November 1, 2014

After criticism, new process announced to select MO Ed Commissioner

The Department of Education has released the process it will use for finding a new Education Commissioner to take the place of Chris Nicastro, who is retiring. The State Board of Education says it hopes to have a new Commissioner selected by December 31, when her retirement becomes effective.

Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend (left) and Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro listen to presentations at a State Board meeting.

Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend (left) and Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro listen to presentations at a State Board meeting.

The Board was the subject of criticism by education groups and some educators who said it was moving too fast to select a new commissioner, and without being open and transparent about its process. Board President Peter Herschend had told the Kansas City Star last week that a new Commissioner might be selected during the Board meeting Monday, but later backed down from that prediction.

In the process outlined today, the Board says it will accept nominations in an open search through November 21. The public is invited to offer recommendations for the factors and characteristics to be considered by the State Board in evaluating candidates. Those can also be submitted through November 21.

The Board will then contact nominees to determine whether they are interested, and ask those who are to submit letters of applications, resumes with references and personal essays.

Those candidates considered most qualified will then be notified and invited to a personal interview with the Board. It will then vote on its selection from the finalists of the interviews and select the new Commissioner.

Nominations, applications and public recommendations can be submitted by e-mail through the Department’s website, and should be sent to the attention of Robin Coffman, Chief of Staff.

Earlier story:  Details today on search of Missouri Education Commissioner

Details today on search for Missouri Education Commissioner

The State Board of Education will speak publicly today about its search for a new Education Commissioner to replace Chris Nicastro, who is retiring.

Chris Nicastro testifies in a House Committee Hearing (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Some state educators and education groups have been critical of the Board, saying the search was being rushed and was not transparent enough. State Board President Peter Herschend had told the Kansas City Star last week he expected the board to vote Monday on a new Commissioner, but has since said that would be pushed back.

He tells reporters he still hopes to have a new commissioner by the time Nicastro retires at the close of the year.

“That’ll be at the Board’s discretion. We’re still working with the December 31, 2014 guideline that we, hopefully, will be able to meet,” says Herschend.

Nicastro has been Education Commissioner since 2009.

Challenges to creating Missouri education standards outlined

Some members of the working groups trying to come up with new education standards for Missouri schools tell the state Board of Education there are still some disagreements on the best way for them to work.

Jessica Boyster and others who testified to the State Board of Education about the efforts of work groups creating new Missouri education standards were shown on monitors in an overflow room because of the large number of interested Missourians who attended the meeting.

Jessica Boyster and others who testified to the State Board of Education about the efforts of work groups creating new Missouri education standards were shown on monitors in an overflow room because of the large number of interested Missourians who attended the meeting.

Some are still expressing frustration that facilitators from the Department of Education are working with their groups. Others say political agendas are standing in the way of real progress and honest work towards standards that will benefit children.

Jessica Boyster is on one of those work groups, and doesn’t think the bill that created them intended for those facilitators to be involved.

“I’m also still searching for an answer,” says Boyster, “why they feel that when a group such as K-5 [English/language arts] that successfully managed to get a chairman, a vice-chairman, and a secretary elected faster than any other group, why would they need a DESE facilitator?”

State Board President Peter Herschend thinks meetings will run better with a moderator involved.

“You can call it ‘facilitator,’ ‘moderator;’ not someone who is running the meeting,” says Herschend. “The function of a really good moderator, a really good facilitator, is to see that all sides are heard, that the information that is coming in is correct information.”

Pam Hedgepeth was to have been one of those facilitators, but says she has been shut out of the process.

“We have a great opportunity right now to have lots of voices be heard, but it’s really tough because there’s a strong political agenda driving this force,” Hedgepath tells the Board, “and that political agenda often times is not representing the 75-percent of teachers across the state that think the current standards that we have for kids make a lot of sense.”

Most groups say they are still using the facilitators in some way.

Several work groups expressed concerns about some of their appointed members not showing up, and the costs to attend each meeting piling up for those that do show up.

Herschend says there’s nothing the Board can do about those problems.

“We were allocated no budget, and remember [the groups] are not ours,” says Herschend. He says when the Board appoints work groups, “we provide stipend, travel, and we have to work with the local district because if it’s a working teacher and it’s a class day, there is a cost of substitution.”

The groups’ recommendations could range from the creation of all new standards to staying with the Common Core standards, which are currently in place. Herschend anticipates some proposed changes.

“Anybody who says there isn’t going to be beneficial input from these hearings,” says Herschend, “I think there will absolutely be an impact on Missouri’s standards.”

Those groups must present their proposals by October, 2015.

Missouri gets federal grant to improve school safety (AUDIO)

The federal education department has given Missouri half-a-million dollars to make its schools safer.  The state will spread that money around to protect about one-million students.

The Missouri Center for Education Safety is getting the grant to improve relations between schools and local emergency response agencies.  Center Director Paul Fennewald, a former state Homeland Security Adviser, says schools are some of the safest places children can be.  But he says security plans are spotty throughout the 520-plus public school districts and in private and parochial schools. ‘We’re kind of all over the map,” he says, “Some schools have very high quality plans…but then a lot of schools don’t.”  Fennewald says the goal is to take some of the relationships established in homeland security and “plug schools into the equation.”

He says the Homeland Security  office developed a web-based best-practices all-hazards emergency plan that all schools can use.  Fennewald says the money will be used to hire a couple of fulltime emergency operations planning coordinators who will work to bring schools and local emergency operations systems together.

AUDIO: Fennewald interview

VP Biden helps dedicate Joplin High School, tech center (VIDEO)

Students, staff, residents of Joplin and numerous dignitaries have dedicated the new Joplin High School/Franklin Technology Center, marking another milestone in the city’s recovery from a devastating tornado three years ago.

The ceremony was highlighted by a speech by Vice President Joe Biden and an attempt at a Guinness world record for the longest ribbon cutting ceremony.

Biden told the crowd that Joplin offers inspiration to those who have gone through disasters like that tornado.

“You underestimate the hope all of you give Americans who have been broken and devastated by crises in their lives,” said Biden.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Governor Jay Nixon also spoke during the dedication.

Watch as Vice President Biden dons a Joplin cap, courtesy of Highschoolcube.com: