For the faculty and staff of Aurora Public Schools’ Crawford Elementary School, there is no escaping the campus’ goals. Not even in the restroom.
Posted directly across from the toilet reserved for teachers and visitors is a single sheet of paper with the school’s three goals. Crawford’s educators are reminded every time nature calls: Teachers will plan standards-based lessons, they will collaborate across grades and content areas, and students will write every day.
“Well, our goals are not on the bedside table,” said Lacey Farmer, a fourth grade teacher. “But they are a part of everything we do. They’re constantly around us.”
In every classroom. In every hallway. In the forefront of every teacher’s mind.
The goals aim to lift student proficiency, especially in writing, and develop every teacher’s ability to understand and teach to the new Colorado Academic Standards. They were developed through the Unified Improvement Plan process, in which the school’s leadership team worked with teachers, parents and central administrators to identify areas of improvement and set clear goals to increase student learning.
Before 2009, school improvement plans, often referred to as UIPs, were a bureaucratic compliance mechanism. There were plans for accreditation purposes, grants, and other state requirements. Since then, the state has combined all of those forms into a single template and its purpose has evolved into the quietest tool of school reform.
Every school and district in Colorado must develop a UIP annually, but the roadmaps are meant to be living documents that school leaders, teachers, administrators and board members refer back to throughout the year.
“If it’s viewed as an annual event, then nothing will change,” Youngquist said.
The intent is to keep focus on those goals educators believe will dramatically increase student performance and let all else fall by the wayside, said John Youngquist, Aurora’s chief academic officer.
But if school leaders are brutally honest, understand their data, can articulate their desired goals and put together a plan to reach those goals, a big payoff should follow, he said.New leader, new direction, brutal honesty
When Principal Jenny Passchier joined Crawford this school year, she knew one of her first tasks would be to visit the school’s UIP.
She wanted to honor established building goals, but knew a fresh set of eyes were needed. Hours of conversations and data sessions with her leadership team and teachers yielded a clear understanding of why Crawford was one of the district’s lowest performing elementary schools: teachers here didn’t know what proficient writing is.
That ‘brutally honest’ assessment is the type of inward looking reflection district and state officials are looking for in a school’s plan.
“It came from the teachers,” Passchier said. “They hadn’t had any professional development around writing to the new standards. They so desperately wanted that development to help the kids.”
Fourth grade teacher Clara Hernandez said the discussions were difficult but necessary.
“Other schools would be crushed,” she said. “But we don’t see it that way. We see this process as an opportunity to be a part of something.”
That this realization came from the teachers, not the school’s principal is important, said Lisa Medler, executive director of improvement planning for the Colorado Department of Education.
“It’s about having those really tough discussions,” Medler said. “When it’s an inclusive process, it really can help.”
To correct this “root cause,” or one of the chief reasons why Crawford students are not demonstrating proficiency on state exams, Crawford students are now writing every day and there are regular schoolwide writing prompts teachers assess together.Understanding data, correcting along the way
Previous iterations of Crawford’s UIP had a similar collaborative process. But something that was missing, teachers said, was a data component.
“With previous leadership, we had a lot of intention around climate,” said Jenny Buster, Crawford’s assistant principal. “Did we have safe classrooms? Did we meet our student’s social and emotional needs? We have that in place now. And we’re shifting to academics.”
Teachers keep detailed charts of student progress. Every Wednesday teachers team up to discuss student trajectories and create lesson plans focused on the new standards.
“There’s always a reminder of exactly where we are,” said Liz Soltys, a first grade teacher.
Consistently monitoring data is a crucial step, the district’s academic officer Youngquist said.
“Our challenge is making sure we implement our strategies effectively,” he said.
While there are hard deadlines to submit a UIP to the state, Medler suggests schools and districts should be regularly updating their UIP with the most timely information.
“Don’t wait on CDE,” Medler said with a chuckle. “Keep going.”
Because Aurora is on the state’s accountability clock, the district has been receiving direct assistance from Medler’s office. This year the state is expanding its services to individual schools on the accountability clock, as well.
“When you’re at the point of being either a priority improvement or turnaround district,” Medler said, referencing the state’s two lowest accountability ratings, “there’s probably a lot in your system to work on. But we’re trying to help focus on the few things that will make an improvement.”
For teachers at Crawford Elementary School that focus is just one bathroom break away.
Twenty-one Colorado school districts recently won $1.4 million worth of grants from Kaiser Permanente Colorado to get kids—and in some cases staff—moving more.
The grants, which are part of Kaiser’s national “Thriving Schools” initiative, range from $5,000-$200,000 and represent the organization’s first direct-to-district grant program. Several of the grants will fund training to help teachers incorporate more physical activity into the school day or change the way physical education is delivered.
About half of the grants target secondary students. For example, the Poudre School District will promote biking to school among high-schoolers, Weld County District 6 will create an after-school soccer program for middle school students and the Cripple Creek-Victor district will institute structured physical activity at lunch for seventh to 12th-graders.
Corina Lindley, senior manager of healthy communities and schools for Kaiser Permanente Colorado, said she is excited about the number of proposals focusing on middle and high school students, since movement initiatives tend to occur more at the elementary level.
Theresa Myers, director of communications in Weld County District 6, said the focus on middle school was intentional.
“That’s an age group that number one we want to keep engaged in school and we know that sports are in an important part of that.”
She also noted that soccer is a much-loved sport among the district’s middle-schoolers, 37 percent of whom are immigrants to the United States. While one of the district’s four middle schools operates an after-school program called “Soccer Without Borders,” the $100,000 Kaiser grant will expand the concept to the other schools, creating more teams and intra-district matches.
In addition to soccer, Weld 6 will also use the grant to create after-school running clubs at some elementary schools and provide stipends to various staff members to serve as school wellness coordinators.
The St. Vrain school district will use its $100,000 grant to expand Red Hawk Elementary School’s nationally recognized “All School Movement Program” to seven other district schools, including one middle school and one high school. Red Hawk students start the day with 20 minutes of physical activity such as jump-roping, trail running or brisk walking. In addition, teachers incorporate an additional 10-15 minutes of physical activity into their classroom schedules through the rest of the day.
The district kicked off the grant-funded movement expansion over the weekend with a training for 25 teachers who will serve as “champions” at their respective schools. An additional 50 teachers will be trained as movement champions next fall and winter. In addition to participating in the training, champions will meet in groups of five with a Red Hawk staff member each month to discuss issues and challenges arising from school movement efforts.
Red Hawk Principal Cyrus Weinberger said the teacher champions, who receive stipends as part of the project, will be expected to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity into the day, separate from recess and P.E. The hope is that champions will spread the word to colleagues who are not part of the grant project and momentum will build for schoolwide adoption.
“The idea is that as those teachers with movement [in their classrooms] are experiencing good results that it’ll become more and more contagious,” said Weinberger.
As a first year teacher who got her teaching license through an alternative program (not TFA, although similar in some ways), I often feel like I walk through the hallways of my school marked with a scarlet letter.
In confrontational articles in countless media outlets, including this one, the media has marked “us” (new alternative teachers) as “different,” “reformers,” and “status quo changers,” who will embrace the innovations of the day, transform our schools, and “fix” education once and for all. But this is not at all the reality I see every day at my school.
There are a small handful of veteran teachers who are simply in it for the pension, the job security, or the benefits. But the vast majority of veteran teachers I know are here for the exact same reason I am: because they want to make a positive impact for students. They are also doing the same thing I am: the best job they can with whatever resources they are provided with or can beg for, borrow, or “steal.” And for the most part, the veteran teachers at my school are equally willing to embrace innovation and change as long as it helps them help students. What I am trying to say is we are in this together. We agree about far more than we disagree about. If we do not realize this soon, and start really working together as a unified force, the infighting will cause irreparable harm.
This message that “we” (call us what you will: Millennials, TFAers, New Majority, or just first year teachers) must rescue “them” (experienced, dedicated professionals) from the disaster that is public education is false, and it is harming education by creating divisions and distrust. I (and all my fellow new teachers) desperately need more experienced teachers to show us the ropes, call us out on our hubris, and just offer words of sympathy and advice. This is not some antiquated, dysfunctional aspect of public education; it is how all professions work. And many other professions manage to promote change and innovation without pitting new hires against old hands. We can too.
In the end, we are still doing the same things we have always been doing in education. We may have more data available to us, but we still have to decide whether it is valid and make complex, subjective decisions based on it. We may have more technology, but we still have to make sure we use that technology in ways that will benefit students and be fiscally responsible. We may be moving from a step-based salary to a merit-based salary system, but we still have to implement it in ways that are fair and ensure teachers have due process.
It is veteran teachers who will help the education system to make these decisions because they are the ones with the background and insight to predict and prevent the inevitable problems and challenges that always come with implementing changes. First year teachers do not have the necessary knowledge, and let’s face it, we’re barely keeping our heads above water most days anyway. So, rather than preventing or delaying innovation, veteran teachers will be the ones to ensure innovations are implemented successfully.
I feel honored to be part of a team of dedicated, smart, passionate, capable teachers at Samuels, all of whom have been teaching longer than me. I hope that I will be able to contribute new ideas and insights to this team in the years to come. But I also hope that I will have the wisdom and humility to listen to my more experienced colleagues.
I know that if I fail to listen and learn from them, I may discover in ten years that I have just been reinventing the wheel this entire time and have failed to create anything new or innovative. And if the media continue fomenting divisions between new and veteran teachers, causing disagreements, distrust, and a lack of collaboration, we as a country may discover in ten years that we have all been reinventing the wheel. Meanwhile, an entire generation of students will have come and gone.
We need good teachers, and there isn’t a place for everyone in the district. If someone makes the decision to teach and does it well, they have earned applause no matter where they decide to work.Nobody wants a C-.
In particular, nobody wants a C- on the critical issue of keeping good teachers in the classroom. But that’s the grade Illinois got for “retaining effective teachers,” in the National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2013 State Policy Yearbook. Teacher retention is in fact a well-documented national crisis that negatively impacts students, especially those from low-income communities.
Elevating the profession to keep the best teachers is a hot topic in education. One low-cost, in fact free, way to do this is to change the way we talk about teachers and schools. This re-branding should start with an end to “shaming” the step-children of the education community: charter school teachers.
After seven years of working in a traditional district-run school, I made the decision to work at a charter this year. After being subject to the large-scale reduction-in-force at CPS last summer, I decided to try something new. The reaction from my friends and former colleagues was…well, mixed. Bad press and budget cuts have fueled the fire against any non-district-run institution.
Despite the metaphorical rotten fruit thrown daily in my direction, this was the right move for me. The environment is professional, my colleagues are dedicated, and the administration is inspiring. I realize as I’m writing this readers may respond with negativity and complaints, but here are the facts: We need good teachers, and there isn’t a place for everyone in the district. If someone makes the decision to teach and does it well, they have earned your applause no matter where they decide to work.
Here is my own list of “Frequently Asked Questions” about charters and my defense of those of us who choose to teach in one:
Q: According to The Charter Difference, a 2009 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago, charter schools have a “significant under-enrollment of special needs students [that] may be discriminatory and warrants further investigation.” Aren’t they just taking all the “good kids” to boost their scores?
A: Not in my experience. To offer more information on this, see Illinois Network of Charter Schools President Andrew Broy’s article “Setting the Facts Straight on Charter Schools” (published in the Chicago Sun Times on August 7th, 2013). Broy reminds us that charter schools are public and “free and open to anyone who wishes to enroll, no matter a student’s neighborhood, family income, previous education, ethnicity or family status.” Another 2009 study by the RAND Corporation found that charter schools generally are not drawing the best students away from local traditional public schools. The previous test scores for students who transferred into charters were near or below-average (except for white students), and the racial makeup of charters was similar to that of the traditional schools the students had previously attended.
Q: How can any teacher agree to work for “union busters?”
A: Actually, we do have a right to unionize—in Chicago, we have Chicago ACTS Local 4343. At my orientation, administration from our network even encouraged us to sign up and invited representatives to get us registered.
Q: Isn’t it true that there are cases of high-level corruption in some charter networks?
A: Yes. But isn’t that also true in most districts? Do teachers make those decisions? Why punish them?
Q: Aren’t charter networks big business in disguise?
A: Some are. And some are not-for-profits, or are funded partly by competitive grants programs. In Illinois, charters can only be awarded to a non-profit, although the non-profit may then contract with a for-profit to run the school. Plus, many charters were started by teachers.
Q: Why should state funding go to charters when the district schools are undergoing budget cuts?
A: Again, not a teacher decision. I’d like to stress that there is simply not sufficient funding for all of us to work in the district, so all we can do is make sure that somehow, somewhere, we are in front of students doing the best we can.
Q: Aren’t teachers treated badly in charter schools?
A: Some charter schools may treat teachers badly. Some district schools treat teachers badly. At my school, teachers are consulted on every matter from content of professional development to curriculum. Performance and tangible outcomes are rewarded with job security (as opposed to quality-blind layoffs in the district). It’s almost like we have a tiny, renegade district that values teacher voice! Yes, this may not be everyone’s experience, but I resent the prevailing generalizations.
Q: Don’t charters have underqualified teachers?
A: Frankly, it looks like few of us teachers, anywhere, are well-prepared when we begin. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality Teacher Prep Review, “less than 10% of all rated programs earned 3 stars or more.” This study included 1,200 programs across the country. Shall we agree to let each individual teacher’s data speak for itself, and hope that new evaluation systems will help to improve us all?
So, if I have to operate as an outcast in order to keep a job that I love, then let the judgmental comments commence! Excellent teachers, I applaud you, no matter where you work. You are a treasure, and we need you to stay in this field. Ignore the non-productive, hurtful, and prejudiced statements that will surely follow us throughout our careers. District colleagues and general public, I urge you to use a new lens to view all educators, one informed by research. Create a world in which every teacher is given a fair chance to show what they can do.
Susan Volbrecht is an eighth-year teacher on the South Side of Chicago. She is an alumni of the Chicago Teaching Fellows and the Teach Plus Policy Fellowship. She currently works as an academic interventionist at a charter school.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers endorsed Republican governor candidate Kirk Dillard on Sunday, giving the state senator from Hinsdale the backing of the state's two major — and politically active — teachers unions. (Tribune)
DANGER WARNING: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis injected herself into a long-running neighborhood zoning fight on Thursday, alleging students at a public high school would face danger from a newly approved metal shredder in Pilsen. (Sun-Times)
SEASON FORFEITED: Chicago Curie Metropolitan High School’s basketball team, ranked among the best in the nation, has forfeited this year’s games because several players were academically ineligible to compete, public schools officials announced Friday. (Associated Press)
IN THE NATION
COLORBLIND NOTION ASIDE: Racial tensions are playing out in new ways on college campuses nationwide, like the University of Michigan, which has seen a sharp decline in black undergraduate enrollment. (The New York Times)
NOT JUST AN ELECTIVE ANYMORE: Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now have policies in place that allow computer science to count as a mathematics or science credit, rather than as an elective, in high schools—and that number is on the rise. Wisconsin, Alabama, and Maryland have adopted such policies since December, and Idaho has a legislative measure awaiting final action. (Education Week)
In talking about her decision to refuse to administer the ISAT next week, Drummond Montessori teacher Ann Carlson said she felt little joy.
“I don’t have the hooray feeling,” she said at a press conference after school on Friday. “I feel like we are standing up, but we are fearful.”
It is unclear exactly how many teachers from the high performing Near Northwest Side elementary school are joining Saucedo teachers, who announced earlier this week that they will boycott the test. Carlson says more than half of the 15 third-to-eighth grade teachers voted in favor of the action.
The announcement came after a week in which the CPS administration took a hard stand—sending out numerous, sometimes conflicting and misleading letters—advising teachers to administer the test and parents to have their children take it. More than a Score, the advocacy group spearheading the effort, said some parents in at least 60 schools have submitted opt-out letters.
CPS has said that teachers refusing to give the ISAT “will be disciplined” and face having their certification revoked, which would render them unable to teach.
“There has been extreme pressure on us,” said Juan Gonzalez, who teaches math and science at Drummond. “We have to think about how this affects our livelihood. But we decided to stand on the side of right and boycott the ISAT.”
Carlson added: “One more minute of testing is too many.”
Because of the threats, parents held a rally at Saucedo in Little Village on Friday to show their support.
The Chicago Teachers Union has vowed to fight any discipline, but in the latest CPS letter the position has seemed to soften. Teachers refusing to give the test, according to the letter, will be given the option of going home and not being paid or monitoring students who have opted out.
Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said it was clear that district leaders have not decided what they are going to do to the teachers.
Further, the idea that teachers would lose certification because “they are demanding to teach students who want to learn” is “ridiculous,” Sharkey said. Information on ISBE’s website shows that 16 teachers have had their certifications revoked since 1988 and that the vast majority were after the teacher was convicted of criminal activity or cheating.
Though many of the parents and teachers are against what they see as over-testing of students, the ISAT boycott has gained traction because it is being phased out. Also, CPS officials decided it would not be used for any major decisions, such as promotion or the selective enrollment admissions process.
CPS officials, with the support of state officials, warned that if too many parents have their children sit out of the test the district faces losing state and federal funding. But experts say that loss of such funding is unprecedented and at most it could trigger reallocating funds, but even that is highly unlikely and takes time to kick in.
Futhermore, the federal education law, No Child Left Behind, has fallen out of favor and the Department of Education has issued 42 states waivers from the requirements. Illinois also submitted a request for a waiver, but it has yet to be approved.
"There is no real enforcement of NCLB anymore," said Andrew Porter, education dean at the University of Pennsylvannia.
Through this week, CPS messaging around the ISAT boycott has been conflicting at times. At one point, CPS issued a webinar to principals that seemed to indicate that opted-out students had to sit among their classmates, be handed the ISAT and be read instructions. Then, it would be incumbent on the student to refuse the test.
“If a student refuses to test they must remain silent while other students test,” according to the webinar. “Students MAY NOT engage in any other activities that would disrupt the testing environment.”
More than a Score’s Cassie Cresswell said this was “immoral and unethical” as it put students as young as eight in the awkward position of disobeying their teachers.
Later, on Friday, CPS sent a letter out saying that students who have been opted out of the test could be brought to another classroom and allowed to read independently or do other work, though they would still be given the test and read the instructions.
The proposed 2014-15 school finance bill was introduced Friday and is scheduled to go directly to the House Education Committee on Monday afternoon.
The most interesting policy piece of House Bill 14-1298 is a proposal to increase the number of state-funded early childhood slots by 5,000, bringing the total to 28,360. Districts could use the money for the Colorado Preschool Program, for half-day kindergarten slots or for full-day kindergarten students.
The bill proposes $5.9 billion in total program funding – basic school operating expenses – for 2014-15.
The bill also includes a declaration that the “negative factor” – the current shortfall in school funding – shouldn’t increase in future years. And the bill contains technical provisions related to the cost of living factor used to determine individual district funding and another related to school district bond issues.
The school finance bill is just one piece of Colorado’s complicated school funding system. Generally the bill is used as the vehicle to set funding increases, while base funding is contained in another bill, the main state budget measure. (That hasn’t been introduced yet.)
A third measure is in the mix this year, House Bill 14-1292. The so-called Student Success Act is a $263 million measure that proposes to reduce the negative factor modestly, give districts extra money for implementation of reform programs and also provide extra funding for English language learners, charter school facilities and kindergarten classroom construction. (Get details in this story.)
The success act is opposed by some education interest groups that want more money used for buy down the negative factor and less spent on earmarked programs.
Both measures likely will be a little bit up in the air until after the March 18 quarterly revenue forecasts give lawmakers a more exact idea of how much they have to spend next year.
House Education chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, announced Friday that the committee will take testimony Monday on both the finance bill and the success act but won’t vote on the measures.
Read HB 14-1298 here.
I am passionate about every aspect of education, from the administration framework and hierarchy to mentoring scholars. I am an individual that likes to be “in the know.” My desire for knowledge stems from being a child who floundered through the school system.
I was the child that wore hand-me-downs and was the eldest child of six children. My mother was not academically savvy and she had to work to support our family even though my father was of high rank in the military. I felt very alone, without guidance, and angry that no one noticed this child who was filled with life, love, and excitement waiting to be tapped. Absolutely no one noticed.
I wanted to be the child who was called to speak on the intercom. I wanted to be the child that helped in the office, library, and with other errands that the “smart, well dressed, and socially-desired scholars” were doing. I felt that the school staff, office administrators, teachers, and my mom and dad had let me down for my entire academic experience.
I dropped out of school in the 10th grade. I continued to flounder: hanging out in malls, on military bases, and with other children that had dropped out or were skipping school. I yearned for someone to advocate for me, for someone to “see me.” I found myself making mistake after mistake with dead-end jobs and ultimately being a statistic of the welfare system.
When I had my children at age 18 and 19, I vowed to be involved in their academic experience, whether I was accepted by the administrative staff and teachers or if I was a thorn in their side. I re-taught myself; as they learned, I was learning. I accomplished that by attending class with my children, taking notes and participating in class with all of the scholars, asking for extra homework so that I could complete and submit myself. The scholars and the teachers embraced my willingness to learn and be retaught.
I was able to heal that child inside of me by advocating and being there for my children to help them maneuver through the educational system and have those opportunities that I desired. I lived at their schools. I fought many battles, but also encountered many wonderful individuals that wanted success for my children. I feel the difference was I was there and I was visible, open to being re-taught, trained in new curriculums, techniques, and jargon.
My children are now very productive adults and thank me many times for being there, regardless of how difficult it was at times. Now, I have two little kindergarten scholars; even though my adult children and my little people are generations apart, I hold the same concept of regarding parent engagement — being there, present, visible, open to being re-taught and trained in new curriculums, techniques and jargon.
I want to challenge you to look inside and see who you are. Are you the child that has open wounds from the guardians in your life not advocating for you, and now you are not advocating or are scared to advocate for your child? Are you present, visible, not “too cool for school”? Are you actively part of your child’s academic experience or are you allowing them to flounder?
Each of us has an opportunity to heal that child in us that was lost in the system, lost in our parent’s mistakes or willful ignorance. We just need to come out of our comfort zone- find a school counselor, express our willingness to engage, and allow those agencies that advocate for our children to teach us the techniques. We all have something to contribute.
It was September 1995 and Laura Lefkowits had served on Denver’s school board for just four months when suddenly and unexpectedly she and her colleagues were faced with making some of the most momentous decisions in Denver Public Schools’ 93-year history.
A federal judge had just released Denver Public Schools from a 22-year-old court order that had mandated busing kids across town to create racially integrated public schools in a largely segregated city. Now, with busing dead, it was up to the board to decide how to assign the city’s kids to schools. Should the district return to a system of neighborhood schools, which would mean a return to de facto segregation? Or was there some other alternative?
Neighborhood schools won in a landslide.
And in retrospect, Lefkowits and some of her colleagues now believe that one decision in particular that emerged from that process — the attendance zone from which northeast Denver’s Manual High School would draw students — was a catastrophic mistake. And that mistake they say, is at the root of Manual’s subsequent history of academic struggles and upheaval.
The Manual boundaries approved by the board and recommended by DPS senior administrators created a school population isolated within an anvil-shaped chunk of north-central and northeast Denver. This transformed Manual into an overwhelmingly low-income school, its student population evenly split between African American and Latino students. Over the past 18 years the student population has become increasingly Latino and has remained overwhelmingly poor, while the school has undergone successive waves of failed change efforts.
Board members knew at the time they were making a momentous decision. They didn’t realize, however, that reverberations from that decision would still be felt almost two decades later.
“I almost think we could have been sued all over again for the kind of boundary that we drew,” Lefkowits said. “We really made serious mistakes with [Manual]. And that at this point I don’t know if it ever can be righted. I feel like it has been one disaster after another since 1995.”“Two high schools no one wanted to go to”
As soon as the news hit that fall that busing had ended it was as if the lid blew off a pressure-cooker, Lefkowits recalled recently.PHOTO: Alan GottliebFormer Denver school board member Laura Lefkowits
First came the phone calls. Dozens of them to her home, at all hours. Then, in those days before universal email, mountains of letters. The vast majority – and from diverse constituencies — urged the school board to return to the old days, when kids could attend their neighborhood schools.
The push to return to neighborhood schools made Lefkowits uneasy, given the city’s segregated neighborhoods. Ultimately, however, she succumbed.
“Frankly, as a brand new board member, I had not had enough experience in making tough decisions to be that noble and statesmanlike,” she said. “And you’re always conflicted. Should you lead if no one is following you, or should you represent what people are asking you to do as their elected representative? It’s a difficult balance.”
Other boundary lines proposed at the time would have created a naturally integrated school.
The most prominent alternative, proposed by board member J.P. Hemming, would have drawn the boundary between Manual and Denver’s flagship East High School along York Street from the city’s northern border south to where York becomes University Boulevard and intersects with East First Avenue (where the Cherry Creek Whole Foods sits today). Kids living west of York would have gone to Manual and those east of York to East.
Those boundaries would have sent to Manual a large number of more affluent students from the Capitol Hill and Country Club neighborhoods who had historically attended East. But residents of those neighborhoods pressured board members not to make that change, thereby leaving East’s historic boundaries largely intact.PHOTO: Alan GottliebFormer Denver school board member J.P. Hemming
District officials also balked at changes that would have affected East as well as Manual. East’s boundaries didn’t change much under court-ordered busing because the school’s central location meant it drew from diverse neighborhoods and resulted in an integrated school. So why change them as busing ended, officials reasoned?
New East boundaries could have resulted in “two high schools no one wanted to go to,” said Wayne Eckerling, DPS’ planning director when busing ended. “The district was in a very different place then than it is now. Enrollment was way down. We were worried about losing more people.”
But it wasn’t just affluent white folks who opposed the York Street boundary line. So did African American clergy and vocal Manual neighborhood residents, among them then-Mayor Wellington Webb, himself an African American and Manual alum.
Under the federal court order, Manual, which before busing had been a predominantly African American school, was integrated because a large section of the affluent, mostly white east Denver Hilltop neighborhood became a Manual “satellite” and was bused there. Manual’s neighborhood boundaries were small — just a mile north to south and three-quarters of a mile east to west of northeast Denver immediately surrounding the school, located at 1700 E. 28th Ave.
As high school attendance boundary debates progressed in late 1995 and 1996, school board members and DPS senior staff knew that Manual would pose the thorniest challenge. The school sat in the center of what had once been Denver’s African American community. By the mid-90s, the neighborhood’s population had become increasingly Latino, but many prominent African American families, including Webb’s, still regarded Manual as their school. Busing had deprived them of their school since 1973, and they wanted it back.
“Everyone wants neighborhood schools,” as Webb told the Rocky Mountain News early in 1996.
Through a spokesperson, Webb declined to comment for this article, saying “Manual is a painful subject.”“In education our actions often don’t match our platitudes”
Layers of mythology have accreted to Manual over the years, but the school has never served all its students well. During the busing era of the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, Manual’s top graduates regularly gained admission to Ivy League schools and elite, small liberal arts colleges. But most of those top graduates were the Hilltop kids. Enormous achievement gaps existed between mostly white, affluent kids and lower-income African American and Latino students.
In 1994, Manual gained notoriety when just six of its black male students received diplomas. Fifty-eight black males had been freshmen four years earlier.
Aaron Gray served as school board president as the board determined DPS’ post-busing landscape. Gray is African American, and a Methodist minister. He remembers with some bitterness the role his fellow black clergy played in the debate over Manual’s boundaries. They and their neighborhood followers were, he said, “the loudest voices in the room.PHOTO: Alan GottliebFormer Denver school board President Aaron Gray
“We were somewhat intimidated because of those loud voices (that were) often putting the board down and putting the superintendent down,” Gray said. “Guilt was important. They made it clear that you should really feel bad about what has happened and what you have done.”
Hemming, who proposed the York Street boundaries, still seethes at the lack of consideration his proposal received from other board members. “In education our actions often don’t match our platitudes,” he said. “The Manual boundaries are a case in point.”
And he scoffed at the notion that pressure from all sides proved too much to bear. “Oh, yes, the pressure was intense,” Hemming recalled recently, sitting in a cluttered back room of the fire suppression business he owns. “I received threatening phone calls from all sides. But come on. We were volunteer elected officials. There is a lot of power in being a volunteer. What are they going to do, fire us? Pressure shouldn’t have been a major consideration.”
But the pressure was real, and at times if felt both intense and personal. Lefkowits proposed that instead of an attendance zone for Manual, the district create a magnet school at Manual – a specialized program that would attract a diverse array of students from across the city. The reaction to that proposal typified the kind of blowback the board faced from people in the Manual neighborhood.
“If you’re saying we need magnets to attract whites to make the schools superior, then I accuse you of racism,” Gregory Conners, an African American father said during a public hearing, according to The Denver Post.An evolving racial and socio-economic mix
Indeed, much of the debate that occurred during boundary discussions centered on whether a post-busing school needed to be integrated to succeed. Or could a high-poverty high school be designed that would produce college- and career-ready students?
Historic gaps between Manual’s white and black students may help explain why, as busing ended, influential African Americans pushed hard to have Manual returned to the community through boundaries that excluded whiter neighborhoods. What apparently went unrecognized during the debate was that the neighborhoods within Manual’s new boundaries had become increasingly impoverished and Latino.
But few Latino voices were raised or heard during the boundary debates, former school board members recalled. Court-mandated busing had been a black-white issue for the most part, and the post-busing decisions were made within that same frame.
Eckerling, the former DPS planning director, said that influential African American Manual alums like Webb who pushed for the boundaries that prevailed also failed to recognize how much the neighborhood around Manual had changed since they grew up there, not just racially but socio-economically as well.
Before the civil rights movement and fair housing laws, Eckerling said, African Americans of varying socio-economic status and education levels lived in the neighborhood because housing discrimination and red-lining prevented them from living elsewhere.
By the mid 1990s, however, the black middle class had largely fled the area for suburbs or more affluent neighborhoods, leaving behind a very different, more challenged student population than they remembered from their school days.
Gray said the debate was almost tribal in nature, with “people who call themselves progressives” suddenly backing away from their professed belief in integration when they saw how it might affect their own kids. And African American community spokespeople advocated only for their own people.
“My dream when I was on the board was that at just one board meeting, just one, African American leaders would come and say ‘I am concerned about what’s happening to Hispanic kids,’” he said. “That kind of dialogue would have set a whole different tone. I never heard it once.”
One neighborhood African American pastor, however, said the 1996 school board and district leadership deserve most, if not all, of the blame.
Rev. Frank Davis, pastor of Zion Baptist Church in the Manual neighborhood since 1994, said he never supported the boundaries that made Manual a high-poverty school. “They talk about ‘no child left behind’ but in the case they left a whole school behind,” Davis said. “They didn’t do their due diligence in weighing out the grave impact that decision would have on the citizenry of the area.”
Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett has threatened to discipline any teacher who refuses to administer an annual state achievement test next week, according to a letter obtained by local news sources. Meanwhile, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis says the union will defend teachers "against any retaliation."
The letter, sent out Thursday to principals, claims teachers could face the harshest repercussion from boycotting the test — losing their state education certification. On test day, teachers will be ordered to leave the school building if they refuse to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, according to the letter. Chicago Teachers Union officials said lawyers are looking into the district's letter and also that they believe teachers cannot have their certification revoked for taking a stand against standardized testing.
CTU is also asking members to attend a rally Friday afternoon in support of the Saucedo Scholastic Academy teachers who said earlier this week they will refuse to administer the state-mandated Illinois Standards Achievement Tests that are scheduled to begin next week.
IN THE NATION
ETS SEES TESTING OPPORTUNITY: As interest in licensing exams that measure prospective teachers' classroom skills grows, the venerable test-maker ETS is entering the market with a new option for states. Field-testing began last month for the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service's new exam, which purports to measure many of the same competencies as the edTPA, a licensing test seven states have recently adopted and many others are considering. (Education Week)
PUTTING BRAKES ON CHARTER: Mayor Bill de Blasio, seeking to curb the influence of outside providers of education, said on Thursday that he would block three charter schools from using space inside New York City public school buildings. Under the plan, Blasio would reverse the decision of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, to provide free real estate to the schools so that they could open new programs this fall. The schools had already hired principals and teachers and were in the midst of recruiting students. (The New York Times)
Northeast Denver parents and teachers are demanding answers from Denver Public Schools after officials decided to replace the principal of their elementary school next year.
Second-year principal Beth Yates notified Columbine Elementary School staff last week that DPS has decided to move her to another position within the district. A letter to parents, signed by Yates, followed.
“I want to sincerely thank the Columbine Elementary community for welcoming me and for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the lives of the amazing students at this school,” Yates wrote. “I appreciate the opportunity to have served your children, school, and community.”
The abrupt announcement has brought plenty of tears, anger and confusion to the struggling school that has had four principals in six years.
Columbine’s instructional superintendent Erin McMahon was scheduled to meet with teachers and parents Thursday afternoon. However, that meeting was canceled. McMahon offered to reschedule and meet with with individual teachers who had questions during the school’s lunch hours Friday, said several teachers and parent advocates.
But teachers, who were asked to prepare questions in advance for McMahon, balked at the idea. They said they deserved a full staff meeting with McMahon. The staff has requested McMahon visit the school Friday or Monday after school.
Neither Yates nor district officials were immediately available for comment. But a district spokeswoman said late Thursday the district is working to schedule a meeting with Columbine staff early next week.
Instead, Columbine staff met with Yates privately Thursday, some leaving the meeting with tears.
“They didn’t learn anything new,” said Meghan Carrier, a parent engagement organizer for Together Colorado, a nonprofit parent advocacy organization. Together Colorado has worked on education issues in northeast Denver, including at Columbine, for more than 10 years. Some parents who spoke to Chalkbeat Colorado were a part of the organization’s parent leadership program.
Columbine’s students are predominantly poor and minority students. Less than 20 percent are English language learners. The elementary school is among the district’s lowest performing. Since 2010, the school has slid annually in the district’s annual ratings of schools.
Teachers and parents pointed to a lack of consistent leadership.
“Every year we come back there’s a new principal,” parent Yolanda Mata said in Spanish. “There are new rules, different expectations for our students. There has been a lack of culture and consistency.”
Yates inherited a troubled school, teachers and parents said. But she persevered, said Jenna Cataleta, the school’s behavior interventionist.
Parents described a school previously out of control. Two first grade teachers left during the middle of the 2012-13 school year. A string of substitutes were assigned to the classes to fulfill the year. Fourth and fifth graders, parents said, showed no respect for teachers. A revered math teacher also walked out.
But that all changed this year, they said. A smaller student body, a crop of new teachers and a principal with a year under her belt meant a more structured environment tailored to learning, they said.
“She is really good with the community,” said Maria Alcocer, a kindergarten teacher. “She knows everybody’s names.”
Alcocer and other teachers vividly described Yates as a passionate leader who, in the year and a half since taking over Columbine, has made significant progress improving the school’s culture and student tests scores.
“She’s the first one in, the last one out,” Cataleta said.
Yates greets almost every student individually in the morning and waves goodbye to them every afternoon outside of the school, teachers said. The principal also worked toward speaking better Spanish to communicate with parents.
“She’s relentless,” Cataleta said. “I’ve seen so much positive growth in the students I work with. [Yates] was able to have a lot more control this year.”
Parent Stela Gomez, who has sent all four of her children to Columbine, said she was skeptical of Yates at first.
Gomez said her child was one of the first graders who lost his teacher. He entered second grade this year behind in math skills, but he’s already making progress to be caught up.
“I heard things about her,” she said. “But she turned out pretty good. I’m so upset with DPS right now. They don’t have it together here.”
The district’s decision to replace Yates even has some central administration employees scratching their heads.
Two district employees familiar with Columbine, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preserve their relationships with their employer, said internal testing showed positive growth in almost every grade and content area.
They said it makes sense to replace a school leader who isn’t getting the job done, but that isn’t the case with Yates.
“We’ve all risen,” Cataleta, the behavior interventionists said. “She’s not just our principal, she’s our role model.”
While parents and teachers are coming to terms with the fact Yates won’t be returning, they’re asking the district to make them part of the process to move Columbine forward.
“Parents want to have a voice in the decisions that impact their schools, their communities,” activist Carrier said. “Parents aren’t asking to choose the principal, but be a part of the process.”
Whether the change is for the better, parents feel slighted they weren’t consulted.
“We may not be able to make the decision [of who leads our school] on our own, but our children are a part of this school,” said parent Consuelo Del Valle. “We should be notified and be a part of the process every step of the way.”
Another parent, Yolanda Mata said DPS only asks parents for help when it’s convenient to them.
“DPS wants our help with reading to our children,” she said. “But the big decisions they make on their own.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct title of Meghan Carrier, parent engagement organizer for Together Colorado.
Sen. Rachel Zenzinger has only been in the legislature for 51 session days, so Thursday was a big day, given that she presented one bill to the Senate Education Committee and introduced another education measure of note.
Senate Education passed her Senate Bill 14-124, which would create a $2 million grant program that districts and charters schools could apply to for money to train principals for low-performing schools.
Zenzinger thoroughly prepared for the hearing, reading a carefully prepared statement to the committee (of which she’s a member) and marshaling more than a dozen witnesses to testify for the bill. Former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, a leading figure in education reform circles, led off the testimony, and the hearing on the bill took more than two hours, as a parade of principals, teachers, parents and others testified for the measure. (Read the bill here, and check the legislative staff summary here.)
Committee Republicans, complaining that the bill was too bureaucratic, weren’t persuaded by the testimony, and the bill was passed on to the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote.
Earlier in the day, Zenzinger – along with co-prime sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora — introduced Senate Bill 14-150. The measure would increase funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps program from $5 million to $10 million a year and expand both eligibility and requirements for the program. The corps is intended to increase the number of counselors working in high-needs schools. (Read the bill here.)
Zenzinger, a Democrat, is a former member of the Arvada City Council and has been active in a wide variety of north metro civic groups. She was appointed to her Senate seat in December after Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, resigned to avoid a recall organized by gun rights activists. Such groups previously had successfully recalled two other Democratic senators, shaving the party’s Senate majority to one vote. Hudak was persuaded to resign to avoid a loss of Democratic control of the Senate.
Zenzinger works for Regis University as coordinator of the master of arts in education program.
Students may be reeling from a barrage of changes at Denver’s Manual High School, but preliminary plans being floated by the district suggest more change is still to come.
Manual, which has been at the center of education reform debates in the city for decades, saw a mid-year leadership change six weeks ago. Don Roy, the school’s new principal, quickly introduced a number of new policies, including a crackdown on tardiness and attendance and the end of the school’s nearly year-round schedule.
To addresss long-term changes, the district has convened a “vision committee” consisting of district and school staff, alumni and community members, who will discuss what shape the school’s academic program should take and hear from potential school leaders — including Roy — about their ideas for the school’s future.
And the wheels are already turning on changes that would go into effect during the 2015-2016 school year. Early this week, the district released an addendum adding Manual and Kepner Middle School, which has also struggled over the past few years, to its annual “Call for New Quality Schools,” which solicits applications for new schools and school overhauls.
The addendum laid out several potential paths for Manual including introducing a totally new district-run or charter school, a school redesign led by current school employees and the hiring of a new leader who will submit their own design.
But a district spokesman said the call is not intended to signal the end of Manual’s current program will be replaced.
“We are not using the Call for New Quality Schools to look for a replacement for the current program at Manual High School,” said district spokesperson Mike Vaughn.
Instead it was intended to provide detailed information to candidates who have expressed interest in bringing programs to the Manual campus.
“The “Call” addendum that was sent out Tuesday is intended to give detailed information about the community process that will help shape the future of Manual to those groups who expressed interest in a new program at that campus,” Vaughn said.
Among those likely to surface in the next several months is a proposal from East High School principal Andy Mendelsberg to combine the Manual and East student bodies. Manual would run a ninth grade academy and all tenth to twelfth graders would attend East.
The goal would be to combine “a school that is bursting at the seams and a school in a beautiful facility that’s not as full,” said Mendelsberg.
But, he said, there’s a lot to be ironed out.
“If there’s some kind of movement that way, is it a partnership or an offshoot of East?” said Mendelsberg.
And nothing is likely to be definite anytime soon.
“My impression is this is still way down the road,” he said. “It’s certainly not a possibility for next year.”
A seventh-grade girl in black skinny jeans and a black cardigan casually strolled into the gymnasium before fifth period at Falcon Bluffs Middle School in Littleton. She crossed toward a box of bright orange pedometers sitting on the floor, stooped to pick one up and immediately broke into a run as she headed to the locker room to change. She wasn’t late for class.
Neither were the boys who burst through the gym doors and sprinted to the pedometer box or the girls who speed-walked to the locker room.
Strange as it sounds, the students were all rushing to rack up Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity minutes in P.E. class. Commonly known as MVPA, the student keep track of their minutes using the pedometers, which they clip to the waistband of their green gym shorts.
In addition to arriving early for P.E at Falcon Bluffs, students hopped up and down or skipped in circles while waiting for class to begin. They jogged in place while standing in line to bat during the day’s indoor baseball game. Some kept bouncing at the end of class as they waited in line to insert their pedometers into docking stations that would record their MVPA numbers in a computer database.Students use these pedometers to track their “Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity” in P.E. class. A set of 15 pedometers costs $400.
The students’ motivation to move stems from the school’s new approach to physical activity, both during P.E. and a before-school fitness program. It’s no longer just a means of achieving physical fitness, but also mental fitness, with the pedometers serving as a source of instant feedback and a tool for long-term tracking. The new approach, which began at Falcon Bluffs and four other Jeffco schools last year, is based on the work of Harvard psychiatry professor John Ratey, who wrote, “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”
While many educators instinctively sense that exercise helps kids in the classroom, the reasons are often articulated with vague explanations like “it burns off energy” or “it gets the wiggles out.” Ratey details the science behind the intuition, describing how exercise affects neurotransmitters and brain infrastructure to facilitate learning.
“He calls exercise ‘Miracle-Gro for the brain,’” said Emily O’Winter, Jeffco’s healthy schools coordinator. “It is so compelling. It’s so motivating to exercise for your brain.”
In the education realm, there may be no better example of the brain-fitness connection than Naperville School District 203, a high-achieving district near Chicago that pioneered many of the physical education practices that Ratey recommends. In “Spark,” Ratey lauds the district’s student body as “perhaps the fittest in the nation” and talks about their world-class performance on the international TIMSS test.
The idea of leveraging exercise for academic success obviously intrigues principals and teachers, but it also seems to resonate with students. During a recent P.E. class, seventh-grader Brody Hall jogged in place as he explained to a visitor why he comes to the before-school “Spark” most days. “I wanted to come … in the morning and get my brain going for the day so I’d be able to learn better.”A primer on MVPA
His first class is language arts and he said his mind wanders less when he attends Spark first.
“I think it’s just like I’m more focused and ready to learn and more awake.”
This spring, the district plans to expand its Spark-inspired approach to seven additional schools with the help of a $200,000 “Thriving Schools” grant from Kaiser Permanente. Next fall, the funds will allow up to 15 additional schools to come on board.
While Jeffco is hardly the only Colorado district attempting to increase students’ physical activity, its approach appears unique. The use of pedometers and the careful tracking of MVPA is uncommon, said Jamie Hurley, a professional development consultant for RMC Health who has worked with many districts on physical activity initiatives. More often, he said, schools try to increase opportunities for physical activity throughout the school day, perhaps in the form of added recess or classroom “brain breaks.”The hallmarks of Spark
Jeffco’s brand of Spark, which is not to be confused with two unrelated programs –the SPARK physical activity curriculum and SPARK After-School Academy—aims to provide daily or near-daily chances for physical activity at school with the goal of measuring and boosting students’ MVPA. Ideally, Spark takes place just before core academic classes though scheduling logistics don’t always allow that.Two students in Allyn Atadero’s P.E. class plug their pedometers into docking stations after class so their MVPA numbers will be recorded.
Ryan West, the principal at Falcon Bluffs, launched the school’s first iteration of Spark in the fall of 2012 after a central administrator gave him and four other principals a copy of Ratey’s book.
“I had no idea that this was out there,” said West. “I knew the anecdotal stuff about the importance of athletics, but I didn’t have the research.”
West, with the help of counselor Rob Longbrake, soon launched a Spark elective class, selecting 16 students, mostly boys, who were reading below grade level. Each day, Longbrake led the students in a physical activity session in the former staff lounge, which had been equipped with stationary bikes, workout videos and circuit training equipment. The students tracked their MVPA using heart rate monitors strapped around their chests. Right after Spark, the students went to their remedial reading class.
Longbrake quickly discovered the kids didn’t enjoy spinning and weren’t as driven as he’d expected.
“So I finally just said, ‘OK guys, what do you want to do to get moving here?’” he said. “So we ended up…doing anything we could to move. We played a lot of ultimate football outside.”
Meanwhile, the students made huge academic gains in reading.
“Their TCAP scores went through the roof,” said Longbrake. “It was pretty cool.”
West said all the students had scored “unsatisfactory” on the 2012 TCAP reading test. On the 2013 test, all but two scored “proficient” or “partially proficient” and more than half showed higher-than-average growth rates. In some cases, students went from reading at a first- or second-grade level to a fifth-, sixth- or seventh-grade level, he said.
O’Winter said the preliminary findings, which were similar at the other schools, are encouraging but can’t be indisputably attributed to the Spark programs.
“The thing is we’re not a research institute,” she said. “With this data we hope to show success, but we can’t prove anything without a randomized clinical trial.”Taking it schoolwide
While the first-year data may not rise to the level of a scientific study, Falcon Bluffs administrators found it convincing enough to expand the Spark philosophy to all P.E. classes this year, and launch a 7 a.m. Spark fitness session four mornings a week.
The biggest change, aside from a wider swath of participants, was the switch from heart rate monitors to the more user-friendly pedometers, which use an algorithm based on step counts to calculate MVPA. While the heart monitors are probably a bit more accurate, the straps got sweat soaked after one or two class periods and the associated software didn’t always work, said P.E. teacher Allyn Atadero.
While the pedometers provide instant feedback on exercise intensity, students seem to glean at least as much inspiration from the many lists Atadero posts on the gym bulletin board. First, he created the 10-Minute Club, posting the name of every student who achieved at least that amount of MVPA during his 44-minute class. Initially, his hope was that 70 percent of students would reach that threshold.Students jog in place while chatting with P.E. teacher Allyn Atadero before class begins.
“I thought I was shooting high,” he laughed.
Turns out, he was shooting too low. Pretty soon, Atadero added a 20-Minute Club, a 30-Minute Club, even a 40-Minute Club. He also created a Top 10 Boys list and Top 10 Girls list for every class, a Top 10 All-Time list and class vs. class competitions.
Perhaps most surprising is the 50-Minute Club, which was added a few weeks ago after one boy somehow spent every minute of P.E. plus most of two passing times in the MVPA zone.
“I can’t think of any student I have that has not bought into it, every single kid,” said Atadero.
While there are certainly a share of lean, athletic students who make the high-minute clubs, Atadero said he’s seen major improvements even by students who don’t typically embrace fitness. He described one girl in morning Spark, who started out with only two to three minutes of MVPA during the 40-minute session. Now, just by picking up her walking pace, she routinely breaks 20 minutes.
Atadero also said Spark has changed the way he teaches some of his P.E. units. For example, to incorporate more movement into baseball, he now requires students to sprint across the gym and touch the bleachers after every three outs. He also grades on effort, not athletic ability, awarding the top score of four to every student who achieves at least 10 minutes of MVPA.
“I have that tool now where I can monitor 100 percent of my students,” he said.Lack of policies, funding
While West, Atadero and others involved in the Spark experiment at Falcon Bluffs are enthusiastic about the program, it’s not without weaknesses. For one, physical education is not required at the middle school level in Jeffco, so about 15 percent of Falcon Bluffs students don’t take it at all.
Those who do, take it daily for one trimester, or about 12 weeks. That means any benefits, whether physical or academic, are temporary, except for the 30-40 students who voluntarily attend before-school Spark.
What about the possibility of offering daily P.E. to students all year?
“I would absolutely love to do that. That would be a dream of mine,” said West, a former high school football coach. “The reality is I have 650 kids in this building and Allyn is my only P.E teacher.”
O’Winter said that problem exists across the district. Still, she believes excitement about Spark is growing and feels it provides a better solution for struggling students than loading them up with extra academics.
“Why isn’t this the most obvious thing?” she said. “This is how our brains are built.”
As a co-founder of Chalkbeat, I’m proud of the network of excellent education news bureaus we are building and of the evolution of what used to be EdNews Colorado into something bigger and better.
And I’m excited that as part of this evolution, I will spend a portion of my time going forward contributing in-depth reporting to Chalkbeat Colorado.
To some of you who have followed EdNews/Chalkbeat from its beginnings six years ago, this news might strike you as a bit odd. After all, in EdNews’ earlier days, I was a regular contributor to the opinion and commentary section of the site, weighing in with my thoughts on a variety of issues. I stopped writing my sometimes pointed commentaries a couple of years ago to concentrate on building Chalkbeat.
And now I’m going to be a part-time news reporter, among other Chalkbeat duties. Wait, you say. Aren’t opinion writing and news reporting oil and water? How can someone who has written opinion go back to newswriting? I believe I can, and I hope I can help send an important message by doing so.
The longer I’ve been around public education the more I’ve come to appreciate the importance of nuance. There are no easy answers to the challenges facing our public education systems. It’s too easy when writing commentaries to sacrifice nuance and context on the altar of pithiness, to choose sides instead of following facts into the murk of complexity.
A consensus exists among Chalkbeat’s leadership, myself included, that the debate over public education here and across the country gives off far more heat than light. My desire going forward is to illuminate issues through strong reporting and writing rather than sprinkling gasoline on the fire by injecting my opinions.
I was a newspaper reporter for 15 years here and elsewhere before I left journalism to work on policy, and then returned to journalism to launch this site and write commentary. So I have far more experience as a reporter and editor than a commentator or opinion writer. I’m excited to return to the world of shoe leather reporting; to dig into meaty issues and present fair-minded reports about what I learn.
My belief is that the work will speak for itself, and that I can and will present nuanced, fair reports. My editors will keep me honest and if readers have a beef with what I write they are sure to let us know.
And there are so many rich topics to explore. There is a yawning chasm between the making of policy and its implementation. The threads connecting policy to implementation to practice are often tangled and too rarely reported upon. In particular, thorny issues of equity and privilege, and the collective impact of thousands of individual families’ choices, are topics that fascinate me and bear exploring.
I can’t wait to get started, and you’ll see some of my reporting on the site very soon.
Obamacare is best known for efforts to expand health insurance coverage, but the Affordable Care Act also provides capital funds for school-based health clinics. Aurora Public Schools is one such beneficiary, receiving $475,000 to replace cramped clinics at Crawford and Laredo elementary schools this year.
The new Crawford Kids Clinic, which will host an open house today, opened last month in a larger stand-alone facility on school grounds. The old clinic, launched in 2008, was inside the school. The new Laredo clinic, which replaces one opened in 2010, is set be finished in June.
The two are the only two school-based clinics in the 41,000-student Aurora district. Both provide medical, dental and mental health services to elementary students in the district as well as younger siblings.
The two clinics are run through partnerships with several community health organizations, including the Rocky Mountain Youth Clinic, Aurora Mental Health Center and Children’s Hospital Colorado Pediatric Dentistry.
The Chicago Reader's occasional series on segregation in Chicago's schools continues with a fourth installment asking: Are Chicago's elite private schools as diverse as they claim to be? The author makes the point that educations students get at private schools like Lab, Latin and Parker are indirectly subsidized by the government.
ANOTHER CALENDAR CHANGE: Chicago Public Schools is again changing its school calendar, with classes beginning after Labor Day next school year. Last year, CPS moved to a single calendar for all schools and classes started Aug. 26. On Wednesday the school board approved a new calendar that has classes starting Tuesday, Sept. 2. (Tribune)
PENSION PACKAGE: Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she wants the Illinois pension reform package that recently passed applied to teachers. (Sun-Times)
TEST BOYCOTT: Teachers at a Little Village school will refuse to administer an annual state achievement test next week, a move that could ultimately cost them their jobs. About 40 teachers at Maria Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy voted unanimously Tuesday to boycott the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, said Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at the school. District officials say the calendar was developed in collaboration with the Chicago Teachers Union as well as feedback from parents. (Sun-Times)
IN THE NATION
HIGH ASPIRATIONS, PUZZLING OUTCOMES: Although black and Latino male students enter community colleges with higher aspirations than those of their white peers, only 5 percent of black men and Latinos earn degrees or certificates within three years, compared with 32 percent of white men, according to a new report. The findings are puzzling because minority men are more engaged than their white classmates in tutoring, study-skills sessions and other practices that are key to college success. (Chronicle of Higher Education)