Vol. 2
Issue 20
Building Education Cities
For our feature interview this month we learn more about Scott Hindman and the work he and his partners are leading in New Mexico. 

As an Education Cities member working state-wide, Excellent Schools New Mexico (ESNM) is charting new territory for how local leadership models have to evolve to meet the needs of their communities.  In only 18 months, ESNM is on track to open two new high-quality schools and is laying the foundation to strengthen  an education ecosystem in need of anchor investments. 

In other exciting news, the Education Cities team has welcomed three babies into the world in the last three weeks! We're thrilled to report that Amy Hertel Buckley, Carrie McPherson Douglass and Charles McDonald all have healthy baby girls at home. Pictures are forthcoming in our next issue.    

All the best,

Ethan Gray
Founder & CEO, Education Cities
Special Section 
Interview with Scott Hindman, Executive Director, Excellent Schools New Mexico
Tell us about the origin story for Excellent Schools New Mexico (ESNM) and why you're working state-wide?

Excellent Schools New Mexico was born from the need to provide more quality school options to New Mexico students and families. We launched through a collaborative effort between education leaders and local business, and are backed by a multi-year grant from the Daniels Fund, which has supported New Mexico causes for nearly 30 years. 

I was hired by our founding board in 2016 and relocated to New Mexico with my better half, Meaghan, a native-born New Mexican (and the co-founder of a charter school that will open in Albuquerque in 2018!).  Although we are open to state-wide work, in large part to achieve greater scale, we have concentrated our work thus far in two of our biggest population centers: Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

How did you come to this work? Was there anything you experienced growing up or in your past professional life that inspired you to lead ESNM?

Like many of my colleagues in this work, I come from a long line of public school educators, none of whom have been more influential than my mother, who was an award-winning special education teacher, principal and district administrator for 30 years. My mother's work strengthened my belief in the power of our public school system to create opportunity and underscored the need to have smart, passionate folks invested in this system.

That said, I also came to this work - and care so deeply about it - thanks to the convictions I developed while playing sports. I played baseball at both the collegiate and professional levels, and while I wasn't at all good as a professional, I always felt that I had access to the same coaching and tools, and a fair and equitable shot at making the Major Leagues. When I started working in schools, I realized quickly how fleeting a fair shot is for far too many kids, and that their access to opportunity correlated to circumstances beyond their control like where they lived or what they looked like. This reality fired me up then and continues to drive my work to this day.

What about this work, so far, has either surprised you or encouraged you the most?

At the risk of sounding naïve, my first 18 months have been an eye-opening lesson in the machinations of state- and local-level politics. Having previously worked in both schools and an industry that relied heavily on government support (renewable energy), I thought that I understood how education politics functioned, but I am learning quickly that politics and policy play an outsized role in how students are educated. As I recently joked with a colleague of mine, I spent my summer reading Robert Caro's biographical series on Lyndon Johnson in an attempt to improve my political acumen. (Great set of books, by the way!)

Through my experiences thus far, I have been most encouraged by conversations with folks who want what I want, but have opposing ideas about how to get there. These conversations - especially when they've focused on how educators, parents and communities define school quality - have forced me to identify my blind spots and improve how I lead in a place I value and intend to stay for the long haul.

Although your work is state-wide what value have you found being part of a network of city-based organizations and what do you think city-based members can learn from education quarterbacks like your organization?

To echo what Ed Chang at redefinED atlanta said in a previous Q&A, having the opportunity to engage with and learn from similar organizations during the early stages of my work contributed considerably to my learning and organizational planning. Nearly all of the fundamental strategies employed by city-based organizations to catalyze quality school growth apply to my work, so I have been able to steal ideas from generous colleagues. What I've enjoyed about state-wide work is that it has forced me to get outside of Albuquerque and engage with folks from all corners of the state. From a policy perspective, I have been surprised by the number of rural / suburban legislators and officials who have interest in - and great influence over - what takes place in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. 

In addition, several of my most valued partners live in places like Roswell, Gallup and Española, where system-level reform work has not been as concentrated, and folks' thoughts on paths forward haven't been clouded by what they've seen and experienced during the past decade of school reform.

What do you want folks to know about your strategy and some of the education ecosystem challenges the state faces to increase the number of high-quality school options?

Unlike many other member cities and states, New Mexico does not yet have a strong tradition of coordinated, K-12 systems-level funding. As a result, we have been - at least in our first 18 months - more tightly focused on concrete seat creation as demand for new seats is high. The strategy we've employed to create these seats has largely been driven by the feedback from the "brains" of our operation, our local school leaders who deeply understand the context of New Mexico K-12 education and the needs of their students and families. As part of this strategy, we have engaged several national nonprofit organizations - nearly all of whom have never worked in New Mexico - to strategize with, fund and coach our schools as they grow. Finally, to catalyze the development of our broader ecosystem strategy, we have organized visits to other cities and regions to show local folks what is possible and to discuss what may work in New Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Education recently awarded the New Mexico Public Education Department $22.5 million to create and replicate high-quality charter schools. From your understanding, why did the state go after this funding and what does this mean for your work?

We have close to 100 charter schools in New Mexico, and nearly all are single-site schools. However, demand for our top-performing charters is very strong. In some cases, charter schools receive 30 applications for every 1 open spot, and individual charter school waitlists are often 3-5x oversubscribed. The New Mexico Public Education Department views this grant as an opportunity to nudge several of these high-performing, high-demand single-site schools to replicate, which will boost the overall quality of our charter sector and improve student academic outcomes. Additionally, we expect that our grant dollars will attract new quality operators to our state, and because the grant spans five years, we hope that these dollars will allow the work of quality charter development to span gubernatorial administrations. ESNM is focused on developing a strong pipeline of schools to access these dollars, and we are optimistic that our grantee schools will be successful in obtaining grant awards, potentially as soon as December 2017.

Millions in funding aside, are there other recent wins or signs of progress you'd like to mention?

Most importantly, student outcomes in New Mexico have improved over the last 2-3 years. Our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. Our flagship university's graduation rate is at an all-time high. More of our K-12 students, especially those in traditionally underserved communities, are attending higher-performing schools. And our statewide ESSA plan, which provides the blueprint to continue this work, has been hailed as one of the 2-3 best plans in the country.

Within the ecosystem we are helping to grow, the first two charter schools that we have backed were both approved unanimously by our state authorizer and will open in August 2018. We have built a larger pipeline of new and replicating schools, all of whom are receiving support from national organizations such as Building Excellent Schools and NewSchools Venture Fund, and many of whom will be great candidates for our federal grant dollars. Finally, to strengthen our policy work, we have supported the launch of a local Teach Plus affiliate and a soon-to-be launched local 50CAN affiliate. It's all new, young work, and we have a long way to travel, but first steps have been promising.

When friends or family visit you in Albuquerque what are a couple of your go-to activities?

It's sunny and mild here year-round, so first and foremost, we spend plenty of time outside. We enjoy biking along the Rio Grande, taking folks hiking in the Petroglyphs...really, anything to get outdoors and into the beautiful landscape that frames the city. We also make sure that folks are well-fed, and we've yet to have friends or family leave Albuquerque hungry - green chile chicken enchiladas, chile rellenos, sopapillas...and maybe a margarita or two as well.
Kudos to...
New Schools for Baton Rouge recently celebrated groundbreakings for two new school facilities set to begin serving Baton Rouge students in August 2018. These sites mark the launch of two high quality operators in Baton Rouge, ultimately looking to serve more than 8,000 students combined.
News Spotlight
Chalkbeat Indiana took a deeper look at The Mind Trust's Innovation Network Schools and how on the most recent state tests (the ISTEP), they saw some of the largest gains in Indianapolis Public Schools.   

The Gates Family Foundation, helped to launch a new education quarter back organization in Denver, called Blue School Partners. The organization  was founded by a coalition of community and philanthropic partners and other local leaders. Longtime community leader Nathaniel "Nate" Easley Jr., has been tapped to lead this independent nonprofit organization aimed at accelerating better outcomes and narrowing the achievement gap for tens of thousands of children in Denver. Prior to joining Blue School Partners, Nate lead the Denver Scholarship Foundation and  he served as an elected board member for Denver Public Schools, including terms as President and Secretary. 

Innovate Public Schools released a report, A Dream Deferred: How San Francisco schools leave behind the most vulnerable students . The day it was released, dozens of parent leaders gathered in front of San Francisco City Hall. They shared their personal experiences with the school system and facts about SFUSD's poor performance. State Senator Scott Wiener attend the press conference and was the first to sign Innovate's pledge to champion education policies that put kids first. 

Educate78 has started an #OUSDBudget blog series to delve into the Oakland Unified School District budget crisis. Most recently, the series has been tackling the question of whether Oakland has too many schools Educate78 is also  excited to celebrate the launch of two initiatives from one of its major grantees, GO Public Schools. The new  Oakland REACH , a parent-led advocacy group and  1Oakland  -  a community-driven campaign  working with educators and elected officials to advocate for  policies that promote partnership and creatively re-design the school system in service of all students.

Opportunity 180 has launched a new school performance data tool for Clark County families: Great Schools All Kids!  This desktop and mobile-friendly resource enables families to get a clear snapshot of school performance - in English and in Spanish. The tool was borne out of  O pportunity 1 80's belief that  parents are schools' #1 partner when it comes to student success , and they deserve access to information about how their school is preparing their child for success in college, career and life. Since launch, the tool is already evolving based community input, s uch as the new "compare schools" feature. 

Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) hosted the  GreatPhillySchools High School Fair . Over 13,000 students and families attended, which featured nearly every district, charter, Catholic and independent high school in Philadelphia. With the largest attendance to date, this year marks the fifth anniversary of PSP and GreatPhillySchools hosting the fair. PSP hosts the event in an effort to give families the opportunity to learn about and apply to the best school for their child.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a report, Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools. Using data drawn from the U.S. Department of Education, report author David Griffith compares the percentage of teachers who miss at least eleven days of school, excluding professional development days and field trips in charter and traditional public schools. The report finds that teachers in traditional public schools are almost three times as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter schools. This is true in 34 of 35 states with sizable charter sectors and in each of the 10 largest cities in the country. Fordham hopes this report might serve as a helpful document to curb the rate of chronic teacher absenteeism, leading to smarter policies nationwide.

New publications from CRPE include a brief entitled,  Partnership Schools: New Governance Models for Creating Quality School Options in DistrictsThe brief looks  at how this governance model strategy is emerging across the country  as a way to  break through contentious district-charter divides and could help improve struggling schools or increase the number of high-quality neighborhood options. CRPE also released  Better Together: Ensuring Quality District Schools in Times of Charter Growth and Declining Enrollment. The report draws from a convening of school district superintendents, charter leaders, school finance experts, and other education experts in hosted in Houston earlier this year. In it, CRPE recommends that urban districts and charter schools collaborate to solve the problems associated with declining enrollment so that all students can have access to a high-quality education.
Career Opportunities