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New EAA chief: School reform district has already "shattered the status quo," but needs to do better

via Education Achievement Authority

The Education Achievement Authority’s new leader says that system has already “shattered the status quo” in some of Michigan’s most troubled schools.

But Veronica Conforme says EAA leaders also need to “take a hard look” at how the district is performing.

Conforme outlined her vision for the state-run school reform district Wednesday, one day after the EAA board named her interim chancellor.

Former Chancellor John Covington, who had led the district since it launched in 2012, stepped down Monday.

Conforme said Covington laid a “solid foundation” for the district’s future, and expressed confidence that his basic reforms have “changed the culture of once-failing schools.”

Conforme said the district needs to build on what’s working, and fix what’s not.

She announced a top-to-bottom assessment of the EAA’s operations, promising to spend much of the next several weeks inside the 15 former Detroit public schools the district currently operates.

Conforme also said district officials need to do a better job of listening to teachers, parents, and the broader community. She promised “much, much more outreach” going forward.

Conforme comes to Detroit after more than a decade in the New York City public schools, where she served most recently as chief operating officer.

She started working with the EAA earlier this year, advising Covington and the EAA board on technology and organizational issues.

Conforme said she’s broadly supportive of the tech-centered, individualized “student-centered learning” model Covington introduced. She said no major curriculum or personnel changes will be announced until the organizational assessment is complete.

Conforme also declined to comment on whether she’s looking to stay on long-term, saying only that she’s “focused on being interim chancellor” right now.

Conforme had been one of three finalists for superintendent of the Orleans Parish school district, which broadly oversees some New Orleans public schools.

New Orleans has been a laboratory for education reform efforts since Hurricane Katrina, with many schools now run by independent charter operators. Orleans Parish exists alongside the Recovery School District of Louisiana, a state-run reform district widely seen as a model for the EAA.

But on Tuesday, Conforme dropped out of the running just hours before board members were set to vote on a new superintendent. She was named the EAA’s interim chancellor that same afternoon.

The details of Conforme’s new contract were not immediately made available to Michigan Radio. A district spokesman said only that a request for that information had been submitted to the EAA.

Covington’s contract had been controversial since he signed with the EAA in 2011. The four-year deal was worth up to a potential $1.5 million, including signing and performance bonuses.

Covington resigned with a year left on the contract. District records list his total compensation for 2013 as $336,761.86.  

EAA board member Carol Goss said the board will conduct a national search for a new permanent chancellor.

Goss said that will be a “thoughtful” process to identify candidates who can further the EAA’s vision for transforming the state’s poorest-performing schools.

“We’re looking for an education leader who understands this kind of innovation,” Goss said. “But I think the board will take its time to identify the criteria, and really assess what it is that we’re looking for.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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