Q&A No short­age of di­vides over ed­u­ca­tion

Katy An­thes, Colorado Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s new com­mis­sioner

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Ni­cholas Gar­cia Q: A: Q: A: Q: Q:

Katy An­thes is known as a con­sen­sus builder and a steady hand.

As she be­gins her ten­ure as Colorado ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sioner, those traits will be put to the test. There is no short­age of di­vides over ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy, and the state has plenty on the agenda.

An­thes was serv­ing as the ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment’s chief of staff eight months ago when she put in her no­tice of res­ig­na­tion — part of a pe­riod of up­heaval at the depart­ment that saw a wave of res­ig­na­tions.

She changed her mind and stayed to be­come in­terim com­mis­sioner af­ter Rich Cran­dall’s abrupt res­ig­na­tion. (An­thes has de­clined to dis­cuss what prompted her to want to leave.)

In her first in­ter­view with Chalk­beat since drop­ping the “in­terim” from her ti­tle, An­thes dis­cussed her ap­proach to un­der­stand­ing the na­tion’s new ed­u­ca­tion law, how she plans to work with the state’s low­est per­form­ing schools to boost learn­ing and what eq­uity in ed­u­ca­tion means to her.

This in­ter­view has been edited for clar­ity and brevity. Walk me through what it’s been like for you the past few months. How did you get from there to here — per­son­ally? Sit­u­a­tions change, cir­cum­stances change. I’ve al­ways been re­ally com­mit­ted to the state of Colorado and ed­u­ca­tion is­sues in Colorado. So no mat­ter where my path was go­ing to take me, I’d still be work­ing on those is­sues and com­mit­ted to those is­sues. It was a bit of a sur­prise, too, af­ter giv­ing my res­ig­na­tion, to step in. But some­times op­por­tu­ni­ties present them­selves and you have to think deeply about those op­por­tu­ni­ties and I did. It was an­nounced ear­lier this year that you had planned to stay through May. And then just weeks later, it was an­nounced you got the job per­ma­nently. What changed? It was an on­go­ing process and dis­cus­sion. We were work­ing well to­gether with the board and it was re­ally a board de­ci­sion. It was up to them. I can’t speak to their in­ter­nal process. But when that dis­cus­sion arose around, “Do you want to be per­ma­nent?” I was ex­cited to take the op­por­tu­nity. I was sur­prised to hear that. It’s ex­cit­ing. I’m hon­ored to be in that role for sure. I also know I work with a lot of in­cred­i­bly tal­ented, amaz­ing women lead­ers, so it doesn’t feel that dif­fer­ent or unique to me. I hope I do it well. That’s def­i­nitely a real ten­sion and a real is­sue. I think it’s some­thing we’ve al­ways grap­pled with, too. Our role as the depart­ment is to im­ple­ment the law the leg­is­la­ture passes with in­tegrity and fidelity, and also im­ple­ment the reg­u­la­tions the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion passes with in­tegrity. We def­i­nitely, and I as the leader of the depart­ment, al­ways want to have the con­ver­sa­tion, “What do those poli­cies and those im­ple­men­ta­tion prac­tices look like for either a ru­ral dis­trict or an ur­ban dis­trict?” They cer­tainly are dif­fer­ent con­texts. What we’ve done so far in the last seven months, and when I was chief of staff and in other roles here, is look at those prac­tices and see where can we sup­port ru­ral dis­tricts a lit­tle more, know­ing that they don’t have all that per­son­nel to sub­mit their data re­ports. They don’t have a long line of teach­ers wait­ing to take all the hard-to-staff jobs. I think we’ve been in­ves­ti­gat­ing that in terms of data re­port­ing — how do we stream­line it, make it eas­ier for ru­ral dis­tricts. I think some of it was around un­der­stand­ing ESSA. For all the good in­ten­tions of go­ing big and re­think­ing the land­scape, we had a land­scape here. I think it was im­por­tant that we do some ed­u­ca­tion. We ac­tu­ally had a waiver from (the pre­vi­ous fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion law), No Child Left Be­hind. If you went from what are the rules and reg­u­la­tions un­der No Child Left Be­hind to what are the rules un­der ESSA, that would be a big shift. But Colorado al­ready did a big shift. We weren’t op­er­at­ing un­der the same kind of con­straints that No Child Left Be­hind out­lined. (The state re­ceived waivers from cer­tain as­pects of the law.) So the shift you’ve seen, and the more tem­pered ap­proach you’ve seen, is be­cause we have a con­text. We got those waivers early on. And we have a state leg­isla­tive frame­work we’re al­ready work­ing un­der. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily the fed­eral law that we have to pay a lot of at­ten­tion to. We have our own state laws that talk a lot about those same things. If we wanted to go big­ger within ESSA, most of those changes would have to be taken up by our leg­is­la­tors. We wouldn’t be able to take that up as a depart­ment be­cause we have to fol­low the law of our state. (Laughs.) That’s a ques­tion for them. But you know, I think we’ve been in on­go­ing di­a­logue with them. And we’re learn­ing, too. It’s a long law. And the reg­u­la­tions are now com­ing out in pieces and parts. We’re mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing matches up. I don’t think we need any ma­jor changes (to be in com­pli­ance). If the sit­u­a­tion calls for it — ab­so­lutely. Our north star is around sup­port­ing stu­dent achieve­ment and in­creas­ing stu­dent achieve­ment. So we want to work in col­lab­o­ra­tion with school dis­tricts. Each sit­u­a­tion will be dif­fer­ent. Each con­text will be dif­fer­ent. The tra­jec­tory of each dis­trict will be dif­fer­ent. So I, along with the staff and oth­ers, are tak­ing all of that into con­sid­er­a­tion. No two rec­om­men­da­tions will be alike. I’m hear­ing that they have a sense of ur­gency, that there is a lot of hard work be­ing put into their ef­forts, and in some cases there is some suc­cess. But turn­around is not fast work. There is no sil­ver bul­let that fixes it all. So I’m hear­ing they have to ap­proach this work from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives. Some­times there are starts and stops. You try some­thing and it doesn’t work. It’s hard, com­pli­cated work. But I’m hear­ing they are com­mit­ted to do­ing what­ever they can. I don’t think there is a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor. You know, ed­u­ca­tion is harder than rocket sci­ence. It’s com­plex. It’s hu­mans and hu­man be­hav­ior, and it’s emo­tion and learn­ing and brain devel­op­ment. It’s about ad­di­tional risk fac­tors. It’s about all of these things. And these things present them­selves dif­fer­ently in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties. So I don’t think there is a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor. It’s re­ally con­tex­tual. And I think the sup­port and the rec­om­men­da­tions have to be con­tex­tual. Chalk­beat Colorado is a non­profit news or­ga­ni­za­tion cover­ing ed­u­ca­tion is­sues. For more, visit chalk­beat.org/co.

Colorado ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sioner Katy An­thes talks about the chal­lenges that schools face. “You know, ed­u­ca­tion is harder than rocket sci­ence. It’s com­plex. It’s hu­mans and hu­man be­hav­ior, and it’s emo­tion and learn­ing and brain devel­op­ment. It’s about ad­di­tional risk fac­tors. It’s about all of these things.”

You’ve been vis­it­ing with the state’s low­est per­form­ing schools and dis­tricts as they ap­proach the end of the state’s ac­count­abil­ity time­line. I know from talk­ing with some of your staff that you want to find so­lu­tions to boost learn­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with these dis­tricts. But are you also pre­pared to make rec­om­men­da­tions to the state board that might go against the dis­tricts’ wishes?

The ur­ban and ru­ral split is Colorado’s ed­u­ca­tion com­mu­nity is sharp these days. You see it in the fund­ing de­bate, the test­ing de­bate, the ac­count­abil­ity de­bate, the teacher short­age. What steps is the depart­ment tak­ing to re­ally think through these dif­fer­ent is­sues and po­si­tions?

ap­proach. You’ve re­peat­edly said the Colorado is in com­pli­ance and there prob­a­bly isn’t a need for new leg­is­la­tion. Why this ap­proach?

The list of schools fac­ing pos­si­ble sanc­tions in­cludes a mix of ur­ban and ru­ral. Is there a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor?

You’ve said we prob­a­bly don’t need new leg­is­la­tion to com­ply with ESSA. Do you think the state’s law­mak­ers are go­ing to lis­ten to you?

What are you hear­ing when you talk to these schools and dis­tricts?

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