Following this week’s resignation, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission is beginning the search for its third director in the span of six months.
“We’ll get an interim and move forward,” said commission chairman Alan Reed by phone Thursday.
However, Bluum CEO Terry Ryan expressed concern, because the commission is critical to ensuring the financial and academic quality and integrity of the vast majority of Idaho’s public charter schools. Bluum is a nonprofit that helps develop charter school growth throughout Idaho.
The IPCSC is the largest authorizer in the state with 62 charter schools; public school districts authorize 12 charter schools. The Legislature created the commission in 2004 to provide oversight. The commission’s seven board members are volunteers, appointed by the governor and the Legislature.
“The state, the federal government and philanthropy have made multi-million dollar investments in Idaho public charter schools, while most importantly thousands of families have invested their children’s futures in these schools,” Ryan said.
“Quality has to be job one for all of us working in our public charter school space. This work is made harder when our public oversight agency is in disarray. The turnover of two executive directors in a matter of weeks is symptomatic of an organization that is troubled,” he said.
Commission director Nichole Hall submitted her resignation this week to accept a new job “that is appropriate for the current stage of my career.” She served as director for just under two months. The previous director, Jenn Thompson, resigned in early March.
Thompson and commissioner Brian Scigliano resigned in March because they felt several recent commission decisions were irresponsible. Thompson is now the chief planning and policy officer for the Office of the State Board of Education.
“I still feel (Hall) was the perfect one for the job. She had a vision of where we wanted to go as commissioners and she was doing a really good job working on that,” Reed said.
Hall expressed mixed feelings about leaving but said, “When I initially applied for the position, I had applied for several other employment opportunities that were of interest to me and were suited for my professional background. Recently, I received an offer for” one of those positions.
The governor appointed Pete Koehler in June to fill Scigliano’s vacancy, leaving one more vacancy on the commission. His last appointment, Karen Echeverria, was rejected by the Senate in an uncommon move. In leading the campaign against Echeverria, Sen. Lori Den Hartog said she wants to see a commission that fills a dual role of advocacy and regulation.
Defining the charter commission’s role still an ongoing concern
“Commission chair Alan Reed is doing all he can as a volunteer to navigate the challenge of finding and retaining effective and stable leadership, while also ensuring that any leader hired in fact has the authority to lead,” Ryan said.
There is confusion within the commission and within the larger state education apparatus as to what their role is, Ryan added. “Is the commission a charter school support agency or is it an agency responsible for oversight and quality control? Or is it supposed to be both?”
Reed said the commission will do both: support schools and hold them accountable. “The goal is to get the commission so it understands that role of being supportive and making sure the schools are accountable for the performance certificate. (Hall) really had a clear vision of that, and we appreciate what she has started.”
However, the revolving door of directors undermines efforts for continuity and clarity.
“Without a clear direction, the commission staff will have a very hard time leading, as it is impossible to lead somewhere if you don’t know where you are going. This is a good time for the commission — and its supporters — to reboot and to clarify its role so that the next leader knows what he or she is expected to do and what the systems and processes are for getting the work done,” Ryan said.
The commission staff of four faces another period of uncertainty
Reed said commissioners are working on naming an interim director, as they prepare for this month’s regular meeting that takes place on Aug. 17. Hall’s last day on the job is scheduled for Aug. 8.
In addition to the director, the commission staff includes an office specialist, two portfolio managers and one finance manager.
“I think they understand what they need to be doing. And we’re involved in the conversation about school funding right now. And Jacob (Smith) is on top of that; other than that, we’ve got a meeting to prepare for, which Nichole has pretty well ready to go for our meeting this month,” Reed said.
“We want to help them avoid problems and help them be … high performing schools and get a good return for the taxpayer money that we’re able to use.”
Disclosure: Idaho Education News and Bluum are funded by grants from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.