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Dougco threatens state in enrollment count dispute

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 21:58

Leaders of the Douglas County School District say they’ll sue the Colorado Department of Education in a $4.2 million dispute over counting of high school enrollment.

The district took the spat public with a news release Thursday, two days after outgoing education Commissioner Robert Hammond responded to a district appeal in the matter.

Also on Thursday, school board President Kevin Larsen and Vice President Doug Benevento sent an accusatory and polemical letter to Hammond, writing, “We intend to pursue our remedies in the Colorado courts with all deliberate speed.”

The letter said the district “rejects the Department’s position as arbitrary, capricious and not the result of reasoned agency decision-making.”

The Larsen-Benevento letter also claimed CDE’s actions in the enrollment dispute “convey the unmistakable whiff of policy retaliation” because of district/department differences over other, unrelated matters.

Department spokeswoman Dana Smith responded, “We don’t really know what they’re referring to here, but this issue is a matter of state law. We are required to implement that.”

The department annually audits a selection of school districts to compare student enrollment against the amount of state funding allocated. Districts that received more funding than supported by enrollment data are asked to pay money back to the state. Whether students were properly classified as part-time or full-time is a common issue in the audits. Larger districts usually are audited more frequently than small ones.

The department has billed Dougco, interest free, for $4.2 million, money that was provided for a few hundred high school students CDE believes were inaccurately classified as full-time.

Behind the disagreement Read the docs

The dispute focuses primarily on the interpretation of full-time and part-time and on the extent of CDE discretion in the matter.

The district news release claims, “The students involved in the audit averaged 96.7 percent of the required seat time, making it illogical and unreasonable for CDE to reduce annual funding for those specific students by half.”

The letter from the two school board members also argues, “The department clearly has the lawful discretion to make any funding reductions proportionate to the time for which the department’s audit could not account in district documents.”

But Hammond’s Tuesday letter to Dougco Superintendent Elizabeth Fagan noted, “There is no provision in state law to allow for proportional funding – students are either considered full-time or part-time. … Full-time funding is based upon a student having a schedule for 360 hours, and part-time funding is available for students with schedules greater than 90 hours but less than 360 hours in the first semester.”

In contrast to district claims that CDE didn’t use its discretion properly, Hammond’s letter noted that CDE did reconsider the classification of some students and reduced the amount owed by the district. “If the traditional calculation was applied in this audit, the district liability would have increased by approximately $737,000, resulting in a total audit liability of over $5.3 million.” The audit involved the fall enrollment counts for 2012 and 2013.

The disagreement appears to be rooted in counting changes and problems sparked by the district’s decision to increase the number of periods in high school schedules.

Other district claims

The Larsen-Benevento letter fired several broadsides at the department, including:

“We intend to work expeditiously with the General Assembly to divest the department of the discretion that the department has either failed to exercise here at all or, to the extent it has exercised any discretion, has done so with such obvious incompetence and backward thinking.”

The letter also said, “It is hard to believe that, in this age of nearly constant learning through technology … the department still employs a vast bureaucracy of well-pensioned employees who seriously spend valuable time – at taxpayer expense – tallying the number of minutes that a student sits in a seat, rather than the results achieved by that student.”

Current state law contains no provisions that tie individual student performance to school funding.

Hammond is retiring, so the dispute going forward will be in the hands of Interim Commissioner Elliott Asp.

Associate Commissioner Leanne Emm said full-time problems are “a very typical audit finding. … This happens to be an uncommonly larger finding because they had an issue with so many students.”

Department also in enrollment dispute with Sheridan

The department was sued by the Sheridan school district last March in a $1 million disagreement over high school students that CDE believes weren’t eligible for state funding because they also were taking classes at Arapahoe Community College.

The state asked Sheridan to repay nearly $1 million, and the district went to court, asking that the repayment requirement be voided. The suit is pending in Denver District Court. (Get more information in this previous Chalkbeat Colorado story.)

The Sheridan case doesn’t involve the full-time/part-time issue but rather the question of funding concurrent enrollment students – those taking both high school and college classes.

Emm said CDE doesn’t have any similar disputes currently pending with other districts.

Categories: Urban School News

Camp for Native American youth draws on centuries of healthy tradition

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 15:06

Normally, the five Denver teens who gathered for breakfast at the Egg & I restaurant would have been cooking their own meals at the Four Winds American Indian Council building.

The recent diner meal was a rare exception for the youth, all participants in a summer camp for Native American teenagers. Still, it was clear from their conversation that tradition is at the core of the free eight-week experience.

Seventeen-year-old Katrina Her Many Horses, who recently graduated from the Denver Center for International Studies, talked about her family’s 22-hour drive to Louisiana for a powwow the previous week.

PHOTO: Ann SchimkeRoberto Ballesteros, 12, takes a seed packet from Shannon Francis. Sisters Taloa Cardinal and Jasmine Anderson stand nearby.

Twelve-year-old Roberto Ballesteros, a student at West Leadership Academy, pulled up a picture on his smart phone of the red and white beaded bracelet he’d been making at camp. Jasmine Anderson, a soon-to-be senior at Denver’s South High School, shared photos of the traditional ribbon shirts the campers planned to work on next.

Formally called “Let’s Move in Indian Country Youth Cultural Camp,” the camp is the second iteration of a program begun last summer by the Denver Indian Family Resource Center in Lakewood. The first version was for students age six-17, but leaders decided they wanted to focus on teenagers.

“We know programs aren’t adapted to that generation of kids,” said Daryle Conquering Bear, healthy living assistant at the center.

A niche for Native youth

The camp provides a gathering place for Native youth, who often comprise small minorities in their schools.

With its focus on health, culture and leadership, there isn’t anything else like it in the area, said Terra Her Many Horses, co-leader of the camp and healthy living supervisor at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center in Lakewood.

The campers meet three days a week at the council building on 5th Ave. in Denver.

In the 10-county Denver metro area, 48,000 residents consider themselves Native American, Alaskan Native or some portion thereof, according to 2012 estimates from the American Community Survey.

Elias Her Many Horses, 15, said the camp is a place “to bond with other kids” and has “a lot of activities to…keep us occupied.”

Fostering healthy habits among participants is also a priority.

“We know that historically there’s some health disparities in Indian Country,” said Conquering Bear. “With the rates of diabetes …and making healthier choices with eating.”

Sixty-five percent of Colorado’s American Indian and Alaskan Native adults are overweight or obese, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In addition, data from the federal government’s Office of Minority Health indicates that nearly 18 percent nationwide have diabetes, compared to about 7 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Such statistics are part of the reason that campers learn gardening, take cooking classes and make breakfast and lunch together on most camp days. On their culinary to-do list this summer will be creating a healthier version of a fast food burger and a nutritious family meal with just $10 to spend at the grocery store.

Elias, who next year will be a junior at the Denver Center for International Studies, said cooking is one of his favorite parts of the camp. Among the dishes they’ve made so are are yogurt parfaits, turkey meatballs, chicken wraps and salads.

“Pretty soon we’re going to be able to grow some of our own ingredients,” he said.

Backyard transformation

That’s where the indigenous permaculture class, taught by Shannon Francis, comes in.

The idea is to teach the teens grow their own food, including traditional crops like the “three sisters” trio of corn, beans and squash. It’s also meant to incorporate Native American values such as respect, mindfulness and reciprocity.

PHOTO: Ann SchimkeKatrina Her Many Horses and camp co-leader Daryle Conquering Bear water the garden.

These themes came through on a recent morning in the fenced back yard of the council building. Francis instructed the campers how to turn over the soil with their metal shovels.

“You’re not going to do too much stabbing because there’s a bunch of worms in here and you don’t want to chop all the worms in half,” she said.

Later, as the campers poked shallot, radish and mustard seeds into the loose dirt, Francis reminded them, “Always remember to keep talking to your seeds.”

Katrina Her Many Horses doesn’t have a home garden because she lives in an apartment, but said she enjoys gardening with Francis at camp.

“This is what our ancestors did back then, this type of gardening,” she said. “You know how farms have it in rows and stuff…This is more natural.”

Mixing traditional and modern

This summer, a dozen youth attend the camp, which meets all day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. As was true the day of the breakfast outing, turnout tends to be lower on Thursdays since many families use it as a travel day to attend pow wows.

The camp is funded with grants from five organizations including the Colorado Health Foundation, the Denver Indian Family Resource Center, the Peyback Foundation Running Strong for American Indian Youth and the N7 Fund.

PHOTO: Ann SchimkeElias Her Many Horses helps move an old tire out of the way as the campers work to expand their garden.

In addition to traditional crafts, cooking and gardening, the camp puts an emphasis on physical fitness. Besides typical camp sports like swimming and horseback riding, participants will learn traditional Native American sports like lacrosse and its precurser, stickball.

“Everyone is coming from tribes that were physically active, so that’s what they’re trying to get back to,” said Terra Her Many Horses.

“We do a lot on how their ancestors lived,” she said.

There are also some distinctly modern elements woven through the experience. These include field trips to Native-owned businesses such as the restaurant Tocabe, Lakewood’s Belmar shopping center and the Denver-based American Indian College Fund. The campers, even the ones still in middle school, also practice writing college application essays.

“We really want them to think college,” said Conquering Bear.

Some of the older campers are already well on their way. Katrina has already earned a spot on the basketball team at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling for the fall. After that, her sights are set on the Ivy League.

“After this junior college, after I’ve given basketball a shot, I want to transfer to Dartmouth University,” she said. “That’s my main goal, to go there.”

Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Colorado Health Foundation.

Categories: Urban School News

Republican candidates lining up for State Board vacancy

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 14:38

At least half a dozen people are interested in the State Board of Education seat being vacated by Republican Marcia Neal of Grand Junction.

The potential applicants include a former candidate for the 3rd District seat, an anti-Common Core activist from Pueblo, three people with local school board experience and a parochial school principal from Grand Junction.

Neal announced two weeks ago that she’s resigning effective July 31. Her decision was sparked by board dysfunction and personal health issues, she said. (See this story for details on her decision, and this article about reaction.)

Under state law the seat will be filled by a Republican Party vacancy committee. The chosen applicant will have to run for election in November 2016.

Freida Wallison of Snowmass, Pitkin County Republican Party chair, said earlier this week, “We are in the process of setting up the vacancy committee.” She’s set a June 30 deadlines for applications, which consist of biographies and photos.

Applicants have to be registered Republicans who live in the 29-county district, which covers all of the Western Slope from Glenwood Springs west but also includes the San Luis Valley and Pueblo County. No other qualifications are required.

“The inquiries we are receiving are by and large from people who have a connection to education,” Wallison said.

The 13-member vacancy committee will include members of various other GOP committees, representatives from Mesa and Pueblo counties and five other members, each representing a group of smaller counties.

Wallison hopes to convene the committee in July for a single meeting to interview candidates and vote. State law requires the winning applicant to be selected by a majority of committee members present and voting.

Chalkbeat Colorado talked with people across the 3rd District, including potential candidates, to develop this list.

Jake Aubert

Jake Aubert – As principal of Holy Family Catholic School in Grand Junction, Aubert said, “I think I bring a unique perspective.”

He said earlier this week, “I am interested and working toward applying for that position.”

Aubert said he’s concerned about the amount of standardized testing in public schools and hears that concern from many other educators. “What PARCC testing and the Common Core mandate is extremely frustrating” for teacher, adding, “Parents are extremely frustrated with the amount of class time their students are missing.”

He added, “The centralization of education is very concerning. A one-size-fits-all model simply doesn’t work.”

Roger Good

Roger Good – A Steamboat Springs business owner, Good was elected to the Steamboat Springs school board in 2013 and serves as president.

He confirmed Wednesday that he’s applied for the appointment, saying he has “a passion for education and an appreciation for education.”

Good said he would bring “a very open mind” to contentious issues like testing. The two most valuable things about testing, Good said, are that results provide data for comparing schools and districts and that results be timely.

He also said protecting local control of schools is very important for him. “Local control is under attack.”

Michael Lobato

Michael Lobato – A rancher, Lobato is president of the Center school board in the San Luis Valley and is serving his last term.

Lobato, who has background both on the Colorado Association of School Boards and in Republican politics, said, “I’ve sure had a lot of pressure put on me. Am I interested? Yeah. Have I made a firm commitment? No.”

He said he’s weighing personal considerations before deciding whether to seek the post and indicated he also wants a better sense of who will be on the vacancy committee and of the other candidates.

Lobato believes his experience in Center, where the district has improved academic performance and built a new school in recent years, means, “I think I can bring a lot to the table.” He also feels it would be valuable to have a small-district rural voice on the State Board.

Debbie Rose

Debbie Rose – A former member and president of the Pueblo 70 school board, Rose has been active on other local and state charitable and government boards.

She’s currently board vice president of the San Isabel Electric Association and ran unsuccessfully for Pueblo County commissioner in 2008 and 2012.

Rose believes she could be helpful on the State Board, “having had personal experience with turmoil on boards.”

“I strongly believe in local control. The community knows best,” she said, adding that she’s concerned about over-testing and about a lack of vocational training in schools.

Reflecting on education in general, Rose said, “I think we need to be rethinking the direction we’re going.”

Rose is a businesswoman in Beulah, west of Pueblo.

Barbara Ann Smith

Barbara Ann Smith – Having lost to Neal by only 1,783 votes in a 2014 primary, Smith is trying again for the seat. “You bet I’m going to run. I’ve applied for it,” she said.

In a letter she distributed this week, the retired teacher highlighted her opposition to the Common Core, PARCC tests and improper uses of student data. She also says she’s a strong supporter of local school control.

Smith has been active in Republican politics and civic groups in the Grand Junction area.

Neal last year said she wouldn’t run for reelection, but she changed her mind after Smith entered the race. Neal was victorious in the Republican primary, with 26,138 votes, compared to 24,355 for Smith. Neal went on to win the general election by nearly 33,000 votes over Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo.

Anita Stapleton

Anita Stapleton – A fixture at State Board meetings and many legislative hearings, Stapleton has become one of the better-known grassroots critics of the Common Core and PARCC testing.

A nurse from Pueblo, Stapleton speaks frequently to civic and political groups about her criticisms of a wide variety of education reforms. She also was active among the parents and activists who monitored testing and data privacy legislation during the 2015 session.

Stapleton said, “I do have other issues than Common Core.” She said schools need to better support both parents and teachers and “rebuild” relationships with parents. “How we’re going about it now is not the answer.”

Learn more about the State Board’s tumultuous spring in this archive of Chalkbeat stories.

If you’ve heard of other people interested in the State Board vacancy, write to Todd Engdahl.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Community at risk due to 150-acre college property

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 09:47

Risky business

Chairman of the board of Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District issued a warning about the potential risk of catastrophic fire to Woodland Park residents, due to the presence of the 150-acre Charis Bible College. ( Pikes Peak Courier )

summer learning

Local high school robotics team hosts programming camp to get kids interested in tech. ( The Daily Sentinel )

Summer school at Windsor RE-4 School District aims to help struggling youth with instruction two-and-half hours a day, three days a week. ( KUNC )

National Hispanic Institute holds mock legislative session at Colorado State University for students interested in government. ( 9news )

Summer school get revamping at Colorado Springs School District 11 with arts component. ( The Gazette )


Denver Public Schools holds Summer Lab Academies, a new three-week program designed to be a place for both students and teachers to try new things. It’s one of a number of programs in Denver Public Schools’ “innovation lab,” known as the imaginarium, which district officials say will be a place for new ideas in education to be created, developed, tested, revised, and, if they succeed, expanded. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Not college bound

Fewer than half of the Greeley-Evans School District 6 high school graduates immediately attend college, according to the latest data released by the Colorado Department of Higher Education, ( Greeley Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

In DPS imaginarium, room to experiment for students and teachers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 17:00

On a Tuesday in June, Kayla Shaw Wilford Thomas and Maliah Thompson had found a nook under a table in a first-floor classroom at Columbine Elementary in Denver and were hard at work. Their task? To operate a photo program on a laptop computer using an electronics kit instead of the keyboard.

So far, it was a mixed success. “Why’s it taking so many pictures?” Maliah exclaimed.

But their teacher, Caitlin Caliguiri, said whether or not the program was working perfectly wasn’t the point. The goal was for the students to be exposed to new objects and ideas, and to come up with questions and solutions on their own. In the meantime, Caliguiri, who will be leading a personalized learning program at Columbine next year, was herself learning through experience about what kinds of student-led projects are most effective.

The computer experiment was part of Denver Public Schools’ Summer Lab Academies, a new three-week program designed to be a place for both students and their teachers to try new things. It’s one of a number of programs in Denver Public Schools’ “innovation lab,” known as the imaginarium, which district officials say will be a place for new ideas in education to be created, developed, tested, revised, and, if they succeed, expanded. (The district does not capitalize the “i” in promotional materials.)

As part of a restructuring this spring, DPS combined several programs into the new department, run by senior director Makisha Boothe.

Denver schools, students, and teachers apply to work with the imaginarium‘s team on an ever-growing list of projects. The current set includes a school design program focused on personalized learning, the summer lab academy, a peer-to-peer learning program for district and charter school teachers, and a competency-based arts program.

PHOTO: Susan GonzalezStudents at Columbine Elementary School play Pacman using MaKey MaKey invention kits (and a banana).

The imaginarium refers to its schools and projects as “clients” — terminology that foreshadows how more Denver Public Schools departments will interact with schools in coming years. The district’s board voted in May to allow schools to opt into district offerings instead of being automatically enrolled including professional development for teachers.

Most of the imaginarium’s current programs were initially independent initiatives funded by different philanthropies, including the Janus Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation. (Chalkbeat also receives funding from the Walton and Gates Foundations to support its news coverage of education issues.)

Boothe, a drafter of Colorado’s Innovation Schools Act, said that while the DPS has been trying new programs and strategies aimed at improving student achievement and equity, “there was no consistent infrastructure” for evaluating which worked and expanding those that were successful.

“We wanted to bring them all together for research, development and innovation, to capture the learning, capture the failings, and to disseminate case studies and know what we should scale,” she said.

Once an idea — which might be as small as a classroom strategy or as big as a new school design — is developed, the imaginarium team runs through a series of piloting and reflection exercises. The team then presents a case to district leadership about whether that project should be scaled up.

That same idea of testing and reflecting was on display on a smaller scale at the Summer Lab Academy at Columbine.

Participants were hoping to hone in on successful approaches to personalized learning, which has become a buzzword in education even as what, exactly, it should look like has remained unclear.

Teachers who were interested in personalized learning could sign up to test “hypotheses” about different classroom strategies. Each sample lesson was observed by a team from the imaginarium, which then worked with the teacher to determine how to refine the idea. Boothe referred to the process as “PDSA,” short for Plan-Do-Study-Act.

In the high-stakes environment of the regular academic school year, teachers are often wary of trying new things, said Jacqueline Dawkins, a field manager in the imaginarium. At the camp, the stakes are lower for students and for teachers.

At the Summer Lab Academy, for instance, Dawkins had taught a group of 6- and 7-year-olds how to create and share Google Docs. Another teacher had created a lesson to see what would happen if students were asked to create their own rubrics for a book project.

“All the learning we’re doing this summer will eventually be piloted in classrooms,” Dawkins said. But for now, she said, “there’s no test scores tied to it, so they get to enjoy the learning process.”

The idea is that the imaginarium will foster the same sort of space for other new programs within Denver Public Schools, said Boothe.

“Teachers and school leaders are always trying to maneuver and try new things, but they often don’t have the space to do so,” she said. “We’re trying to make the tools available for change to be safe, strategic, and responsible.”

At Columbine, the summer classes “feel really different” than the regular school year, said Kayla. “We have more opportunities here to do different kinds of stuff hands on.”

“We’re learning, but we’re learning in a fun way,” said Maliah.

And the girls’ next try at operating their computer without the keyboard, this time to play a computerized piano? It worked like a charm.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Common Core materials still lacking

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 10:02

good faith

The Thompson school district and teachers union will enter arbitration over two grievances filed by the union. ( Reporter-Herald )


More migration to Colorado hasn't done much to raise educational attainment among natives. ( Pacific Standard )

Two cents

Denver's plan to allow schools to opt into district services is a true test of the value of a public service, writes Van Schoales, director of research and advocacy group A+ Denver. ( A+ Denver )

Getting Ready

Colorado is preparing for a new, shorter set of standardized tests for the 2015-16 school year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


The Longmont principal who nixed a high school valedictorian's plan to come out in his commencement speech has left his job. ( Denver Post )


Years after teachers and schools have implemented the Common Core, materials aligned to the standards are still lacking. ( AP via Denver Post )

Numbers Matter

Academy School District 20 won a national award for its financial reporting. ( Gazette )

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Mike Miles, the former superintendent of the Harrison School District, has left his post as the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District and is planning to move back to Colorado Springs. ( Gazette )

Jeffco Exodus

Jefferson County parents have created a website to chronicle teachers leaving their district. ( 9News )

O Rly?

Colorado business leaders say STEAM education — focused on science, math, technology, and the arts — is necessary. ( Denver Business Journal )

stay in school

In Texas, the state has backed away from a harsh truancy law. ( KUNC )


A former Adams County teacher was charged with sexually assaulted several children. ( 9News )

Clean Slate

Padres y Jovenes Unidos is campaigning to inform students that they can petition to have their disciplinary records expunged before college. ( Juvenile Justice Information Exchange )

Giving Back

University of Denver graduate Nick Dawkins, who will be Manual High School's principal next year, is focused on education in Denver. ( Fox 31 )

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado hustles to roll out new testing plan

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 17:36

State testing is going to take up a lot less space on school calendars in 2016 than it did last spring.

The main 2016 “testing window,” recently announced by the Department of Education, is scheduled for April 11-29.

That calendar is very different from last spring’s, when state assessments of various kinds stretched across three periods totaling more than 12 weeks, starting in March and ending in May.

The testing window isn’t the only thing that’s changing because of a law passed by the 2015 legislature and changes announced shortly thereafter by the multi-state PARCC testing group.

Other key changes include elimination of state tests for high school seniors, different tests for ninth and 10th graders and a cutback is social studies testing.

But while CDE is moving quickly to set up the new system, lots of questions remain to be answered, and key elements need to be approved by the federal government. That means students, parents and teachers don’t yet have a full picture of what state testing will look like in 2016.

Here are the details of the changes in the CMAS system, how they could affect different kinds of tests and students and what questions remain to be answered.

Time on test

The testing window is the period of time during which a school has to start and complete testing; every day of the window isn’t necessarily taken up by tests.

Next spring schools are supposed to fit language arts, math, science, social studies and alternate tests within the April 11-29 window. (This year the first part of language arts and math tests were given in March, followed by social studies and science in April and the second part of language arts and math at the end of the school year.)

Source: Colorado Department of Education

That may seem like a lot of tests, but PARCC also is reducing the total time consumed for language arts and math tests and number of testing sessions, known as “units” in assessment lingo. (See this story for details on PARCC’s plans for 2016.)

School districts like the single, smaller window. Last spring’s separate windows required a lot of duplicate set-up time, testing directors say.

“We really appreciate the change,” said Norm Alerta, director of assessment and evaluation for the Cherry Creek Schools. “That will help with a lot of issues.”

And CDE is providing an escape hatch for districts that can’t fit all those tests into three weeks. Districts can use a window of up to six weeks for language arts and math tests if needed because of limitations on the number of laptops and other devices available for testing use.

“We expect the vast majority to use” the three-week window, said Joyce Zurkowski, CDE executive director of assessment.

High school testing

Expansion of state tests into the 11th and 12th grades during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years sparked much of the public outcry faced by legislators during the last session.

Laura Johnson, 17, works on a computer between classes at Florence High School / File photo

The lawmakers’ ultimate solution, House Bill 15-1323, significantly reduced high school testing while making few changes at other grade levels.

Seniors – Students are off the hook for state tests in their last year of high school, so there will be no science and social studies to boycott next fall.

Juniors – The new law eliminates the full language arts and math tests in 11th grade, but the school year won’t be test-free for these students. Officials at CDE haven’t decided when to give high school science and social studies tests. But they acknowledge that spring of junior year is the logical time to test, rather than in freshman or sophomore years. And all juniors will still have to take the ACT test or an equivalent.

Sophomores – It’s too early to say what 2016 testing will look like for 10th graders. The new law proposes eliminating language arts and math tests for 11th graders, replacing those with a shorter college-and-career readiness test like the Accuplacer. That test also has to be aligned to state academic standards. However, this is a change that must be approved by the federal government.

And even if Washington signs off, it isn’t known yet which readiness test will be used, nor which 11th grade college entrance exam will be given. The new law requires those contracts be put out to competitive bid, which hasn’t happened yet. CDE officials acknowledge that the likely competitors are the ACT organization and the College Board.

Freshmen – Students will continue to take PARCC language arts and math tests in the first year of high school, just as their predecessors have done for years. CDE will have to make changes in the math tests, given that they won’t be given later in high school, as was the case for the last two years.

Social studies tests To be decided

  • Whether language arts and math tests in 9th grade only will meet federal requirements for high school testing
  • Which college and career readiness tests sophomores and juniors will take
  • When high school science and social studies tests will be given
  • Which schools will give social studies tests next year
  • Extent of flexibility in testing some ELL students
  • Definition of “grade level” for early literacy tests
  • Double testing of students in any pilot assessment program

During the legislative testing debates these tests looked they were headed for the chopping block. But a compromise detailed in another testing measure (Senate Bill 15-056) saved the exams by drastically reducing the number of students who have to take them every year.

Now the tests will be given in one third of state schools every year, to one grade each in elementary, middle and high school. Stay tuned for CDE to decide which schools will be on the 2016 list.

English language learners

The new law proposes to allow districts to give state tests in other languages to English language learners for up to five years, instead the three now allowed. ELL students enrolled in a school for fewer than 12 months wouldn’t have to take English language arts tests.

The legislation also proposes to not use the English language arts scores of ELL students who have been in the U.S. for fewer than two years as part of school and district accountability calculations.

Some of these changes have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

Early learners

One non-controversial element of the testing law was the streamlining of how students are evaluated for school readiness and how the reading skills of K-3 students are determined under the READ Act. There were concerns about duplication of assessments and about the need to retest students who read a grade level.

If schools evaluate students within the first 60 days of school, the results of READ Act tests can be used for the literacy component of school readiness. The law also streamlines some of the readiness and READ Act record keeping.

Students who demonstrate reading proficiency on the first test don’t have to take additional tests during the year. However, CDE has to set cut scores to define grade-level reading, and those won’t be determined until late summer.

Mouse or pencil

Last spring the state allowed districts to request paper tests for 3rd grade language arts and math and for math in other grades. Those got only limited use around the state.

The new law allows districts to request paper tests for any grade. The state has no role in deciding, so parents anxious to have paper tests will have to make their case to their districts by next fall.

But CDE is working with test providers on the logistics of having all tests available on paper. “It’s a pretty significant shift for science and social studies,” Zurkowski said,

At least one set of paper tests also must be available for READ Act assessments.

Opting out

The right of parents to pull children out of state tests and the impact of low test participation rates on school and district ratings were hot issues during the legislative session.

Sign at anti-testing rally

The Senate and House ultimately couldn’t agree on an opt-out bill, but HB 15-1323 contains compromise language that gives districts some guidance on how to handle the issue.

Here’s how CDE explains it: “Each district must adopt a written policy and procedure allowing a student’s parent to excuse a student from participating in one or more state assessments. If a parent excuses his/her student from participating in an assessment, the district must not impose negative consequences on students or parents, including prohibiting school attendance, imposing an unexcused absence, or prohibiting participation in extracurricular activities. At the same time, the district cannot impose an unreasonable burden or requirement on a student to discourage the student from taking an assessment or encourage the student’s parent to excuse his/her student from the assessment.”

Evaluation & accountability

The testing law was driven partly by concerns that low scores on the new tests and high opt-out rates might unfairly affect teacher evaluations and school and district ratings. (Federal law requires states to penalize districts where participation rates fall below 95 percent on two or more tests.)

As on many other issues, the new law offered a compromise. How the U.S. Department of Education reacts to the changes remains to be seen.

Teachers – Results from last spring’s state tests cannot be used to calculate the student growth measures used in teachers’ 2014-15 school year evaluations. Instead, districts can only use growth data derived from local tests.

The state’s evaluation system requires that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on “multiple measures” of student academic growth, including more than data derived from state test results. A 2014 law created a one-year timeout for that requirement, meaning individual districts could use 50 percent, 0 percent or any percentage in-between when doing evaluations for the school year that just ended. Districts took that flexibility to heart (see story).

Starting with the upcoming 2015-16 school year, 50 percent of teacher evaluations must be based on student academic growth measures. The new law provides an out in years when state test results aren’t promptly available. If growth data isn’t given to districts at least two weeks before the school year ends, districts don’t have to use that data for evaluations but can instead use it in evaluations for the following school year.

Schools and districts – The upcoming school year will be time-out for accreditation ratings. No new ratings will be announced this autumn, meaning schools and districts will retain the ratings they were assigned at the end of 2014.

Districts and schools that have been rated in the two lowest categories for five consecutive years are subject to state intervention. That clock has been stopped for one year.

There will be ratings issued again in the fall of 2016. They will go into effect, and the accountability clock will restart, on July 1, 2017.

See this Chalkbeat story for details about the district ratings issued last November, and use this database to find individual district ratings.

Pilot programs

Another compromise element of the testing law was creation of pilot programs through which districts and groups of districts could try out new ways of testing students and holding schools accountable.

The idea, if it gets off the ground, is that two programs will be chosen from the first group of pilots, and that one of those might eventually become the new state testing and accountability system.

This plan will require multiple levels of federal approval, the first of which may affect districts’ interest in trying the experiment. That question is whether students who participate in a pilot have to continue taking regular state tests as well.

Getting those questions answered More info

CDE is working to get most of the open questions answered by late summer or early fall.

The department already has opened informal talks with the federal department, trying to feel out what Washington is thinking. “We first have been having conversations with them” and have sent a letter detailing the changes in Colorado law, said Associate Commissioner Jill Hawley. As to how DOE will react, “We can’t answer what that will look like,’ she said.

Hawley and Zurkowski said it could be anytime between early July and early August before Colorado gets “formal guidance” from DOE.

The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires annual testing of every state’s students and an accountability system for districts and schools, among other requirements.

Colorado has some flexibility under a formal agreement called a waiver. If DOE doesn’t approve of changes in the state’s system, that could lead to revocation of the waiver, re-imposing the more onerous requirements of ESEA on the state.

States that don’t follow federal requirements are subject to possible loss of federal education funding, although that’s a multi-step process that could take time to play out.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Grade changing in Denver Public Schools confirmed

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 09:49

Next Steps

Aurora Public Schools students will soon have the ability to earn digital merit badges — think a cross between a Girl Scout badge and a report card. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Grade changing

An investigation found that grades were changed at Collegiate Prep in Denver. ( Denver Post, KDVR )


A new Denver school will be named after Ruben Valdez, Colorado's first Hispanic House Speaker. ( Denver Post )

Grow, grow, grow

Denver Public Schools plans to ask voters for a bond to fund the district, which is the fastest-growing urban school system in the country. ( The Denver Channel )

in depth

Chalkbeat New York spent months at a school that's being turned around in New York. Read about the school and its community here. ( Chalkbeat New York )

DSST Squared

A DSST principal says the pressure's on as the charter network plans for expansion. ( 9News )


Students from a closed school in Jefferson County go to orientation at Jefferson Junior-Senior High. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Digital “merit badges” coming to Aurora Public Schools

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 06/22/2015 - 22:30

Digital merit badges — think of a cross between a report card and a Girl Scout badge — are coming to Aurora Public Schools.

The district is planning to introduce the online credentialing system to 19 APS schools this fall and to all schools by 2016. The badges, which students earn by demonstrating skills in the areas of collaboration, critical thinking, information literacy, invention and self-direction, are displayed online through student profiles. The idea is that colleges and employers could then access the profiles to see students’ skills when making hiring and admissions decisions.

The idea of awarding students digital badges was developed at a Mozilla Foundation conference in 2010 and has since spread to some higher education programs and, less commonly, K-12 schools. Badge proponents argue that the online tool helps integrate academic and soft skills.

Chalkbeat spoke to Charles Dukes, the director of Postsecondary Workforce Readiness for APS, and APS Director of Educational Technology Kevin Riebau, who explained how the badges will work and why the district is choosing to use them.

What is the simplest way to describe “digital badging”? 

Dukes: Digital badging is an online platform that documents and records students “soft skills” or what we call 21st century skills: critical thinking, invention, self-direction, collaboration, and information literacy.

Riebau: Another word you might use is “micro-credential.” It really is a skill currency used to open up opportunities because you earned the badge, you can cash the badge in for opportunities otherwise maybe not available if you didn’t have the badge.

What is the step-by-step process for a student to receive a badge? 

Riebau: So the student will be made aware of the digital badge and will see what the criteria is for earning that badge. Then, what the student will do is familiarize themself with the criteria and they will set out to fulfill the criteria. What we’re asking for is the student to provide the evidence that they have fulfilled the criteria, so they might  choose to take a picture or a video, or link to a blog that they write…any kind of multimedia or some sort of product they have created that is uploaded and attached to the badge that shows they have fulfilled the criteria. It’s their evidence. When they’ve done that then the teacher who issues that badge takes a look at the evidence and says “yes” or “no” to if they have met the criteria. If it has met the criteria, then the teacher will issue the badge to the student. All of this takes place online, by the way. We have a badge platform that allows for the designing, issuing and earning of badges so then the student is filling out their digital repository of badges, they have an account and they start to populate it with badges they’ve earned.  Then because the student has earned the badge now, the badge is a skill currency, so they should be able cash that badge in for an opportunity. For instance, if they’re in high school, attached to that badge (because you’ve earned it) that unlocks an opportunity to have an internship with one of our partners during the summer. They can show that they have that badge and then get be bumped to the top of the list or just given the internship.

It’s different for different grade levels. For middle schoolers, it might be a job shadow, elementary might be a visit by somebody from the company- it just depends.

How does a student benefit from this if the badge doesn’t apply to a participating company or organization?

Dukes: The goal for the whole initiative is that we have a lot of partners that belong to all of our Colorado career clusters , so we open doors for multiple partners from business to agriculture. If a student receives a badge and we don’t have a partner for the specific badge, it still gives the student the criteria they need to know to be successful in the workforce, so they’ll have a better understanding of what they need to do be to be successful in their specific field and they can plan toward that.

What distinguishes a badge from a skill listed on a resumé? How are these two things different? 

Dukes: The big difference is on a resumé you may have the language “I’m a critical thinker” but on a badge you have the evidence that shows you’re a critical thinker. So when you post your badge on say LinkedIn…a student can show examples of them demonstrating critical thinking.

Riebau: It’s that added level of accountability because there’s evidence and it’s not just words you put on a resumé, it’s action.

What factors will you measure at or what will you look at to determine if digital badging is succeeding at APS?

Dukes: We’ll look at the type of badges that are earned and how badges are being used. And how these badges and the use of badges are having a positive impact on behavior, attendance and ultimately graduation and college matriculation or workforce matriculation.

Riebau: Also, we’ve established a feedback loop with our business partners where we get input for them. For instance, say a student got an internship because they cashed in certain badges, then we can put from the industry partner who says…the student has demonstrated these skills and they are an asset to our company and we would eventually like to hire them.

Categories: Urban School News

At reconfigured Jefferson Junior-Senior High, students are told show up and have fun

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 06/22/2015 - 12:51

EDGEWATER — Well before noon on a recent Tuesday, 33 soon-to-be eighth graders are dancing back-to-back while Katy Perry’s “Firework” blares from the speakers.

When the music stops, the students scramble to find a new partner. The student left standing without a new mate must dance alone on a chair in the center of the gym.

“You must dance like you have never danced before,” said Michael James, the principal of the newly reconfigured Jefferson Junior-Senior High School, to each student who shyly climbed on top of the chair.

Backward dancing was just one of a few activities James and his eighth graders participated in earlier this month as part of Jefferson’s new-student orientation.

Most of the seventh and eighth graders enrolling at Jefferson would have attended Wheat Ridge 5-8. But that school was closed due to chronic low performance on state tests. So, instead of attending the Wheat Ridge school, the middle schoolers are joining their high school peers at Jefferson.

The school shuffle is part of a larger programmatic overhaul at a cluster of schools in Jefferson County that server mostly low-income and Latino students. Most of those schools are in Edgewater, a tiny municipality that boarders Denver’s west side, and have bounced on and off the state’s accountability watch list for several years.

The hopes of Jeffco Public Schools officials is that the changes that include expanding a dual-language program, more cooperation between schools, and a project-based learning curriculum that stretches from kindergarten through high school, will be enough to consistently improve student learning.

The new-student orientation at Jefferson Junior-Senior High was a symbolic first step toward those ideas becoming a reality.

“I want them to connect fun activities to Jefferson,” said Principal James. “I know there is a lot of great learning to be had, but we’re going to have a fun time as well.”

During the three day orientation, the new students also got a tour of the school from student leaders, set personal and academic goals, and learned what teachers and counselors think it takes to be a successful Saint, the school’s mascot.

“There’s no slack time when school starts,” Angelique “Doc” Acevedo-Barron, one of the school’s deans, told the eighth graders. “You must be able to pass each of your classes. There’s no more social promotion.”

As part of the changes at Jefferson, student progress will be closely monitored by teams of teachers. Students who fall behind will be given extra tutoring and other opportunities to catch up. That includes an extra hour of learning each day for seventh and eighth graders, Acevedo-Barron said to some student moans.

“We’re going to make it happen,” Acevedo-Barron said. “We’re going to nip any slacking in the bud. We’re about school.”

Other opportunities those junior high students will have at Jefferson that they did not have at Wheat Ridge include more electives and greater math support, said James. Each math classroom will have a teacher and between three and five tutors to assist students. The students will also have greater access to support services and James said he hopes to have more regular conversations with families.

Some teachers from Wheat Ridge 5-8 are following their students to Jefferson. Tom McLoughlin is one of them. He helped James during orientation week.

“We’re really excited to be working or Michael James,” McLoughlin said. “There’s already a lot of buy-in from the current staff and students.”

McLoughlin said that he thinks combining the middle school and high school will encourage younger students, especially eighth graders, to stay focused.

“They won’t have that ‘king of the school’ mentality anymore,” McLoughlin said. “It will be be nice for them to see their older peers go on and graduate. As well as some who aren’t. They’ll be able to see that difference.”

Students at orientation were equally shy and excited.

Angelo Hulse, an incoming seventh grader, said he’s ready to learn.

“I just want to know how to get good grades so I can go onto college and play college football,” he said. “And we get to have lockers and there will be more fun stuff to do.”

Destanie Allen, meanwhile, said she was excited to meet new friends. But as a new ninth grader, she was well aware of the new social pecking order at the 7-12 school.

“We’re right in the middle,” she said.

Back in the gymnasium, James pulls his eighth graders in for a huddle and ice cream bars.

“Come with a positive idea of what this place is and about who you are,” he said. “We can have a lot fun. If you’re not afraid to have fun, you will. Don’t worry about what other people think of you.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Dispute over charter school names cools off

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 06/22/2015 - 10:56

Fiscal puzzle

New state revenue forecasts point to tightening of the state budget, making it less likely the school districts will see hoped-for additional funding of up to $70 million in the 2015-16 school year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

planning ahead

Denver City Council President Chris Herndon hosted 100 Denver high school students students last week for several days of career and college exploration. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Naming rights

A brief dispute between a school in Roseville, Calif., and one in Colorado over the right to use “John Adams” in the school name appears to be over. ( Sacramento Bee )

moving on

Almost one in five teachers in the Pueblo 60 district left in first half of last school year, compared to one in 10 in neighboring Pueblo 70. ( Chieftain )

Science kids

St. Vrain Valley students are learning to program humanoid robots for a new high school robotics challenge. ( Daily Camera )

Some Colorado Springs kids have made a mock Mars landing a big success. ( Gazette )

Special ed

The Summit School District has decided to provide special education with its own staff rather than spend money with the Mountain BOCES for such services. ( Summit Daily )

Two cents

Steve Durham of the State Board of Education writes that the conflict between local control and accountability need not create impossible choices, if those involved in driving national education policy — including the Gates Foundation — are willing to provide enough flexibility to allow policymakers who believe in local control to avoid some of the worst outcomes. ( Denver Post )

Lisa Pinto, communications officer for the Jeffco schools, offers her take on communications battles in the district and is critical of the teachers union. ( Colorado Statesman )

State Rep. Crisanta Duran of Denver writes about the importance of expanding STEM education for Colorado students. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

High-schoolers get a taste of college life

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 18:12

Money. Grades. Leaving home. These were a few things Denver high school students listed when asked what scares them most about college.

Denver City Council President Chris Herndon hosted 100 students for a week of career and college exploration, concluding Friday at the University of Colorado Denver’s Auraria campus. Founded by Herndon five years ago, Northeast Denver Leadership Week informs students about different careers, college majors and scholarship options.

Nate Easely, executive director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, spoke to the high schoolers and asked what scares them about college. The answers, Easely said, didn’t surprise him.

“They put out every single thing I could have read  about in some wonky research piece about why kids who often are in the bottom quartile of income are afraid to go to college,” Easely said. “‘Am I smart enough? Can I pay for it?'”

Easely said about 80 percent of DSF scholars are first-generation students and have a lot of fears about attending college, which could prevent them from going if they aren’t exposed to higher education early on.

“It’s extremely important that Councilman Herndon is doing this…to give them the opportunity to be exposed to colleges from day one,” he said. “In fact, (being exposed to college in) high school is late.”

In addition to hearing about scholarship options and chatting with Easely about college, the students attended “breakout sessions” at CU Denver. Professors spoke to them about different fields of study and gave them a firsthand look at what happens inside a college classroom.

For Rebekah Amaro, these activities, and the week as a whole, was a rewarding one.

“They kept telling us ‘don’t give up,'” said Amaro, a rising senior at Denver South High School. “This program taught me that we are all capable of thriving (in college).”

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Inside a school where students are glued to their own screens

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 17:58


  • Follow along for a day in the life of a Mineola, N.Y., school where students spend 75 percent of their time on iPads. (Hechinger Report)
  • Some say Shakespeare is so removed from students’ experiences that it shouldn’t be taught in schools. Here’s another perspective. (New Republic)
  • The actress Tilda Swinton is one parent behind a test-free high school in Scotland. (The Guardian)
  • On the other hand, Grand Rapids, Mich., uses a 30-year-old Commodore computer to run heating and cooling at its schools. (WOOD)
  • Here’s what it’s like to be 18 these days, according to a Bay Area high school class. (Medium)
  • After getting hooked on Serial, Connecticut students produced podcasts for their final exam. (Mind/Shift)
  • A New Jersey teacher’s blog post about a Kendrick Lamar-inspired literature lesson resulted in a visit from the rapper. (NPRed)
  • The criminal justice world is increasingly recognizing that it might not make sense to treat adolescents as just young adults. (The Marshall Project)
  • The vast majority of school districts nationwide haven’t done much to address socioeconomic segregation in schools, a researcher writes. (U.S. News)
  • School segregation is even a problem in Amsterdam, known as a haven of tolerance, which has more than 500 schools where more than 60 percent of students are ethnic minorities. (The Atlantic)
  • A New York City charter school network that doesn’t get a lot of attention is posting consistently strong scores. (Reason)
  • In this era of classroom whiteboards, one brand of Japanese chalk has a cult following. (Gizmodo)



Categories: Urban School News

No good news for schools in latest revenue forecasts

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 16:46

New state revenue forecasts point to tightening of the state budget that kicks in on July 1, making it less likely the state’s school districts will see hoped-for additional funding of up to $70 million in the 2015-16 school year.

Quarterly revenue projections issued Friday by both legislative and executive branch economists indicate that some trims may be needed in the 2015-16 budget approved by the legislature last spring. The forecasts were presented to the legislative Joint Budget Committee.

Economists from Legislative Council, the General Assembly’s research arm, estimate the state will be $180.7 million short of the amount needed to pay for the 2015-16 budget and maintain the required reserve. The executive branch’s Office of State Planning and Budget puts the possible shortfall at $69 million. (The general fund portion of next year’s budget is $11 billion; the reserve totals $649 million.)

State experts say there’s no need to panic.

“We have time and resources to manage what will be very small shortfalls,” said Henry Sobanet, OSPB director. “I think we’ll end up with a balanced budget in 2015-16.”

But the tighter budget picture seems to make it less likely that a “promise” made in this year’s school finance law can be fulfilled by the 2016 legislature.

The finance law, Senate Bill 15-267, contains the stated intention in its “legislative declaration,” or introduction, that the 2016 legislature will retroactively increase funding if local district revenues rise more than has been projected. (K-12 funding is the combination of local and state revenues used meet the total annual amount of school funding. Updated local revenue figures are issued every December. Typically, when local revenues rise the state contribution is reduced in the middle of the school year.)

Some projections have estimated local revenues will be $70 million higher in 2015-16 than forecast last spring. The language in SB 15-267 is a promise – not necessarily ironclad – that the 2016 legislature won’t reduce the state share if the $70 million (or some amount) comes in. That would give districts a net increase.

Sobanet agrees that current forecasts of local taxes probably are low, but he was cautious about the likelihood of schools getting more money. “If I were planning at the local level I would not expect a materially different amount of money than we have now. … I would not expect meaningful increases in budgets.”

Rep. Millie Hamner said, “Was it good news today? No.” She continued, “I’m worried [but] I don’t want to be too nervous. … I also don’t want to send false hopes, false expectations” about additional school funding.

Hamner is vice chair of the JBC and will head the panel during the 2016 session. She was a primary author of SB 15-267.

The finance law increases overall K-12 funding by $306 million to about $6.23 billion next school year. Most of that is driven by constitutionally required hikes to cover enrollment growth and inflation. Average per-pupil funding will rise to $7,295 from 2014-15’s $7,026.

The only significant discretionary increases in the bill include $25 million that will be applied to the state’s funding shortfall, the so-called negative factor, which currently totals about $855 million. There’s another $5 million earmarked for at-risk students.

Learn more

The two forecasts were generally optimistic about the Colorado economy and state revenues.

“Growth is going to be more moderate than it has been in the past, but we are still going to see growth,” said chief legislative economist Natalie Mullis.

“All things being equal, Colorado continues to outperform the country,” Sobanet said.

But a healthy economy and rising revenues don’t necessarily give lawmakers more to spend as they wish. Constitutional spending limits, refunds required by Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and previously earmarked spending on certain programs limits the legislature’s flexibility to increase spending on things like education.

“When you increase general fund revenue that doesn’t mean you get more money to spend,” Mullis reminded JBC members. (The general fund is the state’s main spending account and is supported by income and sales tax revenues.)

The state has a couple of options if revenues aren’t sufficient to support currently planned 2015-16 spending and the required reserve.

If there’s a large enough gap between a budget and revenue forecasts, state law requires the governor to reduce spending. Sobanet said that trigger hasn’t been reached and that “It’s simply too early” to know if such action will be necessary.

Second, the 2016 legislature can make mid-year adjustments to balance the 2015-16 budget if necessary.

Friday’s forecasts are by no means the last word on budget issues. New projections will be issued at the end of September and December, giving state officials and legislators updated revenue information that could affect both adjustments to the 2015-16 budget and crafting of the 2016-17 state spending plan.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco teacher turnover expected to rise

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 09:34

Newsy day for DPS

Charter school organization DSST plans to have 22 schools in Denver enrolling as many as a quarter of secondary school students by 2024-25. The Denver school board approved eight new schools Thursday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

After months of planning and angst, the board voted to approve a shared enrollment zone for middle school students in northwest Denver. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Denver is taking a new approach to school turnarounds, which entails making dramatic changes to staff and programs at a school in an effort to improve student outcomes. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The DPS board has approved a $911 million operating budget for the upcoming school year. ( Denver Post )

Jeffco budget

The Jeffco school board has approved a new budget on a split vote but backed a new teacher pay plan unanimously. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Plight of the poor

Harvard professor Robert Putnam wanted to make sure the audience at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science knew one thing: poor youths in America feel alone. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

More Jeffco news

Administrators and union leaders expect Jeffco’s teacher turnover rate to increase again next year. ( 9News )

Charter news

A farm-based charter school is expected to be open in Florence during the fall of 2017 and will also offer a choice of other occupational classes. ( Canon City Daily Record )

A California charter school threatens legal action against a planned Dougco charter over the use of a founding father’s name in the school’s name. ( Denver Post )

Fighting hunger

The Aurora Public Schools and city government have teamed up to provide free summer meals for needy families. ( Aurora Sentinel )

The Pueblo 60 schools and a local food bank are providing free groceries for families this summer. ( KOAA )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver board approves dramatic expansion for charter network DSST

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 01:30

By 2024-25, local charter school organization DSST plans to have 22 schools in Denver enrolling as many as a quarter of the city’s secondary school students.

The network’s plan to add eight new schools to its already-growing set of schools was approved by the Denver Public Schools board at its June meeting on Thursday night. DSST currently has nine schools and had already been approved to open five more.

“We’re thrilled,” said Christine Nelson, DSST’s chief of staff. “We’re excited about what this means for Denver schools.”

The board also approved its 2015-16 operating budget, which includes raises for teachers and principals and funds to hire new teachers, and a series of new school plans at the last meeting of the school year.

Check Chalkbeat’s board tracker to see how the board voted on each of the items at tonight’s meeting.

Growing network

The new DSST schools approved tonight include a pair of middle schools and a pair of high schools focused on humanities — a new subject for the network — and an additional two high schools and middle schools focused on science and technology.

The expansion would make DSST the largest charter network in Denver and in Colorado — and, at 10,500 students, larger than most of the state’s school districts. Denver Public Schools currently enrolls just under 90,000 students.

DSST’s plans to expand drew well over 100 supporters to a board meeting last week. Many spoke in favor of the board approving new DSST schools.

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was the sole vote against the expansion.

“It should probably garner national attention that by voting to approve a great number of DSST schools, in additional to 14 we already have, we are turning over a great part of our portfolio to these schools with very little accountability to the public,” Jimenez said.

“Because they use public money and serve public school students doesn’t make them public schools,” he said. “They are private organizations with their own boards.” Jimenez raised concerns about the schools’ financial transparency.

Jimenez also said it is not clear where so many new schools will be placed, given that the district has very few open facilities. He said he believes one DSST school will eventually be placed in the Horace Mann building in northwest Denver that currently houses Trevista, an elementary school that currently serves mainly students from the Quigg Newton housing project.

Board president Happy Haynes and members Landri Taylor and Mike Johnson spoke in favor of approving the new schools.

“The eyes of the nation may well be upon us in this decision,” Haynes said. “And what they’re going to see is this district recognizes that the school that are the top performing schools in our district by far, these schools that, when we talk about the equity issues you discussed earlier tonight, are showing the district the way on achieving one of our extremely important goals around closing the opportunity gap.”

“We disagree about whether these are public or private schools,” Haynes said. “I feel very strong in my sense of accountability and in our ability to hold these schools accountable.”

Other new schools

The district also approved “redesign” plans at four schools in southwest Denver and new charter agreements for Rocky Mountain Prep, Downtown Denver Expeditionary Learning School, and Banneker Jemison STEM Academy. The district temporarily rejected a proposal from a group hoping to open new online learning centers in Denver.

University Prep’s plan to run Pioneer Charter School, first floated earlier this year, was also approved. The board of Pioneer, one of the district’s first charter schools, surrendered the school’s charter earlier this spring formed an unusual agreement with the board of the University Prep.

Several proposals for new schools, including a district-run dual language program, were withdrawn between this winter, when applications were solicited, and May.

The district is still soliciting applications for schools to open in southwest Denver.


Categories: Urban School News

School board moves a step away from neighborhood middle schools in northwest Denver

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 01:28

After months of planning and angst, the Denver school board voted tonight to approve a shared enrollment zone for middle school students in northwest Denver.

Denver Public Schools has been introducing shared zones — where students aren’t automatically assigned to a single school, but are guaranteed a spot at one of a number of schools. — in neighborhoods across the city in what officials say is an effort to foster integration and promote school choice.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the new approach to school assignments will “promote opportunity and equity within northwest Denver…and promote integration and equity in our school district, which are foundational principles of our democracy.

“The narrower you draw your boundaries, the more likely you are to see schools that are less diverse,” Boasberg said. “The broader you draw the zone, the more likely you are to draw greater diversity.”

Those issues have been pressing in northwest Denver, which includes middle-class neighborhoods and rapidly-gentrifying areas, as well as the largest housing project for lower-income families in the state, Quigg Newton.

The board had voted to close the middle school at Trevista@Horace Mann, a pre-K-8 school near the Quigg Newton project, earlier this spring, citing low enrollment and difficulties adequately staffing the school to serve English language learners. That required the district to redraw middle school boundaries in the region.

The new enrollment zone in northwest Denver will include STRIVE, Skinner Middle School, Denver Montessori Jr/Sr High School, and Bryant-Webster. Trevista will remain open as a K-5 school.

Boasberg commended the principals at each of the schools involved in the zone. “We have a common set of values, equity and integration,” he said. “They put aside the fact that some are district, some are charter.”

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was the sole vote against the plan. Jimenez raised concerns about whether the zone would genuinely foster integration, whether choices would be accessible to the neighborhoods neediest students, and about transportation plans for families in the region.

Check Chalkbeat’s board tracker to see how the board voted on each of the items at tonight’s meeting.

Some residents of northwest Denver had raised concerns about the fact that each of the schools except Skinner has a specialized focus. Some with children at Skinner were concerned that the school would become overcrowded. Others were concerned that the proposals would automatically assign students to STRIVE, a charter school. Still others were concerned that some of those avoiding STRIVE were biased or misinformed about the charter school’s model.

Dozens of families and employees at the affected schools appeared at a board public comment session last week to share their thoughts on the plan.

The new zone gives preferences to students with certain backgrounds at certain schools: Students who already attend Skinner will be given preference at that school. Students with Montessori backgrounds will be given preference at the Montessori school. And students who have been attending dual language elementary schools will be given preference at Bryant-Webster.

Board members said the district plans to provide for transportation and will evaluate how transportation options are working and how enrollment patterns are playing out each year.

“It’s a dynamic, changing neighborhood,” said board member Mike Johnson.

“The legal environment makes it so challenging to do the things we’d hope to do to create equity,” said board president Happy Haynes. “The district’s been very creative in finding ways, through choice and through shared enrollment zones, to address equity issues.”

The district also voted tonight to approve a three-year placement of Denver Montessori Jr./Sr. High School at the Smedley building in northwest Denver.

The board rejected an amendment proposed by Jimenez that would require the district to create a new, district-run middle school in northwest Denver before moving any other new or existing program into the region. Board members said they were not sure how that amendment would align with a new policy that dictates how schools are placed in buildings.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board OKs budget with more money for teachers, charters

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 20:16

GOLDEN — The majority of the Jefferson County school board Thursday gave its approval to a billion-dollar budget that would allocate more money for teacher compensation, charter schools, and build a school for 600 students in the northwest corner of the county.

The 3-2 vote decision marks the end of a second year of contentious budget conversations.

The board also unanimously approved an agreement on teacher pay between the district and the teachers union.

The budget debate this year focused on how the district should spend a smaller-than-anticipated increase in state funding and savings from last year.

And while the board approved the construction of a new school in Arvada, there was debate about how to finance it.

District officials, including Superintendent Dan McMinimee, suggested the district should issue Certificates of Participation, or COPs, to build a new school in Arvada for kindergartners through eighth graders.

COPs work like a mortgage for government agencies. Agencies take out a certain amount of money and pay it back over time with interest. Jeffco Public Schools have used COPs before. And more recently, Aurora Public Schools issued COPs to build a new school to offset its over own overcrowding issues.

However, members of the Jeffco board majority refused to take out the loan, arguing the district should not spend money it didn’t have.

“This is not a time to take on debt or additional burden,” said board chairman Ken Witt.

In the end, the 2015-2016 budget will provide more than $15 million in compensation increases, with $4.6 million going to teacher raises. About half of the $15 million is allocated to mandatory health insurance and pension increases.

Another $2.5 million will be distributed to the district’s charter schools. This will complete board chairman Ken Witt’s mission to fund district-run and charter schools equitably.

And $3 million will be earmarked to build the new elementary school in Arvada. That $3 million will be combined with $15 million left over from the current school year to fund the construction.

“We still don’t have a plan to account for the dramatic increase expected,” board member Jill Fellman said.

District officials are expecting 6,000 new students in Arvada during the next seven years.

Categories: Urban School News

Why Denver Public Schools thinks “Year Zero” may be the answer to rocky turnarounds

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 18:41

Jesse Tang won’t start his new job as the principal at Schmitt Elementary School for more than a year.

But by this May, he had already made the trip from Massachusetts, where he was finishing graduate school, to Denver, where he met with students and staff at Schmitt, more than half a dozen times.

Tang’s visits represent a shift in Denver’s approach to school turnaround. Turnaround entails making dramatic changes to staff and programs at a school, with the help of federal or district funds, in an effort to improve students’ outcomes.

One of the first steps in the district’s efforts to rapidly improve struggling schools has often been hiring a new principal. But while those principals have usually had just months to make big decisions about the future of the schools they are tasked with improving, Tang has an entire school year to get to know the school and create a plan before taking the reins. In the meantime, Cindy Miller, an interim principal, will be running the day-to-day operations of the school.

Denver Public Schools is referring to the approach as its “Year Zero” turnaround strategy. Harrington, Schmitt, and Goldrick, three elementary schools in southwest Denver, will all have both an interim and a “Year Zero” principal next year.

The DPS board will vote on whether to approve redesign plans that give principals the ability to select all staff at those schools and to change academic programs at the schools this Thursday. The board will also approve the 2015-16 budget, which includes funds to support having two administrators at each school.

The board is also planning to vote on a redesign plan for Valverde Elementary. Valverde already has a new principal, Drew Schultze, but teachers at the school will also be asked to reapply for their jobs at the end of next year and Schultze will also have the ability to make changes to the school’s current program.

The overall goals of turnaround haven’t changed. Denver Public Schools has identified the four schools for improvement efforts due to persistently low academic achievement and other signs that the schools need a change. At Schmitt, just about a third of students are on grade level in math and reading. Nearly 50 percent of students zoned to the school choose to attend other schools.

But the hope is that giving school leaders more time to prepare, plan, and build relationships before turnaround will both help school leaders’ jobs be more sustainable and improve the culture and outcomes at turnaround schools.

“We’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to digest the lessons we’ve learned from turnaround efforts so far,” said Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer. “One of the things we saw that made the biggest difference was the quality of the plan that’s created; the ownership of that plan by a leader; and the ability of the community to have a voice in the process.”

The idea of having more time for preparation is not entirely new: Some of the district’s other new schools, including DCIS: Fairmont, have given future principals a planning year before starting their schools.

Cordova said that the relative stability in those schools, compared to high rates of teacher turnover and lagging results in some other turnaround schools, “helped us start thinking about ‘Year Zero,’ to give principals a chance to plan, to engage with the community, to build the right structures, and hit the ground running with that plan.”

The district has had a high rate of principal turnover in recent years, especially in its high-needs schools.

Cordova said teachers in these turnaround schools will also know more about what they’re getting into before they are asked to reapply for their jobs and that community members will have a chance to get to know the principal and give input on the future of their schools.

At a work session of the district’s board in June, Tang, Schultze and the interim and “Year Zero” principals at Harrington, and Goldrick shared their plans for the schools. Board members were optimistic.

“I’ve got a big smile on my face,” said Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver.

The outcome of the upcoming turnarounds remain to be seen.

But Tang said that the chance to have the extra year to prepare had made a significant impact on his decision to come to Denver and his ability to plan. “I have the professional space to do all of this research, listening, and diagnostic work with a partner who has years of experience and knows the DPS system,” he said.

“I’m getting to know individuals and communities at this level that completely informs the work that I do in a way that I might not have an opportunity if the timeline were much shorter,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

Harvard professor sheds light on the plight of the American poor

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 16:50

PHOTO: Susan Gonzalez

“This is the one sentence I want you to remember most when you leave tonight: increasingly American poor kids are isolated from everybody. From their parents, from schools, from the community institutions, from everybody. And they know this and they are unbelievably cynical and distrusting.”
– Robert Putnam

Harvard professor Robert Putnam wanted to make sure the audience at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science knew one thing: poor youths in America feel alone.

Highlighting the gap between rich kids and poor kids in America, Putnam discussed how this disparity exists because of factors beyond a child’s control, such as their parent’s educational level or what neighborhood they live in.

The American dream is in crisis, Putnam argued, because a child’s future is no longer solely dependent on their individual capabilities but on their parents’ and grandparents’ financial and academic successes (or lack thereof).

This can lead to children not having the same resources and support as richer peers, which leaves them unprepared and distrusting.

The author of more than a dozen books spoke about his latest work, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” Wednesday evening at an event hosted by The Denver Foundation.

Categories: Urban School News

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