Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Tomas Hanna, new innovation chief for DOE
I asked a friend, Helen Gym, a parent activist in Philadelphia, what she knew of Tomas Hanna, the new head of “Innovation” for DOE, which to the educrats at Tweed, unfortunately, means online learning. With her permission, I share her message below. Here is his picture from the Broad Academy website, where he graduated in 2008.
Thanks for your inquiry about Tomas Hanna, whom I've known in different circles around Philadelphia. In general, I would say that Tomas carries a general reputation as an accessible education administrator. He's polite, professional, and overall is responsive to most communities around a variety of issues.
In Philadelphia, he's held a number of posts. He won accolades as a teacher & principal and rose quickly thru administration. He eventually became head of Human Resources where he was charged with heading up the Campaign for Human Development, a ground-breaking program that was designed to invest in teaching professionals and improve the retention rate of teachers, create a grow-your-own paraprofessional program, and really develop robust professional development and support.
But when Paul Vallas came in as superintendent, Hanna wasn't able to hold onto the importance of CHD. It was scuttled, Vallas went the Teach for America route, and Hanna headed to Providence. He returned a few years later to serve under Arlene Ackerman and - like many administrators - has been shuffled and demoted in various positions, Chief Academic Officer, Chief of Staff, and his most recent position which I can't even remember at this point (she tends to create new positions to retain the people she demotes).
Most people feel that Tomas is overall a progressive minded education who struggled within administrations that were anything but, particularly under Ackerman. However, in my personal opinion, I have also been disappointed by his lack of leadership and ability to maintain an independent compass particularly through trying times, which I find to be the mark of a true leader. Instead under Ackerman he was a soldier for an administration that wreaked havoc on his record both morally as well as professionally.
My biggest disappointment with Tomas came when I called him the day after dozens of Asian immigrant youth were beaten and sent to the hospital after a day long series of anti-Asian assaults and beatings at a local high school. The District's months-long response to those attacks - including retaliation against victims, racially polarizing rhetoric, and a refusal to address racial bias at the school or assist victims of racial bias responsibly - would eventually result in a federal civil rights lawsuit and settlement by the U.S. Dept. of Justice and the PA Human Relations Commission for civil rights abuses by district officials against Asian students and community members.
Tomas was then Arlene Ackerman's chief of staff and I reached out to him the day after to see if the situation could be responsibly addressed without antipathy from the District. He hesitated and hemmed and hawed, and said he would get back to me. The next time I heard from him was six months later, when he and District officials were forced to the table to talk with community members by the Justice Dept.
In the meantime, Tomas fronted the District's horrible failures around violence and victimization of students and families in schools (far beyond the school I was working in), mostly by offering empty promises and rhetoric he was unable to match in action. Bilingual ed and language access services declined across the district, and of greater concern, the District seemed to regress even more in its limited understanding of needs of multilingual families - this despite the fact that Tomas had promised to uphold language access and bilingual needs of schools and communities.
This being said, I would say that my experience at that particular school places me in the camp of a much stronger critic of Tomas Hanna. A number of others I spoke to either praised Tomas for his accessibility and/or expressed general disappointment but felt that he was stifled as a progressive educator. Personally for me, I am a little less sympathetic to the good guy/bad leader excuse mill, particularly because he's been around long enough to make his own decisions, and he's seen the dire consequences of inaction.
I do hope he finds a better home and place in NYC as a director of online learning. 100% of PA's cyber charters it should be noted performed "significantly worse" than District managed schools in the recent Stanford-CREDO study, so I hope he is not using any of them as a model.
Sincerely, Helen Gym, Parents United for Public Education, Philadelphia, PA