GOLDEN — Given all the acrimony, some never thought this day would come.
The Jefferson County school board Thursday night unanimously approved an agreement with the teachers union that governs how educators are hired, fired and paid.
For nearly two years, critics have claimed ad nauseam that the school board majority’s only goal was to end the district’s relationship with the Jefferson County Education Association.
Majority members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk proved them wrong.
The contract, which is being championed by the majority’s conservative backers, runs just 10 months. The average teacher contract runs three years.
While the contract eliminates or weakens many union practices including seniority protections, it’s the duration of the contract that has teachers spooked. The end goal, to bust the union, is still the same, they believe.
“They want to be able to review the contract after one school year,” said Columbine High School teacher Paula Reed. “But we’ll start negotiations before school ends. If you really want to review something after a school year, you do that during the summer. To me it has nothing to do with how this all works out and everything to make sure the contract ends when it’s hard to organize teachers.”
It’s unclear what relationship the school board, district officials and union leaders will have moving forward. Especially with a nascent recall election.
Outside the board room, union president John Ford told members it was important they put the contract behind them and focus on changing the makeup of the school board.
“It’s a bad deal, we know it. We absolutely know it,” he said. “But we had to get rid of this distraction … We have to get to work. We have to get to work right now. We have a big lift in November.”
Meanwhile, Witt and his conservative colleagues thanked the negotiation teams.
“I want to thank the negotiating teams of the district and the JCEA for their hard work this spring to get an agreement that better supports the goals of having an effective teacher in every classroom, recognizing and rewarding our great teachers, and effectively and efficiently applying our limited resources to maximize student academic achievement,” Witt said before voting for the agreement. “This landmark rewrite of a 120-page agreement and reducing it to 41 pages brings with it, I’m sure, a period of change. We owe it to our students to carefully consider this year, where the spirit of this agreement is being met and where we may need room for revision.”
Other elements of the contract include policies that allow teams of teachers and school administrators to make decisions on issues like school calendars, training, and resources; the district’s pay-for-performance plan established last school year codified; and limits on class size.
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Despite deep mistrust of the county’s school board, Jeffco Public Schools teachers approved a new contract that leaves behind chunks of outdated language and expires in an unusually short amount of time.
The 10-month contract was ratified by a majority of union members, the Jefferson County Education Association announced Wednesday. The union did not immediately disclose the vote count.
“Our priority is our students and our community,” John Ford, JCEA’s president, said in a statement. “This agreement is less than ideal for our students, our teachers, and our community, but we wanted everyone to have clear expectations for the school year. We appreciate that teachers have again stepped forward to stand up for all students.”
The next step rests in the hands of the conservative school board majority, which has signaled it will approve the contract Thursday evening at the board’s first meeting of the school year.
The agreement, which for the first time in decades was almost entirely rewritten, gives more freedom to principals and teachers to make decisions such as what training to provide staff. It also scales back some of the historic arrangements between the union and school district. For example, the school district will no longer automatically deduct union dues from teachers paychecks.
School districts funneling dues to teachers unions is a common critique amongst conservatives because they believe those dues are ultimately used against them politically.
The contract also contains eleventh-hour compromises on limiting classroom size and requires schools with more than 400 students to hire a librarian.
It also codifies a pay-for-performance plan rolled out last school year.
But the most contentious feature of the contract, which almost derailed negotiations, is a June 30, 2016, expiration date.
Contracts between the union and school district most recently lasted four years and expired in August. However, school officials on the bargaining team said it was important to align the contract with the district’s fiscal year that ends June 30. The district also want the ability to renegotiate the entire contract given its newness.
There is some precedence for a shorter contract. In the 1970s, the contract would run a calendar year. But the average teacher contract in the U.S. runs for three years.
Before voting opened Friday, teachers pointed out that the district and classified employees union reached a two-year agreement and that Superintendent Dan McMinimee was given a three-year contract when he was hired in 2014. Critics of the 10-month term also complained that rewriting the contract took half that long and said it would be a waste of resources to begin the process all over again in less than a year.
Relations between the union and the district have been tense since the school board’s majority — made up of Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk — won their seats in 2013. Some observers have predicted the three would follow Douglas County’s school board’s lead and not renew a contract with the teachers union.
Those fears, in part, are fueling a recall election this fall.
“I feel like the 10-month agreement is just an attempt to set teachers up to face an ultimatum next summer: ‘Accept whatever terms we offer, or leave,’” Erin Murphy, a teacher at Alameda International High School, said in an email to Chalkbeat last week. “This kind of disrespectful treatment is going to push even more teachers out of Jeffco.”
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The percentage of 2015 high school graduates who are prepared for college is modestly above levels of prior years, according to a new report by the ACT testing organization.
In Colorado, 26 percent of 2015 graduates met all four of the benchmarks the testing group uses to determine college readiness. The figure was 25 percent in the three previous years. Nationwide, about 28 percent of the nearly 2 million students who took the test met all four benchmarks. That’s up from 25 percent in 2011.
Across the country, 59 percent of 2015 grads took the ACT test, so the report doesn’t evaluate college readiness for all students. In Colorado, all high school juniors are required to take the ACT test, whether or not they plan to attend college.
In 2014, the average ACT composite score for Colorado juniors was 20.3 out of a possible 36. (Search our database for 2014 district and high school results.) Scores for 2015 will be released this fall along with CMAS and PARCC testing results.
In Colorado, college readiness is drawing renewed attention because of a testing law passed by the 2015 legislature. That measure requires that an aligned pair of college and career readiness tests be given in the 10th and 11th grades, and that the 10th grade exam be used to meet federal testing requirements instead of the PARCC tests. That change requires federal sign-off.
The new law also requires that the two tests be put out for competitive bidding, so continued used of the ACT isn’t guaranteed. The state Department of Education expects to choose a testing provider in November.
The ACT’s annual Condition of College & Career Readiness report goes beyond composite scores and uses a variety of data to estimate college readiness. Here are some of the key findings from this year’s study. (Graphics provided by ACT.)The benchmarks
ACT defines readiness as the knowledge and skills students need to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing first-year courses at colleges or trade and technical schools without the need for remedial classes.
The chart shows the minimum scores needed on the ACT subject tests to indicate a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in credit-bearing first-year college classes.How Colorado students performed
The first chart illustrates the percentages of Colorado and U.S. students who met individual benchmarks in the four subjects covered by the ACT test — English, reading, math and science — as well as the percentages for the four subjects combined.
Percentages of readiness have remained relatively flat over the last five years.
A third of Colorado students didn’t meet the benchmarks in any subject.
The study also reported that substantial numbers of students were close to the benchmarks. It found that 9 percent of students were within two points of meeting the benchmark for English. The numbers were 11 percent for reading, 8 percent for math and 11 percent for science.Achievement gaps
The ACT’s analysis found familiar gaps between ethnic groups in college readiness. The majority of students who took the test, 53 percent, were white. Hispanic students were 27 percent of test takers. More than 57,000 students took the test.High school preparation
The report also examined the relationship between ACT scores and the kinds of classes students took in high school. “Students who take the recommended core curriculum are more likely to be ready for college or career than those who do not. A core curriculum is defined as four years of English and three years each of mathematics, social studies, and science,” according to the report.
There’s a wealth of additional data in ACT’s Colorado full report below, including benchmark attainment based on students’ specific academic interests and non-academic factors that contribute to college readiness. There’s also a chart comparing Colorado results to those of other states.
A dozen years ago, Anton Schulzki, a teacher at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, and his students were told the school would not recognize a Gay-Straight Alliance as an official club.
They could meet on school property, but they could not advertise their organization’s meetings on the morning announcements or use school supplies, and Schulzki would not be paid for his services.
In an attempt to protect itself from a lawsuit, District 11 reclassified dozens of other school organizations across the city that had nothing to do with curriculum as “unofficial” clubs.
Ultimately, a lawsuit was filed. And in 2005, Schulzki and his students won official recognition from the school district.
Schulzski, a social studies teacher, is still the faculty adviser for the Palmer student group that creates a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and those trying to figure out their sexual identity or gender expression. On Saturday, he was recognized for his work with LGBT youth by One Colorado, the state’s largest gay advocacy organization.
Chalkbeat spoke with Schulzki this week about his award, his work and his advice for teachers, students and parents.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.Anton Schulzki
How are you feeling?
In all honesty, I’m still stunned. I’m incredibly humbled and grateful for the award. I know that the people who had a chance to vote for this award were the youth who are in and were in the GSA — GSTA, actually. This award came from the youth. And that means everything.
You corrected yourself just now. You actually have a Gay-Straight-Trans Alliance. Explain that.
When we started, officially now 10 years ago, we were known as the Gay-Straight Alliance, which had pretty much been the model. And then about three years ago, the kids at Palmer decided they wanted to add the ‘T’ for trans students. That made sense because we had a number of trans students who were a part of the club. That was totally the kids. I just thought it was a wonderful move.
What was the purpose of the GSA 10 years ago compared to the purpose of the GSTA today?
There is a common thread between 10 years ago and today. Back then, it was that first opportunity for students to find a safe place where they could talk to their peers — and occasionally an adult — about the issues they were having. For many of them, they were still closeted LGBT and LGBTQ students. The Q is for questioning.
Adolescence is hard enough, but to be coming to grips with your own sexual or gender identity is hard.
Ten years later, society has become far more open, but there’s still an issue for kids today of parents and family acceptance. There are students who still face those concerns at home. Some students might be out to their friends or some teachers, but not their parents There’s no magic formula for coming out. So, I still think our organization is needed.
What’s interesting is that students are becoming more aware of who they are sooner. I think in particular some of our trans students are finding a place of acceptance sooner.
The other big difference in the 10 years has been a decrease in bullying toward LGBT students. I can’t say that it’s 100 percent gone, because bullying happens in schools. But it’s becoming far less accepted and tolerated. And adults are more willing to step in and say “knock it off.”
What’s the next step in schools becoming more affirming for LGBT students?
While there have been state laws that have put forth the notion that protection is enumerated, there are a bunch of school districts that have yet to tackle gender expression and trans issues. There are still some school districts that have a way to go to be welcoming to those students. It’s going to take strong staff development and parents and students telling school districts, “Hey you have to follow the law.”
What advice do you have for students, teachers, parents who want to start a GSA at their school?
This is the one thing that we learned years ago: For as much as we like to say it comes down to teachers in the schools, it’s really the parents and the students who have to bring the pressure to the schools to say, “Hey, this isn’t something that is needed but something that we want.”
One of the things we know, and research bares this out, is that students who feel welcomed at school succeed at school. If a student can come to school and be affirmed, they’re going to be successful. And what do we want? Successful students.
Parents can’t be afraid to open their mouths. In our case, it took the ACLU to sue the school district. That was a difficult process for the students and parents. But in the end, it was worth it.
What have you learned about teaching from running the GSA?
First you become far more aware of the language you use. At the beginning of the new school year, I ask students how they like to be addressed — for example, Richard might want to go by Rick. But I also ask pronoun preference, he/she/they. Those are the kinds of things students recognize and say, ‘Hey, here is someone who cares about me as an individual.’ It changes the dynamics in the classroom and you become a far more effective instructor when you can build those relationships in the classroom.
What are a few tips for teachers who many not want to start a GSA but want an affirming classroom?
When students fill out information cards at the beginning of the year, ask them their pronoun preference. You don’t have to make a big deal about it. Another thing to do is to just kind of be aware of the students in the classroom. Those kids who particularly seem to be withdrawn: A lot of times they’re going through things at home like coming to grips with whether they are coming out to their parents.
If you don’t feel prepared to deal with it, find a counselor, contact GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian Student Educator Network), contact One Colorado. As I’ve told people, my learning curve has been steep the last decade. And it continues. I’m still learning.
And as I’ve told parents, when they ask, how do I deal with it: Their kids still have to make their bed, take out the trash. That doesn’t change. The same with the classrooms — you have classroom expectations. They have to be on time. They have to raise their hands.
The best thing I did was open my classroom door to students who said, ‘We’d like to have this club.’ That’s what did it for me. It is just this notion that all we have to do is open doors for kids — and they’ll lead us.
The cost of college — and whether Denver city sales taxes should help offset it – will get a thorough airing this fall in the buildup to the November election.
Denver voters will decide whether to increase the city’s sales tax by 0.08 percent, raising $10 million a year to bankroll college scholarships and help students without scholarships repay their loans.
The City Council voted 8-4 on Monday night to send the measure to the all-mail ballot.
To qualify, students must be under 25, enroll in an in-state higher-education program, meet family income requirements and make satisfactory academic progress.
The measure has support from powerful quarters — Mayor Michael Hancock made it a centerpiece of his inauguration speech, and business and education leaders helped craft it. The business community is framing initiative 2A as a key economic development tool that will cost relatively little (8 cents on a $100 purchase).
But skeptics question whether subsidizing higher education should be the city’s business when other more traditional roles are going wanting, including fixing sidewalks and streets.
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Denver Public Schools understandably gets more attention than any other school district in the state.
It’s Colorado’s biggest school district and a nationally recognized petri dish for reform. As a skyline of construction cranes stand testament to the city’s booming growth, DPS continues to grapple with the ever-present challenges of educating students on the margins of society.
Superintendent Tom Boasberg just re-upped for another two years leading the country’s fastest growing large urban school district — and he has a largely supportive board behind him. Although some schools got a head start, most of DPS’s roughly 90,000 students said goodbye to summer Monday.
Here are five issues to watch in DPS this school year:Equity and integration
Equity is an omnipresent DPS buzzword, and providing a great education for all lurks at the heart of many a district initiative. Closing achievement gaps between students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities and their peers is a priority of the district’s Denver Plan 2020, its strategic planning document.
To that end, the district incorporated equity into its School Performance Framework, its color-coded guide to how schools are doing.
An open question is how integration of schools fits into this vision.
DPS has promoted shared enrollment zones — in which traditional neighborhood boundaries dissolve and residents in a larger geographic area pick from a variety of schools but may not get their first choice — as a tool for promoting school choice and integration. Will that eventually help lead to more integrated schools? Or when given a choice, will families opt for schools that will keep races largely separate?
Three of the seven school board seats are in play in November. This may seem like somewhat of a snoozer, since the outcome will not swing the pendulum away from board support (for the most part) of the district’s direction. But it could result in an even more united front — and 7-0 votes.Boasberg on the record
There’s a compelling argument for the value of voices that push back. But a united board can be hard-nosed, too, and some insiders say the current majority has asked harder questions of Boasberg than the previous one from a more closely divided era.
The most hard-fought race is shaping up to be in northwest Denver’s District 5, where lone consistent dissenting voice Arturo Jimenez is leaving because of term limits.
Will candidate Michael Kiley assume that mantle by tapping into the same anti-establishment feeling that carried Rafael Espinoza to a Denver City Council seat in the same neighborhood? Kiley faces Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation who would mesh well with the current majority.
In southeast Denver’s District 1, Anne Rowe has the advantage of incumbency. She faces upstart Kristi Butkovich, who has criticized “privatization” of education. Records show another potential wild card in District 1, Mike Zink, took out petitions on Aug. 17 but has yet to turn them in. (UPDATE: Zink, a self-described conservative with Tea Party leanings, said Monday he has decided not to run, citing a lack of time and money).
Board chair Happy Haynes so far lacks an opponent for her at-large seat.Greater autonomy — if schools want it
In a major shift, DPS offered principals the chance to opt their schools out of centrally approved curriculum, teacher training and assessments this school year and go their own way. About one-fifth of principals seized the opportunity.
A more decentralized district is a significant turning point for a district with a historically strong central administration.
What will this end up looking like? What kind of choices will principals make, and why? How many will take the option next year, with more time to plan?
“I think principals have tremendously welcomed it,” Boasberg said in an interview last week. “I think we’re early in the process. The biggest concern we heard from principals last year was, ‘I wish I would have known this earlier.’ Now they do know it, they have multiple months to plan out as they think about their own budgets and their scheduling and their own processes.”Manual High
What’s next for Manual, the proud but long-troubled high school in near northeast Denver at the heart of the city’s African-American community?
The school has been the focus of one failed reform effort after another, and most recently has suffered from a decline in academic performance and a staff exodus.
The man charged with turning things around this time is principal Nick Dawkins, who is banking on a new career and technical education program bankrolled by Kaiser Permanente as a catalyst.
The Manual community has another major issue on the plate this fall — a new middle school to be co-located on the campus. The hope is to bring a much-needed additional quality middle school to the area and steer more area kids to Manual.
Three schools are seeking to fill that role — a spinoff of McAuliffe International School in Park Hill, Denver Dual Language Academy and Denver School of History Speech and Debate.New schools — and where to put them
The district faces several other decisions about new schools, including in southwest Denver and seeing through a major expansion of the homegrown charter school juggernaut that is DSST.
In June, the DPS board approved a plan to add eight new schools to the network, in addition to nine existing schools and five previously approved. Four of the schools — two middle schools and two high schools — will focus on the humanities, a break from the DSST model. The district will decide on a location for a new DSST middle school this fall.
One subplot to watch — the charter network’s growth comes as the district faces increasing pressure in gentrifying northwest and northeast Denver for stronger traditional neighborhood schools. If space becomes a premium, will those visions be at odds?
In southwest Denver, where choice and transportation continue to be vexing issues, DPS will choose from both charter- and district-run options for a replacement for Henry World Middle School and a new middle school to share a campus with Abraham Lincoln High School.
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The embattled principal of a northwest Denver elementary school — facing accusations of racial insensitivity, mistreating students and failing to reverse the school’s academic fortunes — resigned Friday, Denver Public Schools officials said.
A parent organizing group, Padres & Jovenes Unidos, had been pressing for the removal of Cheltenham Elementary School Principal Kalpana Rao, triggering a DPS investigation.
Susana Cordova, DPS’s chief of schools, said in an interview Friday the investigation had cleared Rao of the two accusations under review — that she had made a racist remark and had persisted in forcing students to eat meals on the floor at the predominantly Latino school after being told not to do so.
“She also believed it’s become clear that she is now a distraction and that it is taking away focus from where it needs to be — which is making sure our students and the school is well-prepared for the start of school,” Cordova said.
In a statement released Friday night by DPS, Rao described her resignation as “an extremely difficult decision.”
“I am, and always have been, incredibly committed to the idea that all children deserve access to educational opportunities that enrich their lives and make their dreams a reality,” she said. “I have never wavered from that steadfast vision during the past two years at Cheltenham, leading the most difficult work of school turnaround.”
Shawna Foster, spokeswoman for Padres & Jovenes Unidos, said the resignation is testament to the power of organizing. Members of the group — clad in matching red T-shirts — took their concerns to the first DPS school board meeting of the new academic year Thursday.
“This is why we fight for educational rights in this school system,” Foster said. “It’s one thing for parents to feel alone, for children to feel discriminated against. It’s another thing to have 130 parents sign a petition saying they want the principal to be removed.” An earlier petition demanding Rao’s removal drew 300 signatures, she said.
Foster said it’s essential the group be involved in the process of hiring a new principal.
DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg recognized Rao’s service.
“She is a person of integrity who deeply cares about social justice and improving educational and life opportunities for our kids and families, especially those who most need those opportunities,” Boasberg said in a statement
Discontent over Rao’s leadership came to a head last spring after students facing discipline were sent to the principal’s office, where they ate lunch on trays while sitting on the floor — an image captured on a mobile phone camera and turned into an organizing tool.
In a letter to parents earlier this month, the principal apologized, saying it was not the school’s intent to humiliate students. Parents in the community, however, were reminded of an incident at the school more than 20 years ago in which Latino parents protested after their children were forced to eat on the cafeteria floor as punishment.
The group’s concerns go deeper, however, to the school’s persistent poor academic performance and high suspension rates. On 2014 TCAP state reading tests, 34 percent of Cheltenham third-graders scored proficient or advanced — compared to 60 percent meeting that mark in DPS as a whole and 71.5 percent statewide.
The roughly 500-student school is 90 percent minority, 41 percent of students are classified as English language learners and 99 percent qualify for government-subsidized lunches.
“Our trust has been broken in this process,” parent Marina Guerrero said Friday in a statement to the media. “We believe in our power to change things, but we have to ask why it took DPS so long to make these changes.”
DPS has tapped CJ Grace, a former principal and trainer with deep experience working with English language learners, as interim principal, Cordova said. She is now a director in the district’s English language acquisition department.
School begins at Cheltenham, which has been undergoing renovations, on Aug. 31.
“CJ is dedicated to ensuring all students receive a great education,” said Kurtis Indorf, executive director of Achievement Network – Colorado, a nonprofit that partners with schools. Indorf worked with Grace on a number of projects this year.
“CJ’s coming from a role where she led a lot of different pieces of work to provide equitable access for English language learners — which demonstrates her commitment to excellence and equity for all scholars,” Indorf said.
Paula Rutan, an English teacher at Dunstan Middle School in Lakewood, doesn’t know how she’ll vote on a proposed teacher contract between the Jefferson County school district and teachers union.
“I don’t even know if I’m going to bother,” she said, explaining her frustration with both the school board and the Jefferson County Education Association. “We’ve gotten into the middle of nothingness.”
Rutan’s discontent with the tentative agreement reached earlier this month is shared by many Jeffco Public Schools teachers.
Teachers will begin voting to ratify the contract, which has been celebrated by union critics, Friday evening after they hear from JCEA leadership.
Online voting will end at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The contract has a heavy emphasis on school-based decisions, drastically scales back the historic partnership between the school district and union, and would last for 10 months.
The last point appears to be a sticking point for teachers.
“The 10-month limit is my biggest concern,” wrote Golden High School teacher Tammie Peters in a Facebook comment. “It shows complete disrespect for teachers. Even if, for some reason, it makes some sort of financial sense to end-date it in June, it could have been a year and 10 months or two years and 10 months.”
For Standley Lake High School teacher John Moriarty, the question is whether the contract’s short shelf life outweighs the protections he said he believes the contract offers.
“Ultimately, I’ll probably end up voting yes,” he said. “Without it we wouldn’t be able to protect class size for students. And I think that’s what’s best for kids. And it’s good that we had some protections and academic freedom held in the contract which I think is pretty important.”
A simple majority of union members must approve the contract language to send it to the Jeffco school board, which has signaled support for the deal.
“I think it’s well written,” school board member Julie Williams said Friday. “I guess we have to see how the teachers feel about it. And we’ll go from there. I think it is good. It was a mutual, respectful process. I’m happy they were able to come up with it. I hope they do ratify it.”
If the union does not ratify the contract, a new bargaining team will be assembled and ask district representatives for an emergency bargaining session. If the union does ratify the contract but the board does not, the two sides would likely enter non-binding arbitration and the union would seek a temporary extension of the current contract, said Scott Kwasny, JCEA’s spokesman.
However, Kwasny stressed that union leadership would need to decide on next steps if a new contract isn’t in place by Sept. 1.
In a joint news release, three candidates announce their intent to run as a slate to replace the Jeffco school board members targeted for recall. Chalkbeat ColoradoThe candidates include a lawyer, a school volunteer and a retired principal. The Denver Post campus conflict
Denver Public Schools is investigating complaints that the Cheltenham Elementary School principal treated students unfairly and made racially insensitive comments toward parents. 9Newscontract vote
Jeffco teachers union members begin voting on a 10-month contract both sides say contain provisions that are innovative and will benefit students. The Denver PostFriday Night Fights
The Fossil Ridge High School football wanted to honor fallen military members by wearing their names on the backs of their jerseys, but the district won't allow it. The Coloradoansetting boundaries
Plans are being laid in the Thompson School District for a new school in eastern Loveland. Reporter-HeraldOpt-Outs
School districts in New York state will not face a loss of federal funding as a result of large numbers of students refusing to take standardized tests this year. New York Timesback to school
Boulder Valley School District first-through fifth-graders, sixth-graders and ninth-graders returned to classrooms Thursday. Daily CameraLeadership turmoil
A disputed IT deal and a sudden resignation in the Albuquerque, N.M., school district has not one but two connections to Denver Public Schools. Albuquerque JournalJust say no
A new educational push from state officials sends the message to the under-21 set that marijuana isn't evil but they're not ready for it. The Associated Press via The Cannabisthigher fermentation
Metropolitan State University of Denver's expanded beer education program includes the rebirth of a historic Denver brewery right on campus. 9News
Three Jefferson County residents Thursday announced their intentions of being the next school board majority.
Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell are running to replace Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt, in the likely recall election this fall.
The three were recruited by a group of parents to run as a slate, according to a joint media release.
Rupert is a lawyer with more than two decades of community service. Harmon is a parent and has been an active member of her children’s PTA. Mitchell is a former Jeffco Public Schools principal, including stints at Alameda and Columbine high schools.
Successor candidates must collect 50 valid signatures of Jeffco voters to appear on the recall ballot. The county clerk certified enough valid signatures on a petition to recall the board’s current majority Tuesday. Jefferson County residents have another two weeks to challenge those signatures. However, recall targets Witt and Newkirk have asked no one challenge the signatures.
Former school board member Paula Noonan filed her paperwork to run against Witt earlier.
Two of the three Jefferson County school board members targeted for recall this fall would rather defend their records before voters than see petition signatures challenged. -Chalkbeat Coloradosorry, not sorry
The Thompson school board rejected a nonbinding arbitration report Wednesday that found the board did not negotiate with its teachers union in good faith. The teachers union said it will sue the board and ask the current contract stay in place for the time being. -Reporter-HeraldHealthy schools
As the second phase of Colorado’s “Breakfast After the Bell” law takes effect this fall, thousands more low-income students will have access to free breakfast served during school hours. -Chalkbeat ColoradoSpeaking of breakfast, here are some healthy lunch recipes for those brown bags. -9News And the RE-1 Valley school district is implementing healthier meals and curriculum. -South Platte Sentinel The central issue
As we previously reported, Aurora Central High has a new principal. Here's a closer look at him in action and the challenge that awaits him. -CPRputting genterfication to work
A community group is hoping new homes will serve as a catalyst to raise money to support one of north Denver's oldest elementary schools. -Denver PostTesting Matters
Here's how one Colorado school district is updating its policies to be inline with the new state testing law. -Journal-Advocateon-a-roll
Newsweek on Wednesday announced the results of its 2015 High School Rankings, with Monarch High School in Louisville coming in at 356 on the list of 500. -Daily CameraTwo schools in the Pikes Peak region made Newsweek's list, as well. -Gazette Back to cool
A new principal, plus a new STEM focus and new movement program, added up to extra excitement for the first day at the 400-student Longmont Estates Elementary School. -Times-CallAnd school starts next week for the Roaring Fork school district. Here's a look at what's ahead for those students. -
Two of the three Jefferson County school board members targeted for recall this fall would rather defend their records before voters than see petition signatures challenged.
Board president Ken Witt and fellow Republican John Newkirk are asking Jefferson County residents not to challenge the signatures validated by the county clerk Tuesday.
Instead, they say they’re ready to ask voters, who may face the issue as soon as November, to reaffirm what they believe is a mandate to improve the state’s second largest school district.
Witt said in an email he looks forward to a dialogue with parents and the opportunity to ”share the successes of Jeffco schools.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of our district and the way we have put our students first,” he said.
Newkirk, in an email, echoed Witt.
“The recall petition contains erroneous, misleading, and outright deceptive language,” he wrote. “That said, I have no plans to mount a legal challenge as I believe the recall effort now provides an opportunity to discuss and highlight the many positive things our district has accomplished over the past two years.”
Board member Julie Williams did not immediately return request for comment.
A commercial featuring her and her children began airing on local and cable television stations this week. The commercial is paid for by Kids Are First Jeffco, a new campaign backed by the Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning Denver think tank.
All three school board members were elected by wide margins in 2013.
Their tenure, however, has been marred with controversy. A vocal — and now well-funded — group of parents and teachers wants voters to recall all three this fall.
If the recall is successful, the Jeffco school board would have a completely different makeup than it does today.
Paula Noonan, who served on the Jeffco school board from 2009 to 2013, filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office last week to run as a replacement to Witt.
She’s the first and so far only candidate to announce plans to run as an alternative in the recall, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
“I’m not beholden to either side in this rift, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said Wednesday. “Frankly, what the district needs most is someone who can be considerate of everyone.”Ken Witt’s full statement
“There are some who would like us to challenge the recall petitions that were certified today with a legal protest due to their wildly inaccurate and inflammatory language. But I won’t. And I ask that no one bring forward any legal challenge to the petitions.
I am looking forward to this dialog with our fellow parents in Jeffco and to the opportunity to share the successes of Jeffco Schools. I couldn’t be more proud of our district and the way we have put our students first.
We were elected with the promise to equalize all public school funding, expand school choice, and to set academic achievement goals. In the short year and a half that we have served on the Board, John Newkirk, Julie Williams and I have done all of this and more. We have dedicated $20 million to teacher and staff pay raises. We have implemented a pay-for-performance structure. We have committed to building a state-of-the-art new school without going into debt. We have asked our District leaders to find ways to drive performance for at-risk students, like those in the Jefferson and Alameda areas, and the District staff is developing some outstanding programs.
This recall attempt will serve to highlight the accomplishments of this board, staff and students. Let’s get talking.
As the second phase of Colorado’s “Breakfast After the Bell” law takes effect this fall, thousands more low-income students will have access to free breakfast served during school hours.
It’s a development lauded by advocates who say the program improves attendance and achievement, but not always by administrators in the districts required to provide the universal free meals.
“We are taking money out of the classroom to pay for the Breakfast after the Bell program,” said Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer in Colorado Springs District 11.
The law, passed in 2013, made Colorado one of the first states to require free breakfast after the start of the school day for all students in high-poverty schools. Now, about six states and Washington, D.C. have such mandates and several others have laws that recommend or subsidize breakfast after the bell programs.
This year, about 176,000 Colorado students attend schools that must offer breakfast after the bell.
Last year, the law affected 245 schools in about two-dozen districts and food service programs associated with charter schools. Those schools enrolled nearly 104,000 students. This year, there is more consternation from some quarters because more than 100 additional schools in 14 additional districts and an online charter school must meet the meal mandate if they haven’t already.
These new adopters have lower poverty rates than last year’s adopters.
That’s because the law initially applied only to schools where at least 80 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals. This year, that threshold drops to 70 percent.
That 10-percentage-point span, some food service directors say, is where the program becomes financially untenable because of the way federal meal reimbursements work and the added labor costs of providing more breakfasts.
Such concerns were the impetus for a failed push in the legislature last year to keep the threshold at 80 percent. District 11, which created a video about the issue, was one of the most vocal supporters of the defeated bill.
“It is taking resources from the general fund … It is a challenge for us,” said Gustafson.Some districts break even
Not every district adding new schools under the law this year expects to face financial difficulties. It depends on a variety of factors, ranging from how the meals are served to the poverty levels in district schools.
In Jefferson County, two additional schools added Breakfast After the Bell this year, joining 19 from last year.
Linda Stoll, the district’s executive director of food services, said those two schools will lose money but the overall program won’t because there are so many schools above the 80 percent threshold.
“Two schools at 70 percent aren’t going to break the bank,” she said.
Still, she said, the new phase of the program is a hardship for districts because more students with the means to pay for breakfast are given the meal for free.
In District 11, Gustafson said one of the biggest financial factors is that more employees are qualifying for health insurance as their hours increase because of added breakfast prep duties. Administrators there calculated the program would lose around $54,000 this year.
Cate Blackford, child nutrition manager at Hunger Free Colorado, noted that some districts make breakfast after the bell programs work in schools that have far fewer than 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced meals.
“Every school district is different. They have different populations, different equipment … different staffing needs, so it’s really hard to compare one to another,” she said. “Our priority is to make sure we’re maximizing participation”
For each free or reduced-price meal, districts get reimbursed either $1.66 or $1.99, depending on poverty levels. They get reimbursed only 29 cents for the children who would normally pay full price for their meals.
In Mesa County Valley District 51, four new schools are providing Breakfast After the Bell this year, up from one last year.
Dan Sharp, the district’s director of food and nutrition services, said it’s financially viable because of the delivery model the district chose.
Under the law, districts have flexibility in how they get the meals to students. Common options include breakfast in the classroom, in the cafeteria or at mobile grab-and-go stations. The classroom version, which usually requires crates or coolers of food to be delivered all over a school, tends to be the most complicated and labor-intensive.
Here’s how Breakfast After the Bell works in District 51: A hot breakfast is offered in the cafeteria before school starts. It includes traditional breakfast foods like scrambled eggs, pancakes or breakfast burritos.
About 15 minutes into the school day, students who missed the cafeteria meal have the option of taking a bagged breakfast from a grab-and-go station near the main entrance. That breakfast typically includes a granola cookie that meets federal nutrition standards, milk and juice or fruit.
Sharp said with hot choices and more variety before school, students are incentivized to come early for breakfast. Indeed, most kids who ate through Breakfast After the Bell last year —about 45 percent of the student body—ate early in the cafeteria.
“To us, this is definitely a more cost effective model,” he said.Why breakfast for more kids?
The idea behind Breakfast After the Bell is that students do better in class if they’re not hungry and that more students will eat school breakfast if its offered to all students for free during school hours, instead of just to the “poor kids” before school.
In fact, some food service administrators say they have seen big increases in participation since they switched from before-school breakfast to after-the-bell meals.
In Adams 12, the district began serving an additional 1,340 breakfasts a day last year after adding about a half-dozen schools to its breakfast-after-the-bell roster for a total of 12.
While Naomi Steenson, the district’s director of nutrition services, said some teachers have complained about the tedious job of counting and recording breakfast items taken in the classroom, they also see the benefits.
She said, “In the same breath, the teacher will say [students are] better behaved and…They are more apt to learn than if they’re hungry.”
But others say the breakfast increases aren’t dramatic.
Stoll, of Jeffco, believes it’s partly because of the false assumption that children from poor families don’t get breakfast at home. Some do, she said.
There’s also the fact that school breakfast choices, which must comply with federal nutrition standards, don’t always appeal to kids. For example, Stoll said many Hispanic students don’t like the whole grain tortillas used in school burritos because they are used to scratch-made white flour tortillas at home.Coming to terms
After vigorous lobbying by some districts over the last two years to keep the Breakfast After the Bell eligibility threshold at 80 percent, there seems to be a growing acceptance that 70 percent is a fact of life.
Several administrators said this week that while they were unhappy with the lower percentage and the sense that they weren’t heard by law-makers, they are moving past the controversy.
Steenson, who testified before the legislature in favor of maintaining the 80 percent threshold, said, “I’ve said my piece….so now it’s just time to figure it out.”
She added, “I think it’s a great program. It resulted in some tension when the bill passed…but it is the right thing to do. It is good for kids.”
Blackford said Hunger Free Colorado is continuing conversations with the state’s School Nutrition Association to support districts in implementing Breakfast after the Bell.
“We want to make sure school nutrition service directors are set up for success.”
Gustafson said District 11, where eight schools must add the program this year, will abide by the law.
“We’re going to do it with all good intentions and due diligence,” he said. “…Whether I like it or not is moot.”
Organizers of a recall campaign against three Jefferson County school board members cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when the county clerk announced they had easily collected enough valid signatures to put the issue to voters. -Chalkbeat ColoradoNew supe in town
Brian Ewert, new superintendent of the Littleton schools, talks about his plans and philosophies, including keeping politics out of the board room. Ewert moved from the neighboring Englewood district. -Centennial CitizenSurvey says
A new poll finds slipping public support for the Common Core State Standards but little sympathy for the opt-out movement. -EdWeek/District Dossier blogSupport for charter schools and school voucher-like programs remains strong - but not overwhelming - among Americans, according to the new poll from Education Next and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. -EdWeek/K-12 Parents and the Public blog Jeffco Interrupted II
If no petition signatures are contested, organizers expect the timeframe would allow for the three recalls to be placed on November's general election ballot to avoid costs to the district. -Denver Post, 9NewsFinding teachers
Pueblo City Schools officials said Tuesday that as the start of the school year draws closer, only about nine classroom positions are left to be filled. -ChieftainCharter debate
If Durango’s Mountain Middle School officials can’t reach a compromise with city planners, the charter school could go before the Colorado State Board of Education to make its case for expansion. -Durango HeraldElection season
Pueblo County District 70 school board president Ted Ortiviz said the district has accomplished a lot during the past four years and he’s ready to do more. He’s seeking a second four-year term on the board. -ChieftainGreeley-Evans School Board of Education member Julia Richard recently announced her intention to seek re-election. -Greeley Tribune New School on the block
Douglas County's newest charter school, World Compass Academy, celebrated the culmination of years of work with its grand opening recently in Castle Rock. -Castle Rock News-PressAll aboard
Colorado Springs District 11 has added 14 new school bus routes in an effort to shorten walking distances for students. -KKTV 11Staying safe
Colorado Springs police are increasing the number of officers on patrol near school zones before and after school hours. -KRDOFresh start
Normandy Elementary School in Littleton held a rededication ceremony this week as the school community celebrated many changes made over the spring and the summer. -CBS4Rematch on tap
Democratic former state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger plans to run next year against Republican Sen. Laura Woods, who beat Zenzinger by a wafer-thin margin in 2014. Partisan control of the Senate and the makeup of the Senate Education Committee could be at stake. -Denver PostTwo cents
An editorial argues that the stalled teacher contract negotiations in the Thompson school district are a failure of process, not of policy. -Reporter-Herald
Organizers of a recall campaign against three Jefferson County school board members cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when the county clerk announced they had easily collected enough valid signatures to put the issue to voters.
Questions remain, however, about potential challenges and the timing of the recall if it is to proceed — with hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer expense hanging the balance.
The group Jeffco United for Action collected more than 33,000 valid signatures per board member, the clerk’s office said. That’s more than double the amount they needed.
The clerk tossed about 4,000 signatures per board member from the petitions organizers turned in last month.
The recall campaign, which launched with much fanfare and hundreds of volunteers, paid $120,000 to canvassing firm Black Diamond Outreach to aid in collecting signatures.
Today’s announcement kicks off a 15-day window in which any Jefferson County resident can challenge the signatures validated by the clerk.
Supporters of the recall believe if there are no challenges, the recall election can be part of the November general election, which would mean only a nominal cost to Jeffco Public Schools. A special election would cost Jeffco schools about $500,000.
Because the laws governing general elections and recall elections differ on issues such as when ballots need to be finalized and mailed, it’s not certain when the recall election may take place.
That decision will rest with the county clerk’s office after the challenge period is complete.
The ambiguity around the election date isn’t slowing either side down.
Last week, recall organizers Jeffco United for Action posted large fundraising figures.
Both board president Ken Witt and fellow recall target Julie Williams have filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office that will allow them to raise money to fight the recall.
In a new development, former Jeffco school board member Paula Noonan filed paperwork to run for Witt’s seat, according to documents on the Secretary of State’s website. Under Colorado law, voters who choose to recall an elected official are asked on the same ballot to pick a replacement.
Noonan, who served one term between 2009 and 2013, did not immediately return requests for comment.
The Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank that formed a political committee last week to oppose the recall, followed up by launching a new website to support the school board majority. The website, KidsAreFirst.org, shares the same name as the committee.
Organizers behind the recall effort charge school board members Witt, Williams and John Newkirk with wasting taxpayer dollars, meeting in secret and disrespecting teachers and parents.
The board majority’s supporters claim the opposite is true: that the board is using existing dollars to fund a variety of needs without taking on more debt, increasing transparency by livestreaming board and committee meetings, and giving teachers raises.