Who Is In Charge

Pledging “real debate,” de Blasio appoints five PEP members

Mayor Bill de Blasio named five people today to the city’s school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, just minutes before the panel was set to convene for the first time under his leadership.

Among the appointees are three public school parents, including a longtime special education advocate, and the former board chair of a Success Academy school who has called charter schools “the civil rights struggle of my generation.”

The panel must approve all major policy changes and spending decisions at the Department of Education. Under state law, eight of its 13 members serve at the mayor’s will, and under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the panel signed off on every proposal that came before it. Those proposals included dozens for controversial school closures and co-locations.

“I know a lot of parents feel this panel hasn’t always been on our side. Today we change that,” de Blasio said in a statement today. “We want real debate. We want a panel that really listens.”

De Blasio had given no indication of his plans for the PEP until today. By appointing only five members, de Blasio will not control a majority of the board tonight, when there are no proposals up for vote. He said he would name additional appointees in the coming weeks.

De Blasio’s appointees are Lori Podvesker, the mother of a student with special needs; Elzora Cleveland, the former president of the parent council for Manhattan’s District 2; Norm Fruchter, an education researcher who served on a Brooklyn school board and produced the film “Parent Power”; Vanessa Leung, whose work led to the City Council’s Dignity in Schools Act; and Robert Reffkin. Reffkin, a former financial analyst who now heads a real estate technology company, is the former Success Academy board chair and previously served on the PEP under Bloomberg.

De Blasio was not the only elected official to make last-minute PEP appointments today. Gale Brewer, Manhattan’s new borough president, appointed Laura Zingmond, an Upper East Side parent and contributor to Insideschools, to the panel.

“Under the Bloomberg Administration, [the] PEP was rarely more than a rubber stamp for questionable policies such as co-locating charter schools within traditional public school buildings,” Brewer said in a statement. “I hope that with Laura Zingmond’s appointment, as well as the De Blasio administration’s new choices, [the] PEP can serve as a more thorough arbiter of education policy as we work to improve our school system.”

The full press release from City Hall is below.

MAYOR DE BLASIO APPOINTS NEW MEMBERS TO THE PANEL FOR EDUCATIONAL POLICY 

Parents, Advocates and Educators to Help Deepen Parental Involvement and Improve Schools in Every Community

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio today appointed new members to the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), pledging a fresh start with school communities and better engagement with the parents of New York City’s 1.1 million students.

The Mayor named Elzora Cleveland, Norm Fruchter, Vanessa Leung, Lori Podvesker and Robert Reffkin as his appointees to the PEP. A diverse group of members, the new appointees will assume their roles at the first PEP meeting of Mayor de Blasio’s administration, tonight at the High School of Fashion Industries in Manhattan. Collectively, the new members bring decades of experience in education advocacy, community organizing, and policy development, as well as a deep appreciation for the perspective of parents. Additional PEP appointees will be named in the weeks ahead.

“I know a lot of parents feel this panel hasn’t always been on our side. Today we change that. We want real debate. We want a panel that really listens. The people we’ve brought together believe in the power of school communities to improve outcomes for our children,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mayor de Blasio emphasized his commitment to invest in universal pre-K and after-school programs for middle schoolers, improve district schools, and expand quality Career and Technical Education programs. Chancellor Fariña welcomed the new members and pledged to incorporate communities into decision making.

“I am thrilled to work with a panel of such a dynamic, diverse set of individuals who have dedicated themselves to improving education,” said SchoolsChancellor Fariña. “When leaders listen, policy improves and our students benefit. I plan on working closely with these new members to not only make sure our approach going forward is done right, but to ensure we are getting the feedback we need to get better. As I work to make our system a world-class model, I will be relying heavily on their guidance.”

The Panel for Educational Policy replaced the former Board of Education in 2002 and is part of the governance structure responsible for New York City public schools. The Panel is established pursuant to State Education Law, and it is responsible for approving standards, policies and objectives directly related to educational achievement and instruction, as well as the Chancellor’s Regulations, significant changes in school utilization, budgetary items and department contracts.

About the New Panel Members:

T. Elzora Cleveland serves as Senior Accountant at Ithaka Harbors Inc., a non-profit organization that advances teaching in scholarship through digital platforms. A graduate of the SUNY university system, her career in finance and accounting spans more than 20 years, all in New York City. Having served as president of Manhattan’s District 2 CEC, Elzora has worked on behalf of parents in her district and across the city to improve the performance of struggling schools and represent the District 2 community to the NYC Department of Education on school issues. She lives in Manhattan and has one daughter in a New York City public high school.

Norm Fruchter has more than 25 years’ experience working in educational policy and is currently Senior Policy Analyst at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, where he conducts policy research for the Institute’s Community Organizing and Engagement division. Prior to his work with the Institute, Fruchter founded and directed New York University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy and served as director for education organizations and schools, including an alternative high school for dropouts. He recently produced the film PARENT POWER, Education Organizing in New York City, 1995 – 2010, and is the author of numerous published works on the challenges of parent engagement and administration within urban school systems. He served 10 years as an elected school board member in Brooklyn, and holds a B.A. from Rutgers University and M.Ed. from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He resides in Brooklyn.

Vanessa Leung is a public school parent and has served the education community through her career advocating on behalf of Asian-Pacific American students and English Language Learners in New York City public schools. Her policy work led to the creation of Chancellor’s Regulation A-663, mandating comprehensive interpretation and translation services—as well as the Dignity in All Schools Act, which reduces bias-based harassment in schools. She is serving as interim Executive Director for the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF), but will soon begin as Director of Member Initiatives at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, a prominent social services organization supporting human services agencies across New York City. In 2007, she was named a member of the City Council’s Middle School Task Force and is the author of CACF’s Hidden in Plain View, a report detailing Asian-Pacific American students’ needs. Leung holds a Bachelor’s degree from New York University and a Master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College. She resides in Staten Island with her three sons.

Lori Podvesker is a New York City public school parent and former teacher who has been a vocal advocate for students with disabilities and their families. She currently is employed as a program manager for systemic advocacy and policy analysis at Resources for Children with Special Needs, a non-profit that helps families and children with disabilities access services and raise awareness of their needs. Podvesker holds a Master’s degree in education from Brooklyn College and is currently a member of the Manhattan Developmental Disabilities Council and Action to Reform and Improve Special Education Coalition. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and 11-year-old son, who attends a city school.

Robert Reffkin is the Founder & CEO of Urban Compass, a real estate technology company that seeks to simplify the housing search for New Yorkers. He is also the Founder & Chair of New York Needs You, a non-profit which provides professional development and mentorship to low-income college students. Reffkin worked at several companies within the financial sector, including Goldman Sachs, Lazard Frères, and McKinsey & Company, where he was the youngest analyst ever hired. Reffkin received his Bachelor’s degree and Master’s in Business Administration from Columbia University in only four years, and was selected as a White House Fellow, where he served as Special Assistant to the Treasury Secretary. He currently sits on the board of directors for Get Out Stay Out and Citizens Committee for NYC. Currently residing in Manhattan, he has previously served briefly on the PEP.

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.

saying goodbye

Here’s how the local and national education communities are responding to Boasberg’s exit

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As the news of Tom Boasberg’s departure ricocheted through the local and national education community, critics and champions of the Denver schools superintendent sounded off.

Here’s a roundup of comments from teachers, parents, school board members past and present, elected officials, and some of Boasberg’s colleagues.

Alicia Ventura, teacher

“I am shocked! I understand his decision as I have one (child) grown and out of the house and one in middle school. Time with our children is short and precious! I will always remember how fun and open-minded Tom was. He would do anything for children and truly lived the students first vision! We will miss you!”

Michael Hancock, Denver mayor and Denver Public Schools graduate

“I am saddened that DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will be stepping down but full of gratitude for his close partnership with the city on behalf of Denver’s kids and families. As a DPS graduate and a DPS parent, I know firsthand that Tom has led DPS with integrity and commitment. His focus on success for all kids has greatly improved our schools and provided better opportunities for all students to live their dreams.

“We have much work still to do in DPS, but we have an incredible foundation for moving forward and we are committed to continuing in partnership with the next DPS leader.”

Corey Kern, deputy executive director, Denver Classroom Teachers Association

“We were a little surprised by it ourselves. For us, we obviously wish Tom the best. The big focus for us is making sure the selection process for the next superintendent is something that is fair and transparent and open to the public; that it’s not a political appointment but talking to all stakeholders about who is the best person for the job for the students in Denver.”

Anne Rowe, president, Denver school board

“He has given … 10 years to this district as superintendent, and it is an enormous role, and he has given everything he has. … My reaction was, ‘I understand,’ gratitude, a little surprised but not shocked, certainly, and understand all the good reasons why he has made this decision.

“With change, there is always some uncertainty, and yet I look at the people here and their dedication to the kids in DPS and I have full confidence in these folks to continue driving forward while the board takes on the responsibility to select the next superintendent. We won’t miss a beat, and we have a lot of work to do for kids.”

Jeannie Kaplan, former school board member critical of the district’s direction

“I was very surprised. … I wish Tom well. I still do believe that working together is the way to get things done. I’m sorry we weren’t able to do that.

“My one hope would be that one of the primary criteria for the next leader of the district would be a belief in listening to the community – not just making the checkmark, but really listening to what communities want.”

John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor and former Denver mayor

“Tom Boasberg has invested a significant part of his life into transforming Denver Public Schools into one of the fastest-improving school districts in America. As a DPS parent, former mayor, and now governor, I am deeply grateful for the progress made under Tom’s leadership. I applaud Tom and Team DPS for driving the innovations that are creating a brighter future for tens of thousands of young people in every corner of the city.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who preceded Boasberg as Denver superintendent from 2005 to 2009 and has known him since childhood

“As a DPS parent, I thank him for his commitment, his compassion, and his extraordinary tenure. As Tom always says himself, we have a long way to go, but his transformational leadership has resulted in extraordinary progress over the past 10 years. Our student achievement has substantially increased, the number of teachers and other school personnel serving our children has grown tremendously, and the school choices available to children and their families have never been greater.”

Bennet also penned an op-ed in The Denver Post with this headline:

Ariel Taylor Smith, former Denver Public Schools teacher and co-founder of Transform Education Now, a nonprofit that focuses on improving schools through parent advocacy

“I was a teacher during Tom’s first half of his tenure at DPS and was amazed at how often he would walk the halls of North High School during our turnaround. Tom has dedicated 10 years to this work and for that I am grateful. I also believe that we have a long way to go to getting where we need to be. I believe that we are ready for new leadership who operates with the sense of urgency that we need to see in our city. There are 35,000 students who are attending ‘red’ and ‘orange’ (low-rated) schools in our city right now. One out of every three third-graders is reading on grade level. We need a new leader with a clear vision for the future and an evident sense of urgency to ensure that all our kids are receiving the education that they deserve.”

Brandon Pryor, parent and member Our Voice Our Schools, a group critical of the district

“You have a number of people he works with that are reformers. They think he’s leaving an awesome legacy and he did a lot to change and meet needs of the reformist community. You ask them and I’m sure his legacy will be great. But if you come to my community and ask some black folks what Tom Boasberg’s legacy will be, they’ll tell you something totally different.

“I think he has time with this last three months in office to follow through with some of the promises he’s made us (such as upgrades to the Montbello campus) to improve his situation.”

Jules Kelty, Denver parent

“He personally responded to an email that I sent him about my school. I appreciated that.”

Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado

“On the one hand, I’m not surprised. And on the other hand, I’m surprised.

“I’m not surprised because he’s had a track record of pretty remarkable service for a decade, which is amazing. Nobody else has done that. The district has improved pretty dramatically. He deserves a great deal of credit for that. …The surprise is that we’ve all become so used to him being the superintendent, it’s just a little weird (to think of him leaving).”

Lisa Escárcega, executive director, Colorado Association of School Executives

“Tom’s longstanding commitment and service to DPS have made a significant impact on the district. He is strongly focused on ensuring student equity, and the district has seen improvement in several areas over the last 10 years under his superintendency. Tom is a strong and innovative leader, and I know he will be missed by the DPS community and his colleagues.”

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education

“Under Tom Boasberg’s leadership for the past decade, Denver Public Schools has made remarkable academic progress and has become one of the most innovative school districts in the country. Tom has brought tremendous urgency and a deep commitment to closing both opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. For many school districts throughout the country, Denver’s innovative and collaborative approaches serve as a valuable model.”

Katy Anthes, state education commissioner

“I’ve appreciated working with Tom over the years and know that his personal commitment to students is incredibly strong. I thank Tom for his service to the students of DPS and Colorado.”

Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a national group of district and state superintendents 

“Tom Boasberg is an extraordinary leader who has dedicated his life to expanding opportunities for all of Denver’s children. During his tenure, the district has made remarkable gains on virtually every measure of progress. Denver Public Schools is a national model for innovation, district-charter collaboration, and teacher and school leader support. Every decision Tom has made over the course of his career has been focused on helping students succeed. No one is more respected by their peers. As a member of the Chiefs for Change board and in countless other ways Tom has supported education leaders across the nation. He leaves not just an impressive legacy but an organization of talented people committed to equity and excellence.”

David Osborne, author of the book “Reinventing America’s Schools,” which included chapters on Denver’s efforts

Share your thoughts on Boasberg’s exit here: