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Susana Cordova named acting superintendent of Denver Public Schools

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/01/2015 - 20:25

Susana Cordova, a former teacher and principal who currently works as one of Denver Public Schools’ senior administrators, will be acting superintendent from January to July, when top boss Tom Boasberg is on a six-month unpaid leave.

Cordova currently serves as chief of schools. In that role, she’s in charge of traditional district-run schools and innovation schools, which have more autonomy when it comes to things such as hiring teachers and setting the school calendar. (Another administrator, Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, is in charge of charter schools.) Cordova oversees the leaders of district-run and innovation schools, including the principals, and helps put policy into practice.

The seven-member school board voted unanimously on Tuesday to appoint her acting superintendent.

"She's an extraordinary leader," Boasberg said, "and she truly represents the best of the Denver Public Schools. She is so thoughtful and innovative and courageous and caring and passionate."

"I've been so impressed in the time that I've been on this board with Susana's knowledge of everything that goes on in this district at every level," said board member Mike Johnson. "She's so incredibly hardworking. She's so honest and she's patient and gets along with people extremely well."

Cordova said she is humbled and excited.

"This is not a chance for us to pause," she said. DPS students only have one shot at the grade they're in, Cordova added. "It's full speed ahead."

Cordova is expected to lead the district through several big issues next year, including teacher contract negotiations, contentious decisions about which schools to close and which to open, and preparations for asking voters in November to approve tax increases, in the form of a bond and mill levy, to improve school buildings and pay for additional programming.

Cordova and Boasberg mentioned other priorities as well, including continuing to work on teacher training and early literacy efforts and continuing to provide individual schools more flexibility when it comes to decisions such as which curriculum and tests to use.

Boasberg announced last month that he plans to take six months off to live and travel in Latin America with his wife Carin and three kids: Nola, 15; Ella,13; and Calvin, 11.

In a letter to DPS staff on November 16, he explained that his family hopes “to learn to speak Spanish well, to learn about different cultures and to spend a lot more time together as a family than I have been able to spend over these years as superintendent.” The family lives in Boulder.

The board voted on Tuesday to amend Boasberg’s contract to allow him to take the unpaid leave. The contract amendment says Boasberg will be gone from January 4 through no later than July 15, and that he won't receive compensation during that time. His contract goes through 2017.

In addition, the board members elected Anne Rowe to serve as board president. Rowe was previously vice president.

"We all have a role to play," Rowe said, "and I am surrounded by leaders."

Rowe will take over from Happy Haynes, who was president for the past two years. Haynes narrowly won re-election last month, edging out a competitor critical of the district’s direction to hold on to her at-large board seat.

Before the election, the Denver Board of Ethics recommended that if Haynes were re-elected, she abstain from continuing to serve as an officer. Haynes sought the ethics board’s opinion after Mayor Michael Hancock appointed her head of the city’s parks and recreation department in September.

“The demands on your time and energies in your dual roles...would appear to make this a prudent choice that you are in the best position to ultimately evaluate,” the board opined.

However, on Tuesday, Haynes was elected secretary of the board. Board member Rosemary Rodriguez was also nominated but she declined, explaining that the next year would be busy for her.

Board member Barbara O'Brien, who served as lieutenant governor from 2007 to 2011 before being elected to the DPS board in 2013, was chosen as vice president. Johnson was elected board treasurer.

Rowe, who represents southeast Denver, easily won her re-election campaign last month. New board member Lisa Flores also won an open seat to represent west and northwest Denver.

Their victories ensured that all seven board seats are occupied by members who are supportive of Boasberg's efforts to reform DPS. Under Boasberg, the district’s strategies have included closing underperforming schools, paying teachers based partly on how their students do on tests, and authorizing a mix of new charter schools and traditional district-run schools.

But those reforms have produced mixed results. Enrollment has grown to more than 90,000 students and those kids are showing improvement on state tests compared to their peers

However, scores from tests taken in the spring of 2014 showed that just 60 percent of DPS third-graders were proficient in reading and math. And achievement gaps between white and minority students are large and widening. While black and Latino students are making gains, white students are improving at a faster rate. District- and school-level results from new standardized tests taken in the spring of 2015 are due to be released later this month.

Cordova is a Denver native and a graduate of Lincoln High School. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Denver and has a master’s degree in education administration, and curriculum and instruction, from the University of Colorado.

She started her teaching career at Horace Mann Middle School in northwest Denver, where she taught English and Spanish in a dual-language program. She went on to teach English and English as a Second Language at West High School and eventually became the principal of the now-shuttered Remington Elementary School, also in northwest Denver.

Her biography on the DPS website notes that students at Remington made gains on state reading tests during her tenure, which ended in 2002. The school was closed in 2008 due to low enrollment and performance. The academic programs at West and Horace Mann have since been reinvented for similar reasons.

Cordova joined the DPS administration in 2002, first serving as the district’s literacy director. Over the past 13 years, she has worked on several key projects, including the design of ProComp, the pay-for-performance program for teachers; the creation of LEAP and LEAD, the systems that measure the effectiveness of teachers and principals; and the redevelopment of the district’s approach to educating English language learners.

She began her current position, as chief of schools, in 2014. Cordova said her duties will likely be split between other staff members while she's serving as acting superintendent.

Editor's note: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

Categories: Urban School News

#WhyIChalkbeat: Show your support for local education reporting!

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/01/2015 - 14:25

Dear reader,

Maybe you read Chalkbeat before you head to school in the morning. Or you scroll through Rise & Shine while waiting in line for coffee. Or maybe you swap Chalkbeat stories with colleagues and friends who care just as much as you do about education. Whatever the setting, there’s a word for what you do; you Chalkbeat.

To Chalkbeat \ˈchȯk-ˈbēt\ verb: The act of contributing to, creating, reading, sharing, discussing, and/or acting on high-quality local stories about educational equity — all as part of a community of like-minded people. This year, we are calling on our readers to make Chalkbeat’s work possible by:
  1. Sharing #WhyIChalkbeat on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram
  2. Making a monthly donation by clicking here

Personally, I Chalkbeat because education is a vital issue that concerns us all. Amid what can seem like a torrent of information these days, we take seriously our responsibility to explain and enlighten. In 2015, we’ve told the stories of budding student activists, and we’ve dug deeper than anyone else into issues surrounding teacher turnover and standardized testing.

I Chalkbeat because for every story about staggering achievement gaps that we have documented and for every question about the Jeffco school board recall that we have answered, there are hundreds more. There are more than 1,800 public schools in Colorado, each filled with untold stories and unanswered questions. If we don’t write about them, who will?

While Chalkbeat is largely funded by the generosity of philanthropy and sponsors, your participation is vital to sustaining our work and independence. We believe that strong community journalism requires strong community support. Above all, we are accountable to you, our readers. To make sure we stay that way, we need your support.

Together, we can work toward a better informed Colorado.

Eric Gorski,
Chalkbeat Colorado bureau chief

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Details of ESEA update plan released

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/01/2015 - 09:34
Congress on the move

Christmas could come early for educators and their advocates, with lawmakers hopeful an agreement to fix the No Child Left Behind law could clear Congress by mid-December. The Grinch, however, could be hiding in the details of the bill text, which was released Monday. Roll Call, EdWeek

Change of address

Two new members of the Mesa 51 school board have been sworn in. But a controversy over legal residency in his district still hangs over Paul Pitton. Daily Sentinel

Hunting the smell

An independent review by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of Casey Middle School's sewer gas issue generally found that the Boulder Valley district is on the right track with its response to hydrogen sulfide pollution in the building. Daily Camera

change at the top

The DPS board is set to name an interim superintendent to serve while Tom Boasberg is on leave. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

Educating undocumented students is a big benefit for society, writes a Carbondale teacher. Post-Independent

Categories: Urban School News

Who will be interim superintendent of Denver Public Schools?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 17:38

On Tuesday, the Denver school board will choose an interim superintendent. That person will fill the top leadership spot in the state’s largest school district while longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg takes an unprecedented (and unpaid) six-month break.

The seven-member school board has been tight-lipped about the selection process. But there are three likely scenarios: choosing between Boasberg’s two top lieutenants, picking a lower-profile district official or tapping an outsider with ties to Denver Public Schools.

Whether the choice will signal anything about the direction of the district is up for debate.

The structure of the DPS senior leadership team suggests two strong candidates: Susana Cordova, chief of schools, and Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, chief academic and innovation officer.

Cordova and Whitehead-Bust are effectively Boasberg’s top deputies. In 2014, Boasberg reshuffled his leadership team and rebranded some departments. Cordova was put in charge of district-run schools and innovation schools, which have more autonomy and flexibility when it comes to things such as hiring teachers. Whitehead-Bust oversees charter schools.

Under the unique division of labor, Whitehead-Bust is responsible for developing academic policies, whereas Cordova coordinates efforts to put those policies into practice.

Both women worked their way up in DPS. But they started from different places.

Cordova is a Denver native and DPS graduate who began her career as a bilingual teacher at a traditional middle school in northwest Denver and then taught at West High School.

Whitehead-Bust is a former consultant who helped start more than 15 charter schools across the country. She was the founding principal of Highline Academy, a successful DPS charter.

“From the outside, it would appear they’re both in contention to be the interim or the next superintendent, and they’re each trying to prove their case,” said Tony Lewis, executive director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, which has provided grant funding to DPS.

But Lewis doesn’t think either will get the interim job.

“If Tom chooses one, he chooses the favorite child,” he said. “I think he’s going to choose someone else.”

One possibility: David Suppes, the district’s chief operating officer.

Suppes came to DPS at the same time and from the same place as Boasberg. Both men left Level 3 Communications, a telecommunications company in Broomfield, in 2007 to work for DPS under the leadership of Michael Bennet.

Under Bennet, Boasberg was chief operating officer and Suppes was chief strategy officer. When Bennet left in 2009 to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat, Boasberg became superintendent and Suppes took Boasberg’s former job.

In that role, Suppes oversees several important departments including transportation, facilities, finance and enrollment. He was instrumental in the 2008 bond and 2012 bond and mill levy, in which voters approved extra taxes to improve school buildings and programming.

The district is gearing up to ask voters for more money in the fall of 2016. The interim superintendent will likely be involved in planning the campaign.

Another possibility is that the board will choose someone who doesn’t currently work for the district, such as a former employee or board member.

“It would not surprise me if it’s an external choice,” said Nora Flood, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. “If they have it right with the senior leadership, they might not want to shift around the positions.”

It seems less likely that the interim superintendent will be someone unfamiliar with DPS, which in the last ten years has put in place a series of reforms such as opening a mix of charter and traditional schools to replace schools where kids aren’t making academic progress, and paying teachers based in part on how their students score on tests.

“I just can’t imagine it would be somebody totally outside,” said former board member Jeannie Kaplan, a critic of DPS’s reforms. “Six months isn’t a very long time. And if Tom really is going to come back, it seems like the learning curve would be so steep, it’s hardly worth the effort.”

Boasberg announced two weeks ago that he’s planning to be gone from January through June, living and traveling in Latin America with his wife and three kids. He told Chalkbeat that he hopes to lead the district for several years after his return. He announced his plans shortly after an election that saw all seven board seats align with his vision of school reform.

Pam Shamburg, executive director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the board hasn’t asked the opinion of the teachers union, which has also been critical of the district.

Ultimately, she said, the decision isn’t likely to have a big impact on teachers.

“If the person really is a seat-warmer, it will feel the same,” Shamburg said.

“We aren’t sweating it,” she added, “because whoever it is, we have to deal with it.”

Given the disparate backgrounds of Boasberg’s top lieutenants -- Cordova started her career as a teacher in a traditional school, while Whitehead-Bust is a former charter school principal -- some observers said that choosing one of them could send a message about the value of school autonomy and decentralization.

DPS is already headed down that path: Starting this year, the district offered all school principals the chance to choose their own curriculum, teacher training and student tests.

“Choosing one over another would signal to the larger community that there might be a greater emphasis toward decentralization or not going as quickly toward decentralization,” said Van Schoales, chief executive officer of the pro-reform advocacy group A-Plus Denver.

But others cautioned against reading too much into it.

“I think the only signal there is that this is the person that the board felt is best positioned to move in the direction that Tom has moved,” said former board member Nate Easley, who is executive director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

“I wouldn’t read a whole lot into it because Tom is committed to coming back,” said Mike Vaughn, who served as DPS’s chief communications officer for five years under Boasberg.

“It’s easy to say, hard to do.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: How Denver charter schools are serving kids with disabilities

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 09:35
Special education

Denver is becoming a national model for serving students with disabilities in charter schools. Education Week

Standing in the gap

Here’s what happened when the end of mandatory busing forced a racially integrated and high-achieving Montessori school to be moved out of a low-income Denver neighborhood. I-News via Chalkbeat Colorado


Elementary school kids in Lafayette learn literacy through comics. Daily Camera


The Thompson school board in Loveland is expected to approve a new teacher contract this week, likely ending a lawsuit filed by the teachers union. Reporter-Herald


A new program in Fort Collins gives students ages 17 to 21 a second chance at high school. 9News


A college scholarship available to the children of Navy corpsmen and Marines wants to expand its reach, especially in Denver Public Schools. Denver Post

Diversity matters

A new Denver Public Schools program aims to increase the number of women- and minority-owned contractors hired by the district. Denver Post


A mom of two is helping to open a daycare and preschool in Rifle, where there are few options. Post-Independent

suicide prevention

Two Jeffco schools are piloting a program that trains student leaders to recognize suicide risks in their peers and respond by connecting them with resources. Denver Post


District 51 in Grand Junction paid its former communications director more than $60,000 in severance pay even though it wasn’t required by his contract. Grand Junction Sentinel

Two cents

Low scores on new standardized PARCC tests don’t mean kids aren’t learning, according to a Weld County teacher who helped develop the tests. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attracting white families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A history of achievement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urioste and former Mitchell parents dispute that.

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

A study in contrasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tough and acrimonious decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

rural matters

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

silicon stem

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

stress test

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

race on campus

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

app for that

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

dire numbers

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

in session

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

Transfer of power

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophie Schwedland, Eiber Elementary School, Lakewood

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

Raquel Carreon, Sherman Early Childhood Center, Fort Morgan

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

Kaila Lief, STRIVE Prep Ruby Hill, Denver

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

David Romig, Jeffco Public Schools

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

Cathy Royce, Cañon City Schools

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

Healthy schools

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

Tragedy and healing

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

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


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

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

early literacy

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

Preschool Matters

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


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


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

sex ed

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado’s ranking on 7 early literacy indicators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder schools leading on transgender inclusion

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

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

safe schools

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

Crossing the finish line

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

Teacher shortage

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

No Colorado Left Behind

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

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

Diversity matters

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


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

Stem after school

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

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

Helping hands

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

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

Safe Journey

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Schools wrestling with federal lunch rules

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

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

Alternate pathways

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

benching bullying

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

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

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

Transfer of power

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

transfer of power II

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

Gone phishing

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

Helping hand

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

dangerous roads

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

Two cents

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Jefferson County school board switches hands, but rhetoric remains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropout rate impacts state

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

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

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

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

Esparza started looking for jobs, but found nothing satisfying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third time a charm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esparza has already applied to four colleges.

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

Financial Aid

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

gold star

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


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


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


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


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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supportive board, mixed results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuity and questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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


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


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

Everyone is OK

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


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

identity crisis

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

Human Resources

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

safe schools

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


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


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

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

Two cents

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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