Saturday, January 3, 2009

Denver's Bennet Scores A Senate Seat

While Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet may have been bypassed by Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan in the quest to be President Obama's Secretary of Education, he just received a promotion of a different sort: the United States Senate.

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat, today appointed Bennet to the U.S. Senate vacancy created by Obama's nomination of Sen. Ken Salazar to be his interior secretary.

Let the musical chairs continue...

Here are some snippets on Bennet from today's New York Times article on his appointment. He's not some Johnny-come-lately but is a pretty well-connected guy with a pedigree. Not sure if that will make him a good U.S. Senator or not, but he certainly appeared to have a beneficial impact on Denver Public Schools during his tenure there.

Mr. Bennet, 44, was born in India, where his father, Douglas Bennet, a diplomat, was stationed. He was raised mostly in Washington and will return there with a diverse résumé and a reputation in Colorado as a soft-spoken, analytical thinker who is not afraid to take on jobs that promised mostly headaches — specifically running the troubled Denver school system.

He took the job in 2005 after three years as chief of staff to Mayor John Hickenlooper of Denver....

He arrived at Denver City Hall in 2003, for example, after six years as a managing director for an investment firm in Denver, and before that, he had served as counsel to the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.

He graduated with a history degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut — which his father led as president from 1995 to 2007 — before getting his law degree at Yale. His wife, Susan Diane Daggett, who also got her law degree from Yale, has worked as an environmental lawyer. James Bennet, his brother, is a former reporter for The New York Times and is now editor of The Atlantic magazine.

From the start as schools superintendent, Mr. Bennet did not behave like a traditional educator. He liked to ride the bus with students on the first day of class and made it a point to be the public face of the district in public meetings with parents over some of its most wrenching decisions, like school closings. But he also came armed with a weighty Rolodex full of highly placed friends to personally lobby city officials, state legislators and others for what the Denver schools needed.

Under Mr. Bennet, Denver pursued consolidation — closing some underperforming, under-populated schools — and merit-pay incentives for teachers. He overhauled the grading system to provide more information about students’ strengths or weaknesses. Student performance on standardized tests improved. Last July, for example, Denver posted the biggest increases in math and reading proficiency among the state’s largest districts.

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