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(Long) Weekend Reads: Inside the failing school system for Native American students

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/25/2015 - 16:49
  • Schools for Native American students run by federal authorities are low-performing and dilapidated — and could still get worse. (Politico)
  • Teachers share what stresses them out and how they manage their stress. (Chalkbeat)
  • A survey by England's teachers union found that teachers there say their workload is increasingly unmanageable. (The Telegraph)
  • Step inside a Manual High class's investigation of a practical problem for a view into the "project-based learning" movement. (The Atlantic)
  • Some subjects can feel off limits for students who are the first in their families or communities to go to college. (Harvard Crimson)
  • A teacher's take on why "I'm not a racist, but ..." enrollment explanations aren't convincing. (Jose Vilson)
  • A Brooklyn principal's new school aims to close the gap between her two sons' life trajectories. (Hechinger Report)
  • A mom says a charter school embraced her child after his district school pushed him out. (Real Clear Ed)
  • Researchers found that schools have in fact diminished their emphasis on fiction under the Common Core. (Curriculum Matters)
  • A white teacher describes what changed after a black student said she couldn't understand him. (Answer Sheet)
  • An overview of what we know about charter schools' impact and what we don't, from an economist who studies them. (The Upshot)
  • A teacher starts a conversation about #whatpeopledontsee when they enter her classroom. (Neonate Teacher)
  • How a big congressional deal on the revision of No Child Left Behind could affect accountability. (Politics K-12)
  • And here's what the deal could mean for on-the-ground educators. (Teacher Beat)
Categories: Urban School News

Mitchell Montessori: The loss of an integrated school that was working

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/25/2015 - 13:24

Twenty years after the Denver school board decided to move a high-achieving and racially integrated elementary Montessori magnet program out of a low-income northeast Denver neighborhood, feelings still run high on both sides of the issue.

The story of the Mitchell Montessori program provides a telling case study of the tension that exists between a desire to integrate schools on the one hand and community pressures to allow students in a largely segregated city to attend schools within walking distance of their homes on the other.

Mitchell Montessori’s former director, as well as families who sent their kids to the school still lament the beloved program’s move to southwest Denver in 1997. Although the Montessori program continues to operate at Denison Elementary School to this day, it is less integrated than the Mitchell program was, and decidedly less high-profile.

Former Mitchell families point to the fact that the elementary school program for neighborhood children that replaced the racially and socio-economically mixed magnet program struggled from the outset, and finally declined to the point that the district shuttered the school in 2008. The Montessori program drew students from all corners of the city.

Former district and elected officials insist they had no choice but to move the program back in 1997, because as busing ended and DPS returned to neighborhood schools, hundreds of neighborhood children needed a place close to home to go to school. They also say that the Montessori program lacked strong support from residents of the immediate neighborhood.

Attracting white families

Mitchell’s Montessori program debuted in 1986 as an integration strategy after court-ordered busing failed to bring enough white students from southwest Denver to Mitchell to integrate the school. Mitchell is located on the border dividing the Cole and Whittier neighborhoods, an area where crime and gang violence were endemic two decades ago.

In 1985, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch found three northeast Denver schools out of compliance with a federal desegregation order. One of those was Mitchell. He ordered Denver Public Schools to find a way to integrate those schools.

That year, Martha Urioste, Mitchell’s first-year principal, entered what was clearly a neglected and dysfunctional school.

“When I walked into the … building (for the first time), I passed weeds in the front yard and graffiti on the school wall,” Urioste wrote in a paper she delivered last year at a national Montessori conference. “It was obvious that Mitchell Elementary School was in decline. It was then that I realized that I had been assigned to a very challenging situation.”

Urioste wasn’t familiar with Montessori until she attended a Montessori training that year at the suggestion of a friend, and the experience was life-changing. Montessori is a self-directed education model from the early 20th century, originally designed for low-income children in Italy, but popular in this country with many middle-class and affluent families.

“I thought to myself that if this Montessori lesson could give me such an experience in 20 minutes, what could it do for small Hispanic children in a Montessori classroom?” Urioste wrote in her 2014 paper.

Although Montessori materials and teacher training are expensive by public school standards, Urioste convinced DPS that the program would attract a diverse group of families.

She was right. From its first year, Mitchell Montessori succeeded in drawing white families from southeast and northwest Denver, as well as middle-class black and Hispanic families who had not sent their children to Mitchell when it was a traditional neighborhood school.

Part of Mitchell’s attraction was that its program began at age three and ran through sixth grade. And unlike other DPS schools, preschool and full-day kindergarten were tuition-free. Also, DPS ran buses door-to-door, from families’ homes to the school.

A history of achievement

By the mid-1990s, Mitchell had a racially balanced student population. In 1995, the busing court order was lifted, 22 percent of its students were black, 38 percent white and 38 percent Hispanic. And standardized test scores were among the highest in the district. Back then, DPS used the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to assess it students.

In elementary school, only second and fifth-graders were tested. Mitchell second-graders tested in the 60th percentile nationally, and fifth-graders in the 64th percentile. Those were the second highest scores among DPS elementary schools that year.

No detailed test score data still exists from that long ago, so it’s not possible to break out achievement at Mitchell by race or socioeconomic status.

Wayne Eckerling, who was DPS’ director of planning at the time, said he doesn’t believe Mitchell’s low-income students of color performed much better than they did in other district schools.

“My recollection is that you had the same basic patterns of achievement there as everywhere else,” he said.

There were significant number of middle-class black and Hispanic students at Mitchell, Eckerling said, and their achievement was high.

“Educating the child of an African-American city councilman is hardly the same as a kid who comes from third-generation poverty,” Eckerling said.

Urioste and former Mitchell parents dispute that.

“When you integrate kids, scores go up,” Urioste said. “After nine years of Montessori, virtually every kid in the school was at grade level or above.”

A study in contrasts

Jennifer Jones has lived in the Whittier neighborhood for 35 years, within walking distance of Mitchell.

Her two younger children attended the Montessori program at Mitchell. The younger of the two, Philip, finished his Montessori education after the program moved to Denison. Philip attended Colorado Academy, an exclusive private school in southwest Denver, for grades seven through 12. Madolyn attended the private St. Mary’s Academy for seventh grade before moving to the Denver School of the Arts and then East High School.

“Where in DPS could we have sent our kids for middle school after the experience at Mitchell?” Jones said. “Denver middle schools back then were the armpit of education.”

Both children subsequently attended the University of Southern California, Madolyn on a nearly full-ride scholarship. Today, Madolyn holds a master’s degree in planning, and Philip a bachelor’s in communications. Both are working professionals in their fields.

Two older children who attended other DPS schools missed out on the top-notch education Mitchell Montessori provided, Jones said. “While the two of them had positive academic experiences, they were no comparison to the education Madolyn and Philip had with Montessori,” she said.

“I wish Montessori had been available for all of our children. Unfortunately, it was not and our (older) children who attended regular DPS made positive strides given what was available for them.

“My younger kids got exposed at Mitchell to something outside their community. They got the opportunity to meet and make friends with and spend the night at the homes of kids who ski, who travel to Europe for vacations.”

“Conversely, kids at Colorado Academy had the opportunity to meet Phillip (he and Madolyn are mixed race), and that exchange was valuable to them, because my kids are urban kids.”

A tough and acrimonious decision

Urioste and Jones knew the Montessori program at Mitchell was doomed as soon as the school board decided to return to neighborhood schools citywide.

“It was a given. We fought and we lost,” Urioste said.

Then-school board member Laura Lefkowits recalls the Mitchell decision as one of the most difficult ones the board made as it reconfigured the district for the post-busing era.

“It was a no-win situation; there was nothing we could have done that would have satisfied everyone,” she said.

“Philosophically, people were right who asked why take a high-performing school out of a low-income neighborhood. But we couldn’t justify leaving that magnet there and displacing neighborhood kids.”

What frustrated families, and led to some heated exchanges at school board meetings, was the fact that no organized opposition arose to keeping the program at Mitchell. Ardent support among Montessori families for keeping the program at Mitchell fell on deaf ears among board members and DPS staff.

“There wasn’t a neighborhood constituency who wanted us out of there,” Jones said. “We walked those blocks. We went door to door. We talked to those parents.”

Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife Wilma arrived, unexpected, at a January 1996 school board meeting to plead with the board to keep the Montessori program at Mitchell. “It was their anniversary, God bless them,” Jones said.

But Montessori advocates made one key strategic blunder: Most of the families who showed up to plead the program’s case were white.

“Parents who had flexible work schedules attended the meetings,” Jones said. “But that parent group had a white face. We shot ourselves in the foot.”

That’s how Eckerling, the former DPS official, remembers it as well.

“It was an ugly fight, and the Montessori parents (at the meetings) were white, middle class people. It wasn’t the Mitchell neighborhood parents. So it was never a very compelling case they put forward.”

Eckerling said the parents also erred by being aggressive to the point of being rude to staff and board members. “If they had taken a different approach maybe we could have found a compromise,” he said.

The Montessori program that was born at Mitchell lives on at Denison. The program remains racially integrated, but less so than it was at Mitchell. Roughly two-thirds of its students are Hispanic and one-third white. The black population is small. Just over 60 percent of its students qualify for subsidized school lunches, a proxy for poverty. More than 25 percent of Denison students are English language learners.

Test scores place Denison in the ‘green’ category, the second highest on a five-point scale on DPS’ School Performance Framework. But achievement gaps between low-income and non-low-income students are wide, as are gaps between white students and students of color.

DPS now offers Montessori programs at several schools throughout the district and at all grade levels, pre-kindergarten through high school.

Still, something irreplaceable was lost when the program moved out of northeast Denver, Mitchell Montessori parent and neighborhood resident Jones said.

“The heartbreak was so real, losing Mitchell,” she said. “It was a source of pride in that community.”
This story is part of Rocky Mountain PBS’ ongoing project coverage, Race in Colorado. Standing in the Gap examines race in public education in the state. To learn more, click here and watch the four-part documentary series on

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Diving into project-based learning at Manual High

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/25/2015 - 09:18
special project

An AP geography teacher at Denver’s Manual High School uses a plan to place a middle school on campus as a teaching moment, part of a broader embrace of so-called project-based learning. The Atlantic

rural matters

A new initiative will help teachers in rural Colorado earn extra credentials so they are qualified to teach dual enrollment classes in high schools, which may boost the number of college credits students earn before college. Education Week

silicon stem

A Denver entrepreneur is opening a for-profit science and tech school in southeast Denver with after-school programs for kids more into coding than sports. Denver Business Journal

stress test

Teachers attending an event on how to combat stress share their best coping tips. Chalkbeat Colorado

race on campus

Several Colorado College students apparently were expelled or suspended over allegedly racist comments — borrowed from a “South Park” episode — shared on a social app. Gazette

app for that

Eastridge Community Elementary School in Aurora is experimenting with a new mobile app that allows parents and school officials to keep tabs on kids’ health using smartphone-enabled thermometers. Aurora Sentinel

dire numbers

A number of school districts are reporting a jump in suicide assessments involving students. Denver Channel

in session

More than 150 students from across the state are learning about the state's democratic system through YMCA Youth in Government. This week, they are convening a mock general session at the State Capitol. 9News

Transfer of power

Three new members join the Rifle-based Garfield Re-2 school board. Post Independent

Categories: Urban School News

We asked five teachers about what stresses them out — and how they beat it. Here's what they told us.

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/24/2015 - 11:49

There may be a teacher shortage, but there's no shortage of stress when you're a teacher.

In fact, a recent national survey of more than 30,000 teachers released earlier this year found most felt extremely overworked.

While most Colorado teachers taking part in the biennial TELL survey described a positive and improving work environment, their feelings about the amount of work they must do painted a different picture — especially when it comes to state tests. And first-year teachers overwhelmingly said their workloads are taxing.

Last weekend, the state's teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, held a workshop in Denver for teachers who wanted to beat back the stress. It was the third time this year such a seminar was offered. The first two seminars, held in the summer, were among the most well-attended teacher events in recent history, officials said.

We used the opportunity to ask teachers what was stressing them out and how they overcome it. Click on the orange buttons below to hear what they told us.

Sophie Schwedland, Eiber Elementary School, Lakewood

Teacher veteran Schwedland said she feels like she can never do enough to improve the lives of her students, most of whom are poor and Latino. One pro-tip she offered: Listen to "Let it Go" from the blockbuster animated movie "Frozen" on particularly tough days.

Raquel Carreon, Sherman Early Childhood Center, Fort Morgan

Carreon is a first-year kindergarten teacher. She was shocked by the amount of testing and recording of student information required of her. She also described the anxiety that can accompany a formal evaluation.

Kaila Lief, STRIVE Prep Ruby Hill, Denver

As a first-year teacher, Lief said she feels extraordinary pressure to prove herself. That's why for the first three months of this school year she didn't leave her campus until 7 p.m. — at the earliest. One strategy that helps her get through the day: notes of encouragement passed among her team.

David Romig, Jeffco Public Schools

Romig is a school counselor who works in several different schools in Jefferson County. He said the required paperwork has become so demanding, he feels he has no time to devote to individual students — or his family.

Cathy Royce, Cañon City Schools

Rocye, a retired special education teacher, is now a substitute for Cañon City schools. A recurring stress for Royce is understanding multiple school cultures and sets of rules. Students must understand that the substitute knows the rules.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder to give grants for education to curb teen pot use

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/24/2015 - 09:42

Boulder plans to spend $250,000 next year on grants for education efforts to reduce teen marijuana and alcohol use. Daily Camera

Healthy schools

An after-school program in Summit County works to combat obesity. Summit Daily News

Tragedy and healing

Two Fort Collins 11-year-olds, one girl and one boy, died by suicide this month -- and the school district is responding by providing counseling to their peers. Denver Post, Coloradoan, TIME

The 11-year-old girl was bullied, her sister said. Fox31


Here are a few tips from a psychologist on what to do if your child is being bullied at school. 9News

A police investigation that was sparked by a family’s call to action on social media found no evidence that a Longmont sixth-grader was bullied. Daily Camera

early literacy

Colorado ranks 33rd in a nationwide study of policies meant to teach kids how to read. Chalkbeat Colorado

Preschool Matters

While the number of students enrolled in preschool in other developed countries is climbing, the number of U.S. children in preschool has remained relatively low, a study found. AP via Denver Post


Outgoing Douglas County school board president Kevin Larsen reflected at his last meeting on why he believes in paying teachers based on performance. Douglas County News-Press


Questions about conflicts of interest cut short a meeting of the Steamboat Springs school board. Steamboat Pilot and Today

sex ed

Canon City, where a recent teen sexting scandal made national headlines, doesn’t offer real-life sex education, says a writer for the online news magazine Salon. Salon

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Colorado taking its “first steps” when it comes to early literacy policy

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/23/2015 - 12:54

Colorado has some key policies in place to promote early literacy, but a new report indicates the state has a long way to go.

The state ranked 33rd  overall in the “From Crawling to Walking” report released Monday by the New America Foundation, a nonprofit research institute.

Colorado’s middle-of-the-road ranking earned it a place in the “toddler” category, which is where 34 other states and Washington, DC also landed. The five states with the highest marks — including Colorado’s neighbor to the southeast, Oklahoma — fell into the “walking” category. Meanwhile, 11 mostly western states with generally weak early literacy policies fell into “crawling” category.

Ensuring that children can read proficiently by the end of third grade is widely seen is a critical stepping stone to future success. Those who can’t—low-income and English language learners, for example—are more likely to repeat a grade and eventually drop out of school.

Colorado’s ranking on 7 early literacy indicators

  • Educators: Teachers & Leaders: 17
  • Standards, Assessment & Data: 18
  • Equitable Funding: 23
  • Pre-K Access & Quality: 29
  • Full-Day Kindergarten: Access & Quality: 45
  • Dual Language Learner Supports: 27
  • Third Grade Reading Laws: 2

Among the seven indicators used to rank the states, Colorado ranked near the middle on five. They touch on educator credentials and training; funding; standards, assessment and data; Pre-K access and quality and supports for dual language learners.

On the other two indicators, Colorado was at the front of the pack on one and the back of the pack on the other.

The state did particularly well on the indicator that evaluated third grade reading laws, ranking second in a five-way tie with Texas, Utah, Minnesota and Virginia.

That distinction is due to a signature piece of 2012 legislation called the READ Act. The law, now in its third full year, requires routine reading assessments for students in kindergarten through third-grade, and for those who are struggling, explicit plans to help them improve. The law permits but doesn’t require retention for third-graders who are significantly behind.

Cheryl Caldwell, director of early childhood education for Denver Public Schools, said while there's extensive assessment under the READ Act, there's needs to be more emphasis on how to respond to reading delays.

“I think we spend a lot of time looking at data...We need to do more around, so if you get this result, what do you do?” she said.

On the other extreme, Colorado ranked 45th on an indicator measuring full-day kindergarten access and quality. Because of a tie with Idaho, Arizona, Kansas, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the ranking equates to a last-place finish.

Among the kindergarten benchmarks considered on the report are whether states require districts to offer full-day kindergarten, whether they ban tuition-based full-day kindergarten, whether the day length for full-day kindergarten is the same as first grade and whether student teacher ratios are capped at 18 to 1. Colorado fell short on all four criteria.

Bruce Atchison, director of early learning for the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based education research and policy group, said the report is a good one with a solid set of key early literacy indicators.

He said Colorado’s “toddler” classification says the state “has some good things going on, but we still have a ways to go…and I think that’s probably fair.”

The report, which is accompanied by an online mapping instrument, paints a rosier picture of Colorado’s early childhood landscape than did an early childhood ranking released by Education Week in January.

That assessment, part of the publication’s annual Quality Counts report, ranked Colorado 44th in the country for early education. But some local experts believed the report should have considered a broader set of indicators and didn’t accurately represent the true status of some states, including Colorado.

The New America report more closely matches an annual state-by-state ranking of preschool funding and policy put out by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The 2014 version of that report ranked Colorado 22 for four-year-old preschool access and 35 for state preschool spending.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder schools leading on transgender inclusion

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/23/2015 - 09:43
Transgender in Colorado

The Boulder Valley School District has become a model of acceptance and understanding for transgender youth. And here’s why that matters to one freshman girl. Denver Post

safe schools

Parents of an autistic child say their son was bullied seven times during 15 months while attending a Colorado Springs school. Gazette

Crossing the finish line

The Poudre School District’s graduation rate has fallen nearly five points in three years. Here is what the Fort Collins school system is doing about it. Coloradoan

Teacher shortage

Colorado’s rural schools are getting the brunt of a nascent teacher shortage. NBC11

No Colorado Left Behind

The U.S. Department of Education announced Colorado has received a one-year extension on its waiver from the nation’s education laws. Denver Post, Chalkbeat

Colorado’s waiver might expire sooner than that if Sen. Michael Bennet has his way. He’s joined a team of lawmakers tasked with working out the details on rewriting the nation’s education laws. Coloradoan

Diversity matters

Denver Public Schools' goal to include more women- and minority-owned businesses in its contracts for construction work at schools and buildings throughout the district has surpassed its original target. Denver Business Journal


The librarian at Monarch High School has developed a new classification system that is similar to a bookstore. Daily Camera

Stem after school

Members of the New Vista STEM robotics team are working daily after school to perfect their robot and presentation before heading to a national competition. Daily Camera

An event at the Space Foundation Discovery Center in Colorado Springs allowed young attendees to be engineers and experiment for fun. Gazette

Helping hands

Staff and students at a Greeley school raised nearly $3,000 for the United Way of Weld County Youth Campaign. Greeley Tribune

Meanwhile, other schools in Greeley hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for immigrant and refugee families. Greeley Tribune

Safe Journey

A bus driver was distracted by noisy students when he veered off the road and rolled down a 30- to 40-foot embankment, an investigation into the school bus crash in Durango found. AP via 9News

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: What happens next when a magnet school can no longer be selective?

EdNewsColorado - Sat, 11/21/2015 - 14:19
  • What happens when a selective school has to educate all students? A Philadelphia magnet school is about to find out. (Newsworks)
  • A consultant the district is paying to evaluate Cleveland schools has many scathing comments for the 10 it has visited so far. (Cleveland Plain-Dealer)
  • Coalition urges quick state action on a plan to wipe out Detroit schools' debt, but some legislators are balking at the price tag. (Detroit Free-Press)
  • Louisville schools are struggling to fill more than 100 teacher vacancies. (WDRB)
  • Oops, Louisville schools accidentally hired a teacher who had a felony conviction for drug trafficking in heroin even though she disclosed it on her application. Oh, by the way, the district's top HR job has gone unfilled for more than a year. (Courier-Journal)
  • The fight to unionize a Los Angeles charter school network is dividing parents. (L.A. Times)
  • A children's book series that places kids at the center of collective tragedies is sadly relevant again. (The Atlantic)
  • From charter schools to teacher evaluations, four ways that Hillary Clinton would rule schools differently. (Politics K-12)
  • How one of New Orleans' only principals who led schools before and after Hurricane Katrina ensures her teachers reflect their students. (Hechinger Report)
  • A teacher says research about the value of small classes doesn't match up to her experience. (Pedagogy of the Reformed)
  • Denver's longtime superintendent is taking an unusual six-month break. Here's why. (Chalkbeat)
  • An anonymous New York City school leader says teacher evaluations won't be ideal until there are tests in every subject. (Inside the System)
  • A helpful primer on the intersection of race, class, and standardized testing. (The Notebook)
  • How Richard Scarry's classic word books changed over time to reflect evolving cultural norms. (Fusion)
  • In rural Mississippi, schools can't get the Internet to work for kids. (EdWeek)
  • In a fact check of Hillary Clinton, studies suggests she's wrong that there's no evidence student test scores can be used to measure teacher performance. (EdWeek)
  • Here's what a few education reporters thought about University of Missouri students blocking reporters on campus. (Washington Monthly)
Categories: Urban School News

Colorado schools spared tough sanctions from high testing opt-out rates under new federal waiver

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/20/2015 - 14:46

Colorado school districts that failed to meet federal testing participation requirements won't face the loss of accreditation after the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday it approved the state's waiver request from the nation's education laws.

The approval also means federal dollars will continue to flow to Colorado.

The OK from Washington comes a little more than a week after the State Board of Education begrudgingly signed off on the state's application.

Under the renewed compact, which expires in one year, the state must provide districts and schools that didn't meet the testing requirement with information about state tests, “including reasons for administering the assessments and how the results are used.”

That information is supposed to be delivered to parents and community members.

Among other requirements, schools will have to develop plans to increase participation.

Federal law requires at least 95 percent participation on language arts and math tests in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

States are required to choose penalties for districts that miss that goal on two or more tests. Previously, Colorado had been a one-step reduction in a district’s state quality rating. However, the state board passed a resolution earlier this year saying low-participation districts shouldn’t be punished.

Tens of thousands of Colorado students missed last spring's PARCC tests, according to state data released last week. Though participation varied greatly by grade, the total participation rate was 82 percent for the English tests in all grades, and 85 percent for the math tests. More than 65,000 Colorado students in grades 3 through 11 were held out of PARCC tests as a result of parental refusals, according to the state.

Interim Education Commissioner Elliott Asp will provide state superintendents more information about the waiver later Friday, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Education said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Schools wrestling with federal lunch rules

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/20/2015 - 09:25
Food fight

School districts and nonprofit organizations concerned about a federal lunch program are asking lawmakers to either relax the standards, cut paperwork or provide more funding. Denver Post

Alternate pathways

Ditching the GED, more Coloradans are taking less expensive, streamlined equivalency exams in Wyoming. Rocky Mountain PBS iNews via Chalkbeat Colorado

benching bullying

A mother of three comes up with a new way to combat bullying at her kids’ Denver school. 9News, CBS4

Parents of an autistic child say their son was bullied seven times over 15 months while attending Pine Creek High School. Gazette

A student at an online school works to prevent bullying. Gazette

Transfer of power

Promising to rebuild trust and respect, a new-look school board took over in Jefferson County. 9News, Denver Post, Arvada Press, Chalkbeat Colorado

transfer of power II

In the Thompson School District, a new board elected its leadership and turned attention to a high-profile lawsuit. Reporter-Herald

Gone phishing

Cañon City Schools sent a letter home to parents alerting them of a tip they got about someone trying to get school security information out of middle school students. KOAA

Helping hand

Refugee and immigrant families are served Thanksgiving meals at a Denver school. Denver Post

dangerous roads

The driver of a bus that rolled down a hill in southwestern Colorado, injuring some of the 42 children on board, had only been driving solo for a week. Durango Herald, KOB

Two cents

The Gazette editorial board questions where D-11 is headed after the recent election. Gazette

The Grand Junction daily’s editorial board is in a more jovial mode about its school district. Daily Sentinel

Categories: Urban School News

Jefferson County school board switches hands, but rhetoric remains

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/19/2015 - 22:18

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County school board got an extreme makeover Thursday when five new members took the oath of office in front of a full house of supporters and skeptics.

The unusual transfer of power is the product of the successful recall election of three school board members — which drew national attention — and the regular election of two other board members.

The new board members, who will govern the state’s second largest school district, promised to begin their tenures and the healing process by listening and facilitating civic debate among themselves and the community.

“We all know elections have a way of dividing a community and now is the time for healing,” board member Brad Rupert said moments after taking his oath. “Now is the time to look forward."

During their introductory speeches, the new board members listed some of their priorities including tackling issues of overcrowding, teacher pay and testing.

Board members Amanda Stevens and Susan Harmon also voiced concern about the effects of increasing poverty in the historically more affluent suburban Denver district.

“We need to address the issue of poverty,” Harmon said. “... I’m committed to making sure those populations have a voice."

While Thursday’s meeting was supposed to be a symbolic shift for the school district — and there were plenty of promises of teamwork — it isn’t clear the political rhetoric in Jefferson County will change much.

A new watchdog website, Eye on Jeffco School Board, popped up shortly after the election. It mirrors an earlier website produced by recall supporters Jeffco School Board Watch.

Some parents Thursday raised concerns that the new board will simply ignore those who supported the recalled board members and roll back policies they believe work.

"We are asking that this new board to not divide our community any further by simply overturning many of the good reform policies that were put in place over the last two years," said Kim Gilmartin, a parent who opposed the recall effort. “... We will be watching closely.”

The crowd booed another speaker who suggested student protests in 2014 were spurred by the teachers union.

And some organizers behind the recall and network of parents who put together the new slate of board members gloated.

“We won and we won big,” said Tammy Story. “We look forward to how you will right this ship.”

At the meeting, new board member Ron Mitchell was unanimously elected president of the board. Ali Lasell was elected vice president.

“The campaign and election are behind us,” Mitchell said. “It’s time to start the hard work of serving our school district.”

Categories: Urban School News

For a better life, Colorado teenagers travel to Wyoming to take a test

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/19/2015 - 15:23

Three young women are going to take a test 90 miles away from home.

Just south of Cheyenne, Jackie Esparza pulls over her maroon Dodge SUV on Interstate 25 to pose for a selfie with the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign. The 19-year-old Thornton-resident is excited for the photo – it’s only the second time she’s been this far north.

The women are teen moms who never graduated high school but want to become cops or nurses. Their best chance is to earn their high school equivalency degree – but not by taking the GED offered in Colorado, they say.

In 2014, the GED high school equivalency test was rewritten, computerized and privatized. The content now reflects the national Common Core State Standards and costs $150 for all four modules – $90 more than previously. Since its transformation, the number of Coloradans taking and passing the new test each week has plummeted by 75 percent, according to state data.

Nineteen other states have responded to falling numbers of test takers by offering alternatives to the GED, such as the HiSET, run by the administrator of the GRE graduate entrance exam, or another called the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC.

The women on this road trip are attempting the HiSET test, which costs just $50. The closest test center is the Cheyenne campus of Laramie County Community College, where a third of the test takers this year came from Colorado, managers said.

“I just feel that it’s a little less intimidating than the actual GED,” said Lexis Hernandez, who flips through vocabulary flashcards in the backseat. “I feel a lot more confident studying this.”

Dropout rate impacts state

When she got pregnant and dropped out, Esparza joined more than 400,000 other adults in Colorado who didn’t finish high school.

Even though the state has more college graduates than the national average, one in 10 adults have no high school diploma or equivalent certificate. Without such credentials, they are cut off from trade schools, college and many well-paying jobs.

Esparza wanted to aim higher for herself. She has dreams like studying criminal justice in college and volunteering in Africa.

Esparza studied for the GED for more than a year and passed one subject test, science. She took the language arts section three times and was a few points away from passing, but almost ready to give up.

Esparza started looking for jobs, but found nothing satisfying.

“I don’t want to keep working at Panda Express and stuff like that,” she said. “I don’t want that for my life.”

State data suggest that more people like Esparza are discouraged from completing the GED since the test was rewritten, according to an I-News analysis of Colorado Department of Education data.

From 2011-2013, 77 percent of testers in Colorado completed all subject areas of the test after they took at least one. In 2014 and 2015, 52 percent of testers went on to complete all parts of the test.

The number of people passing the test has also plummeted. On average, 211 people a week in Colorado passed the GED from 2011 to 2013. Now the number of people passing has dropped 75 percent to about 52 people a week in 2014 and the first 10 months of 2015.

As of October, 2,276 people passed the GED in Colorado this year. In the three years before the test changed, an average of 10,949 people a year passed the test.

The state is not keeping up with the number of students who drop out of high school or businesses’ needs for high school-educated workers, said Shirley Penn, former adult educator and president of the Colorado Adult Education Professional Association.

Penn is a member of a community taskforce lobbying the Colorado Department of Education to offer alternatives to the GED.

“That has a huge impact on our state economically,” Penn said. “I think it hurts business and industry and I think it hurts the families because they're stuck at that low income.”

The state is reviewing alternatives to the GED because its contract with the test’s vendor is set to expire in 2016, director of postsecondary readiness at the department, Misti Ruthven said.

The department asked makers of high school equivalency tests to submit proposals for implementation in Colorado. The department has received a few responses and will pass along the information to the State Board of Education for its meeting December 9-10, she said.

The number of test takers also dropped the last time the test changed in 2002, Ruthven said.

That year 11,216 people took and 6,967 people passed the test in Colorado, official GED data show. After the recent GED revision, 4,313 people took and 1,577 people passed the test in 2014.

For its part, the department couldn’t voice an opinion about the falling numbers.

“It’s very difficult to make comparisons from when the test changed and before that because we know it is a very different landscape and environment,” Ruthven said.

The State Board of Education is open to having multiple testing options, chairman Steve Durham said.

“The general feeling is that competitive options are a positive thing,” he said.

Alternative tests to the GED are “less rigorous,” said CT Turner, head of government relations for the GED Testing Service, and encouraged looking beyond the number of testers. He is concerned students will pass an alternative test and get a certificate but be unable to obtain higher degrees because they lack the necessary education.

“The preparation is what’s really important,” Turner said.

Third time a charm

Once Esparza arrives at the test center, she fumbles through her bag for notes and reviews facts from the Industrial Revolution.

“Pray for me!” she pleads as the disappears into the test room. An hour later, she’s disappointed. Esparza failed the social studies test by one point.

“I wasn’t even that confident about history,” she said, frowning.

Esparza returned a third time to Wyoming and retook the test.

On Oct.  22 she donned a cap and gown and processed to Pomp and Circumstance. The organization that helped her study for her high school equivalency certificate and paid for the tests, Westminster-based Hope House of Colorado, held a graduation ceremony for her and four other young women.

“I’m really excited because I’m moving on with my life,” she said after the ceremony.

Esparza has already applied to four colleges.

Chalkbeat brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at Contact Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New Jeffco school board has task of bridging community divide

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/19/2015 - 09:40

One of the post-recall Jeffco school board members, who will be sworn in tonight, says the five new members won’t be “going at it.” Denver Post

Financial Aid

An Aurora Public Schools alum is now head of the APS Foundation, which helps students -- many of whom are the first in their families to graduate -- to pay for college. Aurora Sentinel


The number of students taking Advanced Placement courses at Glenwood Springs High School has jumped from 69 two years ago to more than 300, thanks in part to a program that aims to increase the number of girls, low-income students and others taking AP classes. Post Independent


Teachers, parents and students are relieved that voters passed a $248 million bond that will alleviate school crowding in one of Adams County’s lowest-funded districts. Denver Post


Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg can take an unprecedented six-month break from running the state’s largest school district thanks in part to a supportive school board, observers said. Chalkbeat Colorado


Douglas County tries to fill in the gaps for its 637 homeless students by providing bus passes, school supplies and connecting families with nonprofits to help with housing. Castle Rock News-Press


The Denver Public Schools Foundation ranks among the top ten local foundations that support K-12 education, according to a new nationwide study. Education Week


The Douglas County school board spiked a proposal requiring teachers to take “a balanced approach” on discussions of controversial topics such as race and religion. 7News


One-fifth of the most powerful women in Colorado, including DPS’s Rosemary Rodriguez and Susana Cordova, are tied to the education community. Denver Business Journal


An Aurora school is in the running for a $100,000 lab makeover. 9News

gold star

A tech-savvy Erie assistant principal won Colorado Assistant Principal of the Year. Daily Camera


Pueblo teachers have a new contract that maintains their benefits and forbids furloughs. Pueblo Chieftain


Schools in Sheridan are closed today as police continue a massive manhunt for several crime spree suspects. Fox31


The Thompson School District made more and spent less money than anticipated last year. Loveland Reporter-Herald


Colorado College students united to mourn the victims of terror attacks in Paris. Gazette

Categories: Urban School News

Why Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg landed an unprecedented six-month break

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/18/2015 - 19:27

Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg is planning to do something that no big-city school chief has done in recent memory: Take six months off.

His announcement on Monday that he’ll be gone from January to July traveling in Latin America with his wife and three kids has raised questions about why he can take such an unprecedented break and how the district will weather his absence.

Boasberg will leave a district of more than 90,000 students and nearly 15,000 employees in the hands of a staff he’s built over his unusually long seven-year tenure. And he’ll leave with the blessing of a school board that universally backs his vision of reform.

The uncommon stability of Denver Public Schools is what makes his respite possible, observers said. For an urban district bent on drastic reform — including closing underperforming schools, welcoming new charter schools and paying teachers based on performance — Boasberg hasn’t dealt with the strife that has cut short the reigns of reform-minded superintendents elsewhere.

Jeff Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University, credits Denver’s more even-keeled approach.

“It’s been politically astute, pragmatic, not ideological, less partisan, less got-to-do-it-now-at-all-costs,” said Henig, who has studied urban school reform. “And as a result of that, it’s avoided some of the backlash we’ve seen in other places.”

Several education advocates and DPS funders said they support the personal motivation behind Boasberg’s decision. But even some who understand why a devoted father would want a time out from his demanding job expressed concerns about what he’ll miss while he’s away.

Among the issues the district is expected to tackle in his absence are teacher contract negotiations, potentially contentious decisions about which schools to close and which to open, and preparations for asking voters to approve tax increases to benefit DPS in November 2016.

The school board is expected to name an interim superintendent Dec. 1.

“I’m concerned about the transition and whether it will really go as smoothly as the district hopes,” said Pam Shamburg, executive director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the DPS teachers union. “It’s a complex district and he’s very much a top-down administrator, so I’m not sure what an interim would be able to do.”

Supportive board, mixed results

Boasberg joined DPS in 2007 as the district’s chief operating officer under then-superintendent Michael Bennet. The two have known each other since childhood; both attended the private St. Albans School in Washington, D.C.

Boasberg left a job as a senior telecommunications executive at Level 3 Communications in Broomfield to join DPS. By then, Bennet was two years into his plainly named Denver Plan to radically transform the city’s poorly performing schools.

Two years later, when former Gov. Bill Ritter chose Bennet to fill an empty U.S. Senate seat, the DPS school board quickly agreed that Boasberg should replace him. Boasberg has helmed the district since January 2009 and has continued the reforms set in motion by Bennet.

The reforms have resulted in both successes and shortcomings. Enrollment has grown and DPS is once again the biggest school district in the state. Students are also showing improvement on state tests compared to their peers, a metric known as academic growth.

But the number of students at grade-level is still low and the achievement gaps between white and minority kids are large and widening.

Research shows that the longer a superintendent is in charge, the better students do -- given, of course, that the superintendent is a good one. Boasberg’s tenure can certainly be considered long. In 2014, a national survey of urban superintendents found that they’d been in office for an average of 3.18 years. Boasberg has been in charge for nearly seven — and has said he wants to serve several more after this sabbatical.

One factor that has allowed him to stay on top is the support of the school board. The makeup of the board has changed several times during his tenure but one thing has remained the same: a majority of the seven members support his vision.

And that majority has only gotten stronger. In 2009, four board members largely supported the district’s direction and three didn’t. By 2013, two election cycles later, that number had shrunk to one. When newly elected member Lisa Flores is sworn in Thursday, it will go down to zero.

Unlike in some big cities, including New York and Chicago, the superintendent in Denver is not appointed by the mayor, further insulating the position from shifting political winds.

Boasberg’s longevity “has a great deal to do with the board and board elections,” said Van Schoales, the CEO of A+ Denver, a pro-reform advocacy group. “That in turn is related to the environment in Denver that is different than a lot of places. The ecosystem for educational improvement and reform is richer than in other places.”

Or at the very least, the tolerance for it is higher. Part of that may be due to Boasberg’s style, observers said. The mild-mannered Denver superintendent has been slower and more methodical in rolling out reforms than some superintendents in other parts of the country.

Former Newark superintendent Cami Anderson, for example, left her job earlier this year following widespread outcry over her aggressive plan to replace some traditional schools with charters and start a system of universal open enrollment all at once.

Boasberg also has made room for several different strategies on the road to reform, experts said. Over the years, Denver has authorized a mix of charters, innovation and traditional schools. At the same time, the district has increasingly prodded -- some would say pushed -- families to choose where to send their children rather than rely on the school down the block.

“Part of Tom’s vision -- some might call it pragmatic -- (is that) there is space for all as long as everyone can show results,” said Janet Lopez, a senior program officer at the Denver-based Rose Community Foundation, which has funded some DPS initiatives. “He’s not willing to say, ‘This is an all-charter strategy or an all-district strategy.’”

That approach has attracted considerable money and assistance from a wide spectrum of outside organizations, Lopez said. Rose Community Foundation, for one, is supportive of Boasberg taking a break “to recharge his batteries,” she said.

“We realize that real systemic change takes time,” Lopez said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, so we are excited to see consistency and continuity in the leadership of the district.”

Continuity and questions

That continuity is also important to the school board, said board vice president Anne Rowe. She explained that in supporting Boasberg’s request for a sabbatical, the board is “being respectful that this is good timing for Tom.”

In a letter to staff, Boasberg explained that he and his wife Carin met more than two decades ago while they were studying Chinese in Taiwan. They moved back to the United States after their oldest daughter was born but promised each other that they’d one day live overseas with their kids. Boasberg’s children are now 15, 13 and 11 “and will soon be off to college,” he wrote.

“To discover a world of learning,” he wrote in the letter, “is what we hope for our three kids: to live and travel in Latin America for six months, to learn to speak Spanish well, to learn about different cultures and to spend a lot more time together as a family than I have been able to spend over these years as superintendent.”

Boasberg’s contract is scheduled to renew for another two years starting Jan. 1. It does not allow for unpaid leave, though the board is expected to approve it.

“We’ve had seven years,” Rowe said of Boasberg’s tenure, “and Tom has agreed to stay at the incredible level he’s committed to -- and we want that. This is as much about sustainability of leadership from the board’s perspective as anything.”

Board member Mike Johnson said he’s confident that the staff Boasberg has built over the past seven years “can take us forward and help us do what he was doing.”

Boasberg said the same on Monday shortly after publicly announcing his planned leave.

“What has driven progress when I’m here (is) what will drive it when I’m out for six months, which is talented leadership at all levels,” he said in an interview “None of that changes.”

But not everyone agrees the timing is good. Shamburg, of the Denver teachers union, said she was “flummoxed” by Boasberg’s announcement. She’s concerned his departure could impact ongoing teacher contract negotiations. And she said educators are worried about a policy the district is considering that would define when to close low performing schools.

“It’s problematic he’s leaving before schools know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Tony Lewis, the executive director of the Denver-based Donnell-Kay Foundation, which has awarded grants to DPS, said he supports Boasberg taking time with his family. However, Lewis said, for a big-city superintendent to take a leave “you have to be showing progress and a clear path that you’re embarked on for improving the district and student performance. I’d say DPS is not there.”

The choice of interim superintendent will be closely watched, as will the transition and what transpires during the six months Boasberg is gone.

“I think it’s up to Tom to lay out his priorities before he leaves,” Lewis said, so the district is left with some certainty.

“It’s uncertainty,” he added, “that causes angst.”

Editor’s note: The Rose Community Foundation and Donnell-Kay Foundation provide financial support to Chalkbeat.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Polis to help merge House, Senate education bills to rewrite NCLB

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/18/2015 - 09:38

Rep. Jared Polis will serve on a committee charged with merging bills to rewrite the nation’s education laws from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives into something that could pass both chambers and win White House approval. Coloradoan


Margaret Murlee Hart, one of the first African-American teachers hired by Denver Public Schools, died Sunday. She was 93. Hart wrote more than 500 songs, earned a doctorate, created reading programs for kids and turned computer code into art. Denver Post


Some parents in Denver and Littleton are upset that their children’s schools weren’t closed like in nearby districts. 9News, 7News

Everyone is OK

A school bus carrying 44 elementary school students went off a road and rolled down a 30- to 40-foot embankment in southwest Colorado, but only minor injuries were reported. 9News


Some Greeley elementary school students are creating arts and crafts and honing their writing skills under the tutelage of the Mexican-American Studies Club at the University of Northern Colorado. Greeley Tribune

identity crisis

The Adams 50 School District in Westminster may soon have a new name and brand. Arvada Press

Human Resources

Colorado’s principal of the year used standards and data and created a social contract with her team in an effort to improve student learning at a struggling elementary school in Aurora. And early evidence shows it’s working. Chalkbeat Colorado

safe schools

A Denver Public Schools program that monitors student email accounts triggered a brief lockdown at Skinner Middle School Tuesday morning. Denver Post


Cowboy Lou Price shared his love of reading with elementary students in Loveland. Reporter-Herald


A team of six Grand Junction elementary schools students placed first at a regional qualifying robotics event in Aspen, securing a spot at a state championship in January. Grand Junction Sentinel

Benjamin Eaton Elementary School on Tuesday announced it has been recognized as a National Title I Distinguished School for the second straight year. Greeley Tribune

Two cents

If Tom Boasberg wants six months off to spend with his family, he should just resign, the Denver Post editorial board said. Denver Post

While there is much to criticize about the PARCC tests, we should acknowledge that there is merit in the rationale behind why they exist, suggests Vail Superintendent Jason Glass. Vail Daily

Jefferson County, in recalling three school board members, put “public” back in “public schools,” opines Paula Noonan. Colorado Statesman

Categories: Urban School News

Principal of the Year on how standards, data and a social contract with her staff turned around a school

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/17/2015 - 18:11

Manager. Caregiver. Instructional coach. Mountain biker.

These are the parts that make the whole of Jenny Passchier, Colorado’s Principal of the Year.

Passchier, who was recognized last spring by the Colorado Association of School Executives, leads Aurora Public Schools’ Crawford Elementary in the Original Aurora neighborhood. When Passchier arrived at Crawford in 2013, the school had been on the state’s academic watch list for three years.

Last year, thanks in part to an improved culture and a focus on writing and other standards-based lessons, Crawford posted the highest gains on the state’s annual tests of any school in Aurora. And the school staved off state intervention.

In an interview last month, Chalkbeat spoke with Passchier about the evolving job description of a school principal, how she improved scores at Crawford, and the challenges of teaching refugee students — all while avoiding burnout. The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

What has changed about the role of the principal during the course of your career? Why has that shift happened?
There’s been a shift from a management role to that of an instructional leader. My job is to be with teachers in the classroom on a daily basis, helping them with plans, looking at student data. I really have a big role with instruction. I need to know where kids are at and know how I’m going to help build my staff’s content knowledge.

The role of the principal, it’s still the glue of the school. The principal really builds the mission and vision with the community and provides support for whatever the kids need, whatever the staff needs, whatever the community needs.

And the principal is so much more active in the community. For my staff, they really see me as a partner in their work. So they can come to me and I can help them with looking at data or planning a lesson. They don’t see me as a big authority — or at least, I hope they don’t see me that way.

With that shift can come burnout, and research shows that principals — especially those in turnaround schools — are leaving at faster and faster rates. You’ve been at Crawford for three years. That’s probably about average for Colorado. How do you maintain work-life balance?
That’s definitely a challenge. But we have to model a balance. It’s building the capacity of the staff. We all share the work. We know we have to be healthy people outside of school. If you’re not a healthy administrator or teacher you’re not going to be healthy for your kid.

We try to find creative ways to be more productive during the day so we’re not spending a lot of extra time. We try hard to be smart and strategic and focus so we’re not talking on a lot of extra stuff that doesn’t further our mission and vision.

I’m a big mountain biker. Recently, I’ve taken up paddleboarding. I walk the dog and run every morning at 5 a.m. to get the ideas going and stress down. That’s why I come to work sometime with bruises.

You were named principal of the year because of Crawford’s test scores and turnaround in culture. How did you do that work?
The first thing was creating a strong staff culture where they knew me. I took time to get to know the staff and for them to get to know me as well.

A strategic move that I didn’t think would have a lot of impact, but did, was we created this social contract as a staff. We talked about how we treat each other as professionals. We came up with commonalities. And we talked about what would happen if someone broke that social contract. And it’s really been a living document. The staff was really open to learning. But when you make big changes, sometimes conflict can arise. So we needed to have that contract to focus as a staff.

The second strategic move was having clearly defined goals. We were very transparent. We made sure all the learning we did as a staff and in the classroom was aligned to those goals. It kept teachers with a laser-like focus. We focused on math our first year. Teachers found the planning so helpful it automatically went to all the other content areas as well.

We also have a big cultural focus. Something new this year is community circles. That’s for kids to get to know their teacher and one another, to really build as a community. We have such a strong staff that builds such a strong relationship with our kids. We know our kids aren’t going to sit through a lesson if there is no relationship built. We have to build those relationships with kids so they’re going to want to perform for you and themselves.

Colorado classrooms have been required to follow new standards, which include the Common Core, since 2013. What does it mean for teaching to be “standards-based” and how have you helped your team to make the transition?
What we do is take standards and identify clearly what students need to know and be able to do. We talk about how do you facilitate that learning. We identify what proficiency looks like. We decide how we’re going to assess our students. And then we ask ourselves what are going to do if the kids didn’t get it. And if they did get it, how can we push them further?

The standards themselves can be pretty meaty. There’s a lot of learning in each. So we identify the verbs. That’s really going to tell you the level of rigor. “Identify” versus “analyze.” That really tells the teacher the level the student has to be at. Those two verbs mean different things. Then we look at the nouns. If you look at the standards holistically, you miss the little pieces.

We have the Common Core standards. But they don’t tell you how to teach. We like to take into consideration the kids’ interests and what motivates them around those standards. We can determine the context we put those standards in to motivate them.

What are you expecting from the release of PARCC data? And what have you done, if anything, to prepare your teachers for the lower scores that schools are likely to post?
Now that we’ve seen the PARCC, it’s good to know how those standards are going to be assessed. So, we’re making some changes in our instruction.

We’re hoping our proficiency maintains. And I think we’ll just continue to see gains now that students are getting used to taking tests on the computer.

When the data comes in, it is what it is. We’ve taught to the standards the best we knew how before we saw that assessment. The results are going to give us information about how to better our instruction to meet the levels of those standards. We’ll just be really transparent with it. If it comes in as a challenge, we’ll take it head on.

The work we’ve done around standards-based education would happen regardless if we had these high-stakes tests or not. We’re always going to want to know what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

Crawford is likely to be one of the first schools to be part of Aurora’s first innovation zone. Why are you interested in innovation status, why is it a scary term to some who think it might be an excuse to weaken teachers unions or add more tests?
We’ve identified some barriers here at our school that we believe innovation would address. For example, we’re really interested at looking at our school day differently so our kids get more opportunities for learning. We have a different population and different needs. We’d like to do some out-of-the-box thinking to address those needs.

Our commitment is we won’t do anything that doesn’t align with our mission and vision. As a staff, we’ve identified our three major strategies. And we ask: In a perfect world what would help our major improvement strategies, help our students, help our community? Nothing has come up that has been controversial. We’re in this as a whole team. We’ve been in this as a whole team. I don’t think we’ll do anything to create [teacher] turnover. We don’t want to lose them. We just want some better structures in place to serve our kids better.

What is the biggest challenge that Crawford faces and that you face as its principal?
One thing I continue to learn as a principal is how to effectively involve your families especially when you work in a school where 33 different languages are spoken. They have to feel welcomed and supported.

We have a community meeting tomorrow. We have six different “big” languages. It used to just be English and Spanish. Now it’s English, Spanish, Burmese, Nepali, Somali, and Karenni. And we have had some French lately.

We really have to strengthen our instruction: How do you meet the needs of newcomers who may have come from a county who doesn’t use an alphabetic system? Some of our student have never been in a school setting before. How do we quickly help them learn about American schools and just function — where the bathroom is.

Policy makers should understand we serve a very unique population. Looking at our school day, our kids need more learning opportunities than some other kids do and funding for different staffing for the unique needs we have here. We have to translate everything. And when 25 percent of your students are refugees, they have unique social and emotional needs. Not all schools are the same. So, how do we differentiate that funding support?

What advice do you have for new principals that might be serving schools similar to Crawford?
No. 1: Take time to get to know your entire school community — the students, families, the staff.

Take an honest look at your data. And look at what are some of those high-leverage things to move the school.

For example, my first year we had three goals. And we stayed focused on those. As a new principal you may see lots of things, but you really need to stay strategic on what will move the students and staff the most.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Parents say Longmont middle-schooler bullied to brink of suicide

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/17/2015 - 08:41
breaking bullying

The family of a sixth grader at Longmont's Westview Middle School has turned to social media to call for action after they said he was bullied to the point where he tried to take his own life. Daily Camera

Standing in the gap

Former George Washington High School students reflect on the dawn of court-ordered busing as the Denver school grapples anew with issues of race and integration. Colorado Public Radio

taking leave

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg, whose nearly seven-year tenure helming the state’s largest school district is unusually long for someone in his position, announced Monday he will take a six-month unpaid leave. Denver Post, Denver Channel, 9News, CBS4, Chalkbeat Colorado

pump down the volume

An audiologist for Denver Public Schools offers advice on how to minimize damage to young ears tuned in to Adele, Drake and One Direction at high volumes. Colorado Public Radio

recall ripples

Brad Miller announced his resignation Monday as Jeffco school board attorney, the first shoe to drop following the successful recall of three conservative school board members. Denver Post, Canyon Courier, Colorado Independent, Chalkbeat Colorado

Going it alone

After more than a year of negotiations with University Schools over shared facilities, the growing Frontier Academy charter school is planning its own $8 million expansion. Greeley Tribune

questionable cafeterias

El Paso County health inspectors found multiple violations with food served to students at Palmer High School, Challenger Middle School, Cheyenne Mountain High School and elsewhere. KOAA

new-look board

A Steamboat Springs Board of Education with three new members met to select new leadership and begin tackling issues facing the district. Steamboat Today

works of art

Thompson students learn the art of screen printing at a Loveland museum. Reporter Herald

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board attorney resigns in wake of recall

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/16/2015 - 20:49

Attorney Brad Miller, a central character in the successful campaign to recall three Jefferson County school board members, resigned Monday from his position representing the board.

Recall organizers portrayed the conservative board majority’s hiring of Miller at $90,000 a year as wasteful and unnecessary.

In a letter to the board and Superintendent Dan McMinimee, Miller wrote that the new board members have made clear they no longer want to retain board counsel.

“As you are aware, I have maintained that the Board of Education, if it wishes not to be a rubber stamp for administrative priorities, should have continuing access to independent legal counsel,” he said.

Before Miller was hired, the Jeffco school board contracted as needed with the law firm of Caplan and Earnest and others. Between 2009 and 2013, the board spent on average $41,241 on legal fees, according to data on the district’s financial transparency page.

In 2014 and 2015, after Miller was hired, the average more than doubled to $95,756.

Miller resigned last week as attorney for the Thompson School District Board of Education. His role there also began a campaign issue, for similar reasons. As in Jeffco, the election result all but certainly meant that Miller’s days as board attorney were numbered if he hadn’t stepped aside first.


Categories: Urban School News

Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg to take six months unpaid leave

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/16/2015 - 12:55

The chief architect of Denver’s aggressive school reforms, superintendent Tom Boasberg, announced Monday that he will take six months of unpaid family leave starting in January.

Boasberg, his wife Carin and their three children -- Nola, 15; Ella, 13; and Calvin, 11 -- will spend that time in Latin America, traveling and learning to speak Spanish well, according to a letter Boasberg sent to DPS staff Monday morning.

Boasberg, who lives with his family in Boulder, said in an interview on Monday that he’s committed to continuing in his role.

“I’d love to lead for several more years,” he said. “And at the same time, this is trying to both serve the district and serve in my role as superintendent and be the kind of dad and husband that I want to be.”

The timing was right -- both for his family and for DPS, he said.

“I’ve been superintendent for seven years and we’ve achieved some terrific progress and we’re seen nationally as having achieved more progress than almost every district out there,” Boasberg said.

He added that DPS has “a very strong and aligned and committed board of education” and “a very strong and experienced leadership team,” both of which he said allow him the opportunity to spend time with his family. He wrote in a letter to staff that he’s “fully confident” that DPS will “move forward full steam ahead” during his six-month absence.

A board behind him

Indeed, the timing of his leave is opportune. The recent school board election ensured that all seven board seats will soon be occupied by members who agree with Boasberg's brand of reform, which includes cultivating a mix of charter and traditional schools, paying teachers based on performance and closing underperforming schools.

The board will name an acting superintendent on Dec. 1, according to a letter from board president Happy Haynes. Haynes wrote that the board has discussed Boasberg's status in detail but felt it was right to formally address the matter at the Dec. 1 meeting, after the newly elected school board is sworn in.

Boasberg's contract is set to renew for another two years starting Jan. 1. The contract sets his annual salary at $236,220 but does not provide for unpaid leave. Boasberg said the board will have to approve it.

The board's next regular meeting is Thursday, but the sole new member, Lisa Flores, will not be sworn in until after that meeting's agenda is complete. Flores is replacing Arturo Jimenez, the lone consistent critic of the Boasberg administration, in representing northwest Denver and other close-in neighborhoods that are part of District 5. Jimenez was term-limited.

Jimenez said Monday that he expects that the district will stay the course in the superintendent’s absence. To Jimenez, that’s a bad thing. DPS has become more of an authorizer of nonprofit charter schools than an educator of kids, he said.

He called Boasberg “the hired mercenary to ensure this all happens without full consideration to the community impact.” And he noted that he hadn’t heard about the superintendent’s planned leave until he got an email on Monday.

“Now that he’s put the machine in motion and now that the school board is completely reliant -- let’s call them unified -- to serve these other interests, Tom Boasberg doesn’t really need to be there,” Jimenez said.

Boasberg said that he expects to return to work in July.

Unusually long tenure

Haynes's letter notes that Boasberg is one of the longest-serving big-city superintendents in the country and says that his "leadership continuity has been critical for our progress."

Boasberg has worked for the district since 2007, first as chief operating officer and then as superintendent. He took over the top position from Michael Bennet, who left the district in January 2009 after being chosen by former Gov. Bill Ritter to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat.

The nearly seven years Boasberg has shepherded the district is unusually long for someone in his position. The average tenure of big-city superintendents is a little more than three years, according to a 2014 survey by the Council of the Great City Schools.

Mike Casserly, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based organization, said Monday that Denver’s progress is a tribute to the longevity and momentum Boasberg has provided.

“If you have an agenda that is really focused on improving student achievement and building the school district, and you have a board and senior administration aligned around that set of goals and able to do that work over a prolonged period, the chances of your getting results are far, far better than a school district that changes over its leadership every year or two years and is constantly fighting with itself about what its priorities are,” he said.

Casserly said doesn’t know of any other urban superintendent who has taken a six-month leave, but he applauded Boasberg for doing it.

“It’s a great way for him to step back and reflect on the work and then come back to that work with renewed energy and perspective,” he said. “It’s also a great vote of confidence in both the board and the senior staff around how good they are. And I think those things together make this another example of how Denver has created tools and strategies that other big city school districts across the country pay attention to.”

DPS's track record under Boasberg is mixed. While enrollment has boomed and student growth has improved, the district still boasts low academic proficiency scores and the achievement gap separating white and minority students has grown. While minority students are showing gains on standardized tests, white students are improving more, widening the gap.

Asked what’s kept him at the helm, Boasberg said: “When I see the level of commitment and dedication and passion that folks have, that’s really what has helped sustain me and drive me, combined with this extraordinary opportunity to change kids lives for the better.”

Here is Boasberg's letter to DPS staff:

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: District staffer claims retaliation after calling out discrimination

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/16/2015 - 09:34
Discrimination Complaint

A former staffer for the Adams 14 school district says she was pushed out of her job for calling attention to discrimination against Latino parents. 9News

Outdoor learning

Bluff Lake Nature Center in Denver provides free field trips to low-income schools. Denver Post

College Credit

Pikes Peak Community College plans to offer classes to students from nearby high schools. The Gazette

Fighting hunger

A program to feed kids in need is expanding to include weekday and holiday meals. Loveland Reporter-Herald

Testing Debate

Last week’s PARCC test scores will fuel more debate over standardized testing. Chalkbeat Colorado

Safe in Paris

Five University of Colorado Boulder students studying abroad in Paris were unharmed in the attacks Friday. Denver Post, 9News

Faculty Pay

A list of Colorado’s 76 colleges, in order of how much they pay their faculty. Denver Business Journal

Welcome to Colorado

The number of international college students studying in Colorado is on the rise. Denver Business Journal

A Place to Call

Since its founding in 2004, Colorado tip line Safe2Tell has helped thousands of students who reported being bullied or said they were contemplating suicide. The Gazette

sexting scandal

Educators in Canon City want to counsel teens about sexting but Colorado law makes confidential conversations difficult. AP via The Gazette

Legal consequences for teens who sext vary from county to county. Denver Post

Passing it On

A Denver city councilwoman donates her pay raise to nine local schools. Denver Post

First Responders

Resident advisers are on the front lines of college student crises, including suicide interventions. Daily Sentinel

Two cents

A mother who lost her oldest son in a drunk driving crash last year says parents and school communities should take teen partying seriously. Greeley Tribune

Categories: Urban School News

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