year for Equivalency Exams
After Baltimore Unrest, Students and Educators Seek Understanding
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: New Research Probes Frontiers of Tech Learning
Blogs of the Week
Efforts to Change Federal Aid Formulas Prove Tricky
New Research Emerges On LGBT Parents
Advocates for Special Ed., Gifted Weigh Details in ESEA Rewrite Bill
Blogs of the Week
Marriage Issue Gets Full Airing at High Court
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace

Education Week - May 6, 2015