Superintendent search

10 things to know about Derrick Coleman, the suburban superintendent interviewing to run Detroit’s schools

River Rouge Superintendent Derrick Coleman, one of two finalists to become the next leader of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, appeared in a 2012 video that called him a "school superhero."

The second of two candidates to interview for schools chief in Detroit offers a stark alternative to the first.

Derrick Coleman, superintendent of Michigan’s River Rouge School District, will face a battery of interviews Monday. Where Nikolai Vitti, the Florida schools chief who interviewed last week, runs a district far larger than Detroit’s, Coleman’s district has fewer students than Cass Technical High School. Vitti has a connection to the Detroit area, but Coleman graduated from and worked in Detroit Public Schools. And Coleman’s district has struggled to boost student performance while Vitti’s has won national acclaim for improving the test scores of some students.

Coleman will spend 12 hours interviewing in Detroit on Tuesday starting at 8 a.m. with a briefing on district finances and academics. His planned schedule for the day includes visits to Cody High School and Davison Elementary-Middle School to meet with students and educators, a lunch with school board members at Golightly Career and Technical Center, and a series of public forums at Renaissance High School. That includes a 2:30 p.m. meeting with religious, labor and business leaders, a 4 p.m. meeting with parents and community leaders, and a 6 p.m. public interview with the school board.

Before all of that begins, here are 10 things to know about Coleman:

  1. Coleman graduated from and earned a master’s degree at Eastern Michigan University. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in education at Gwynedd Mercy University in Pennsylvania, where he says he’ll graduate in August.
  2. He has deep connections with Detroit’s main school district. He attended DPS schools for kindergarten through 12th grade, graduating from Western High School, today known as Western International High School. His first teaching job was at Western, and he  taught in DPS from 1997 to 1999 before moving into administrative positions, including stints in Pontiac (where he was principal of Pontiac Central High, which is now closed) and Ypsilanti (where he was principal of Lincoln High School). “I’m uniquely qualified in that I’m a product of the system,” he told the Detroit Free Press. To the Detroit News, he said, “I … represent the promise that Detroit children can hope to become. I understand the city and the needs of the people.”
  3. Coleman returned to DPS from Ypsilanti in 2008 to become an assistant superintendent overseeing 29 schools. One of them was Durfee Elementary, where the city’s auditor general in 2009 found “control weaknesses related to compliance with District cash management policy.” In a “management response” to the audit, Coleman said the principal of the school retired and the new principal would be briefed on the auditor’s recommendations.
  4. Coleman tried — but did not succeed — to become a big-city superintendent before. In 2009, he was one of seven finalists to lead Ypsilanti Public Schools. But the school board wasn’t impressed. “I thought it was a weak list of individuals — I have serious questions about every single applicant,” one board member told the Ypsilanti Citizen.
  5. Since May 2012, Coleman has been the superintendent of River Rouge School District. Last year the district, which has only four schools, enrolled only 1,750 students. (The Detroit district, on the other hand, has nearly 100 schools and 40,000 students.)
  6. River Rouge is on a short list of districts in Michigan with student performance as low as Detroit’s. Only 4.3 percent of students in grades 3-8 met the state’s standards for proficiency in reading and math last year, compared to 4.1 percent in Detroit’s main district, and all of its schools are in the bottom 10 percent statewide. The average SAT and ACT score in River Rouge is lower than in Detroit and under Coleman’s leadership, River Rouge’s four-year graduation rate declined slightly last year, from 76.5 percent to 75 percent.
  7. River Rouge has gained students under Coleman’s tenure — at Detroit’s expense. According to state data, 43 percent of school-aged students living in River Rouge do not attend district schools. (Many of the students who opt out are white: While River Rouge is nearly 40 percent white according to 2010 Census data, white students make up only 7 percent of enrollment.) Coleman’s contract promised bonuses if he boosted enrollment from 1,147, and he delivered, bringing enrollment to 1,750 last year. On his resume, he explains that he saved the district from insolvency through an “aggressive local and regional marketing and student recruitment campaign that eliminated a $3.4 million dollar deficit 2 years upon arrival and 1 year ahead of schedule.” The campaign, which included ads on Detroit buses, is one reason that a third of River Rouge’s students last year — nearly 600 — actually live in Detroit.

  8. The enrollment boost helped River Rouge stave off closure. But some in the district say Coleman has not sufficiently acknowledged the contributions of others in making the district solvent. In January 2011, over a year before Coleman came on, the district’s teachers agreed to a three-year, 15 percent salary cut and limits on health care coverage. “He did end up strengthening the district. We were teetering on closing,” David Kocbus, who headed the River Rouge Education Association until 2014, told the Free Press. “But who was really responsible? It was the teachers.”.
  9. In the fall of 2015 River Rouge, under Coleman’s leadership, opened a new primary school focused on science, technology, engineering, and math, the subjects that together are known as STEM. The new option — the district’s fourth school — for the first time meant that families could exercise school choice while staying in the district. It also aimed to appeal to prospective families.
  10. In November 2015 Coleman added a school-based health center in River Rouge, in a move that prompted the United Way to designate the district as one of its “centers of excellence.” Society places unrealistic expectations on poor students to act “normal” even when they don’t have access to “normal” necessities like breakfast and a good night’s rest, Coleman said in a speech announcing the new center.

Movers & shakers

Haslam names three West Tennesseans to State Board of Education    

PHOTO: TDOE
Members of the Tennessee State Board of Education listen to a July presentation about TNReady scores by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

A Memphis real estate executive, a Cordova lawyer and a Decatur County high school student are the newest members of Tennessee’s State Board of Education.

Gov. Bill Haslam announced appointments this week to dozens of state boards and commissions, including the 11-member education panel, which sets policy for K-12 schools in Tennessee.

The new members are:

  • Darrell Cobbins

    Darrell Cobbins is a Memphis native and third-generation real estate professional who attended Catholic, public and private schools. He has degrees from Rhodes College and the University of Memphis and worked for the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce. He is president of Universal Commercial Real Estate, which he founded in 2007. Representing the ninth congressional district, he replaces William Troutt, who retired this year as president of Rhodes College and is moving out of state.

  • Lang Wiseman is an attorney in Cordova who graduated from Bolton High School in Arlington. He attended the University of Tennessee on a basketball scholarship and finished as the 24th leading scorer in the school’s history. Wiseman went on to graduate from Harvard Law School and is a partner at Wiseman Bray Attorneys. Representing the eighth congressional district, he replaces Cato Johnson, who accepted a position on the University of Memphis Board of Trustees.

  • Haden Bawcum, of Bath Springs, is the board’s student member, a position that changes annually. He is a senior at Riverside High School in Decatur County.

The appointments became effective in July and are expected to be confirmed by state lawmakers early next year. Board members are not paid.

B. Fielding Rolston is chairman of the board. A retired executive with Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, he was first appointed in 1996.

You can find answers to the board’s frequently asked questions here.

Cabinet level

Jason Glass’s inner circle: Meet the team seeing through the Jeffco superintendent’s vision

New Jeffco superintendent Jason Glass at the Boys & Girls in Lakewood (Marissa Page, Chalkbeat).

In his first three months as superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, Jason Glass has spent his time touring the 86,000-student district and listening to scores of educators, parents and students to learn about its strengths and challenges.

This week he unveiled his proposed vision to guide the district for the next several years, focusing on addressing students’ experiences in the classroom, as well as the many challenges they face outside the schools. A strategic plan with more details about how to roll out the vision is expected by spring.

In the meantime, the superintendent, who was previously superintendent of Eagle County Schools and is being paid $265,000 annually, has a team in place to help him fulfill his goals.

Here is a look at the 12 people on the district’s senior leadership team. Note that so far Glass has not made changes at the top levels in Jeffco headquarters. While some people left before Glass arrived this summer, most of the people in the district’s top positions have been there for more than a year, and many have deep roots in the county.

There is an ongoing search for the chiefs of schools positions. The two people in the interim positions now are charged with monitoring and evaluating school effectiveness, student achievement and curriculum. There is no timeline yet for when a hire will be made permanent.

The short profiles of district leaders include their titles, salaries and some explanation of their duties, all based on information provided by the district.

Matt Flores

Matthew Flores, chief academic officer
Salary: $131,726
Job description: Responsible for all programs that support teaching and learning. As chief academic officer, Flores works to ensure that resources, tools and training are readily available for staff to support the district’s vision and strategic plan. Additionally, all state and district assessments are organized and facilitated through his office. His team also manages early childhood education, federal program funding such as the Title 1 money directed to help low income students, choice programming and student data privacy.

Bio: In this position since May 2016, Flores has worked as a classroom teacher and as an elementary, middle and high school principal. He also worked for four years as the district executive director of curriculum and instruction.

Diana M. Wilson

Diana M. Wilson, chief communications officer
Salary: $116,836
Job description: To plan, develop and administer the district’s public engagement and communications. Chief spokesperson for the district. Partners with schools and departments to provide communications training, counsel and advice.

Bio: Wilson was hired as Jeffco’s chief communications officer in January 2016. She has 20 years of experience in public sector communications, nine of them as public information officer/management analyst for Westminster Fire Department. Wilson served on Lakewood City Council from 2005-2013. She and her husband have three teen boys in Jeffco schools. She has a bachelor of science from Colorado State University, Ft. Collins and a master of business administration from University of Colorado, Denver.

Kathleen Askelson

Kathleen Askelson, chief financial officer
Salary: $137,940
Job description: Establishes strategic direction and provides leadership of the financial services organization within Jeffco. She is in charge of maintaining a multi-year financial outlook, creating an annual budget and providing financial reporting in accordance with standards and state statutes. She oversees operational functions including accounting, budgeting, purchasing, disbursements, cash management, risk management, payroll and financial planning, analysis and reporting. Oversees a budget that exceeds $1 billion and a department with more than 50 staff members.

Bio: Askelson has been with Jeffco Public Schools financial services since 1999. Before becoming the chief financial officer in September 2014 (permanently in January 2015), she was the executive director of finance. Askelson came to the district from a finance position at a private, nationwide child care company. She is a certified public finance officer and is on the special review executive committee for the Government Finance Officers Association. Askelson was appointed and served two terms on the governor’s Government Accounting Advisory Committee and was a member of the Colorado Department of Education’s Financial Policy and Procedure Committee for 17 years. She and her husband live in Jeffco and their two children are Jeffco alumni.

Amy Weber

Amy Weber, chief human resources officer
Salary:
$141,075
Job description: To develop and implement comprehensive systems, programs, processes, and procedures in the areas of employment, personnel record maintenance and record retention, job classifications and compensation, performance management and evaluation, benefits administration, recruitment on-boarding, leave programs, substitute teacher programs, unemployment, and employee assistance programs. Weber also works with the district’s unions and serves as lead negotiator with union officials.

Bio: Weber has directed the work of Jeffco human resources for almost 11 years. In 2014, the position was elevated to cabinet-level. Before joining Jeffco schools, she worked for 10 years in Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, Va., also in human resources. She has a master of business administration from the University of Maryland and worked in management consulting. She has two children, one a Jeffco graduate and the other a Jeffco senior.

Brett Miller

Brett Miller, chief information officer
Salary: $136,500
Job description: Leads the Information Technology (IT) department and serves as technology leader and innovator for Jeffco Public Schools, overseeing the district’s technology-related strategies and initiatives. Plans for the organization’s technology needs and addresses any tech-related problems.

Bio: Miller started with Jeffco Schools in September 1988, became chief technology officer in 2007 and chief information officer in 2014. Miller is a long-time Jeffco resident and a product of Jeffco schools. He worked in technology for a data processing firm in the oil industry before joining the district in 1988. His wife and four children — who have all attended Jeffco Public Schools — live in Arvada.

Craig Hess

Raymond Craig Hess, chief legal counsel and employee relations
Salary: $155,040
Job description: To provide district-wide, general in-house legal support including leadership for compliance with federal, state and local laws relating to staff, students and the public. Directs all employee relations activities. Represents the Board of Education and superintendent concerning labor relations with employee organizations. In these roles, Hess provides oversight of the district’s legal activities, employee relations, and the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) program.

Bio: Before joining Jeffco in October 2014, Hess was the employment law associate general counsel for the University of Colorado Health System. He was responsible for integrating five geographically separated hospitals’ Human Resources Compliance and Employee Relations teams into one system-wide division. Before that, Hess worked at Qwest Communications International, Denver Health and Hospital Authority and as a senior assistant attorney in the litigation practice group at the City and County of Denver. Hess also served eight years as a United States Air Force judge advocate general officer.

Hess has been involved with law school and high school mock trial programs for several years. He has served as an adjunct faculty member of the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law, and as an assistant coach of the law school’s trial team. He has also served as the chairman of the Colorado Bar Association High School Mock Trial Committee.

Karen Quanbeck

Karen Quanbeck and Kristopher Schuh, interim chief school effectiveness officers
Salary: $126,624; $126,784
Job description: To provide direct supervision of all district schools through achievement directors to increase student achievement, ensure quality school leadership, improve school effectiveness, inspire innovation and monitor safety. Partners with the chief academic officer and chief student success officer to oversee the rollout of all district targets, priorities and strategies in Jeffco schools. Also must plan, manage and direct training for all achievement directors and supervise and provide feedback to improve their performance.

Kristopher Schuh

Bio: Quanbeck started her career as a high school social studies teacher in Minnesota before moving to Colorado to work as a middle school teacher in the Adams 50 (now Westminster) school district and later in Jeffco. She has worked for Jeffco for over 20 years as a teacher, principal and central administrator for both the elementary and secondary level. She was an achievement director before she stepped into the interim position in March. She has two children in Jeffco schools, one in middle school and another in high school.

Bio: Schuh began his teaching career in Wisconsin after a university education in Minnesota and Spain and moved to Colorado to teach U.S. History and Spanish and coach at Mullen High School. He has worked in elementary, secondary and district levels for Jeffco Public Schools, including as a school counselor, coach, assistant principal, principal and achievement director. He stepped into the interim role in March. Schuh’s family is “all Jeffco,” as his wife is a teacher and their two daughters are elementary and middle school students.

Steve Bell

Steve Bell, chief operating officer
Salary: $163,865
Job description: To develop, direct and implement the district’s support services and provide general management of day-to-day operation of service divisions including Athletics and Activities, Food and Nutrition Services, Custodial Services, Environmental Services, Facilities Management, Planning Construction, Security and Emergency Management, Student Transportation and Fleet Maintenance.

Bio: Bell joined Jeffco Public Schools in May 2010. Before joining Jeffco, Bell worked in the investment banking industry. His job responsibilities included the oversight and management for the origination of municipal accounts. Bell is a 50-year resident of Jefferson County, attended Jeffco Public Schools, and is an Arvada High School graduate. He has been active in the Jeffco community, serving on civic organizations including St. Anthony Hospital Foundation, Jeffco Economic Development Corporation, the Arvada Chamber and Jefferson Education Foundation, where he served as president for two terms and then as a foundation trustee.

Helen Neal

Helen Neal, chief of staff for superintendent and Board of Education
Salary: $95,535
Job description: To manage actions and decisions impacting the Board of Education, superintendent and cabinet and advise and counsel district leadership to help the district provide clear, complete, and accurate communication to external and internal audiences. Neal manages all content on webpages and in Board Docs — the platform for sharing public meeting documents — and manages the board’s meeting schedule and agendas while serving as staff support during their meetings. She supervises one office support position in the superintendent’s office.

Bio: Neal has worked with five superintendents and many board members of Jeffco Public Schools since her hire in 1998. Prior to coming to Jeffco, she was public information officer for the Aurora city manager, mayor and city council and worked for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs on special projects for the Economic Development Commission and the Colorado Film Commission. She and her spouse are empty nesters and have two children who are Jeffco graduates.

Kevin Carroll

Kevin Carroll, chief student success officer
Salary: $137,940
Job description: To develop, direct and roll out systems and programs to serve students and families who require educational, physical and emotional support beyond standard programming. Provides leadership and management for the following departments: special education, gifted and talented, health services, homebound instruction, student services, healthy schools and student engagement.

Bio: Carroll will complete his second year as Jeffco Public Schools’ chief student success officer in February. He has served the students, families, and staff of Jeffco for 29 years in the roles of teacher, dean of students, assistant principal, and principal. He has 16 years of experience as a principal at all three levels: elementary, middle and high school. Carroll completed his undergraduate studies at Metropolitan State College, his master’s degree at Regis University, and his principal licensure studies at the University of Denver. Carroll is a Jeffco alumnus, having graduated from Wheat Ridge High School, and resides in Jeffco where his wife is a teacher and his two children attend their neighborhood high school.

Tom McDermott

Thomas McDermott, special assistant to the superintendent
Salary: $68,000
Job description: The special assistant to the superintendent is a 10-month residency program through Harvard’s Doctor of Education Leadership program. The resident serves under the direct supervision of the superintendent on identified projects of strategic value to Jeffco Public Schools. He participates on the superintendent’s cabinet, assists the superintendent in outreach opportunities to the community, provides feedback on superintendent’s strategic initiatives such as Jeffco University and Jeffco Generations and will complete a capstone project centered on the implementation of Jeffco’s strategic vision.

Bio: McDermott is a doctoral resident in his final year of the doctor of education leadership (Ed.L.D) program at Harvard University. Originally from Long Island, New York, McDermott taught and led in traditional public and charter schools in Phoenix and Brooklyn. He later joined the Achievement Network (ANet) as the director of school support in Boston before beginning his doctoral work in 2015. McDermott joined the Jeffco team in July 2017.