There is no harder job than running a successful school building for high-poverty students; nor a more important job. Yet, there are school leaders across the state and the nation who do it day-in and day-out, and too few get recognized for their great work. We are fortunate that some of these leaders work in the charter schools that Fordham sponsors and it is our privilege to tell a little bit of their stories and the impact they are having on students in Ohio. This Q&A with Judy Hennessey, the superintendent of Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) and DECA Prep, is the third of our seven-part series on school leadership. (Please see our previous Q&As with Dr. Glenda Brown and Andy Boy.) Hennessey leads two high-performing charter schools in Dayton, one a high school, the other an elementary school. Together, these schools serve over 600 inner-city students from Dayton. We featured DECA in our high school edition of Needles in a Haystack, released earlier this month.
There isn’t much Judy Hennessey hasn’t done at Dayton Early College Academy or the newly created DECA Prep elementary school. She is the superintendent and CEO of the two schools, but, in addition, Hennessey currently is the acting principal at DECA Prep. There was no one to step in when the school’s first principal resigned for medical reasons.
On a recent weekend, Hennessey, 60, and husband Mark were at DECA
Earlier this month, Policy Matters Ohio released a short report examining how some charter schools evade Ohio’s academic accountability sanctions. Ohio has an academic “death penalty” for charter schools – if a school performs too poorly for too long, the state mandates its closure. The law is heralded as the toughest of its kind in the nation.
Since the law took effect in 2008, twenty charter schools have been subject to automatic closure. Yet, as Avoiding Accountability: How charter operators evade Ohio’s automatic closure law reveals, eight of these schools closed only on paper and soon after merged with other schools or reopened under new names, retaining the same physical address, much of the same staff, and the same operator. Two of the schools were closed for one year before reopening; six closed in May or June, at the end of a school year, and reopened in time for the start of the following school year. The report details the cases of each school’s “closure” and rebirth and provides information about their sponsors, operators, and academic performance.
Charter schools avoiding accountability is absolutely not okay, and Policy Matters is right to shed light on the issue. Many of the report’s recommendations are on the mark, and mirror recommendations Fordham (both as a policy advocate and authorizer of charter schools) has made over the years:
Some of Ohio’s largest school districts are embracing charter schools as part of their overall district reform strategies. Mayor Jackson’s education reform plan in Cleveland calls for tripling “the number of Cleveland students enrolled in high-performing district and charter schools from the approximately 11,000 students currently enrolled in these schools to approximately 33,000 by 2018-19.” In Columbus, Mayor Coleman’s “education commission” is exploring ways to encourage “the growth of high performing charter schools.” In Cincinnati the district recently announced a new partnership with the charter operator Carpe Diem (a high-performing blended-learning charter school model based in Arizona).
Fordham has long-advocated, along with groups like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for better cooperation and creative partnerships between school districts and quality charter schools. As far back as 2007, we argued for a “Portfolio Governance Approach to Meeting the Needs of All Dayton Children.”
Great school leaders are high in demand and portfolio districts compete aggressively for them
Unfortunately Dayton couldn’t run with the concept in 2007, but fast forward to 2013, and according to a new book by Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, and Betheny Gross entitled Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies for Managing Urban Schools, there are now close to 30 urban school districts across the country pursuing “the portfolio strategy.” According to Hill, Campbell and Gross leading portfolio districts “support existing schools that are succeeding with the children they serve, close unproductive schools, create new ones similar
How much is too much when it comes to compensation of district superintendents and charter school administrators?
In the last couple of months I have been asked by reporters about the compensation being paid school administrators in Ohio. In late September, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a series of stories on what superintendents and treasurers in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky were making, while just this past weekend the Dayton Daily News ran a story on the overall compensation paid a charter school administrator and her family to run seven schools in Ohio and three in Florida. I’m also on the business advisory council to my local school district and one of the biggest issues they grapple with is compensation of top school administrators. This is a very sensitive issue politically, especially since the economic downturn of 2008.
My basic view on matters of compensation is pretty straightforward: Highly effective superintendents and charter school operators deserve to be paid well as they work long hours and deal with myriad and complicated human, fiscal, academic, and political issues. Their compensation should be transparent (no hidden benefits or perks); and there should be a marketplace for talent. Let school districts and charter school operators compete openly for talent, and from this competition the market should help set the bar for compensation.
But, when it comes to the compensation and salary of public school officials – be they district or charter – there is also