Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Former curriculum director sets up shop as educational consultant

Former Joplin R-8 Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Sarah Stevens has a new line of work.

Stevens, who is serving out the rest of the 2015-2016 school year in some nondescript non-essential duty after being reassigned in November, is now an educational consultant. Her resignation from the Joplin district takes effect at the end of the year.

According to the website of her new consulting business, The Driven Learner, Stevens is offering her expertise at putting students "in the driver's seat" for their own education. She is described in this fashion:

Sarah wears many hats in the school improvement and innovation arena. Some of her proudest partnerships include working as a School Improvement Consultant with an education cooperative that serves over 135 school districts across the state of Kansas, and partnering with the Joplin School District in Joplin, Missouri to create a system of continuous improvement, through strategic planning, humble leadership, and by supporting the work of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. During her career Sarah has served students as an elementary teacher, library media specialist, teaching and learning coach, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment and taught graduate students at a local university as an adjunct professor for the Teaching and Leading Department. Sarah's passion is in system thinking and partnering with adults to create a motivating environment where students come first and learning makes an impact.”
The website indicates Stevens has two partners in this endeavor, the Greenbush Learning Center in southeast Kansas, and an old favorite of the Joplin R-8 School District- the Core Collaborative.

Stevens brought Core Collaborative to Joplin, a move that ended up costing taxpayers more than $100,000 and was visibly upset when the Board of Education, by a 4-3 vote, rejected the continuation of the consulting firm's contract.

Stevens' dealings with Core Collaborative were detailed in the November 15 Turner Report, published shortly after news of Stevens' resignation had been confirmed:

The resignation apparently brings an end to the meteoric rise of someone who had only two years of classroom experience to a position in upper administration, making $73,000 a year.

Stevens was hired by the R-8 District in 2004 and spent two years as an elementary teacher and one year as a librarian before being tabbed as a teaching/learning coach, a position that served as a springboard for those who wanted to climb the ladder in the school district.

Stevens was promoted to her current position in 2012, after serving four years as a coach. She had no background in curriculum, so the Huff Administration had to hire a "professional learning coordinator" to assist her after that lack of qualifications was cited by state auditors.

Stevens' constant pushing of outside consultant Paul Bloomberg and his Core Collaborative group brought her into the spotlight last year. Not only did Stevens work to get Core Collaborative a full-time gig in Joplin, but she also promoted the group heavily with other school districts.

The district's dealings with the Core Collaborative were approved by the Board of Education at its August 19, 2014, meeting as part of the consent agenda. As with many things the board approved as part of the consent agenda, it turned out to cost far more than what it said in the original document.

The document said "a discounted cost for the Core Collaborative to provide 12 days of training is $31,260, which includes all travel costs (airfare, hotel, rental car, and meals). We are being billed for 10 days of consultant training and are getting two days training free."

The proposal was submitted by Stevens and initialed by Huff and Executive Director of Elementary Education Jennifer Doshier.

The curriculum director and her colleagues were so impressed with Bloomberg and company they just had to bring him here and pull teachers out of their classrooms so he could train them.

Not only did they bring the training to Joplin, but they also ordered Common Core materials from Corwin Press, which is connected with Bloomberg and visible learning.

At the December 16 board meeting, another request came from Stevens, again initialed by Huff and Doshier, asking for another $64,680 for Bloomberg and Core Collaborative. This was on the board's consent agenda.

In the documentation for the request, Stevens explained it in this fashion:

Dr. Bloomberg's work this far has been well received and certain areas are asking for more time to collaborate with him. The work will focus on the "formative process" outlined in the professional development plan as well as Visible Learning work around self-regulated learning.

While the request stipulated that the amount will not exceed $64,680, the cost exceeded the total of that amount and the earlier $31,260, with three months to go.

With the election of Jeff Koch and Jennifer Martucci to the board in April, the idea of paying more than $100,000 for a consultant came under opposition and when it came time to renew the Core Collaborative contract, Stevens sent the following e-mail message to principals:

I will be taking the Core Collaborative contract to the board on Tuesday, May 26.
I am asking for a year long contract up to 30 days to include the days principals have asked for, departments have requested, and to finish helping with the bsip plans we have started and the work of self regulated learning. I will be also be including a couple of days for special ed iep work.
This is the same amount of days we used this year between three consultants with the Core Collaborative.

I would like a short blurb from you stating how the work we have embarked on this year with the core collaborative and visible learning has helped, guided, or changed the way your building is working together, performing, etc. If you feel inclined, include what you hope to gain from continuing this focus and support.

Please do not use the verbiage of Visible Learning since that technically was with Corwin, even though Paul (consultant Paul Bloomberg who heads the Core Collaborative) tied a lot of what we were doing all together to make it all fit. I will bring Visible Learning for Teachers to a different board meeting if JPDT votes to have it happen this summer. 

If you have teachers that have really taken hold of learning intentions, success criteria, feedback, impact (data) teams, etc. Please ask them to send me an email or quick video explaining. Even better would be to have the students speak (but that is short notice so I understand if that can't happen). 

I have several videos of students speaking on their learning, so if you have some great ones with the work you have been doing or want to brag on your school, now is the time!

At that meeting, Board President Jeff Koch asked Stevens if she would be able to provide the training the teachers needed if Core Collaborative was not retained.

Stevens said that while "professional development is my passion," she was "too busy" to do it.

Koch, Martucci and Debbie Fort voted against renewing the Core Collaborative contract, while Mike Landis and Lynda Banwart voted to continue with the group.

Despite the defeat, Stevens was not yet finished with her efforts to keep the expensive consultants employed in Joplin.

At the June 22 board meeting, she pleaded for the board to reconsider its vote. By this time, Landis had resigned and the Jasper County Commission appointed Gary Nodler, Sallie Beard, and Ron Gatz to fill the cacated spots of Landis, Randy Steele, and Lane Roberts.

Stevens said that teacher morale would suffer if Core Collaborative did not return. Under a new deal, the Collaborative would charge "only" $87,000 instead of $103,000.

In her reasons for wanting the board to reconsider its action, Stevens sent a proposal to the board members saying that not only would morale suffer but the district would be forced to pull teachers out of classes more often, teachers would have to take time with after-school professional development or book studies (which would have teachers getting paid rather than consultants), they might have to contract with other vendors which would cost more money and teachers would have to be sent all over the United States to get training which might not be passed on to the rest of the faculty.

The proposal was prepared by Stevens, and okayed by Huff and Doshier.

Stevens clearly thought she would have the support of the three new board members, but that did not turn out to be the case. Nodler rattled her with numerous questions about the need for the consulting firm.

When Martucci suggested that R-8 teachers could be better off providing the professional development themselves and would have more buy-in, Koch quickly agreed and Fort noted that the money that is earmarked for professional development could be spent in that fashion.

When the executive directors insisted the teachers and principals were not ready and needed Bloomberg to guide them through another year, Nodler was not buying any of it. "You don't need a consultant to hold your hand."

The vote was 4-3 with Nodler joining Koch, Martucci, and Fort.

A month later Stevens appeared with Bloomberg at a Visible Learning Conference in Texas, doing a presentation on the success the firm had in Joplin.

Even after this, Stevens was not done with Core Collaborative.

In July, after Norm Ridder replaced C. J. Huff, Stevens again pushed Core Collaborative sending out an e-mail to teachers asking them to share what they had learned from the group. Apparently, Stevens must have used those messages to bring back Bloomberg and Core Collaborative for a one-time shot, at a cost of $7,775.

At the October 27 board meeting, Ridder made it clear that there would be no more dealings with Core Collaborative. This took place right around the time Stevens was reassigned.


Anonymous said...

Randy, in complete seriousness: Show No Mercy.

They had none for you or your charges, the students who they are ostensibly in this business to help.

Anonymous said...

And still, it appears she is fairing much better than you are. Boom!

Anonymous said...

It also appears that Mr. Turner is FARING better than you in the mastery of the English language. Troll.

Anonymous said...

Anyone can call themselves a consultant and set up a web page; Bruce Speck did it, CJ Huff did it and this lady is doing it. Doesn't mean they have a business...

Anonymous said...

4:25...that's it, a misspelled word? That's the best you have? What an enlightening comment. Seeing how this comment had nothing to do with you, seems like YOU fit the very definition of a troll!

Anonymous said...