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Q&A: A researcher who’s seeking nimble interventions for toxic stress

EdNewsColorado - 3 hours 43 min ago

When children endure toxic stress, it can have lifelong impacts on their health, education and well-being. Dr. Philip A. Fisher, professor of psychology and research scientist at the Prevention Science Institute at the University of Oregon, believes traditional evidence-based interventions are too cumbersome and expensive to replicate widely. He argues that researchers, program developers and policymakers must become more flexible and innovative in finding ways to mitigate the effects of toxic stress.

Dr. Fisher spoke Thursday evening at the annual Community Lecture Series hosted by the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy at the University of Denver. This Q&A, which has been edited for length and clarity, took place earlier in the day.

Q: How did you get interested in the topic of toxic stress?

Dr. Philip A. Fisher

A: In high school, I started volunteering in a residential treatment center for severely emotionally disturbed kids. I worked at summer camps for troubled kids during college.

What I continued to encounter were these things that really didn’t have adequate explanations. So, why were so many of the kids we were working with from disadvantaged communities, from poor backgrounds? Sure, kids who don’t have opportunities don’t do as well, but it didn’t really explain why there were the specific kinds of issues that we saw in these kids.

The models that were out there…mostly consisted of assigning labels to kids. You have conduct disorder. You have attention deficit disorder. They didn’t say much about what was going on.

Q: What is toxic stress?

A: It has to be put out there first and foremost, not all stress is toxic…We know that some stress is probably not a bad thing. It actually can help make people stronger.

In early childhood what [toxic stress] really means is prolonged activation of these bodily systems…that are designed to help us respond to stress, in the absence of any kind of supportive care.

If there’s a lot of distress that a child or infant is experiencing—they’re hungry, they’re tired, they’re scared—and it happens consistently over long periods of time and there’s no caregiving adult present—somebody to help buffer the child from the experiences of stress—that’s when things move from tolerable to toxic.

Q: How does toxic stress manifests itself in children?

A: Kids become much more sensitive to stress in their lives. So, when they experience stress, they tend to function more poorly. We see that not only in terms of their ability to concentrate and focus in class but also health vulnerabilities. They’re more likely to get sick. They’re more likely, over their life span, to have problems with things like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

It’s also increasingly clear that toxic stress really does have the potential to disrupt the architecture of the developing brain…so (kids who experience) significant toxic stress, of some types, have more difficulty with self-control. In a classroom setting, they tend to be more impulsive. They tend to be the ones more likely to lash out or do things not consistent with the rules. They have a hard time shifting their attention flexibly from one thing to another.

Q: What are the implications of toxic stress for educators tasked with helping children achieve academically?

A: The first thing is just to understand that those kids aren’t (misbehaving) because they’re troublemakers or they’re willfully disobeying you. One of the things that’s become clear from our research is that those kids just don’t process information very well.

(If kids are) doing something that’s not what they’re supposed to be doing, corrective feedback might not be getting through. That’s one of the reasons…having more individualized support for the child, making the signals really clear to them, can be really, really helpful.

Q: You’ve talked about developing flexible, low-dose programs that help with toxic stress. Why is that important?

Where we started developing programs that helped to offset toxic stress, they were large, expensive programs. What I’ve become convinced in the last 10 years is that we’re not going to have impact at scale if that’s all that’s available. It’s just not going to happen.

We have to get a lot smarter about…cutting to the core of what needs to happen most. It’s not like the system’s broken and we should throw it out, but we need to augment what’s out there with other ways of approaching of knowledge development…We have to be committed to a broad array of strategies, and a process of learning about them in a much more rapid-cycle way.

I think school is the perfect innovation platform…If you engineer things properly, then each year can be a new opportunity to gather information, to figure out what’s working and for whom…and for those for whom it’s not, to engineer new approaches.

Q: Right now, what do you consider the most promising interventions for dealing with toxic stress?

A: The majority of the ones that are out there, they’re at a point where there’s good proof of concept. One of the hallmarks of the toxic stressors that we’re talking about is that kids don’t really learn good cause and effect.

A baby crying (will think), “Maybe somebody’s going to come pick me up. Maybe they’re not. Maybe if they pick me up, they’re going to shake me. Maybe they’re not.” That whole learning process really goes sideways.

The things that…help turn that around are things that make it very clear to the child that the environment is consistent, predictable and responsive, and then also warm and nurturing.

Q: You’ve described healthy interactions between children and caregivers with a tennis analogy, “serve and return.” What is that?

A: We define serve and return very precisely. It’s an instance in which the child initiates some action, either puts the focus of their attention on the adult or something else in their immediate environment and the adult shares the child’s focus of attention and (responds).

(A serve) could be the child fussing or that they’re delighted. It could be that they’re gazing at something. It could be that they’re pointing to something and saying what it is. The return of the serve is really what’s critical.

Q: What is the video coaching program, Filming Interactions to Nurture Development, or FIND,  you’ve helped develop?

A: It involves basically showing people, using video, instances of themselves engaged in “serve and return” with the children they’re taking care of. Showing people instances of themselves doing this is a profound experience…because they’re seeing something that is the building block of healthy brain development.

What we think is different about this is were not coming from a place of people need to do something they don’t know how to do and therefore we have to instill new skills. I think that’s one of the reasons our existing programs are so costly and cumbersome. They come from the starting point of people are deficient in something and we have to start from the ground up.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco board president’s ethics request appears DOA

EdNewsColorado - 6 hours 54 min ago
Total Recall

No shortage of media outlets covered Jeffco school board president Ken Witt's announcement that he wants the state's Independent Ethics Commission to examine a campaign claim, but the matter is outside the scope of the commission's work. Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado, 9News, Denver Channel, Arvada Press, Colorado Independent

Election 2015

State Sen. Michael Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat, criticizes Republicans for wading into nonpartisan school board races. Gazette

Unlike in past years, plenty of candidates are vying for board seats in Monument's Lewis-Palmer School District 38. Gazette

A League of Women voters school board forum drew a crowd in Durango. Durango Herald

Moffat County school board candidates diverge on a mill levy and Common Core. Craig Daily Press

Six candidates are running for two seats on the District 51 board in Grand Junction. KJCT

safe schools

The University of Colorado has landed a $6.2 million grant to go toward its Safe Communities Safe Schools program as a part of the university's effort to promote school safety and reduce violence among middle schools across the Front Range. Daily Camera

Culture wars

In a lawsuit, a group of abortion opponents claims Colorado State University and Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood violated the state constitution by purchasing tissue of aborted fetuses and indirectly used tax dollars to subsidize abortions. Denver Post

threats and consequences

One juvenile has been arrested and charged with making threats against Rangeview High School, Aurora police said Thursday, a day after some teachers said they were scared to come to school amid threats and several students stayed home. Denver Post, Aurora Sentinel

Two cents

The Denver Post editorial board sees good sense in a new commission that will grapple with the Indian school mascot issue. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board president Ken Witt asks for ethics opinion into recall claim

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/08/2015 - 12:55

Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt, the target of a high-profile recall campaign, announced Thursday he is asking the state’s Independent Ethics Commission to weigh in on recall organizers’ claim that he violated state transparency laws.

“I’m simply calling their bluff,” Witt said at a news conference.

Making such a determination, however, is not the typical role of the commission, said Amy DeVan, the commission’s executive director. Neither open meeting violations nor actions taken by unpaid elected officials are within its jurisdiction.

“The IEC doesn’t have authority to do what the legislature gave the court the ability to do regarding opening meeting laws,” DeVan said.

Witt’s move is the latest twist in a recall campaign that has drawn considerable outside interest and no shortage of political maneuvering to the suburban school district in a bellwether Colorado county.

Witt, at his press conference, said he’d let the commission decide what it has jurisdiction over.

“Yes, this is ridiculous, an elected official filing an ethics complaint himself,” Witt said. “But sadly, this empty ridiculous accusation requires an equally ridiculous action to shed light on the truth.”

The commission’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Nov. 6, three days after the election.

While the commission can ask for an earlier meeting, it isn’t typical, DeVan said.

Another wrinkle to Witt’s request is that typically an elected official or state employee seeks an advisory opinion about an action they’re contemplating, said Peg Perl of the Colorado Ethics Watch.

“You can only ask for an advisory opinion about something you haven’t done yet,” she said. “They really can’t do an advisory opinion about past conduct.”

The transparency violation claim is cited on the recall question that made the ballot this November. The most specific claim cited by recall proponents: that the hiring of board attorney Brad Miller was a done deal before a public vote was taken.

Miller’s position and how he got it has been a longstanding sore point among opponents of Witt and two other conservative school board majority members who swept into office in November 2013. In the past, the board hired lawyers on a case-by-case basis. Miller’s hiring represented the first time the school board had a lawyer on retainer.

Witt said that of all the recall claims, the transparency violation allegation disturbs him most.

“Their assertions don’t pass the credibility test,” he said.

Witt emphasized he was asking for the commission’s opinion regarding the claim against him, not against his two colleagues also targeted in the recall — John Newkirk and Julie Williams.

The state’s open meeting law allows board members to discuss the school district’s business one-on-one.

However, it forbids three elected officials or a quorum, whichever is greater, from meeting without proper notification.

Further, transparency activists and case law from around the country suggest it is illegal for elected officials, like school board members, to work around the law by coordinating “spoke” meetings.

A “spoke” meeting, also known as a “walking quorum,” is when one elected official meets with other members of the board on the same subject to coordinate a vote or policy stance.

Recall organizers claim that Witt, Williams and Newkirk have wasted taxpayer dollars, disrespected the community and met illegally in private. The recall targets counter that they’ve authorized building a school without increasing the district’s debt, given teachers raises, and opened access to school board meetings by streaming them live on the Internet.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colo. Springs charter school is growing up and expanding

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/08/2015 - 09:52
English lessons

Two out of every 10 Colorado students speak a language other than English at home. This statistic mirrors national trends. Denver Business Journal

making room

Atlas Prep, a Colorado Springs charter school, opened in 2009 with 85 students. This year, the school has about 800 students in fifth through 11th grade. To make room for all those students, the school has completed two large expansion projects. Gazette

Help wanted

School districts in and around Denver don't have enough bus drivers. Here's why and how some are trying to solve the problem. KDVR

Aurora in spotlight

As we reported yesterday, a coalition of 17 nonprofits issued a blistering report about the state of Aurora Public Schools. That coalition held a press conference to talk about their hopes and fears for the school system. CPR, KDVR, 9News

Meanwhile, students at Aurora's newest school have some pretty cool role models. Like, the husband and wife the school is named after. Aurora Sentinel

Teaching and learning

A Fort Collins family shared their Native American culture with students. Reporter-Herald

The Colorado Supreme Court paid Denver’s East High School a visit last week as part of the Courts in the Community program Colorado Independent

Fall into the gap

The achievement gap between Denver's poorest students and their more affluent peers in reading and math is double the national average in a new report comparing some 50 cites. Chalkbeat Colorado

Healthy (after) schools

A National League of Cities grant is helping the Aurora parks department sponsor fresh, healthy after-school meals at recreation centers. Denver Post

Election 2015

Two years of controversy come to a reckoning this November. The Jefferson County School Board election and recall could see anywhere from two to all five of the board seats change hands. Arvada Press

A former Jeffco school board member wants to bring balance back to the board room. Arvada Press

Meanwhile, a Jeffco recall target believes he and his colleagues have more work to do. Lakewood Sentinel

The four candidates running in two contested races for Boulder Valley school board seats all identify the achievement gap as a major issue, but they would take different approaches to solving it. Daily Camera

All three school districts in Arapahoe County will have new faces on their school boards after this fall's election. Denver Post

history lesson

A three-year power struggle ensued after Colorado Springs voters in 2003 elected a pro-education reform slate of school board candidates. Gazette

State Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Republican and former chairman of the State Board of Education, is one of the heavyweight supporters backing a new reform team of candidates that has emerged in the school board race for Colorado Springs School District 11. Gazette

safe schools

School will be in session at Rangeview High School today in Aurora after alleged threats were made against a teacher. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Denver ranks last among cities scrutinized for income-based achievement gaps

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/07/2015 - 10:28

A sweeping new report comparing schools in 50 urban areas portrayed Denver in grim terms by some measures — including a dubious distinction for its achievement gap between poor students and their better-off peers — while offering glimmers of hope.

Denver had the largest achievement gaps in both math and reading between students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch and other students among — 38 percent in reading and 30 percent in math over three years studied. The gap nationally was about 14 percent. Of the 50 cities examined in the report, 37 provided enough information for analysis on that achievement gap.

About 70 percent of students in Denver Public Schools qualify for a government-subsidized lunch.

Denver fared better when it came to proficiency gains in math and reading among all students, and racial gaps were narrower in advanced math course-taking rates than the national norm.

The report, released Wednesday by the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, paints a largely discouraging picture of U.S. urban education, especially when it comes to hard-to-serve students.

Nationally, the statistics are bleak and familiar: Academic performance in most cities is flat, with large numbers of schools ranking in the bottom 5 percent of their respective states. In one example of the barriers facing minority students, white students were four times more likely than black students to enroll in a top-scoring elementary or middle school, the report found.

Researchers relied on publicly available data and emphasized they looked at measures beyond test scores, including U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Survey data, out-of-school suspension rates and enrollment in high-level courses.

While the research for Denver drew almost entirely on Denver Public Schools information, it also included a few charter schools in Aurora and Charter School Institute schools, the authors said. DPS officials did not immediately comment on the report.

Despite DPS’s extensive efforts at school reform that have gained national attention, the district’s achievement gap between white and minority students has persisted for the last decade. Black and Latino students are making gains, but the gap is widening because white students are improving at a faster rate.

“There is a lot of great work going on in Denver, and people are doing a lot of innovative and I think positive stuff around improving the system,” said Michael DeArmond, the report’s lead author. “But like a lot of places, there is a lot of work still be done.”

Among the Denver-related findings:

  • Less than a third of cities made gains in math and writing over the three most recent years of data studied relative to their state’s performance. Denver was in that group, ranking No. 7 in math improvement and No. 13 in reading gains.
  • Seven percent of all Denver high school students in a given year took an advanced math class such as analytical geometry and trigonometry in 2011-12. In Miami and Chicago, 24 percent of students took such classes. Compared to other cities, the gaps in advanced math course-taking rates between white students and minority students were relatively small, however.
  • Denver’s graduation rates ranked No. 45 among cities in 2013, the year spotlighted in the report for that measure. DPS’s four-year on-time graduation rate was 61.3 percent that year (and has since inched up). That represented a considerable gain over time, however — it was 22 points higher than the graduation rate from 2006-7.

The report did not seek to analyze whether urban areas adopting particular approaches — heavy on district-run schools, charter schools, voucher programs or a blend — fared any better or worse. Some of the metro areas scrutinized boast a single district, while others are a patchwork with different strategies.

“When you look across as a collection, the mixed results shows there is no one sure path to success,” DeArmond said. “Clearly there a lot of different things going on in these cities.”

The report’s jarring conclusion about Denver’s achievement gap comes as the racial makeup of schools and how that correlates to academic performance gets increased scrutiny.

Charles Robertson, founder of Young Adults for Positive Action, was among more than 80 people who gathered Tuesday night in far northeast Denver for the premiere screening of a segment of “Standing in the Gap,” an upcoming Rocky Mountain PBS documentary series that examines education equity and the end of court-ordered busing in Denver.

After a community dialogue session that followed the screening at DPS’s Evie Garett Campus, Robertson said the report’s unflattering spotlight on Denver’s achievement gap shows the district needs to better involve businesses, foundations, organizations and parents in crafting new strategies.

“I continue to be surprised at the amount of effort the district continues to put in to the education system, but we continue to get the low results,” said Robertson, who served on the district’s Far Northeast Turnaround Committee. “We continue to do the same thing and expect different results when we should be looking at how we can be more creative.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Denver ranked last among 50 cities on income-based achievement gaps. However, researchers only were able to gather data for that measure on 37 cities, and Denver ranked last among those.

Here’s the full report:

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Contract agreement reached in Greeley

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/07/2015 - 09:34
Greeley agrees

Facing ongoing public backlash, Greeley-Evans School District 6 and Greeley teachers union officials on Tuesday took risks and gave ground to reach a tentative agreement for the 2015-16 teacher contract. Greeley Tribune

Indian mascots

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order Tuesday creating a commission to discuss American Indian high school mascots. A bill that would have created a body with power to require changes in mascots died during the 2015 legislative session. Denver Post, Durango Herald, AP via Coloradoan

Election 2015

None of the eight people vying for four seats on the Thompson School District Board of Education identified themselves as “reform” candidates, but all of them acknowledged during a forum that some change is needed in the district. Reporter-Herald

A “reform team” of candidates is looking to make changes in Colorado Springs District 11. Gazette


Arapahoe High School has changed its dance policy to ban students from "grinding" on the dance floor as it kicks off its homecoming week. Denver Post

Familiar face

Mike Miles, former superintendent of the Harrison schools and a 2004 Colorado U.S. Senate candidate, has returned to Colorado Springs but says he’s not interested in politics. Gazette

Pricey teacher housing

In the Roaring Fork School District, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree starts out at $35,691 a year — a fair margin above minimum wage, but not enough to buy a house or make resort rent prices easy to swallow. Post-Independent

Ed tech

For the Durango School District, keeping technology current is a challenge. Durango Herald

Aurora in spotlight

Two new reports paint different pictures of challenges facing the Aurora Public Schools. Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

The outgoing president of the Thompson school board defends charter schools in an op-ed column. Reporter-Herald

Categories: Urban School News

Coalition: Aurora could do more to improve chronically failing schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/07/2015 - 02:01

When Rico Munn was hired to lead Aurora Public Schools, the charge was clear: improve the inner suburb’s schools.

Two years later, a blistering report from 17 nonprofits claims that district officials are failing to meet that mandate.

The report’s authors, including several Denver-based education reform outfits, say Aurora officials have failed to explain their vision, engage parents and community members, and replicate successful schools that serve mostly poor and Latino students.

These factors, in part, have contributed to APS having 18 schools considered failing by the state, more than any other district besides Denver, and putting the district’s accreditation at risk, the report said.

But Superintendent Rico Munn counters that today, after months of listening to his community of teachers, principals, parents and civic leaders, the district is ready to take head on the needs of its schools and the students they serve.

“We were very intentional about laying the ground work for reform and turnaround,” Munn said. “We’re at a tipping point where we can accelerate the outcomes for our students.”

The report, the first of its kind to dive deep into Aurora’s struggles, is a prelude to a much larger conversation the city, its parents and schools are about to have: how to improve chronically low-performing schools.

“It’s difficult to come to terms with problems that are so close to home,” said Jordan Posamentie, a deputy policy director for the Center for Reinventing Public Education who has begun researching education changes in suburban school districts.

And those conversation about systemic education reform can often be grim.

“South (Middle School) is falling apart right now,” said Diana Castro, a parent volunteer for RISE Colorado, an organization that contributed to the report. “They sent us a letter that says if we want to move my brother to a different school we could. But we couldn’t because we live so close to the school, so he can walk.”

While those emotionally charged exchanges about improving failing schools are not new in urban centers like Denver, they are to suburbs like Aurora that were designed after World War II to serve mostly white and affluent families growing as a result of the baby boom.

Yet as demographics shift quickly in Aurora and across the nation, more observers of public education are increasingly paying attention to inner suburbs. And parents are awakening to the problems in their schools as as government sanctions, like those that Aurora faces, loom.

From bad to worse to — hopefully — better

Out of every 10 Aurora students, about six will graduate on time, two will go to college and one of those will need remediation when he or she arrives, the coalition’s report found.

“It makes me feel really sad,” Castro, whose daughter attends an APS preschool, said. “I’m scared. I don’t want my daughter to be one more statistic. It’s scary. It makes me upset.”

Graduation rates aren’t the district’s only concern, proficiency rates of APS students on state tests have fallen in reading and math and the gap between APS students and the state is widening.

Low-income students and students of color are performing worse in APS than in the rest of the state, including Denver.

Students learning English as a second language are also making slower progress than their peers in Denver, the report found.

And while the district has reduced suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement, less than half of students surveyed feel safe at school.

But the school system can turn a corner, Castro and the coalition believe.

Blessings, curses

Improving low-performing schools in suburbs comes with unique challenges and opportunities that education researchers are only now beginning to identify, Posamentie, the researcher, said.

“There are really interesting advantages to the suburbs addressing these problems if they get it right,” he said.

For example, growing suburbs like Aurora likely won’t have the option — and tough dilemma — of whether to close low performing schools. That’s because districts have no available space in other schools for students displaced by such closures. Instead, they can open new ones with unique models, something Aurora has already done.

Suburban school districts can also tap into usually strong volunteer bases and the local small business community, Posamentie said.

Another bonus: most suburban school districts already have lean central offices. That make bureaucratic shuffles like the one Aurora did last school year easier.

“When you don’t have that many people, you can get away with stronger change,” he said.

But there are drawbacks to being removed from an urban center.

Too often, Posamentie said, there’s a lack of infrastructure. Unreliable or scattered public transportation makes access to different schools difficult for low-income families trapped in pockets of poverty.

Suburban school districts with shrinking or stagnant budgets also can’t rely on generous donations to provide the additional support needed to educate more vulnerable students because they are traditionally focused on urban areas, Posamentie said.

And finally, the further away a school district is from the capitol, the less political clout they have to ask for resources.

But regardless of whether a school district is urban or suburban, Posamentie said, leaders must work together with teachers, parents and other community members to improve schools.

“To have the community work with the school district is essential,” he said. “For the community to be able to navigate the plan is really important.”

Slow and steady

Aurora is doing something, a lot of somethings, to improve its schools, said Superintendent Munn.

In his own report given to the city’s board of education Tuesday, Munn outlined all the steps the district has taken to improve schools up to this point, including reallocating more than $10 million dollars to schools, changing how it recruits and retains principals, and creating a turnaround leadership team.

The district has also launched several community-based committees to redesign up to five schools in the Original Aurora neighborhood, including Aurora Central High, that have been chronically under-performing.

Munn said he understands some of the frustration. But he cautioned the kind of fast and flashy change some in the education reform might hope for often doesn’t work.

“You can come in and move fast and move out of alignment with your community,” he said. “But that’s not helpful or sustainable.”

Moving forward, Aurora schools facing similar obstacles will work in teams to boost student learning. That includes 14 schools that are focused on culturally-responsive learning, Munn said.

The district also has a new annual review process for schools to identify what supports, such as increased teacher training or different curriculum, it needs from the district.

“We need to create more space for innovation in the district,” Munn said.

Among the coalitions report’s recommendations to do that:

  • Rewrite the district’s strategic plan with a timeline and milestones linked to student data
  • Engage parents and community members early on issues like school improvement plans, transportation, and before and after-school programing
  • Provide families with easy-to-understand school performance data in families’ native languages
  • Build new curriculum and programs for students who are learning English as a second language
  • Create room for charter schools

“I hope this report helps the district,” Castro said. “I hope the district takes this seriously and does something. I really hope so.”

A tale of two reports

Read the “If Not Now … ” report
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Read Munn’s “CORE” report
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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Diana Castro. 

Categories: Urban School News

There’s nothing usual about how the Harrison School District educates students of color

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 10/06/2015 - 09:53
Closing the gap

The Harrison School District in Colorado Springs has a higher percentage of black and Latino students in advanced courses than most school districts. 9News

Late to a very important date

Nearly 100 Adams County third-graders got a lesson in scheduling last week when school bus drivers left them and their teachers on a Denver street for more than an hour. Denver Post


Colorado State University's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering — with the help of a new, $593,000 grant from the National Science Foundation — hopes to place more engineers in the classroom. Denver Business Journal

Election 2015

A Loveland man was ticketed for writing anti-teachers union rhetoric on a campaign sign for two Thompson school board candidates. Reporter-Herald

Susan Femmer, a retired Boulder Valley paraprofessional and current school volunteer, is dropping out of the Boulder Valley school board race because of health issues. Daily Camera

Voters in the Elizabeth School District will select two out of three candidates for four-year terms on the school board. Here’s where the candidates stand on the issues. Elbert County News

Northwest Denver School board candidates Lisa Flores and Michael Kiley, in a debate, faced off over the controversial use of enrollment zones. Chalkbeat Colorado

Meanwhile, views on the role of charter schools in Denver Public Schools provided the sharpest contrast between incumbent board member Allegra “Happy” Haynes and challenger Robert Speth during another debate. Chalkbeat Colorado

By the numbers

Official school enrollment numbers taken Oct. 1 counted 2,515 students in the Steamboat Springs School District, exactly the number district officials were expecting. Steamboat Today

Colorado Springs School District 11 has received the Association of School Business Officials International's Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting award for having met the program's high standards for financial reporting 26 years in a row. Gazette

Healthy schools

With five new health clinics opening in schools across Colorado this fall, including the first to offer obstetric services, it's a big year for school-based health care in the state. Chalkbeat Colorado

all for one, one for all

The Northridge High cheer squad in Greeley allows all students to participate. And that makes a few students feel like a part of the school for the first time. Greeley Tribune

safe schools

The Denver Center for International Studies in the Baker neighborhood was placed on lockdown following a report of a student with a knife. It was lifted a short time later. 9News

Categories: Urban School News

Citywide DPS candidates diverge on charters, debate achievement gap

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 10/06/2015 - 08:01

Views on the role of charter schools in Denver Public Schools provided the sharpest contrast between incumbent board member Allegra “Happy” Haynes and challenger Robert Speth during a televised debate Monday evening.

Speth, a northwest Denver parent, warned that because of charter growth, “In about 10 years, the entire district is at the risk of privatized,” while Haynes said, “I am for good schools whether they’re charter schools or innovation schools or traditional schools. … My agenda is that every child has an opportunity to get the highest quality education that they can.”

The two faced off in the third of three school board debates co-sponsored by A+ Denver, Denver Decides and Chalkbeat Colorado. The debate was moderated by Chalkbeat Colorado Bureau Chief Eric Gorski and was recorded by DPS’ Channel 22.  (Watch the debate in its entirety below).

Haynes, current president of the seven-member board, touted district academic growth, improvement at individual schools and improving graduation and dropout rates as reasons to re-elect her to the citywide seat.

“I believe this is the progress we’ve made under my leadership and that of my colleagues,” she said.

But Speth countered that widening achievement gaps and teacher turnover are signs that the board and the district need to reconsider the direction of DPS. The achievement gap is a “key performance metric that is rapidly moving in the wrong direction. … Over the 10 years my opponent has been involved with the district the gap has been growing and growing.” Haynes was a district administrator before being elected to the board in 2011.

An early question focused on Haynes’ recent appointment as Denver parks and recreation director and the possibility of conflicts of interest between her two roles. The city’s ethics commission on Oct. 21 will consider Haynes’ request for advice on the matter.

“I don’t see a problem at all with serving in both of these roles,” Haynes said. “Both organizations have very clear guidelines on when a conflict arises and what the conduct should be.”

Speth said there’s “an ongoing ethical issue” because “there’s a lot of interaction between these two organizations.” He also referred to “a concentration of power” in the city and district and asked, “At what point is it when we have one person taking on too much?”

Haynes took a bit of offense at that, saying, “My opponent seems to think that elected office and appointive office is a matter of politics and power. I think that’s sad.” She said she thinks she’s in a position of “serving our community in two different ways.”

The two also displayed differences on the issue of closing schools and co-locating different schools in the same building.

Speth said the closing schools “is really near and dear to me as a topic,” referring to controversy in northwest Denver over a middle school closing. He said new charter schools are “there kind of hovering” waiting for buildings, implying that DPS was closing schools to make room for charters. “Closing a school should be the absolute last resort,” he said.

Haynes said, “It’s a tough issue about when you should make a decision to close a school” but that “We owe it to our children if a school is failing to take steps.” Referring to a new school transformation and closure policy being considered by the board, she said there needs to be more consistency and predictability about when schools are closed or overhauled. But Haynes said there’s room for flexibility. “I don’t want to have just a formula.”

On co-location, Speth said the practice is “just unbelievably contentious” and that housing different schools in the same building is not “what the communities of Denver really want.” The board is scheduled to vote this month on locating a middle school in excess space in Abraham Lincoln High School over the objection of many students and parents.

Haynes replied, “What he fails to recognize is these buildings have room in them because of declining enrollment” and that the district has to do what it feels best serves students.

The two subtly needled each other a couple of times about Haynes’ background.

“I’m a parent not a politician,” Speth stressed early in the debate.

“The notion that my opponent is a parent and I’m not is disrespectful,” Haynes said, adding later, “Serving on the school board is not about politics, it’s about doing what’s right for kids.”

Haynes has a long resume in politics, having worked as a city hall staffer and a city council member, plus a stretch on the appointed Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Most recently she worked for CRL Associates, an influential public policy consulting firm.

Categories: Urban School News

Northwest Denver school board candidates, in debate, tackle controversial enrollment zones

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 10/06/2015 - 08:00

Lisa Flores and Michael Kiley, candidates in the hotly contested school board race to represent Denver’s gentrifying northwest corner, grappled in a debate Monday evening over how to improve and better integrate schools, and how to retain the district’s best teachers.

Flores and Kiley, who represent stark philosophical differences, are battling it out for the school board’s only open seat this fall. Arturo Jimenez, who currently holds the seat, is term limited.

Those differences were highlighted Monday on nearly every issue.

“When I hear our neighborhood schools are failing, my experience tells me it’s the district [that] has failed our neighborhood schools,” Kiley said.

Flores countered later that the squabble over supporting district-run or charter schools is a red herring.

“We should be focused less on governing models and more focused on which schools are providing a great quality education,” Flores said.

Monday’s debate was the second of three school board debates co-sponsored by A+ Denver, Denver Decides and Chalkbeat Colorado. The debate was moderated by Chalkbeat Colorado Bureau Chief Eric Gorski and was recorded by Denver Public Schools’ Channel 22.

Flores is generally supportive of DPS’s strategies, including phasing-out low performing schools and replacing them with new programs and schools, which often has translated to charter schools with greater flexibility from district bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, Kiley has branded himself as a champion for the traditional neighborhood school providing students with a liberal arts education, physical education and arts programs.

While the outcome of the race in northwest Denver will do little to shift the school board’s current trajectory, a win by Kiley would signal at least one pocket of discontent with Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s administration and keep at least one reliable critic on the board.

The 2013 election produced a school board that regularly supports Boasberg’s agenda. And that’s become a central campaign issue for the current northwest race. Kiley and his supporters have charged that if Flores wins, the district will go unchecked by its governing board.

“The political dynamic is pretty clear,” Kiley said at the debate. “I struggle to think where [Flores] disagreed with the board majority.”

Flores said she is her own woman.

“I’m not running for or against the DPS administration,” she said. “I’m running for the kids. Every single vote and decision I make is going to be centered on how do we make better academic outcomes for our children.”

Flores said one of her main objectives is to improve the district’s pipeline of principals.

“That’s a key ingredient that we often overlook,” she said.

She said hiring and retaining better principals will lead to better school cultures and fewer teachers leaving the district.

But one of the only ways DPS can solve its high teacher and principal turnover rate is by providing schools with more resources and less bureaucracy, Kiley said.

“What they tell me they need is freedom to serve their families better,” he said.

Earlier this year, the school board did direct DPS officials to begin allowing school principals to apply for waivers from some district policies, including curriculum.

Another hot campaign issue that has emerged in northwest Denver and across the city is how the district has redrawn some school attendance boundaries.

The district believes by eliminating traditional neighborhood boundaries and creating wider “enrollment zones” that encompass more neighborhoods and campuses, schools will become more integrated. And that, the thinking goes, could lead to closing the achievement gap as was seen in more integrated schools in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Kiley, echoing some vocal northwest parents, disagrees.

“Trying to solve the broader social challenges by using a lottery and forcing a parent with resources into a school they don’t like won’t work,” Kiley said. “It didn’t work in the ’70s with busing and won’t work with enrollment zones now.”

For 20 years, DPS was court-ordered to integrate its schools through a program that bused more affluent students across neighborhood lines into poorer schools and vice versa. In response, thousands of affluent white families fled the district for nearby suburban school districts or private schools.

Flores, who appeared to grow flustered at times with Kiley’s rhetoric, said she had no patience for “scare tactics” and pointed out that most Denver families are able to attend their first school of choice.

“I am someone who supports parent choice,” she said. “I don’t think anyone should be forced into a school,” she said. “… The overwhelming majority who have participated in that program have received their first choice.”

But Flores fell short of outright endorsing enrollment zones as a working policy that should applied across the district.

“There is no one answer that fits every community,” she said.

Flores most recently was a grant manager at the Gates Family Foundation. She also has dozens of years of experience in both the public and nonprofit sector.

Flores has also served on the boards of the Children’s Museum, Denver’s Welfare Reform Board and Denver Housing Authority.

Kiley works for Kronos, a software company, as a project manager. He previously unsuccessfully ran for an at-large seat on the Denver school board in 2013.

Kiley played a leadership on the Northwest Community Committee, a task force created in 2011 to make recommendations to DPS on how to improve its schools. He also served as president of the Edison Elementary PTA.

Categories: Urban School News

Big year for school-based health in Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 10/05/2015 - 14:17

Jade-Marie Burgess lifted her two-year old son Eli onto the beige exam table. He was having tummy trouble so she’d gotten a walk-in appointment at the new clinic.

For 18-year-old Burgess, a senior at Denver’s Florence Crittenton High School, the appointment was a cinch. With the clinic just down the hall from her second-hour class and across the courtyard from Eli’s child care room, travel time was about two minutes.

Last year, it was a very different story. When her son was sick, she’d travel with him on two city buses to the clinic at Alameda International High School in Lakewood. The average time away from school was four to five hours.

It was “ridiculously long,” she said.

The clinic—still so new there are no pictures or decorations on its pale green walls—is a major milestone for the school, which enrolls 145 pregnant and parenting teenagers, as well as 109 of their young children.

School leaders believe it will help reduce absences due to illness as well as those associated with long commutes like the ones Burgess experienced.

The clinic, officially called the Alethea D. Morgan, M.D. Health Center, is also part of the reason that school-based health centers are having a red-letter year in Colorado.

This new building on the campus of Florence Crittenton High School in Denver’s Valverde neighborhood replaced two cinderblock warehouses and a gravel parking lot.

It’s among five new ones that have opened across the state this fall. That’s an unusually high number for Colorado, which has a total of 61 school-based clinics. The other four new centers are at schools in Aurora, Carbondale, Cortez and Leadville.

The clinic at Florence Crittenton is also the first school-based health center in the state to offer routine obstetric services—everything but ultrasounds and delivery.

Given the population served by the school, it was “a no-brainer to add that component,” said Suzanne Banning, President and CEO of Florence Crittenton Services.

A big lift

Advocates of school clinics in Denver and elsewhere readily admit that establishing such facilities isn’t easy. It takes years of planning and the costs are formidable.

At Florence Crittenton, the clinic is part of a new $8.8 million school building. About two-thirds of that money came from a Denver Public Schools bond issue and one-third from fundraising by Florence Crittenton Services.

Operating costs will run about $200,000 a year, to be covered initially by grant funding and dollars from Denver Health, which operates the clinic.

Currently, the state has a $5.3 million budget line that provides planning, start-up and operations grants for school-based health centers.

“That is enough right now, but as the number of school based health centers grows and that pot is divided among more locations, that won’t be enough,” said Deborah Costin, executive director of the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care.

Kids in the early childhood education program at Denver’s Florence Crittenton High School play on a new playground that was part of a construction project that added a new health clinic, gym and classroom space.

Still, there’s evidence that school-based clinics improve health access for kids, particularly those who face the greatest barriers in getting care.

Such barriers are often higher for Florence Crittenton students, who have to manage health care decisions for themselves and their children. Without the same-day appointment Burgess got for her sick toddler at the school clinic, it could have easily turned into emergency room visit, said Banning.

Getting students to make and keep health appointments at off-campus clinics has often been struggle at Florence Crittenton.

“We’ve always seen the challenge the girls had in navigating the health care system,” she said. “We’ve always seen that we set the appointment, but unless we gave them money and a taxicab to get down there, which we often did, they wouldn’t go.”

“Now, they’ve got nirvana,” Banning said as she led a tour of the new brick building that houses the clinic, high school classroom space and a gymnasium.

More clinics on the way

Two more school-based clinics are slated to open in Colorado next year — one on the Boulder Valley district’s Arapahoe Campus and one at a yet-to-be-determined location in the Adams 12 district. The clinics will be the first school-based health centers for both districts.

For many districts, the addition of school-based health centers represents the growing awareness about the link between health and achievement.

The idea is that students with health problems—whether asthma, tooth decay, depression or something else—miss out on learning.

“I think educators are becoming more cognizant of that,” said Costin, even as they work to raise test scores.

“Many of them are saying, ‘Well wait a minute, health is such a big part of this. Even though we’re in the education business, we need to be in the health business too, to move the needle on these measures.’”


Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Thompson union wins another round

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 10/05/2015 - 10:06
Thompson interrupted

The Thompson school board cannot change any policies regarding the Thompson Education Association while an appeal on a court-ordered injunction continues. The Colorado Court of Appeals has refused to delay that injunction, as requested the school board. That means the district must maintain the current conditions of employment and cannot remove union privileges while the case is pending. Reporter-Herald

moving on

An analysis of salary data and school free and reduced-price lunch rates has revealed a teacher experience gap in near-direct correlation to the poverty level of Greeley schools. Greeley Tribune

End of an era

After 45 years creating a legacy for Eaton's high school, baseball coach Jim Danley's iconic run is officially over. Denver Post, 9News

Election 2015

Two candidates in the Thompson school board election are searching for the vandal or vandals constantly targeting their yard signs. CBS Denver

The Roaring Fork School District’s $122 million bond proposal offers great promise for some schools but also poses political challenges. Aspen Times

Candidates for the Poudre school board sparred over testing and marijuana taxes during a recent forum. Coloradoan

The roots of Aspen’s proposed tax increase are in the state school funding shortfall. Aspen Times

Only one seat is contested of the two Durango school board positions on this ballot this fall. Durango Herald

School change

Colorado’s middle school principal of the year talks about how he turned his Summit County school around. Summit Daily

Building and curriculum changes at schools serving most of Jefferson County’s low-income and Latino students are taking hold and working, the school board has been told. Chalkbeat Colorado

D.C. transition

The appointment of former New York State Education Commissioner John King to head the U.S. Department of Education signals potentially deepening attention to education equity issues for the Obama administration. Chalkbeat New York

College costs

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia argues that colleges should have more flexibility in setting tuition rates. Coloradoan

Two cents

Reforms implemented by the Jeffco school board have put the district on the right track, writes the Colorado director of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Colorado Statesman

Categories: Urban School News

Meet the former N.Y. education chief who will take over for Arne Duncan as education secretary

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 19:16

Former New York State Education Commissioner John King will take over the federal education department in President Barack Obama’s final year in office, the president announced Friday.

King’s appointment signals potentially deepening attention to education equity issues for the Obama administration.

Arne Duncan, who has been education secretary since Obama first came into office in 2008, will step down at the end of 2015. He is set to move back to Chicago, where he was schools chief before joining the Obama administration and where his wife and children recently moved from Washington, D.C.

King joined the department as a senior advisor to Duncan in December, shortly after resigning from New York’s education department amid controversy over new learning standards and teacher evaluations. He had been commissioner for three and a half years.

[Here’s our timeline of King’s turbulent tenure.]

Duncan brought the nation’s education system “sometimes kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” Obama said during a Friday afternoon press conference. “We are making progress and we’re not going to stop in these last 15 months,” he added.

Duncan oversaw the creation of the Race to the Top program, which allowed states to apply for $4.35 billion in federal funding in exchange for changing their teacher evaluation laws, overhauling teacher preparation programs, promoting charter schools, and committing to shared learning standards. New York was one of 16 states to win a slice of the funding, and King was most responsible for crafting the application.

On Friday, King praised the administration’s policies around early-childhood education, tougher learning standards, and college access.

“It’s an incredible agenda and I’m proud to be able to carry it forward,” King said at the White House press briefing.

He becomes acting education secretary at a time when the federal education department’s role is in flux. Obama will not seek his official nomination in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Republicans who have grown increasingly critical of the federal government’s role in education policy.

That means King’s ability to push major policy changes may be limited. But he is likely to have wide latitude to advocate for an agenda that he deems important.

That agenda is likely to focus on equity issues. In a speech at the National Coalition on School Diversity conference in Washington, D.C. last week, King emphasized that racially and socioeconomically integrated schools benefit students academically and personally and promote the American ideal of equal opportunity.

King also suggested that the department might promote integration as one way to narrow achievement gaps and revamp low-performing schools — an approach that advocates faulted Duncan for doing little to advance.

In an interview with Chalkbeat after the speech, King said that integration is a school turnaround strategy that “has a long history and substantial evidence” of effectiveness, adding that the department is seeking to highlight examples of districts that have successfully pursued integration. One of his last actions as New York’s education chief was to launch a pilot program that used federal school-improvement money to fund socioeconomic integration measures at high-poverty schools.

“Schools that are integrated better reflect our values as a country,” King said in his speech, adding that the country has “much, much more to do” to ensure that all students receive strong educations regardless of their background.

Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has written extensively about socioeconomic school integration, said King had already taken a “strikingly different” approach from Duncan by suggesting that integration could be a tool for school turnaround. He said King could sway districts to take steps on integration even with relatively minor incentive programs, adding that the Obama administration has been willing to roll out significant new initiatives in other policy areas despite its lame-duck status.

He also said the climate is ripe for equity-focused education efforts following the recent unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., which have sparked national conversations about racial and economic inequality.

“The moment is right,” he said. “I’ve been writing about school segregation for a couple of decades, and I’ve never seen as much interest in it as in recent months.”

King’s attention to diversity issues is longstanding. As New York’s education chief, he clashed with New York City administrators over the importance of not concentrating high-needs students at low-performing schools. More recently, Kathryn McDermott, a professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that after she wrote a research paper criticizing the Technical Assistance for Student Assignment Plans, a little-known diversity initiative funded by the Obama administration, King responded personally.

Dennis Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program, said Duncan had already begun to shed his “mixed record” on school equity with a move this week to tackle the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Saying that he would instead like to see a “prison-to-school pipeline,” Duncan announced an initiative to keep students out of the criminal justice system and redirecting spending from prisons to teachers. Schools refer 250,000 students — mostly boys of color or students with disabilities — to the police each year.

“That might ultimately be one of the most important things that he’s done,” Parker said.

King, who was New York’s first African-American and Puerto Rican education commissioner, oversaw the state’s education department during a period of sweeping policy changes. After winning $700 million in federal Race to the Top grants, King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch moved quickly to change how teachers are evaluated and adopt the tougher Common Core learning standards.

The Common Core rollout triggered a backlash from parents and educators who said the changes came too quickly, leaving little time for teachers to be retrained or classroom materials to be updated. King pushed to introduce new tests aligned to the higher standards in the same year that those tests factored into a teacher’s evaluation for the first time. His reluctance to slow down those changes caused years of turbulence and divisiveness that have continued well beyond his tenure.

Duncan was a frequent visitor to Colorado, in particular Denver Public Schools, where he forged a strong relationship with Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Former DPS spokesman Michael Vaughn, who worked for Duncan in Chicago Public Schools, said Friday that Duncan will be remembered for “fighting really hard for kids and fighting the political pressure that comes with things like holding accountable schools that have not been serving kids well — and getting really good teachers, especially in high-poverty communities. He was super-tenacious and courageous about taking on those really hard fights.”

Colorado State Board of Education chairman Steve Durham, a Republican, was unsurprisingly not as positive in his assessment: “The federal government’s one-size-fits all approach perhaps already has but certainly will prove to be not positive for education results. The use of federal funds to force conformity and limit experimentation and innovation in education is not something we should proud of.”

Chalkbeat Colorado bureau chief Eric Gorski contributed information to this report.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Chicago’s graduation rates knocked down a notch

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 17:44
  • Chicago revised four years of graduation rates downwards after an investigation revealed that the rates were inflated. (WBEZ)
  • A landmark study found that the benefits of Tennessee’s expanded pre-kindergarten program fade out over time — and might even negatively affect participants in the long term. (Chalkbeat)
  • As in many places, D.C. is increasing Advanced Placement courses in its schools, but students aren’t keeping pace. (Greater Greater Ed)
  • Aggressive lobbying has kept schools spending big on graphing calculators that are less powerful than the average smart phone. (Mic)
  • An update on the state of education reporting finds lots of promise in Chalkbeat’s model. (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit engineered by StudentsFirst that sought to limit teachers unions’ ability to spend on political action. (L.A. Times)
  • The father of a New York City student murdered in a housing project is working to steer young adults away from violence. (New Yorker)
  • After years of smaller-is-better initiatives, efforts to improve high schools are no longer focusing on size. (Hechinger Report)
  • A parting word from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Instead of building prisons, we should pay teachers more. (Politics K-12)
  • A Florida county that started screening all students for giftedness found it among non-white students who previously had not been identified as gifted. (Washington Post)
  • A teacher notes that the same type of parents who opt their children out of tests also use the scores as arguments against integration. (Critical Classrooms)
  • The latest update on Finland’s superior schools: Children decide what they learn in kindergarten. (The Atlantic)
Categories: Urban School News

Changes embraced at Jeffco schools that serve low-income students

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 17:35

GOLDEN — Building and curriculum changes at schools serving most of Jefferson County’s low-income and Latino students are taking hold and working, the school board heard Thursday.

Early anecdotal evidence suggests the changes, which include combining four schools into two and developing a dual language program in primary schools, are resonating with teachers, students and parents, district leaders said.

But there are long-term building needs that the district will need to tackle and it’s still too early to know whether an emphasis to improve students’ vocabularies will be enough to boost achievement for those who are chronically behind.

“We’re in a good place,” said Susie Van Scoyk, principal of the reconfigured Alameda International Junior-Senior High School.

As part of the changes the school board approved last spring to schools in the Lakewood and Edgewater portions of Jefferson County that border Denver, Alameda High and O’Connell Middle schools merged to create the new grades 7-12 school.

Traffic congestion persists at the school, which now enrolls more than 1,300 students, 300 more than anticipated, Van Scoyk said. And classroom and meeting space are at a premium.

But, “it is really exciting to say, we’re full — we’re at capacity,” Van Scoyk said.

Alternatively, elementary students and teachers at the new Stein Elementary at O’Connell school are relishing their new digs, said Principal Samantha Salazar.

“We’re all under one roof,” Salazar said.

At the school’s former campus, kindergarteners were in mobile classrooms. Precious time was lost shuffling them in and out of the building for lunch or a trip to a library, especially during winter months, Salazar said.

And teachers now have a space to meet and plan together, Salazar said.

“No longer are we in a custodial closet to do our professional learning community,” she said.

At Jeffco’s second reconfigured junior-senior high school, Jefferson, older students have taken the lead to welcome the middle school students from the shuttered Wheat Ridge 5-8 school, said Karen Quanbeck, a Jeffco achievement director who oversees the schools in Edgewater.

“They feel a deep responsibility to mentor the junior-high students,” she said.

District officials believe the instructional changes at schools in the Edgewater area, including a push for stronger vocabulary skills and designing classes around projects, will boost student learning where it has traditionally fallen behind the more white and affluent district.

Jefferson has bounced on and off the state’s academic watch list for years.

No school in the area is on that list now. But student test scores across all grade levels in Edgewater continue to lag. Only about four of every 10 students at Lumberg Elementary could read at grade level in the third grade, according to state tests issued in 2014. At the same time, seven of every 10 Jeffco third graders were reading at grade level.

Given a switch in state assessments, it will be difficult in the near future to gauge whether the changes are effective. However, the schools will be using local benchmark assessments as a barometer.

Principals at both Alameda and Jefferson Junior-Senior High schools told the board a nascent concern is their aging buildings that are now “bursting at the seams” with students.

“We’re in our 60th year at Jefferson,” Principal Michael James said. “We can feel that in our building.”

School board members praised both communities for their work.

“We’ve come a long way from last year,” said board member Julie Williams. “We had parents lined up for public comment with many different concerns.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver Public Schools’ challenge of finding and keeping black teachers

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 09:43
race matters

Denver Public Schools struggles to attract and retain minority teachers, particularly black teachers, mirroring a challenge faced by many urban school districts across the country. Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

count day

Thursday was the official "pupil count date" for Colorado's public schools, the day school districts report how many students are in attendance for funding purposes. Denver Channel

second chances

On Metropolitan State University of Denver’s 50th anniversary, a student there at the beginning returns to pursue education in a second career. 9News

house calls

For the third year, volunteers are working to reduce chronic absenteeism in the Adams 12 district by making early-semester home visits. Denver Post

Old school

Students at Ute Pass Elementary School are learning math concepts by trying to unlock that hands-on craze from the '70s and '80s, Rubik’s Cube. Gazette

wish list

The State Board of Education has set a high bar for the next education commissioner but seemS to be sending mixed signals about whether being a visionary is a desired trait. Chalkbeat Colorado

negative feelings

Gov. John Hickenlooper, in a brief talk to an education group, raises the possibility of Colorado’s school funding gap growing. Chalkbeat Colorado

Election 2015

Candidates in the Adams 50 school board races sound off. Northglenn Thornton Sentinel

Preparing for the worst

Colorado colleges and universities have developed procedures for dealing with active shooting situations on campus like the tragedy Thursday in Oregon. 9News

School safety

All students were accounted for Thursday at Cesar Chavez Academy in the West Highland neighborhood, but Denver police are continuing to investigate a report of a possible abduction. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Hickenlooper warns K-12 shortfall may grow

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 18:11

Colorado’s $855 million school funding gap may well grow in 2016-17, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday in remarks to a group that advocates for improved school support.

“We might not be able to decrease the negative factor, and there might be an increase,” the governor said, referring to the 2016-17 budget plan he has to submit to the legislature by Nov. 1.

Hickenlooper spoke to the annual fundraising luncheon for Great Education Colorado, an advocacy group that long has been critical of the negative factor, the formula the legislature uses to control school spending and balance the state budget.

The Colorado Supreme Court just last week rejected the case of Dwyer v. State, a constitutional challenge to the negative factor. That decision disheartened many education advocates.

Hickenlooper’s remarks were not surprising, given the court ruling and a variety of complicated budget challenges facing the state. But it was the first time the governor publicly gave that warning to a large education audience.

The governor’s comment was made in the context of brief, campaign-style remarks during which he pushed for a change that would ease pressure on the state’s revenue ceiling and dismissed Republican criticism of two administration transportation initiatives.

Negative factor history

  • Fiscal year 15-16: $855.1M
  • FY14-15: $880M
  • FY13-14: $1.004B
  • FY12-13: $1.001B
  • FY11-12: $774M
  • FY10-11: $381M
  • FY09-10: $130M

The governor talked mainly about the hospital provider fee, an assessment levied on hospitals and used to gain additional federal Medicaid funding. While it isn’t a general tax, the fee counts against the annual revenue limit set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That limit has been exceeded, triggering taxpayer refunds for as long as three years.

Hickenlooper was unsuccessful in persuading the 2015 legislature to reclassify the fee so that it wouldn’t count against the revenue limit. He’s expected to try again during the 2016 session.

“If we can get that reclassified it doesn’t solve the education and transportation funding problems, but it gives us some breathing room,” Hickenlooper said.

School district lobbyists are talking about allying with transportation interests to pressure lawmakers to reclassify the provider fee next year. That may be hard, given split partisan control of the legislature and the fact that 2016 is an election year.

The governor spoke for about eight minutes, didn’t take questions and left immediately after speaking. His cautionary remarks didn’t dampen the rhetoric of some speakers who followed him.

“Please understand that education was dealt another drastic blow” by the latest Supreme Court decision, said Buffalo district Superintendent Rob Sanders.

“When the Supreme Court rules that our system is thorough and uniform, I would beg to differ,” said Bethune Superintendent Shila Adolf. “There is no reason we should be sending the message that we can’t afford good education.”

The state constitution calls for a “thorough and uniform” education system. Many educators believe the current funding system violates that.

Boulder Valley Supt. Bruce Messinger / File photo

Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger was the most blunt.

“The reality is unless this state steps up and provides adequate funding for public schools, we are going to lose our public schools. … Public education in this state is dying a slow death,” he said.

Messinger praised Hickenlooper’s stand on the provider fee. “We are going to get it done, and then we’re going” after TABOR, he said.

“We’re going to need to get TABOR out of the way” to improve school funding, he said. Because TABOR is part of the constitution, repealing or modifying it would require a statewide vote.

Denver Deputy Mayor Cary Kennedy, a member of Great Education’s advisory council, said, “That Supreme Court ruling has motivated me more than ever” to push for increased school funding. Kennedy was the author of Amendment 23, the 2000 constitutional provision that requires base school funding increase annually based on enrollment and inflation.

Many advocates believe the high court’s Dwyer decision essentially gutted Amendment 23.

Learn more about school finance in Chalkbeat’s archives

Categories: Urban School News

Denver schools don’t have a lot of black teachers. Here are a few reasons why.

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 17:22

Denver Public Schools struggles to attract and retain minority teachers, particularly black teachers, mirroring a challenge faced by many urban school districts across the country.

The resulting imbalance is striking. White students in Denver are 10 times more likely to be taught by a teacher of their own race than are either black or Latino students, records show.

Educators and academics say that having a teaching staff that mirrors the student body’s racial composition makes a substantial, positive difference for kids and schools alike.

“(A racially and ethnically diverse teaching staff) is vitally important, not only because it impacts the learning environment for students, but it influences the whole culture and climate of a school,” said Elizabeth Hinde, dean of the School of Education at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

But there are many reasons districts like Denver and others in Colorado and nationally have trouble recruiting and retaining minority teachers, and especially black teachers, according to minority educators, district officials and other experts:

  • Professionals of color have more, often better-paying options open to them than they did four decades ago.
  • Schools and school districts are riddled with “unconscious bias” that make them feel like inhospitable places for minority teachers to work.
  • Relatively few black and Latino students enroll in schools of education, and even fewer graduate.
  • In Denver, black teachers are fired at a slightly higher rate than teachers of other racial and ethnic groups.

Last school year in DPS, there were just 241 black teachers, 77 fewer than in 1970, the year the Keyes v. School District No. 1 desegregation case was first decided in U.S. District Court in Denver. The number of black students declined over that period as well, but at a lower rate. This means the ratio of black students to black teachers has worsened, from 44-to-1 in 1970 to 51-to-1 last school year.

By contrast Denver’s Latino student to teacher ratio, while still high, declined markedly from 1970, when it was 206-to-1, to 2014, when it was 52-to-1. The number of Latino students in the district soared by 138 percent during that period, but the number of Latino teachers grew much faster – by 845 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are four white students for every white teacher in Denver.

Still, DPS’ numbers look less bad when compared to other metro area school districts. In Aurora Public Schools, for example, where a higher percentage of the student body is black – 18.1 percent vs. 13.8 percent in Denver – the percentage of black teachers is lower, 3.4 percent in Aurora vs. 4.1 percent in Denver. This means there are 97 black students for every black teacher in Aurora.

Other suburban districts have almost no black teachers. Jeffco Public Schools, Colorado’s second largest school district, employs just 12 black teachers, 0.2 percent of the teaching force. The student body in Jeffco is just 1.2 percent black, meaning the black student to black teacher ratio there is 85-to-1.

A history of bias?

Some critics of the Denver district say DPS pushes out black teachers at least as fast as it can hire them, and district officials acknowledge that “unconscious bias” may play a role in individual decisions in schools that lead to the dismissal of black teachers. The district has embarked on intensive “unconscious bias” training for its central office and school-site leadership.

DPS records for the past three years show that black teachers have been fired at a higher rate than other racial and ethnic groups: 6.5 percent of black teachers, 4.2 percent of white teachers, 3.8 percent of Latino teachers and 5.4 percent of mixed race/Asian/Native American teachers have been dismissed over the past three years.

Sharon Bailey, a Denver school board member from 1988 to 1995, said there is a widespread sense among some current and former black teachers, women in particular, that their contributions have not been valued by the district.

These issues aren’t new, Bailey said. When she served on the board, “African American teachers often felt isolated and unsupported by principals and the district.” In particular, she said teachers who were outspoken about issues like high suspension rates among African American male students “felt always at risk and like they had to tiptoe around issues. They felt little or no support for their efforts to support African American students.”

Annette Sills-Brown taught in DPS for 17 years before losing her job in 2011. She said she is convinced her union activism and outspokenness about the district’s failures to educate African American students contributed to her dismissal.

Still, she said, “I would definitely encourage a young African American teacher to go to DPS. It is the only way to make change.”

Whitney Robinson-Johnson, who lost her DPS teaching job in 2012 and now teaches in an Aurora charter school, said in schools with many minority students and low test scores, the failure of a largely white teaching staff to adequately educate students of color is glaring.

On top of that, Robinson-Johnson said, there is the “internalized racism” that many minority teachers feel coming from white parents.

What it all adds up to, she said, is an environment in which some black teachers decide there must be a better way to earn a living.

New pipelines

DPS administrators seem eager to acknowledge that the district suffers from ingrained, unconscious bias. They say they are working methodically to identify and eradicate it to the extent possible.

Last March, the district held its first “Mile High Showcase,” bringing 18 top minority teaching candidates from around the country to Denver for three days, hoping to persuade them to take a teaching job here. The effort succeeded: 14 of the 18 are now teaching in Denver schools.

While all eight Latino candidates signed on, three of six black candidates did so.

Now the key is retaining those teachers for the long haul. To that end, DPS is enhancing its efforts, and bringing in new partners. For the next round, DPS is partnering with the Mayor’s Office of Children’s Affairs and a group of local foundations to beef up the showcase and attach a mentoring program that will help new minority teachers settle in and put down roots in Denver. Each teacher will be paired with a civic or business leader of his or her race to help the new hire forge bonds here.

The district also has two grow-your-own teacher programs, Denver Teach Today and the Denver Teacher Residency, both of which are creating pipelines of minority teachers for the district.

Coupled with these initiatives is a concerted district effort to train its staff in how to work with a diverse group of people, said Debbie Hearty, DPS’ chief of human resources. That means changing the focus of diversity training from the more traditional “understand and respect differences” approach to one focused on the unconscious biases harbored by every individual, Hearty said.

Absence of in-state candidates

DPS officials also pointed a finger at Colorado’s schools of education, which Superintendent Tom Boasberg said “are pathetic in terms of the diversity” of their aspiring teachers. State data bears Boasberg out, particularly when it comes to black students enrolled in teacher education.

In 2014, just 1.9 percent of enrollees in Colorado’s college and university-based teacher preparation programs were black. Just over 11 percent were Latino, and 72 percent were white. Those number have held steady for the past four years. These numbers helped motivate DPS to create its own alternative pipelines.

Hinde, the Metro State education dean, acknowledged that her school and others need to do a better job attracting and retaining minority candidates. But she said there are multiple obstacles, and laying all the blame at the feet of higher education is simplistic and unfair.

It’s also worth asking, Hinde said, “what happens when the students leave the university? What happens in the schools? Why are they leaving in big numbers, voluntarily and involuntarily? This is a systemic challenge.”

Finally, Hinde said, universities like hers suffer from the same problem as the school districts: A shortage of minority faculty.

About 20 percent of the Metro State education faculty is minority, “but that’s not enough.” Hide said she has instituted an incentive program to lure minority faculty, offering a tenure track position and an extra stipend for doctoral candidates who come to Metro to finish their dissertations while teaching a lightened load of courses.

A national challenge

The Denver area is not alone in confronting a dearth of minority teachers. A report released in September by the Albert Shanker Institute laments the shortage of minority teachers across the country. It focuses on nine cities coast-to-coast that are struggling with this issue. But the main problem, the report says, lies outside recruitment.

“The most significant impediment to increasing the diversity of the teacher workforce is not found in the recruitment and hiring of minority teachers: Nationally, minority teachers are being hired at a higher proportional rate than other teachers. Rather, the problem lies in attrition: Minority teachers are leaving the profession at a higher rate than other teachers.”

Like Denver, other cities are having more success building the Latino teacher force than increasing the number of black teachers.

The report recommends that the federal government and states invest in creating high-quality schools of education in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and in tribal and Latino-focused institutions as well. Grow-your-own programs, like those in DPS, are also touted in the report.

Sills-Brown, the DPS teacher who lost her job in 2011, said solutions need to go deeper than that.

“Our society has to respect teachers and it doesn’t. So you aren’t going to get black and brown people to go into a profession where they are disrespected when they’ve been disrespected their whole life,” she said.
This is part of Rocky Mountain PBS’ ongoing coverage of Race in Colorado. Standing in the Gap examines race in public education in the state. To learn more, visit and watch a special report on Rocky Mountain PBS at 9 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19.

Categories: Urban School News

State board sets long wish list for new commissioner

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 14:40

Want to be Colorado commissioner of education? You’d better have a darned good resume.

The State Board of Education, working with the executive search firm Ray and Associates, has set a high bar for candidates in four-page flyer now available to interested applicants.

Among the 11 key characteristics listed are “excellent people skills,” “able to work with legislators,” “a strong communicator,” “a student-focused philosophy,” “a vision of quality education for the future” and “understands how to enhance student performance.” (See the full list in the copy of the flyer at the bottom of this article.)

After a fair amount of tweaking, the board set the list at a recent meeting, and those qualifications closely match priorities culled from responses to an online survey.

The board has been gearing up to find a new commissioner since Robert Hammond announced in April that he was retiring.

Ray and Associates was hired in early August, and the online survey went live later in the month. The consultants also conducted a series of interviews and meetings in early September, seeking opinions about desired characteristics in a commissioner.

The survey listed 33 possible characteristics, and respondents were asked to choose the 10 they felt to be most important.

People who took the survey also were allowed to write comments.

“The very first theme is that they want kids first and politics out,” is how Paige Fenton Hughes of Ray and Associates summarized the results for the board. Also, “there is in these comments a very strong preference for a person who comes from education.”

The comments provide an interesting, if unscientific, look at the fault lines in Colorado education today.

Several mentioned classroom experience, being able to inspire CDE, non-partisanship, sensitivity to rural needs, support for special groups of students and understanding of early childhood education, higher education and workforce needs.

The new commissioner should have “actually taught in a public school classroom for more than one year,” wrote one person.

Here are some representative comments on key issues:

Education reform: The commissioner should have a “Commitment to supporting Colorado’s reform efforts that have been ongoing for the last decade and that have made Colorado a leader among states in standards-based, data-driven instruction,” wrote one respondent. But another wrote, “It is time for a commissioner who is NOT committed to placating either the state legislature nor the federal government!”

Testing: No respondent argued for more testing. One of the more moderate testing comments went, “The state commissioner of education needs to take the lead in working with the legislature to ensure that test preparation and testing does not take excessive amounts of time away from teaching.”

Independence: Several respondents stressed the commissioner should be independent-minded. “It is important that the commissioner not be beholden to teachers’ unions or corporate interests,” wrote one. Said another: “Promotes a moderate political philosophy. Nothing extremist!”

Diversity: “Bilingual!” was all that one respondent wrote, while another noted, “I am hopeful that some female leaders emerge in this search.”

Finally, one person said, “I would like to see someone who is friendly with a good sense of humor.”

Read the full 20-page set of comments here.

About 680 people took the survey, about 25 percent of them teachers, 20 percent parents and 10 percent administrators. The survey, linked from the board’s website, was voluntary and anonymous, but respondents were asked to identify themselves by profession.

In addition to the qualities suggested in the survey and chosen by the board, state law sets these requirements for the commissioner: “The person shall have demonstrated personal and professional leadership success, preferably in the administration of public education; and the person shall possess an earned advanced degree, preferably in education or educational administration awarded from a regionally or national accredited college or university.”

Other voices also weighed in

The search firm also ran a series of interviews and focus groups with educators, state officials, advocates and others in early September. Those included state board members.

That led to a slightly uncomfortable conversation between Fenton Hughes and the board after she noted, “Virtually everybody mentioned dysfunction at the state board level. … Many felt that the political divisiveness is one of the greatest challenges for Colorado education.”

She continued, “Several of you mentioned in different ways that the board needs to work in a way so that there’s some consensus.”

Fenton Hughes said she also sensed board members are somewhat divided on whether they want a “visionary” commissioner or someone who will let the board take the lead and implement whatever it decides.

“I think it is very important for Gary [Ray] and I to understand” what the board wants, she said.

Val Flores, a Democratic board member from Denver, said, “We don’t want a toady. … We want someone who has some spine.” But the board really didn’t fully engage on Fenton Hughes’ question and moved back to discussing the flyer.

What’s next

Nov. 7 – Applications due. Applicants must submit a letter and a current resume, fill out an online application and provide four letters of recommendation.

Nov. 19 – Consultant meets with board to develop and finalize interview questions and procedures; names of top candidates presented to board.

Week of Nov. 30 – Start first round of interviews.

Week of Dec. 7 – Second round of interviews begins.

No firm deadline has been set for selecting a new commissioner.

The salary is set “in the range” of $245,000 plus benefits but will be negotiated between the board and the candidate. Hammond’s salary was $245,000.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Cherry Creek schools leading the state in teaching English language learners

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 09:48
Teaching & Learning English

Teachers and "English-language acquisition specialists" have teamed up in Cherry Creek schools to provide better instruction for students who are learning English as a second language. And the state is paying attention to the results. Denver Post

Human Resources

Colorado’s rural school districts are on the brink of crisis when it comes to finding enough teachers to lead classrooms. To stave off the shortage, leaders are turning to foreign countries to recruit teachers. CPR

Growth Matters

The enrollment gap between districts in the Pikes Peaks regions is closing. Gazette

Election 2015

Former U.S. Congressman turned high school principal Bob Schaffer argued in court that a post by his school’s Facebook page was not a political gift. The Coloradoan

Jefferson County school board President Ken Witt says he has more work to and is ready to fight to retain his seat during the recall election. Arvada Press

Candidates for the Adams School District 50 Board of Education met to discuss the issues of the district including how to attract more students. Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel

Candidates for seats on the Poudre School District school board went about the work of distinguishing themselves on issues like testing and a tax on pot. The Coloradoan

Field trip

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia visited Summit County to promote reading and hear from local educators, community leaders and parents. Summit Daily

Race relations

Denver Public Schools is holding another student forum on race issues. The second round of talks will give students, parents, educators and other community members a platform to openly talk about race. Denver Channel

Healthy schools

A new survey tool called Healthy Schools Smart Source will help school leaders see how their health practices and policies compare to those of other Colorado schools. Chalkbeat Colorado

Students in several schools across Colorado got the chance Wednesday to try out some local food. 9News

Suburban Sprawl

By 2040, the number of students projected to be enrolled in the Douglas County School District is estimated to reach 128,000—nearly double the current enrollment, according to the Long Range Planning Committee’s Master Capital Plan Douglas County News-Press

Expected growth coupled with needs like aging buses, boilers and roofs equals about $275 million in capital needs over five years. A committee has suggested Douglas County schools ask voters for a bond. Douglas County News-Press

The school board believes the best approach for addressing capital needs is to use available money from the operating budget to update and maintain buildings year by year and work with charter schools to absorb some growth. Douglas County News-Press

Meanwhile, the district’s goal is for all students to have the use of a computer in all of their classes but those devices don’t come cheap and need to be replaced about every six years on average. Douglas County-News Press

Two cents

It's time for the Greeley teachers union and district to stop squabbling and reach agreement, the Greeley Tribune suggests. Greeley Tribune


The Pueblo city school district received national recognition for offering free breakfast and lunch to all students. KOAA

Kelly Kennedy, an adapted physical education teacher with Greeley-Evans School District 6, has been named the Colorado 2015 Adapted Physical Education Teacher of the Year. Greeley Tribune

Littleton Public Schools Chief Information Officer Mark Lindstone was recognized by the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Association of Leaders in Educational Technology. The Villager

Categories: Urban School News

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