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Lots of moving going on among education movers and shakers

Confidential to education organization HR types:

I know that in terms of education-related activity, July is supposed to be the doldrums. But if you have a reform rock star on your payroll, you may want to saunter over to his/her desk to make sure it’s still occupied. It seems a few have snuck from one job to another while no one was looking.

Kent PekelKent Pekel

Like who, you want to know? Well, we can start with Kent Pekel, executive director of the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota. On Aug. 1, Pekel will take over as president and CEO of the Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based research concern that has spent decades identifying strategies to better the lives of youth.

In his soon-to-be-former job, Pekel was head of an effort to increase the number and diversity of Minnesota students who graduate high school in a position to succeed in higher ed. By its nature, that work made him a walking repository of information on virtually any education reform matter.

In turn, over the last few years this has made Pekel one of Your Humble Blogger’s go-to guys for help in understanding the nuances of everything from the Obama administration’s education policy to teacher preparation. You’ve probably also heard him on Minnesota Public Radio, which doubtless has his phone number filed under “articulate.”

Pekel’s big shoes will be filled on an interim basis by his colleague Julie Sweitzer, who currently heads the consortium’s leadership initiatives programming, and Jim Bierma, who will spearhead the program’s Ramp-Up to Readiness effort, which will roll out this September in 41 middle schools and high schools across Minnesota.

The Search Institute is perhaps best known for its inventory of 40 developmental assets youth need to thrive, as well as its trove of literature about how to nurture those assets. Sound a little fuzzy? Try this: Pekel just got a bigger sandbox in which to exercise his influence.

Heistad to Bloomington

Over at Minneapolis Public Schools’ shiny new HQ on West Broadway, there’s much weeping over the loss of Dave Heistad, who was poached away cruelly by Bloomington Public Schools. We can only imagine it offered him a district-paid Lamborghini and a personal grape-peeler.

David HeistadDave Heistad

As MPS’ longtime director of research and evaluation, Heistad is one of the few people hereabouts who can look at a pile of test-generated data and tell you what’s meaningful and what’s hooey. When he goes to parties, he probably ends up yakking it up in a corner with Pekel and with the gentleman Heistad is replacing, retiring data guru Jim Angrmeyr.

What do data geeks talk about amongst themselves? Among other things, Heistad’s work in support of a Bush Foundation effort to increase the quality of teacher-preparation programs in the Upper Midwest. In an effort to find a meaningful way to link student outcomes to teacher training, the foundation contracted with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Value-Added Research Center (VARC).

Heistad is VARC’s Minnesota point person — and something of a national name, to boot. Last year, the joint effort provided some two dozen Minnesota districts with data showing the effectiveness of different grade-level teaching teams. At MPS, he was working on tying data to individual teachers.

Sellers to MinnCAN

Daniel SellersDaniel Sellers

Also vacating a big job is Daniel Sellers, executive director of Teach for America-Twin Cities. On Aug. 1 — after moving and getting married, as if there’s much July left — he’s assuming the same title at MinnCAN, the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now, which is modeled on ConnCAN, a Connecticut effort. It is, he said, a dream job for a policy wonk.

In addition to working to galvanize public support for education reform, MinnCAN has become a visible presence at the state Capitol, where it has lobbied, among other things, for laws that would make it easier for TFA corps members and other teachers from alternative training pipelines to secure Minnesota teaching licenses.

Indeed, Sellers has spent some time in the Legislature’s chilly marble halls over the last couple of years attempting to educate lawmakers on the challenges faced by groups like his in local schools.

“Teach for America is in such a strong place that if I wanted to get back into the policy world, it was the right time to leap,” he said.

Vallay VarroVallay Varro

A national search for his replacement will begin soon. Because TFA is essentially a talent pipeline, there’s likely to be no shortage of good candidates.

Varro to 50CAN

The post Sellers is leaping into is being vacated by former St. Paul Schools board member Vallay Varro, who will remain in St. Paul physically but will assume national duties with MinnCAN’s national parent organization.

She will help other CANs get started.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/19/2012 - 08:44 am.

    Always fuzzy

    “…Heistad’s work in support of a Bush Foundation effort to increase the quality of teacher-preparation programs in the Upper Midwest. In an effort to find a meaningful way to link student outcomes to teacher training, the foundation contracted with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Value-Added Research Center (VARC).”

    Increasing the quality of teacher preparation programs certainly has some appeal – the final two practice teachers of my classroom career were dismal, one of them an abject failure – but Mr. Heistad is likely, I think, to find this particular quest to be of the Quixotic variety. “Student outcomes” can certainly be influenced, and there’s research (some of it written about in MinnPost, if memory serves me correctly) that a good teacher has a significant impact on student achievement, but over the years, it has more and more seemed to me that at least some segments of the public are looking for, perhaps anticipating, something close to a 1-to-1 correlation between a good teacher and an academically-successful student.

    I think that’s not likely to happen any time soon. Far too much of any student’s life is (and I might argue that’s as it should be) outside the teacher’s control for there to ever be the sort of guarantee that some members of the public seem to expect. “If teacher ‘x’ is any good, Jane will learn algebra / composition / American history / vertebrate biology this year” is unrealistic in terms of its expectations. Jane MAY learn one or more of those things from teacher ‘x,’ but she may also learn them superficially, or incompletely, or not at all, because there’s much about Jane over which teacher ‘x’ has no control, and the ultimate arbiter of what Jane does or does not do is… Jane.

    Better teacher preparation may lead to better teachers, but neither better preparation nor better teachers will, of themselves, necessarily lead to some sort of educational nirvana. Students, parents and the larger society have to buy into the value of education over the long term – as something more than simply a mechanism to “get a good job” – if appalling achievement gaps and America’s continued slide in technology, public health, and other fields is to be reversed.

  2. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 07/19/2012 - 11:50 am.

    Questioning MPS Losses

    I wonder if there was more to Heistad’s leaving then just a better offer. Heistad is one of several national experts on the use of data in improving instruction who work in Minneapolis. MPS keeps all of them pretty boxed up because the district is controlled by folks from the constructivist school of education who while failing to increase achievement for these last decades make sure that folks who know how to make improvements stay marginalized in the district. MPS’ strategy is to keep effective instruction corralled up in special education-don’t use anything that works with MPS students-they are too unique.

  3. Submitted by Ross Reishus on 07/19/2012 - 04:49 pm.

    Big Question

    No one seems to want to confront this point but here it is. How is it, that we are claiming to help reform education by INCREASING the volume of work, rigor, and time spent getting a traditional teaching degree (not a bad thing, on face value), while on the other hand, putting in an express lane for the NON-teacher certification “professionals?” These two things are mutually exclusive, if IMPROVING education is the goal. All it will do over time is encourage no one to take the traditional route, there by sidestepping some institutional knowledge, and also sidestepping the history of which political party has done the most damage to education in Minnesota, which is probably the larger point that no one will talk about because most of this legislation comes from the conservative side of the aisle.

    On the other hand, if PRIVATIZING is the goal, then it makes complete sense. I would love to have MinnPost take this ball and run with it and hold legislators to the electric fence until they give an answer that makes sense, because I don’t see one.

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