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Most districts still opt to participate in health survey that sparked state board uproar

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/28/2015 - 09:00

Despite last spring’s flap over a student health survey given to Colorado’s middle and high school students, most districts will continue to participate—with several stepping up efforts to give parents more advance notice and detail about the survey.

Of 110 districts invited to give the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey as part of a random statewide sample this fall, 83 have agreed so far, said an official from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, which contracts with the state to oversee the biennial survey.

That number may rise in the next few weeks because not all districts have made their final decisions.

“In reflecting on the controversy, we were very concerned that we would be dead in the water with our recruitment efforts,” said Ashley Brooks-Russell, program director of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and assistant professor in the university’s Colorado School of Public Health.

But that hasn’t been the case, she said. While some districts have dropped off, many are continuing to participate and some new ones have joined the effort.

Four of the state’s six largest districts — including Denver, Jeffco, Cherry Creek and Adams 12 — told Chalkbeat that they plan to take part. A spokeswoman for the Douglas County School District, which did participate in the survey in 2013, said its schools won’t participate this year because the survey is invasive and takes away instructional time. A spokesperson for Aurora Public Schools said a decision is pending.

2015 participation…so far
Of the 110 districts asked to participate in the survey as part of the state sample, here’s how many have said yes so far:

  • Districts: 83
  • Schools: 119

Districts and schools that were not selected as part of the state sample can also participate. Here’s how many have opted in:

  • Districts: 7
  • Schools: 58

The survey, which state officials emphasize is anonymous and voluntary, became the focus of a protracted debate by the State Board of Education and dueling opinions from the state attorney general’s office last spring after some parents raised concerns about the explicit nature of questions on sexual behavior, drugs and suicide.

In addition, many critics argued that parents should have to give advance written permission—called active consent—in order for their children to take the survey. Over the survey’s 24-year history, most districts have chosen “passive consent,” which means students are asked to take the survey unless parents sign a form opting them out.

Ultimately, neither the state board nor State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who issued an official opinion on the matter in April, mandated substantive changes to the survey or consent rules.

Brooks-Russell said a number of questions have changed on this fall’s survey, but not because of the controversy last spring.

“No questions were eliminated due to those debates,” she said.

Instead, the deletions or additions (listed at the end of this story) were made after stakeholder discussions about what was most important to know about youth demographics and health behaviors.

For example, new this year on the high school survey will be questions about whether students consider themselves transgender, and about marijuana and prescription drug use. Gone are several questions each about students’ perceptions of marijuana, their exposure to tobacco, alcohol and drug advertising and their enjoyment of school. Such deletions don’t necessarily mean the survey asks nothing about these topics, but that those sections have been slimmed down.

Both the middle and high school surveys now include a question asking students about their mothers’ highest level of schooling—one proxy for socioeconomic status.

Passive consent still wins the day

The trend of passive consent will continue this fall, with only three of the 82 state-sample districts opting for advance written permission from parents, according to Brooks-Russell.

One of them is Jeffco, officials there said.

The district, where a conservative school board majority currently wields power and student data privacy has been a hot topic in recent years, did not participate in the survey in 2013.

Many survey proponents favor passive consent because it yields higher participation rates and more representative data about the adolescent population.

Scott Romero, school health coordinator for Denver Public Schools, said, “If it did go to active opt-in consent, the numbers and usefulness just wouldn’t be there.”

Although most districts will continue with passive consent this year, Brooks-Russell said schools will be required to ensure that parents get notification forms — which offer the choice of opting out — a full two weeks before the survey is administered. She said the university will monitor districts to ensure compliance.

Survey history 
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey has been given under various names since 1991. The last version given in 2013 folded together multiple health surveys that were previously given separately. Along with questions from the federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it included additional Colorado-specific questions. Also new in 2013 was a much larger sample size—more than 40,000 middle and high school students, compared to 2,500 previously.

Administrators in multiple districts also said they will make extra efforts this year to make sure parental notification is consistent and transparent.

For example, Karina Delaney, whole child initiatives coordinator in Adams 12, said in addition to sending passive consent forms home to families, the district and the seven participating schools will post detailed information about the survey on their websites.

The goal, she said, is “making sure we, in many ways, are making parents very aware that it’s voluntary.”

In Denver, Romero said parents will receive the passive consent form two to three weeks before the survey is given, will be informed that they can review the survey questions and will be given Brooks-Russell’s phone number in case they have concerns.

Mining data

After months of uncertainty last spring about whether the state board would try to mandate active consent, or otherwise curtail the survey, many school health leaders are now breathing a cautiously optimistic sigh of relief.

They say the survey data, which covers everything from nutrition to risky behaviors, is crucial in tracking trends and crafting appropriate interventions when trouble spots arise.

Romero said in Denver, where up to 60 schools will participate in the survey this fall, principals receive one-page reports that focus on survey indicators they have the ability to address relatively quickly.

For example, one school’s report might show that few students are eating breakfast and provide relevant contact information for district nutrition staff.

“With one call they could change the face of how breakfast is served,” Romero said. “It can be done pretty simply.”

Like her counterparts in other large districts, Jeffco’s Healthy Schools Coordinator Emily O’Winter, said the survey data helps educators attend to the whole child.

“We need to understand all the issues facing our students…including health,” she said.

One example of particular import in Colorado is marijuana, which was legalized for recreational sales in 2014.

“We’ve had parents express concern … about how the new laws are impacting our students,” O’Winter said. “So it will be interesting to see statewide if there’s an impact and how to respond.”

Brooks-Russell said if survey participation rates are high enough this year, Colorado’s data will be included in state-by-state comparisons compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s an “opportunity to look at a recreational marijuana state before and after [legalization],” she said.

Many district health coordinators, including Delaney, also say the survey data helps secure health-related grants. Adams 12 has won nearly $900,000 in grants for physical activity and school wellness over the last four years.

“Without Healthy Kids Colorado…we wouldn’t know how to report out how our kids are even doing,” she said.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Thompson contract dispute gets it day in court

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/28/2015 - 08:23
contract dispute

A judge weighed testimony Thursday in the Thompson Education Association's civil case accusing the school board of breach of contract in union negotiations. Reporter-Herald

labor day

After months of work against a tension-filled backdrop, the Jeffco school board and union found common ground on a new-look, shorter-term contract. Arvada Press, Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado

kids at risk

Bleak statistics about youth suicide and a lack of school counselors marked the second meeting of the state’s School Safety and Youth in Crisis Committee. Denver Post

parking violations

In Colorado Springs, police empower Academy School District 20 security staff to ticket vehicles in an effort to stamp out illegal parking around schools. Gazette

security measures

Three schools in Harrison School District 2 have received grants for district security updates. Gazette

pedal power

The League of American Bicyclists has designated the St. Vrain Valley School District as a bicycle-friendly business, lauding its bikeshare program and other efforts. Times-Call

top honors

College-level courses are the calling card at a recently opened Fort Collins charter school recognized by Newsweek as Colorado's top high school. 9News

building reborn

Denver’s Johnson & Wales University has reopened the long-dormant Centennial Hall building as part of a $32 million renovation. Denver Business Journal via 9News

changing places

Longmont's Brandon Shaffer is leaving his post on the State Board of Parole to join the St. Vrain Valley School District. Daily Camera

choice and consequences

Colorado's recent state Supreme Court decision on school vouchers looms over a lawsuit involving a Nevada program similarly tapping taxpayer money for private education. Reno Gazette-Journal

a question of authority

The Denver Post editorializes that a court challenge that grew out of broken contract negotiations in the Thompson district seeks to undermine the authority of an elected board. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco school board OKs 10-month teacher contract; union leader tells members to ‘get to work’ on recall

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 19:44

GOLDEN — Given all the acrimony, some never thought this day would come.

The Jefferson County school board Thursday night unanimously approved an agreement with the teachers union that governs how educators are hired, fired and paid.

For nearly two years, critics have claimed ad nauseam that the school board majority’s only goal was to end the district’s relationship with the Jefferson County Education Association.

Majority members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk proved them wrong.

For now.

The contract, which is being championed by the majority’s conservative backers, runs just 10 months. The average teacher contract runs three years.

While the contract eliminates or weakens many union practices including seniority protections, it’s the duration of the contract that has teachers spooked. The end goal, to bust the union, is still the same, they believe.

“They want to be able to review the contract after one school year,” said Columbine High School teacher Paula Reed. “But we’ll start negotiations before school ends. If you really want to review something after a school year, you do that during the summer. To me it has nothing to do with how this all works out and everything to make sure the contract ends when it’s hard to organize teachers.”

It’s unclear what relationship the school board, district officials and union leaders will have moving forward. Especially with a nascent recall election.

Outside the board room, union president John Ford told members it was important they put the contract behind them and focus on changing the makeup of the school board.

“It’s a bad deal, we know it. We absolutely know it,” he said. “But we had to get rid of this distraction … We have to get to work. We have to get to work right now. We have a big lift in November.”

Meanwhile, Witt and his conservative colleagues thanked the negotiation teams.

“I want to thank the negotiating teams of the district and the JCEA for their hard work this spring to get an agreement that better supports the goals of having an effective teacher in every classroom, recognizing and rewarding our great teachers, and effectively and efficiently applying our limited resources to maximize student academic achievement,” Witt said before voting for the agreement. “This landmark rewrite of a 120-page agreement and reducing it to 41 pages brings with it, I’m sure, a period of change. We owe it to our students to carefully consider this year, where the spirit of this agreement is being met and where we may need room for revision.”

Other elements of the contract include policies that allow teams of teachers and school administrators to make decisions on issues like school calendars, training, and resources; the district’s pay-for-performance plan established last school year codified; and limits on class size.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Brighton school district puts $248 million bond on ballot

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 08:55
Election 2015

The 27J School District will ask voters to pass a $248 million bond this fall, one year after a $148 million bond failed by 120 votes. Denver Post

A Pueblo County commissioner — and former state lawmaker — is proposing a ballot measure for a program to fund college scholarships from a new marijuana tax. Denver Post

Supporters of Jeffco school board members targeted for recall have spent thousands of dollars on television ads. CBS 4

Roaring Fork School District will pursue a $122 million bond issue for major building improvements, the Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night. Post-Independent

We have contract!

The Jeffco school board is expected to approve the county's teacher contract at its board meeting tonight. Denver Post, Arvada Press, ABC 7, Chalkbeat Colorado

Crime beat

The former Denver school administrator, Timothy Martinez, who faces child sex abuse charges has been booked into a Denver jail a day after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest. Gazette

Here's Denver Public School's statement on Martinez's arrest. CBS4

Human Resources

Pueblo City Schools could hire up to 20 teachers from the Teach for America program during each of the next two school years for some of its hard-to-fill positions. Pueblo Chieftain

Teacher home visits are increasingly becoming a tool to spark parental involvement. NPR via KUNC

I believe I can fly

The Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum created a charter school to help kids turn their love of airplanes into a career in Colorado. 9News

simply the best

Colorado Early Colleges-Fort Collins has been ranked the top public school in Colorado and No. 66 in the country in Newsweek's 2015 high school rankings. Coloradoan (Fort Collins)

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco union members OK contract, school board to vote Thursday

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/26/2015 - 17:25

Despite deep mistrust of the county’s school board, Jeffco Public Schools teachers approved a new contract that leaves behind chunks of outdated language and expires in an unusually short amount of time.

The 10-month contract was ratified by a majority of union members, the Jefferson County Education Association announced Wednesday. The union did not immediately disclose the vote count.

“Our priority is our students and our community,” John Ford, JCEA’s president, said in a statement. “This agreement is less than ideal for our students, our teachers, and our community, but we wanted everyone to have clear expectations for the school year. We appreciate that teachers have again stepped forward to stand up for all students.”

The next step rests in the hands of the conservative school board majority, which has signaled it will approve the contract Thursday evening at the board’s first meeting of the school year.

The agreement, which for the first time in decades was almost entirely rewritten, gives more freedom to principals and teachers to make decisions such as what training to provide staff. It also scales back some of the historic arrangements between the union and school district. For example, the school district will no longer automatically deduct union dues from teachers paychecks.

School districts funneling dues to teachers unions is a common critique amongst conservatives because they believe those dues are ultimately used against them politically.

The contract also contains eleventh-hour compromises on limiting classroom size and requires schools with more than 400 students to hire a librarian.

It also codifies a pay-for-performance plan rolled out last school year.

But the most contentious feature of the contract, which almost derailed negotiations, is a June 30, 2016, expiration date.

Contracts between the union and school district most recently lasted four years and expired in August. However, school officials on the bargaining team said it was important to align the contract with the district’s fiscal year that ends June 30. The district also want the ability to renegotiate the entire contract given its newness.

There is some precedence for a shorter contract. In the 1970s, the contract would run a calendar year. But the average teacher contract in the U.S. runs for three years.

Before voting opened Friday, teachers pointed out that the district and classified employees union reached a two-year agreement and that Superintendent Dan McMinimee was given a three-year contract when he was hired in 2014. Critics of the 10-month term also complained that rewriting the contract took half that long and said it would be a waste of resources to begin the process all over again in less than a year.

Relations between the union and the district have been tense since the school board’s majority — made up of Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk — won their seats in 2013. Some observers have predicted the three would follow Douglas County’s school board’s lead and not renew a contract with the teachers union.

Those fears, in part, are fueling a recall election this fall.

“I feel like the 10-month agreement is just an attempt to set teachers up to face an ultimatum next summer: ‘Accept whatever terms we offer, or leave,’” Erin Murphy, a teacher at Alameda International High School, said in an email to Chalkbeat last week. “This kind of disrespectful treatment is going to push even more teachers out of Jeffco.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teacher contract stalemate continues in Greeley

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/26/2015 - 08:48
Contract wrangling

The Greeley school board wouldn’t budge on the district’s budget at its latest meeting, despite hearing that contract negotiations with the teachers union were at a standstill without a larger raise offer. Greeley Tribune

Controversy round 2

The Poudre School District has denied the Fossil Ridge High School football team’s compromise plan to memorialize fallen members of the U.S. armed forces. Coloradoan

Eat on the run

The split schedules forced by a lack of space have left some Brighton district high school students without designated lunch hours. They’re allowed to grab food from the cafeteria and eat in class. 9News

Education research

A nationally representative study of siblings supports previously published research on unrelated individuals that links specific genotypes to educational attainment among adults in their mid-20s to early 30s. CU News Center

Election season

It’s official — voters will be asked this November to support a $92 million bond measure for construction of a new high school and upgrades to buildings across the Steamboat Springs School District. Steamboat Today

Eight candidates have returned completed petitions to run for four seats on the Thompson board of education. Reporter-Herald

One of three candidates for the Greeley-Evans school board has been declared ineligible to run. Greeley Tribune

Ag ed

Middle schoolers in Pueblo are getting their hands dirty in a brand new certified agriculture program, which is one of the first of its kind in the state. KOAA

Borrowing an idea

The trend of co-working space in business is spreading to some metro-area schools. Denver Business Journal

Cyber safety

Digital security has become a major priority for the Douglas County School District. Castle Rock News-Press

Grad guidelines

The debate over what Colorado students should learn to graduate from high school is heating up again. KVNF Public Radio

Scholarship tax

The Denver City Council has placed a proposal on the November ballot that would raise sales taxes to help fund college scholarships. Colorado Independent, Chalkbeat Colorado


A Colorado Springs high school teacher has been honored for his services to LGBT students. Chalkbeat Colorado

Crime beat

A Denver judge has revoked bail for a former school administrator who violated conditions of his bond in a child molestation case when he moved to New Mexico to take a top position at the Albuquerque school district. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

College readiness levels up slightly, new report finds

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/26/2015 - 02:00

The percentage of 2015 high school graduates who are prepared for college is modestly above levels of prior years, according to a new report by the ACT testing organization.

In Colorado, 26 percent of 2015 graduates met all four of the benchmarks the testing group uses to determine college readiness. The figure was 25 percent in the three previous years. Nationwide, about 28 percent of the nearly 2 million students who took the test met all four benchmarks. That’s up from 25 percent in 2011.

Across the country, 59 percent of 2015 grads took the ACT test, so the report doesn’t evaluate college readiness for all students. In Colorado, all high school juniors are required to take the ACT test, whether or not they plan to attend college.

In 2014, the average ACT composite score for Colorado juniors was 20.3 out of a possible 36. (Search our database for 2014 district and high school results.) Scores for 2015 will be released this fall along with CMAS and PARCC testing results.

In Colorado, college readiness is drawing renewed attention because of a testing law passed by the 2015 legislature. That measure requires that an aligned pair of college and career readiness tests be given in the 10th and 11th grades, and that the 10th grade exam be used to meet federal testing requirements instead of the PARCC tests. That change requires federal sign-off.

The new law also requires that the two tests be put out for competitive bidding, so continued used of the ACT isn’t guaranteed. The state Department of Education expects to choose a testing provider in November.

The ACT’s annual Condition of College & Career Readiness report goes beyond composite scores and uses a variety of data to estimate college readiness. Here are some of the key findings from this year’s study. (Graphics provided by ACT.)

The benchmarks

ACT defines readiness as the knowledge and skills students need to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing first-year courses at colleges or trade and technical schools without the need for remedial classes.

The chart shows the minimum scores needed on the ACT subject tests to indicate a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in credit-bearing first-year college classes.

How Colorado students performed

The first chart illustrates the percentages of Colorado and U.S. students who met individual benchmarks in the four subjects covered by the ACT test — English, reading, math and science — as well as the percentages for the four subjects combined.

Percentages of readiness have remained relatively flat over the last five years.

A third of Colorado students didn’t meet the benchmarks in any subject.

The study also reported that substantial numbers of students were close to the benchmarks. It found that 9 percent of students were within two points of meeting the benchmark for English. The numbers were 11 percent for reading, 8 percent for math and 11 percent for science.

Achievement gaps

The ACT’s analysis found familiar gaps between ethnic groups in college readiness. The majority of students who took the test, 53 percent, were white. Hispanic students were 27 percent of test takers. More than 57,000 students took the test.

High school preparation

The report also examined the relationship between ACT scores and the kinds of classes students took in high school. “Students who take the recommended core curriculum are more likely to be ready for college or career than those who do not. A core curriculum is defined as four years of English and three years each of mathematics, social studies, and science,” according to the report.

There’s a wealth of additional data in ACT’s Colorado full report below, including benchmark attainment based on students’ specific academic interests and non-academic factors that contribute to college readiness. There’s also a chart comparing Colorado results to those of other states.

Read the national report here, and get more detailed Colorado data in this document.

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Categories: Urban School News

Colo. Springs teacher honored by LGBT advocacy organization: All you have to do is open your door

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/25/2015 - 18:04

A dozen years ago, Anton Schulzki, a teacher at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, and his students were told the school would not recognize a Gay-Straight Alliance as an official club.

They could meet on school property, but they could not advertise their organization’s meetings on the morning announcements or use school supplies, and Schulzki would not be paid for his services.

In an attempt to protect itself from a lawsuit, District 11 reclassified dozens of other school organizations across the city that had nothing to do with curriculum as “unofficial” clubs.

Ultimately, a lawsuit was filed. And in 2005, Schulzki and his students won official recognition from the school district.

Schulzski, a social studies teacher, is still the faculty adviser for the Palmer student group that creates a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and those trying to figure out their sexual identity or gender expression. On Saturday, he was recognized for his work with LGBT youth by One Colorado, the state’s largest gay advocacy organization.

Chalkbeat spoke with Schulzki this week about his award, his work and his advice for teachers, students and parents.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Anton Schulzki

How are you feeling?
In all honesty, I’m still stunned. I’m incredibly humbled and grateful for the award. I know that the people who had a chance to vote for this award were the youth who are in and were in the GSA — GSTA, actually. This award came from the youth. And that means everything.

You corrected yourself  just now. You actually have a Gay-Straight-Trans Alliance. Explain that.
When we started, officially now 10 years ago, we were known as the Gay-Straight Alliance, which had pretty much been the model. And then about three years ago, the kids at Palmer decided they wanted to add the ‘T’ for trans students. That made sense because we had a number of trans students who were a part of the club. That was totally the kids. I just thought it was a wonderful move.

What was the purpose of the GSA 10 years ago compared to the purpose of the GSTA today?
There is a common thread between 10 years ago and today. Back then, it was that first opportunity for students to find a safe place where they could talk to their peers — and occasionally an adult — about the issues they were having. For many of them, they were still closeted LGBT and LGBTQ students. The Q is for questioning.

Adolescence is hard enough, but to be coming to grips with your own sexual or gender identity is hard.

Ten years later, society has become far more open, but there’s still an issue for kids today of parents and family acceptance. There are students who still face those concerns at home. Some students might be out to their friends or some teachers, but not their parents There’s no magic formula for coming out. So, I still think our organization is needed.

What’s interesting is that students are becoming more aware of who they are sooner. I think in particular some of our trans students are finding a place of acceptance sooner.

The other big difference in the 10 years has been a decrease in bullying toward LGBT students. I can’t say that it’s 100 percent gone, because bullying happens in schools. But it’s becoming far less accepted and tolerated. And adults are more willing to step in and say “knock it off.”

What’s the next step in schools becoming more affirming for LGBT students?
While there have been state laws that have put forth the notion that protection is enumerated, there are a bunch of school districts that have yet to tackle gender expression and trans issues. There are still some school districts that have a way to go to be welcoming to those students. It’s going to take strong staff development and parents and students telling school districts, “Hey you have to follow the law.”

What advice do you have for students, teachers, parents who want to start a GSA at their school?
This is the one thing that we learned years ago: For as much as we like to say it comes down to teachers in the schools, it’s really the parents and the students who have to bring the pressure to the schools to say, “Hey, this isn’t something that is needed but something that we want.”

One of the things we know, and research bares this out, is that students who feel welcomed at school succeed at school. If a student can come to school and be affirmed, they’re going to be successful. And what do we want? Successful students.

Parents can’t be afraid to open their mouths. In our case, it took the ACLU to sue the school district. That was a difficult process for the students and parents. But in the end, it was worth it.

What have you learned about teaching from running the GSA?
First you become far more aware of the language you use. At the beginning of the new school year, I ask students how they like to be addressed — for example, Richard might want to go by Rick. But I also ask pronoun preference, he/she/they. Those are the kinds of things students recognize and say, ‘Hey, here is someone who cares about me as an individual.’ It changes the dynamics in the classroom and you become a far more effective instructor when you can build those relationships in the classroom.

What are a few tips for teachers who many not want to start a GSA but want an affirming classroom?
When students fill out information cards at the beginning of the year, ask them their pronoun preference. You don’t have to make a big deal about it. Another thing to do is to just kind of be aware of the students in the classroom. Those kids who particularly seem to be withdrawn: A lot of times they’re going through things at home like coming to grips with whether they are coming out to their parents.

If you don’t feel prepared to deal with it, find a counselor, contact GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian Student Educator Network), contact One Colorado. As I’ve told people, my learning curve has been steep the last decade. And it continues. I’m still learning.

And as I’ve told parents, when they ask, how do I deal with it: Their kids still have to make their bed, take out the trash. That doesn’t change. The same with the classrooms — you have classroom expectations. They have to be on time. They have to raise their hands.

What else?
The best thing I did was open my classroom door to students who said, ‘We’d like to have this club.’ That’s what did it for me. It is just this notion that all we have to do is open doors for kids — and they’ll lead us.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver City Council approves sending scholarship initiative to voters

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/25/2015 - 10:53

The cost of college — and whether Denver city sales taxes should help offset it – will get a thorough airing this fall in the buildup to the November election.

Denver voters will decide whether to increase the city’s sales tax by 0.08 percent, raising $10 million a year to bankroll college scholarships and help students without scholarships repay their loans.

The City Council voted 8-4 on Monday night to send the measure to the all-mail ballot.

To qualify, students must be under 25, enroll in an in-state higher-education program, meet family income requirements and make satisfactory academic progress.

The measure has support from powerful quarters — Mayor Michael Hancock made it a centerpiece of his inauguration speech, and business and education leaders helped craft it. The business community is framing initiative 2A as a key economic development tool that will cost relatively little (8 cents on a $100 purchase).

But skeptics question whether subsidizing higher education should be the city’s business when other more traditional roles are going wanting, including fixing sidewalks and streets.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Medical pot not allowed at Colorado schools despite policy change

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/25/2015 - 08:33
the school bell rings

More than 90,000 Denver students returned to their classrooms Monday. 9News, CBS 4 Denver

Medical marijuana

Despite a new law that says Colorado schools can allow some forms of medical cannabis on campus, no major district in is changing its policy. Denver Channel

days of future past

The Emily Griffith Technical College welcomed students to a new campus at 1205 Osage St. Monday. But what's going to happen to the school's historic campus on Welton Street? Westword

Parent rights

Denver parents are demanding to be part of the principal hiring process at Cheltenham Elementary School. Colorado Independent

Healthy schools

All Pueblo City Schools students, regardless of family income, will be able to eat breakfast and lunch for free this year as part of a federal universal food program. Pueblo Chieftain

Crime & Punishment

A former Denver Public Schools administrator who took the No. 2 spot at New Mexico’s biggest school district is facing felony charges in not one, but two separate criminal cases in Colorado. Albuquerque Journal

Election 2015

The Boulder Valley school board on Tuesday will consider asking voters to exempt the district from a 2005 state law that limits local governments and school districts from offering internet services. Daily Camera

Denny McCloskey, a Realtor with Middleton Realty Group Inc., recently announced that he is running for a seat on the Boulder Valley School Board. Daily Camera

Boulder lawyer Kathy Gebhardt, director of Children's Voices, recently announced that she is running for a seat on the Boulder Valley school board. Daily Camera

Back to cool

The Roaring Fork School District is welcoming three new principals this school year. Post-Independent

A Mesa County charter school is starting the school year with a new building of its own. Grand Junction Sentinel

Equity and integration are among the five issues to watch this school in Denver. Chalkbeat

Gifted & Talented

The U.S. if failing its brightest students, according to new research. NPR via KUNC

Categories: Urban School News

Five issues to watch as Denver Public Schools students return to the classroom

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 18:06

Denver Public Schools understandably gets more attention than any other school district in the state.

It’s Colorado’s biggest school district and a nationally recognized petri dish for reform. As a skyline of construction cranes stand testament to the city’s booming growth, DPS continues to grapple with the ever-present challenges of educating students on the margins of society.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg just re-upped for another two years leading the country’s fastest growing large urban school district — and he has a largely supportive board behind him. Although some schools got a head start, most of DPS’s roughly 90,000 students said goodbye to summer Monday.

Here are five issues to watch in DPS this school year:

Equity and integration

Equity is an omnipresent DPS buzzword, and providing a great education for all lurks at the heart of many a district initiative. Closing achievement gaps between students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities and their peers is a priority of the district’s Denver Plan 2020, its strategic planning document.

To that end, the district incorporated equity into its School Performance Framework, its color-coded guide to how schools are doing.

An open question is how integration of schools fits into this vision.

DPS has promoted shared enrollment zones — in which traditional neighborhood boundaries dissolve and residents in a larger geographic area pick from a variety of schools but may not get their first choice — as a tool for promoting school choice and integration. Will that eventually help lead to more integrated schools? Or when given a choice, will families opt for schools that will keep races largely separate?

School segregation has received national media attention in recent months, and the spotlight will fall on Denver this year with the 20th anniversary of the end of school busing.


Three of the seven school board seats are in play in November. This may seem like somewhat of a snoozer, since the outcome will not swing the pendulum away from board support (for the most part) of the district’s direction. But it could result in an even more united front — and 7-0 votes.

Boasberg on the record
We asked DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg what his list would look like. His answers:

  • An emphasis on classrooms being “joyful, rigorous and personalized” and giving teachers the training, coaching and feedback to realize that.
  • The expansion of DPS’s teacher leadership program, which created a hybrid role in which teacher-leaders teach some classes while taking on additional responsibilities.
  • Expansion of career and technical education programs at several high schools.
  • The district’s offer to give school leaders more flexibility and autonomy.
  • Developing stronger school leadership pipelines and preparation.

There’s a compelling argument for the value of voices that push back. But a united board can be hard-nosed, too, and some insiders say the current majority has asked harder questions of Boasberg than the previous one from a more closely divided era.

The most hard-fought race is shaping up to be in northwest Denver’s District 5, where lone consistent dissenting voice Arturo Jimenez is leaving because of term limits.

Will candidate Michael Kiley assume that mantle by tapping into the same anti-establishment feeling that carried Rafael Espinoza to a Denver City Council seat in the same neighborhood? Kiley faces Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation who would mesh well with the current majority.

In southeast Denver’s District 1, Anne Rowe has the advantage of incumbency. She faces upstart Kristi Butkovich, who has criticized “privatization” of education. Records show another potential wild card in District 1, Mike Zink, took out petitions on Aug. 17 but has yet to turn them in. (UPDATE: Zink, a self-described conservative with Tea Party leanings, said Monday he has decided not to run, citing a lack of time and money).

Board chair Happy Haynes so far lacks an opponent for her at-large seat.

Greater autonomy — if schools want it

In a major shift, DPS offered principals the chance to opt their schools out of centrally approved curriculum, teacher training and assessments this school year and go their own way. About one-fifth of principals seized the opportunity.

A more decentralized district is a significant turning point for a district with a historically strong central administration.

What will this end up looking like? What kind of choices will principals make, and why? How many will take the option next year, with more time to plan?

“I think principals have tremendously welcomed it,” Boasberg said in an interview last week. “I think we’re early in the process. The biggest concern we heard from principals last year was, ‘I wish I would have known this earlier.’ Now they do know it, they have multiple months to plan out as they think about their own budgets and their scheduling and their own processes.”

Manual High

What’s next for Manual, the proud but long-troubled high school in near northeast Denver at the heart of the city’s African-American community?

The school has been the focus of one failed reform effort after another, and most recently has suffered from a decline in academic performance and a staff exodus.

The man charged with turning things around this time is principal Nick Dawkins, who is banking on a new career and technical education program bankrolled by Kaiser Permanente as a catalyst.

The Manual community has another major issue on the plate this fall — a new middle school to be co-located on the campus. The hope is to bring a much-needed additional quality middle school to the area and steer more area kids to Manual.

Three schools are seeking to fill that role — a spinoff of McAuliffe International School in Park Hill, Denver Dual Language Academy and Denver School of History Speech and Debate.

New schools — and where to put them

The district faces several other decisions about new schools, including in southwest Denver and seeing through a major expansion of the homegrown charter school juggernaut that is DSST.

In June, the DPS board approved a plan to add eight new schools to the network, in addition to nine existing schools and five previously approved. Four of the schools — two middle schools and two high schools — will focus on the humanities, a break from the DSST model. The district will decide on a location for a new DSST middle school this fall.

One subplot to watch — the charter network’s growth comes as the district faces increasing pressure in gentrifying northwest and northeast Denver for stronger traditional neighborhood schools. If space becomes a premium, will those visions be at odds?

In southwest Denver, where choice and transportation continue to be vexing issues, DPS will choose from both charter- and district-run options for a replacement for Henry World Middle School and a new middle school to share a campus with Abraham Lincoln High School.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Poll highlights Common Core concerns

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 08:48
Survey says

A new national poll shows that the majority of respondents oppose teachers using the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach. EdSource, EdWeek

Funding squeeze

Education leaders are calling for change in the state’s school finance system as districts struggle to recover from past cuts and as funding disparities increase. Denver Post

Cheltenham controversy

An interim principal has been hired at Denver’s Cheltenham Elementary after the principal's resignation. C.J. Grace, a principal and principal trainer, takes over at the school Monday. Denver Post, 9News, Chalkbeat Colorado

Settling in

Deirdre Pilch, new superintendent of the Greeley-Evans schools, is working to adjust to differences and instill positive attitudes. Greeley Tribune

Academic experiments

The Thompson School District is kicking off the new year with dual-language immersion programs in kindergarten classrooms at two schools. Reporter-Herald

Jeffco’s experiment in combining middle and high school in one part of the district kicked off with this school year. 9News

Intellectual property

A dispute between the Greeley-Evans schools and a Northridge High School art teacher over ownership of the school’s logo has resulted in removal of the logo and a $21,500 check for teacher Dean Dickson. Greeley Tribune

Career prep

With a $450,000 state grant, the Unlimited Learning program in the Cortez schools is working to develop hands-on and industry-focused science, technology and math curriculum to help students prepare for careers. Cortez Journal

Tell us why

With high teacher turnover and large numbers of students leaving the district each year, some parents and teachers are asking why Moffat County School District does not do formal exit interviews with departing teachers and students. Craig Daily Press

Election season

Small business owner Inge Burbank said she's concerned about how the performance of the Pueblo City Schools will affect future business in the city, and that has led her to seek a seat on the school board. Chieftain


A group of high-ranking military brass held a Colorado Springs news conference last week to warn parents and politicians that most kids in the Pikes Peak region are too fat, frail or stupid to fight for their country. Gazette

School safety

Dougco leaders say student safety is a top priority, and the district has taken steps to improve security. Douglas County News-Press

A sophomore at Thornton High School brought a handgun to school last week but was picked up by police without incident. 9News


The former Lincoln Elementary School in Colorado Springs is on its way to becoming a new brewery. The Colorado Springs Planning Commission has approved plans for the Lincoln Brewery project. KOAA 5

Cost of college

Colorado students who have had difficulty affording college in the past may get some relief after the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative board adopted new rules relating to the state's ability to match scholarship funds. Denver Business Journal

Students preparing for college need to think realistically about affordability and value, writes a Denver high school senior. Denver Post

Jeffco Interrupted

Members of the Jefferson County Education Association began voting Friday on a proposed new contract with the district. Online voting continues through Wednesday evening. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

If the Denver City Council on Monday votes to place a tax-funded college scholarship plan on the November ballot, then voters should reject this well-meaning but misguided proposal, recommends The Denver Post editorial board. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: GOP presidential candidates on school choice, Common Core and teachers lounges

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 21:43
  • Here’s a video recap of the discussion at the New Hampshire education summit for GOP presidential candidates hosted by Campbell Brown. (The 74 Million)
  • The candidates talked a lot about school choice but said very little about issues of race, class and poverty. (Slate)
  • New research suggests that, even when they’re well-intentioned, “colorblind” social norms hurt black and Latino kids because race is salient to their identities. (Science of Us)
  • And another new study suggests that non-black teachers have lower expectations for their black students to succeed, which is a problem since teacher expectations can be self-fulfilling prophecies. (Vox)
  • In some school districts and reservations, officials are becoming increasingly convinced that hiring more American Indian teachers will help their struggling students succeed. (Slate)
  • The pressing questions that face Nashville and especially its schools in 2015 are very similar to the ones the city faced in 1971. (Nashville Scene)
  • A Teach for America alum calls the organization’s approach a “bait and switch,” arguing the approach capitalizes on young teachers’ idealism and then tells them they are making excuses when they struggle. (Alternet)
  • Dale Russakoff’s forthcoming must-read book “The Prize,” about the rise and fall of reform efforts in Newark, got a rave review from Alex Kotlowitz. (New York Times)
  • For the first time, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is advising educators to start middle and high schools later in the mornings because of research showing the time switch’s benefits. (The Atlantic)
  • But as the story of a time shift proposal in Denver shows, moving start times back is a policy easier said than done. (Chalkbeat Colorado)
  • Here’s maybe the only time Diane Ravitch will give Michelle Rhee a professional recommendation. (Twitter)
Categories: Urban School News

Cheltenham Elementary principal, accused of racism, resigns after being cleared by district

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 19:23

The embattled principal of a northwest Denver elementary school — facing accusations of racial insensitivity, mistreating students and failing to reverse the school’s academic fortunes — resigned Friday, Denver Public Schools officials said.

A parent organizing group, Padres & Jovenes Unidos, had been pressing for the removal of Cheltenham Elementary School Principal Kalpana Rao, triggering a DPS investigation.

Susana Cordova, DPS’s chief of schools, said in an interview Friday the investigation had cleared Rao of the two accusations under review — that she had made a racist remark and had persisted in forcing students to eat meals on the floor at the predominantly Latino school after being told not to do so.

“She also believed it’s become clear that she is now a distraction and that it is taking away focus from where it needs to be — which is making sure our students and the school is well-prepared for the start of school,” Cordova said.

In a statement released Friday night by DPS, Rao described her resignation as “an extremely difficult decision.”

“I am, and always have been, incredibly committed to the idea that all children deserve access to educational opportunities that enrich their lives and make their dreams a reality,” she said. “I have never wavered from that steadfast vision during the past two years at Cheltenham, leading the most difficult work of school turnaround.”

Shawna Foster, spokeswoman for Padres & Jovenes Unidos, said the resignation is testament to the power of organizing. Members of the group — clad in matching red T-shirts — took their concerns to the first DPS school board meeting of the new academic year Thursday.

“This is why we fight for educational rights in this school system,” Foster said. “It’s one thing for parents to feel alone, for children to feel discriminated against. It’s another thing to have 130 parents sign a petition saying they want the principal to be removed.” An earlier petition demanding Rao’s removal drew 300 signatures, she said.

Foster said it’s essential the group be involved in the process of hiring a new principal.

DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg recognized Rao’s service.

“She is a person of integrity who deeply cares about social justice and improving educational and life opportunities for our kids and families, especially those who most need those opportunities,” Boasberg said in a statement

Discontent over Rao’s leadership came to a head last spring after students facing discipline were sent to the principal’s office, where they ate lunch on trays while sitting on the floor — an image captured on a mobile phone camera and turned into an organizing tool.

In a letter to parents earlier this month, the principal apologized, saying it was not the school’s intent to humiliate students. Parents in the community, however, were reminded of an incident at the school more than 20 years ago in which Latino parents protested after their children were forced to eat on the cafeteria floor as punishment.

The group’s concerns go deeper, however, to the school’s persistent poor academic performance and high suspension rates. On 2014 TCAP state reading tests, 34 percent of Cheltenham third-graders scored proficient or advanced — compared to 60 percent meeting that mark in DPS as a whole and 71.5 percent statewide.

The roughly 500-student school is 90 percent minority, 41 percent of students are classified as English language learners and 99 percent qualify for government-subsidized lunches.

“Our trust has been broken in this process,” parent Marina Guerrero said Friday in a statement to the media. “We believe in our power to change things, but we have to ask why it took DPS so long to make these changes.”

DPS has tapped CJ Grace, a former principal and trainer with deep experience working with English language learners, as interim principal, Cordova said. She is now a director in the district’s English language acquisition department.

School begins at Cheltenham, which has been undergoing renovations, on Aug. 31.

“CJ is dedicated to ensuring all students receive a great education,” said Kurtis Indorf, executive director of Achievement Network – Colorado, a nonprofit that partners with schools. Indorf worked with Grace on a number of projects this year.

“CJ’s coming from a role where she led a lot of different pieces of work to provide equitable access for English language learners — which demonstrates her commitment to excellence and equity for all scholars,” Indorf said. 

Categories: Urban School News

Jefferson County teachers on contract: We don’t know how we’ll vote

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 18:03

Paula Rutan, an English teacher at Dunstan Middle School in Lakewood, doesn’t know how she’ll vote on a proposed teacher contract between the Jefferson County school district and teachers union.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to bother,” she said, explaining her frustration with both the school board and the Jefferson County Education Association. “We’ve gotten into the middle of nothingness.”

Rutan’s discontent with the tentative agreement reached earlier this month is shared by many Jeffco Public Schools teachers.

Teachers will begin voting to ratify the contract, which has been celebrated by union critics, Friday evening after they hear from JCEA leadership.

Online voting will end at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The contract has a heavy emphasis on school-based decisions, drastically scales back the historic partnership between the school district and union, and would last for 10 months.

The last point appears to be a sticking point for teachers.

“The 10-month limit is my biggest concern,” wrote Golden High School teacher Tammie Peters in a Facebook comment. “It shows complete disrespect for teachers. Even if, for some reason, it makes some sort of financial sense to end-date it in June, it could have been a year and 10 months or two years and 10 months.”

For Standley Lake High School teacher John Moriarty, the question is whether the contract’s short shelf life outweighs the protections he said he believes the contract offers.

“Ultimately, I’ll probably end up voting yes,” he said. “Without it we wouldn’t be able to protect class size for students. And I think that’s what’s best for kids. And it’s good that we had some protections and academic freedom held in the contract which I think is pretty important.”

A simple majority of union members must approve the contract language to send it to the Jeffco school board, which has signaled support for the deal.

“I think it’s well written,” school board member Julie Williams said Friday. “I guess we have to see how the teachers feel about it. And we’ll go from there. I think it is good. It was a mutual, respectful process. I’m happy they were able to come up with it. I hope they do ratify it.”

If the union does not ratify the contract, a new bargaining team will be assembled and ask district representatives for an emergency bargaining session. If the union does ratify the contract but the board does not, the two sides would likely enter non-binding arbitration and the union would seek a temporary extension of the current contract, said Scott Kwasny, JCEA’s spokesman.

However, Kwasny stressed that union leadership would need to decide on next steps if a new contract isn’t in place by Sept. 1.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS principal accused of treating students unfairly

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 08:28
Jeffco Interrupted

In a joint news release, three candidates announce their intent to run as a slate to replace the Jeffco school board members targeted for recall. Chalkbeat Colorado

The candidates include a lawyer, a school volunteer and a retired principal. The Denver Post

campus conflict

Denver Public Schools is investigating complaints that the Cheltenham Elementary School principal treated students unfairly and made racially insensitive comments toward parents. 9News

contract vote

Jeffco teachers union members begin voting on a 10-month contract both sides say contain provisions that are innovative and will benefit students. The Denver Post

Friday Night Fights

The Fossil Ridge High School football wanted to honor fallen military members by wearing their names on the backs of their jerseys, but the district won't allow it. The Coloradoan

setting boundaries

Plans are being laid in the Thompson School District for a new school in eastern Loveland. Reporter-Herald


School districts in New York state will not face a loss of federal funding as a result of large numbers of students refusing to take standardized tests this year. New York Times

back to school

Boulder Valley School District first-through fifth-graders, sixth-graders and ninth-graders returned to classrooms Thursday. Daily Camera

Leadership turmoil

A disputed IT deal and a sudden resignation in the Albuquerque, N.M., school district has not one but two connections to Denver Public Schools. Albuquerque Journal

Just say no

A new educational push from state officials sends the message to the under-21 set that marijuana isn't evil but they're not ready for it. The Associated Press via The Cannabist

higher fermentation

Metropolitan State University of Denver's expanded beer education program includes the rebirth of a historic Denver brewery right on campus. 9News

Categories: Urban School News

These three Jefferson County residents want to be your next school board majority

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 17:15

Three Jefferson County residents Thursday announced their intentions of being the next school board majority.

Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell are running to replace Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt, in the likely recall election this fall.

The three were recruited by a group of parents to run as a slate, according to a joint media release.

Rupert is a lawyer with more than two decades of community service. Harmon is a parent and has been an active member of her children’s PTA. Mitchell is a former Jeffco Public Schools principal, including stints at Alameda and Columbine high schools.

Successor candidates must collect 50 valid signatures of Jeffco voters to appear on the recall ballot. The county clerk certified enough valid signatures on a petition to recall the board’s current majority Tuesday. Jefferson County residents have another two weeks to challenge those signatures. However, recall targets Witt and Newkirk have asked no one challenge the signatures

Former school board member Paula Noonan filed her paperwork to run against Witt earlier.


Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Thompson union to sue board over contract talks

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 08:08
Total Recall

Two of the three Jefferson County school board members targeted for recall this fall would rather defend their records before voters than see petition signatures challenged. -Chalkbeat Colorado

sorry, not sorry

The Thompson school board rejected a nonbinding arbitration report Wednesday that found the board did not negotiate with its teachers union in good faith. The teachers union said it will sue the board and ask the current contract stay in place for the time being. -Reporter-Herald

Healthy schools

As the second phase of Colorado’s “Breakfast After the Bell” law takes effect this fall, thousands more low-income students will have access to free breakfast served during school hours. -Chalkbeat Colorado

Speaking of breakfast, here are some healthy lunch recipes for those brown bags. -9News

And the RE-1 Valley school district is implementing healthier meals and curriculum. -South Platte Sentinel

The central issue

As we previously reported, Aurora Central High has a new principal. Here's a closer look at him in action and the challenge that awaits him. -CPR

putting genterfication to work

A community group is hoping new homes will serve as a catalyst to raise money to support one of north Denver's oldest elementary schools. -Denver Post

Testing Matters

Here's how one Colorado school district is updating its policies to be inline with the new state testing law. -Journal-Advocate


Newsweek on Wednesday announced the results of its 2015 High School Rankings, with Monarch High School in Louisville coming in at 356 on the list of 500. -Daily Camera

Two schools in the Pikes Peak region made Newsweek's list, as well. -Gazette

Back to cool

A new principal, plus a new STEM focus and new movement program, added up to extra excitement for the first day at the 400-student Longmont Estates Elementary School. -Times-Call

And school starts next week for the Roaring Fork school district. Here's a look at what's ahead for those students. -

Categories: Urban School News

Witt, Newkirk: Don’t challenge recall petition signatures

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 18:32

Two of the three Jefferson County school board members targeted for recall this fall would rather defend their records before voters than see petition signatures challenged.

Board president Ken Witt and fellow Republican John Newkirk are asking Jefferson County residents not to challenge the signatures validated by the county clerk Tuesday.

Instead, they say they’re ready to ask voters, who may face the issue as soon as November, to reaffirm what they believe is a mandate to improve the state’s second largest school district.

Witt said in an email he looks forward to a dialogue with parents and the opportunity to ”share the successes of Jeffco schools.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of our district and the way we have put our students first,” he said.

Newkirk, in an email, echoed Witt.

“The recall petition contains erroneous, misleading, and outright deceptive language,” he wrote. “That said, I have no plans to mount a legal challenge as I believe the recall effort now provides an opportunity to discuss and highlight the many positive things our district has accomplished over the past two years.”

Board member Julie Williams did not immediately return request for comment.

A commercial featuring her and her children began airing on local and cable television stations this week. The commercial is paid for by Kids Are First Jeffco, a new campaign backed by the Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning Denver think tank.

All three school board members were elected by wide margins in 2013.

Their tenure, however, has been marred with controversy. A vocal — and now well-funded — group of parents and teachers wants voters to recall all three this fall.

If the recall is successful, the Jeffco school board would have a completely different makeup than it does today.

PREVIOUSLY: In Jeffco school board election — the one that’s not the recall — three vying for seats

Paula Noonan, who served on the Jeffco school board from 2009 to 2013, filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office last week to run as a replacement to Witt.

She’s the first and so far only candidate to announce plans to run as an alternative in the recall, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

“I’m not beholden to either side in this rift, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said Wednesday. “Frankly, what the district needs most is someone who can be considerate of everyone.”

Ken Witt’s full statement

“There are some who would like us to challenge the recall petitions that were certified today with a legal protest due to their wildly inaccurate and inflammatory language. But I won’t. And I ask that no one bring forward any legal challenge to the petitions.

I am looking forward to this dialog with our fellow parents in Jeffco and to the opportunity to share the successes of Jeffco Schools. I couldn’t be more proud of our district and the way we have put our students first.

We were elected with the promise to equalize all public school funding, expand school choice, and to set academic achievement goals. In the short year and a half that we have served on the Board, John Newkirk, Julie Williams and I have done all of this and more. We have dedicated $20 million to teacher and staff pay raises. We have implemented a pay-for-performance structure. We have committed to building a state-of-the-art new school without going into debt. We have asked our District leaders to find ways to drive performance for at-risk students, like those in the Jefferson and Alameda areas, and the District staff is developing some outstanding programs.

This recall attempt will serve to highlight the accomplishments of this board, staff and students. Let’s get talking.

Categories: Urban School News

More kids to get free school breakfast under law, but some districts feel financial squeeze

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 17:27

As the second phase of Colorado’s “Breakfast After the Bell” law takes effect this fall, thousands more low-income students will have access to free breakfast served during school hours.

It’s a development lauded by advocates who say the program improves attendance and achievement, but not always by administrators in the districts required to provide the universal free meals.

“We are taking money out of the classroom to pay for the Breakfast after the Bell program,” said Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer in Colorado Springs District 11.

The law, passed in 2013, made Colorado one of the first states to require free breakfast after the start of the school day for all students in high-poverty schools. Now, about six states and Washington, D.C. have such mandates and several others have laws that recommend or subsidize breakfast after the bell programs.

This year, about 176,000 Colorado students attend schools that must offer breakfast after the bell.

Last year, the law affected 245 schools in about two-dozen districts and food service programs associated with charter schools. Those schools enrolled nearly 104,000 students. This year, there is more consternation from some quarters because more than 100 additional schools in 14 additional districts and an online charter school must meet the meal mandate if they haven’t already.

These new adopters have lower poverty rates than last year’s adopters.

That’s because the law initially applied only to schools where at least 80 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals. This year, that threshold drops to 70 percent.

That 10-percentage-point span, some food service directors say, is where the program becomes financially untenable because of the way federal meal reimbursements work and the added labor costs of providing more breakfasts.

Such concerns were the impetus for a failed push in the legislature last year to keep the threshold at 80 percent. District 11, which created a video about the issue, was one of the most vocal supporters of the defeated bill.

“It is taking resources from the general fund … It is a challenge for us,” said Gustafson.

Some districts break even

Not every district adding new schools under the law this year expects to face financial difficulties. It depends on a variety of factors, ranging from how the meals are served to the poverty levels in district schools.

In Jefferson County, two additional schools added Breakfast After the Bell this year, joining 19 from last year.

Linda Stoll, the district’s executive director of food services, said those two schools will lose money but the overall program won’t because there are so many schools above the 80 percent threshold.

“Two schools at 70 percent aren’t going to break the bank,” she said.

Still, she said, the new phase of the program is a hardship for districts because more students with the means to pay for breakfast are given the meal for free.

In District 11, Gustafson said one of the biggest financial factors is that more employees are qualifying for health insurance as their hours increase because of added breakfast prep duties. Administrators there calculated the program would lose around $54,000 this year.

Cate Blackford, child nutrition manager at Hunger Free Colorado, noted that some districts make breakfast after the bell programs work in schools that have far fewer than 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced meals.

“Every school district is different. They have different populations, different equipment … different staffing needs, so it’s really hard to compare one to another,” she said.  “Our priority is to make sure we’re maximizing participation”

For each free or reduced-price meal, districts get reimbursed either $1.66 or $1.99, depending on poverty levels. They get reimbursed only 29 cents for the children who would normally pay full price for their meals.

In Mesa County Valley District 51, four new schools are providing Breakfast After the Bell this year, up from one last year.

Dan Sharp, the district’s director of food and nutrition services, said it’s financially viable because of the delivery model the district chose.

Under the law, districts have flexibility in how they get the meals to students. Common options include breakfast in the classroom, in the cafeteria or at mobile grab-and-go stations. The classroom version, which usually requires crates or coolers of food to be delivered all over a school, tends to be the most complicated and labor-intensive.

Here’s how Breakfast After the Bell works in District 51: A hot breakfast is offered in the cafeteria before school starts. It includes traditional breakfast foods like scrambled eggs, pancakes or breakfast burritos.

About 15 minutes into the school day, students who missed the cafeteria meal have the option of taking a bagged breakfast from a grab-and-go station near the main entrance. That breakfast typically includes a granola cookie that meets federal nutrition standards, milk and juice or fruit.

Sharp said with hot choices and more variety before school, students are incentivized to come early for breakfast. Indeed, most kids who ate through Breakfast After the Bell last year —about 45 percent of the student body—ate early in the cafeteria.

“To us, this is definitely a more cost effective model,” he said.

Why breakfast for more kids?

The idea behind Breakfast After the Bell is that students do better in class if they’re not hungry and that more students will eat school breakfast if its offered to all students for free during school hours, instead of just to the “poor kids” before school.

In fact, some food service administrators say they have seen big increases in participation since they switched from before-school breakfast to after-the-bell meals.

In Adams 12, the district began serving an additional 1,340 breakfasts a day last year after adding about a half-dozen schools to its breakfast-after-the-bell roster for a total of 12.

While Naomi Steenson, the district’s director of nutrition services, said some teachers have complained about the tedious job of counting and recording breakfast items taken in the classroom, they also see the benefits.

She said, “In the same breath, the teacher will say [students are] better behaved and…They are more apt to learn than if they’re hungry.”

But others say the breakfast increases aren’t dramatic.

Stoll, of Jeffco, believes it’s partly because of the false assumption that children from poor families don’t get breakfast at home. Some do, she said.

There’s also the fact that school breakfast choices, which must comply with federal nutrition standards, don’t always appeal to kids. For example, Stoll said many Hispanic students don’t like the whole grain tortillas used in school burritos because they are used to scratch-made white flour tortillas at home.

Coming to terms

After vigorous lobbying by some districts over the last two years to keep the Breakfast After the Bell eligibility threshold at 80 percent, there seems to be a growing acceptance that 70 percent is a fact of life.

Several administrators said this week that while they were unhappy with the lower percentage and the sense that they weren’t heard by law-makers, they are moving past the controversy.

Steenson, who testified before the legislature in favor of maintaining the 80 percent threshold, said, “I’ve said my piece….so now it’s just time to figure it out.”

She added, “I think it’s a great program. It resulted in some tension when the bill passed…but it is the right thing to do. It is good for kids.”

Blackford said Hunger Free Colorado is continuing conversations with the state’s School Nutrition Association to support districts in implementing Breakfast after the Bell.

“We want to make sure school nutrition service directors are set up for success.”

Gustafson said District 11, where eight schools must add the program this year, will abide by the law.

“We’re going to do it with all good intentions and due diligence,” he said. “…Whether I like it or not is moot.”

Categories: Urban School News

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