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Rise & Shine: Longmont valedictorian gives speech

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 06/01/2015 - 09:39

The central issue

Parents and community activists told Aurora school board members Saturday that the board has waited too long and needs to take drastic action now to improve academically struggling Aurora Central High. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Here's a closer look at some of the issues at Aurora Central. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

RIP

Rep. John Buckner, chair of the House Education Committee, died Thursday. He was 67. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

speech controversy

The Longmont charter school valedictorian who earlier this month was barred from giving a graduation speech in which he planned to reveal that he was gay, instead gave his speech to a wildly supportive crowd. ( Denver Post )

His parents said they have no intention Friday of pursuing the issue further. ( Daily Camera )

Healthy summer

Colorado Springs District 11 is expanding its summer food program. ( Gazette )

And the city of Longmont is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the St. Vrain Valley School District to provide free meals to children this summer. ( Longmont Times-Call )

money matters

Proposed budgets for the upcoming school year aren't as dismal as they were during the recession, when Colorado lawmakers slashed public school funding. But Colorado Springs school leaders say it could still be better. ( Gazette )

Human Resources

Parents and students, following the removal of a second-grade teacher from their Douglas County school, protested outside are calling for the resignation of their principal, under whom they said numerous teachers have left and staff morale has fallen. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Two cents

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni says the U.S. Department of Education is necessary. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora Central parents: Make our school better now

EdNewsColorado - Sat, 05/30/2015 - 16:19

AURORA — Parents and community activists told Aurora school board members Saturday that the board has waited too long and needs to take drastic action now to improve academically struggling Aurora Central High.

“There is deep, deep pain at this school,” said parent organizer Patty Lawless of Together Colorado. “We can’t wait two years for an innovation plan to start.”

More than 100 parents, students, alumni, teachers, and other community members filled Aurora Central’s cafeteria for a two-hour meeting to discuss the future of the school. Because Aurora Central has been labeled as failing by the state for five years, it faces sanctions that include closing the school or handing it over to a charter school operator.

Superintendent Rico Munn, however, has a different plan. He wants to free Aurora Central and other elementary and middle schools in the Original Aurora neighborhood from district and state policies that he believes hinder student learning. His plan, ACTION Zones, would use the state’s school innovation law to create more flexibility at those schools.

The school board will direct Munn on Tuesday either to put his plan into action, convert Aurora Central into a charter school, or reboot the school with a new administration and teaching staff that would be required to follow existing district policies and state law.

PREVIOUSLY: A closer look at the issues at Aurora Central High School.

There was not a clear preference from the community Saturday on which path the district should take. Instead, parents wondered why the district waited so long to improve the school and what actions it is taking now to improve Aurora Central when the new school year begins in August.

“What guarantees do I have as a parent that my students are going to be successful?” asked Rich Rimpson.

Board members and district officials told the audience that actions have been taken to improve the school. They also acknowledged that those actions haven’t been quick enough.

“We have to take responsibility,” said school board president JulieMarie Shepherd. “But I have to think about moving forward.”

Munn will begin his third year as superintendent of Aurora Public Schools in July. Since he was hired in 2013, he’s spent most of his time redesigning the district’s central office to better support schools.

“We want to be closer to students and their needs,” said John Youngquist, the district’s chief academic officer, explaining the districtwide changes. “We want to be closer to the needs of teachers and the needs of administrators.”

At the same time, a new principal was also hired at Aurora Central and the school was awarded a $1 million grant to improve the school.

Parents wondered how APS officials plan to make Aurora Central safer, how the school was tracking attendance, and what the district was doing to hire teachers who look more like the community, which is mostly Latino and black. Aurora Central also serves a large English language learning population and refugees.

Some parents said they wanted to be involved in their students’ education but were rebuked by administrators.

“Let us be involved in our children’s lives,” said Erika Flores-Rowe.

One of the most heated portions of the meeting was an exchange between school board vice president Cathy Wildman and Jesus Calderon, a recent Aurora Central graduate.

Calderon presented a list of concerns about the school compiled by parents.

“If I were a parent, I wouldn’t let my children go here,” Calderon said. “Why is it that nothing happened during my four years here?”

Widlman responded, “Let me turn this back on you, what did you do during your four years?”

The crowd booed.

“I did my part, I got good grades,” Calderon said.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: When the road to school choice ends in the neighborhood

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/29/2015 - 16:56
  • After agonizing about whether to choose a public, private, or charter school for their son, a Philadelphia family goes with the neighborhood option. (Newsworks)
  • Grant Wiggins, the esteemed educator and prolific writer whose book “Understanding by Design” brought backward planning to many classrooms, died suddenly this week. (Education Week)
  • Last-minute licensing legislation in Wisconsin could open the door to classroom teachers without high school diplomas. (Teacher Beat)
  • New York City schools and startups collaborated on “Big Idea Week,” where students pitched concepts such as a piggy bank alarm clock. (Entrepreneur)
  • A new lawsuit that backers claim is the first of its kind alleges that the Compton, Calif., school district did not meet its obligations to address the impact of childhood trauma on student learning. (The Atlantic)
  • Disciplinary bias against black students comes from black teachers as well as white ones, according to a new study. (Huffington Post)
  • Clinics based in Seattle public schools are providing free, in-school placement of IUDs and other long-acting hormonal birth control. (Grist)
  • And in the Netherlands, sex education begins with a weeklong course in kindergarten. (PBS Newshour)
  • In France, a proposal to make middle schools more engaging by dropping Latin and Greek has prompted protests. (NPR
  • Houston has seen big academic gains even as its student population has grown poorer and more challenging to teach, but it still faces vexing problems. (Politico Magazine)
  • Convincing high-quality teachers to stay at high-needs schools requires more than bonus pay; teachers need a school environment where they feel they can succeed. (The Atlantic)
  • New Orleans’ “new normal” means that charter schools are taking up longstanding traditions — even football — of the schools they take over. (Real Clear Education)
  • States that are scuttling the Common Core under political pressure are adopting new standards that are different in name only. (Hechinger Report)
  • A California mother explains why her ambitious son is leaving high school without a diploma. (Design Mom)
Categories: Urban School News

To improve Aurora Central, first a town hall meeting

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/29/2015 - 16:04

AURORA — For Josiah Lopez, the 2014-15 school year was a waste of time.

The Aurora Central High School sophomore said he learned nothing new. Everything was “just repeat” from what he learned at a Denver charter school the year before.

“They don’t care about their education,” he said of his peers at the academically struggling high school in this suburb east of Denver.

“They don’t push us,” he said of his teachers.

“I hope they do make changes,” he said on one of the last days of school, as he sat on a park bench across the street from his school.

Specifically, Lopez said he wants more advanced classes, like an International Baccalaureate program, that can prepare him for college.

Oh, and healthier food in the cafeteria.

Lopez isn’t the only one with big ideas about how to improve Aurora Central High School, one of the 169 schools labeled as failing by the state. The city’s superintendent has a plan, too.

For five years, Aurora Central has been labeled as failing by the Colorado Department of Education, because most students perform below grade level on standardized tests, and the school’s composite ACT score and graduation rate are far below state averages. It is the largest high school on Colorado’s “accountability clock.” And its time has run out.

With the school facing state sanctions, Aurora Public School superintendent Rico Munn pitched a plan earlier this year to his school board to free the school of certain district and state policies. That freedom, he said, would help accelerate student learning.

We’ve done everything. We’ll try anything. But I doubt there is anything that can be done until the root causes (poverty) are dealt with. And that’s not in our control.

The plan, dubbed ACTION Zones, would also include nearby elementary and middle schools with similar academic struggles and student demographics. Most of those students end up at Aurora Central.

If the plan goes into effect (at the earliest for the 2016-17 school year) and proves successful at schools in the original Aurora neighborhood, more such zones could be developed.

But making Aurora Central a better place for students to learn is going to be difficult, not just because modern day school improvement is far from a replicable science, but because it’s not clear that the community — from the school board to the students — is behind the superintendent’s vision.

Some believe Aurora Central is fine as is. Others don’t believe the district has moved fast enough. Some believe nothing can be done to drastically improve the school given the students it serves. Others say the state, not the school, needs to change its definition of what success is.

Munn’s plan, as well as other possible options for Aurora Central, will be the focus of a final town hall meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at the school.

And on Tuesday, Munn will ask the city’s school board to take a first step toward approving his comprehensive plan for Aurora Central and five other schools.

To better understand Aurora Central, you have to better understand the unique demographics of its student population.

The school, sandwiched between one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and the booming Fitzsimons medical campus, serves slightly more than 2,100 students. Most qualify for government subsidized lunches, and are Latino, black, and/or a refugee. Four out of every 10 Aurora Central students are English language learners. And nearly 15 percent have special education needs.

“It’s just so unique,” said school board member Mary Lewis. “And we need to celebrate that.”

Student leaders say the school’s diversity allows them to find themselves and their passions in a safe place.

“There’s space to be an individual here,” said Yamel Ramirez, a senior.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Aurora Central High students discuss the school’s future in a leadership class.

While diversity and individuality might be celebrated by those inside Aurora Central, students know many adults outside those four walls judge the school by their test scores alone.

And those scores are nothing to brag about.

In 2013, only 3 percent of black 10th graders were proficient or above in math, according to the state’s tests. Fewer than 13 percent of Hispanic 10th graders met the mark. Not even a third of the school’s white 10th graders were performing at grade level in math in the same year.

“This staff works extremely hard. But we have sophomores who are working two jobs to support their family,” said Sharon Summers, an English teacher. “We’ve done everything. We’ll try anything. But I doubt there is anything that can be done until the root causes (poverty) are dealt with. And that’s not in our control. Poverty is not an excuse — it’s a reality.”

If trends hold, about 40 percent of sophomores who took the state’s standardized tests in 2013 graduated on time earlier this month. While Aurora Central’s graduation rate has improved, it has failed to break 50 percent since 2008.

When students hear these numbers they say two things. First, they’re more than a test score. Second, they don’t try on tests.

“People put more effort into their class than those tests,” said Keshon White, a sophomore.

White, like many other students interviewed by Chalkbeat, also said it’s the students’ fault — not the teachers’ or administrators’ — that test scores aren’t higher.

“We get people ditching. But I’m taking advantage of my education,” White said, standing in the middle of the park across the street from Aurora Central. There were about two dozen students other students there during the middle of the school day.

White said he had had been excused from class by a family member.

Under state law, Aurora Central must either close, be handed over to an independent school management organization, be converted to a charter school, or seek innovation status from the State Board of Education. But exactly when that change will occur is now up in the air.

Until recent legislation, one of those changes had to take effect by the 2016-17 school year. However, House Bill 15-1323 put a temporary freeze on any accountability decisions being made based on standardized exams. So Aurora Central and schools like it have a little more breathing room before the state imposes its sanctions.

“It’s the gift of time,” said Peter Sherman, the state’s school improvement director. “But everyone is still on the clock. Schools have time, but they should use it wisely.”

Sherman said current trends in drastic school overhauls of the type the state expects to happen at Aurora Central include what’s called a “year zero.” That’s when school leaders have a full school year to pick a school model, hire staff, develop a budget, and design curriculum.

Superintendent Munn’s plan built in a year to engage the community and draft an innovation plan for the school, which under state law must be approved by a majority of the school’s teachers, parents, school board, and the state.

We seem to have a flavor of the week. First they want you to put a learning objective on the board. Then they don’t. Central needs consistency.

An extra year for Aurora Central could mean more time to engage the community and formulate a plan. There’s also nothing stopping the district from moving forward with Munn’s timeline, or some variation of it.

Munn has repeatedly said his plan is designed to be what’s best for the students of Aurora Central and that it only meets state law by happenstance.

“Regardless of the new timeline, we are committed to improving student achievement,” Munn said Friday. “We plan to continue pursuing opportunities including ACTION zones to accelerate learning for every Aurora Public Schools student.”

Munn will need all the time he has to rally the school’s community behind his vision, and to dispel rumors.

Many students and even some teachers who spoke to Chalkbeat during the three months since Munn’s proposal went public have said they believe the school will either be closed or turned over to a charter school.

Teachers fear they’ll lose their jobs. Student fear the imposition of school uniforms and a closed campus.

Munn and the school board have said the school will not close. The district has nowhere else to send students. Unlike other academically struggling school districts across the country, Aurora Public Schools, is growing, not shrinking.

And because keeping Aurora Central intact as one comprehensive high school, instead of breaking it up the into smaller programs (as Denver Public Schools and other urban school districts have done) is a priority, charter schools are not likely to be interested to taking over the school.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Aurora Central science teacher Tony Bullock prepped his students for an exam earlier this spring.

Aurora Central principal Mark Roberts said this is not the first time innovation status, the technical term for what Munn wants to do at Aurora Central, has been considered. In fact, he said, he was hired in 2013 to turn the school in that direction. But because he joined the school at the same time the Aurora school board hired Munn, those plans were put on hold.

Roberts has been missing from most board room discussions about Aurora Central. He said he’s been active in discussing the future of the school with district leaders in other settings. But Roberts said he wanted his teachers to be able to attend board meetings and share their opinions during public comment without having to worry about what he might hear.

“I’m involved as much as I’m asked to participate,” he said. “When [the board] starts making decisions, I’ll be attending more.”

He said the school would benefit from having more freedom to decide how to spend its budget, especially around staffing, professional development, and curriculum.

“We’ve seen results when the district’s curriculum has been supplemented,” he said.

But some teachers are concerned that innovation status could lead to more confusion and more half-initiatives.

The school already has some flexibility in how it has spent a multi-year $1 million grant to boost student achievement. And that has led to more professional development that hasn’t always been helpful, said science teacher Tony Bullock.

“We seem to have a flavor of the week,” Bullock said. “First they want you to put a learning objective on the board. Then they don’t. Central needs consistency.”

Above all else, teachers say they just want to know how Munn’s proposal will get different — and better — results.

A 2014 study of innovation schools in Denver, the school district with more such schools than any other state, found that while teacher morale was higher, student results were mixed at best. Innovation schools often did no better than schools managed more closely by the school district.

Aurora Central parents may be the most eager for change.

“I know my child will be OK, but I’m worried about the other children,” said Karen Porter. Her son is a junior and she serves on the district’s accountability committee. “The school is hostile. There’s too many different incidents. There’s always something.”

As of April, students have been referred to the office 143 times and suspended 105 times. Three have been expelled so far this school year. That puts Aurora Central on par with the district’s other high schools.

But those numbers mark a sharp decrease from the 2013-2014 school year when the school clocked more than 2,000 office referrals, 300 suspensions, and 21 expulsions. No other Aurora high school came close to those numbers that year.

“The data should have told us years ago there was a problem,” Porter said.

Parent Richard Rimpson agrees that whatever happens at Aurora Central, a more peaceful environment would benefit students.

“If you can’t control the classroom, you can’t teach,” he said.

However, he said, classroom management needs to be equitable and fair.

Both say the school needs more parent involvement — during the good times and bad — and the students and staff have to work together.

“We can be the flagship school of Aurora,” Rimpson said. “We need to believe that the students are capable, their families are capable.”

Categories: Urban School News

House Education chair John Buckner dies

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/29/2015 - 11:29

Rep. John Buckner, chair of the House Education Committee, died Thursday. He was 67.

The Aurora Democrat was at the center of 2015’s key education debates, including on testing. But he missed the last couple weeks of the session because of illness. House Democratic staff said Friday he had been battling sarcoidosis, a chronic respiratory disease. In an April 28 letter announcing his medical leave, he told his colleagues, “While I am sure some of you are relieved to get a break from me, don’t think for a moment that you’ve run me off!”

Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora

Buckner had a long career in education, including as a principal, before being elected to the House in 2012. During his time in the Cherry Creek School District he worked at Laredo Middle School and Smoky Hill and Overland high schools. The gym at Overland is named for him.

He was well respected on both sides of the aisle.

During a May 20 signing ceremony for two testing bills, Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislators praised Buckner’s contributions on the issue. His wife, Janet, represented him at the event.

Tributes were posted quickly Friday on Twitter.

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, tweeted that she was “deeply saddened” and called Buckner “a great statesman & voice of clarity.”

“I am saddened by the loss of Rep John Buckner. We have lost an amazing leader, educator and friend,” tweeted former House Speaker Mark Ferrandino.

Hickenlooper issued a statement saying, “John Buckner was an invariably kind man, with a gentle sense of humor that brought people closer, never pushed them away. He brought that same spirit of inclusiveness to his work as an educator and a legislator, in his mission to ensure that all Colorado children have access to the best education possible. His vision, his passion and his presence will be greatly missed.”

A native of Indianapolis, Buckner had lived in Colorado since 1975. He is survived by his widow, three children and three grandchildren. Details about a memorial service are pending. His seat will be filled later by a Democratic Party vacancy committee.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Valedictorian prevented from giving speech announcing he’s gay

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/29/2015 - 09:42

Classroom turnover

More teachers left the school districts where they work last year than at any point in the past 15 years, according to new data from the Colorado Department of Education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Search our database of district-level teacher turnover rates for each of the past three years. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Free speech

Twin Peaks Charter Academy in Longmont is under fire for blocking a class valedictorian from giving a graduation speech in which he planned to out himself as gay. ( Daily Camera )

Budget balancing

St. Vrain Valley School District teachers negotiated a $36,000 starting salary, with a promise from the district and the school board that boosting the starting salary to $40,000 in the next two to three years is a priority. ( Daily Camera )

Pueblo District 70 officials don’t plan on dipping into reserves to balance the 2015-16 budget. ( Chieftain )

But the Pueblo District 60 board is considered using $3 million in reserves to make its 2015-16 budget work. ( Chieftain )

Durango School District board members have postponed a decision on a proposed $42 million budget for the 2015-16 academic year pending advice from a panel of experts. ( Durango Herald )

Big yellow buses

Aurora’s bus fleet, the second oldest in the state, will get a little younger because the district is putting an extra $500,000 into its fleet. ( Aurora Sentinel )

The Keenesburg district’s school board has voted to cut seven bus routes, eliminating all trips down dirt roads. Next school year those students will get picked up at the nearest paved road. Parents are not happy. ( CBS4 )

Top students

"If you believe in odds, Drake Eddings shouldn't have graduated." As a homeless student the odds were stacked against him. ( The Denver Channel )

Andra Turner is one of two students in Colorado to receive the award of U.S. Presidential Scholar this year, and she’s one of the first Greeley-Evans students to ever earn the title. ( Greeley Tribune )

Seventh grader Sylvie Lamontagne of Lakewood made it to the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee but was knocked out on her first world of the last round. ( Denver Post )

Healthy schools

Retiring Teller Elementary PE teacher leaves behind a better recess for kids in a Denver school. ( Your Hub )

Police report

A staff member of DCIS at Ford Elementary School in Denver has been arrested on drug charges after being found unconscious at school. ( Fox31 )

Two cents

Former state Senate President Peter Groff praises Colorado lawmakers for killing the testing opt-out bill. ( Denver Post )

We have a learning crisis in the country, and yet our educational system is scheduled to shut down for 30 to 90 days. Something very wrong with this picture, writes David Conde. ( La Voz )

Categories: Urban School News

More Colorado teachers left their school districts last year

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/28/2015 - 13:42

More teachers left the school districts where they work last year than at any point in the past 15 years, according to new data from the Colorado Department of Education.

And individual districts have seen significant fluctuations in how many teachers stay in their districts from year to year. This is especially true in rural districts and in areas where dramatic policy changes have gone into effect in recent years.

Chalkbeat took a look at trends in districts’ teacher turnover in recent years and compiled a database including every district in the state. Here are some of the findings.

Search for your district in Chalkbeat’s database of district-level teacher turnover rates.

  Data source: Colorado Department of Education. Data reported as of Dec. 1 of each year.

Credits: Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat

//

Districts can’t entirely control when and why teachers leave

The rate of statewide turnover has hovered between 12 and 16 percent over the the past 15 years. This is the first year it has crept above 17 percent, but rates close to 16 percent were common in the early 2000s.

The teacher workforce has grown from approximately 42,000 teachers to closer to 51,000 during that time.

Teacher attrition is often caused by conditions outside of districts’ control, said Robert Reichardt, a consultant with Augenblick, Palaich and Associates who has studied teacher workforce issues in Colorado. He said those factors include the average age of teachers (the youngest and oldest teachers are more likely to leave their jobs) and the state of the economy (harder economic times, such as the years following the Great Recession of 2008, mean less turnover because jobs are harder to find).

State cuts to education funding and local budget woes also show up in individual districts’ attrition numbers. In Westminster, for instance, a sudden spike in teacher turnover in 2007-08 is directly related to the district’s closing of five schools that year to address budget woes.

A number of new state education laws and initiatives have gone into effect over the past decade, including a new accountability system and new state standards. Statewide turnover has crept up each year since the 2010 passage of Senate Bill 191, which required more in-depth evaluations for the state’s teachers and principals and tied evaluations to measures of student growth.

Teacher Turnover Rates in Colorado's 20 Largest School Districts
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Closely-watched Front Range districts have higher turnover now — but they’re not alone

About the data The Colorado Department of Education collects information about personnel turnover each year. The data for the 2014-15 school year includes transitions made as of December 1. This set of data does not count teachers who moved between schools within a district as having “turned over.” It does include teachers who have retired, returned to school, or switched jobs within a district. A teacher who has become a principal, for instance, shows up as having “turned over.”

In Douglas County, Jefferson County, and the Thompson school district, where more conservative school boards riled some staff, students, and community members with new policies, more teachers are leaving the districts than in the past.

In Douglas County, the biggest jump was between 2012-13, when 13 percent of teachers left, and 2013-14, when 17 percent left.

In Jefferson County, teacher turnover increased from 10 percent to 15 percent between 2013-14 and 2014-15. And in the Thompson, the teacher turnover rate jumped from 13 percent to 20 percent in the same timeframe.

Those jumps in some of the state’s largest districts helped push up the state’s overall rate this year.

But districts with new boards aren’t alone in seeing upticks. The fast-growing Adams 12 and Adams 50 districts have also seen their turnover rates increase, while the Brighton and Falcon districts have seen major fluctuations over that same period.

And rates in all Jefferson and Douglas Counties are still lower than in more urban and less-affluent districts.

Data source: Colorado Department of Education. Data reported as of Dec. 1 of each year.
Credits: Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat jQuery(function () { jQuery('#turnover').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: 'The 10 districts with the highest and lowest 2015 turnover rates' }, xAxis: { categories: ['2015 teacher turnover'] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: 'Teacher turnover rate (%)' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{series.name}: ' + '{point.y:.1f}', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: 'Karval RE-23', data: [81] }, { name: 'Pritchett RE-3', data: [67] }, { name: 'Liberty J-4', data: [64] },{ name: 'Arickaree R-2', data: [44] }, { name: 'Lone Star 101', data: [41] },{ name: 'Kit Carson R-1', data: [6.67] },{ name: 'Cotopaxi RE-3', data: [5.56] },{ name: 'Idalia RJ-3', data: [5.56] },{ name: 'Dolores County RE NO.2', data: [4.55] },{ name: 'Agate 300', data: [0] } ] }); });

Rural schools have the highest and the lowest rates of teacher turnover

School districts with the highest and the lowest rates of turnover were in rural Colorado.

The Agate district in the Eastern Plains, the only district with a zero percent turnover rate, also bears the distinction of being the smallest district in the state.

Meanwhile, the tiny Karval district had the highest rate in the state. More than 80 percent of its teachers left this academic year after the district closed an online school that had enrolled a significant portion of its students.

The small size of the districts means that each teacher’s departure registers larger than in a bigger district. And in districts with very few schools, teachers don’t have other options within the district.

But Paula Stephenson, the Executive Director of the Colorado Rural Caucus, said that teacher recruitment and retention are perennial problems for small rural districts. Many teachers who do come eventually leave for higher pay and larger communities.

She said that in rural districts with higher retention rates, superintendents have often recruited local talent and people who are interested in a more rural lifestyle.

The state’s rural caucus has named teacher retention and recruitment as a major priority this year.

Some districts are trying to address high turnover rates with new policies and pay scales

The highest turnover rate among the 20 largest school districts in the state is in the Harrison school district, near Colorado Springs, where close to a third of teachers have left the district in each of the past three school years. The district’s teachers’ salaries have been based on evaluations and academic progress, not time on the job, since 2010.

Now Harrison officials are considering adding longevity pay for teachers who have been with the district for five or more years. “We want our talent to stay with us,” said district spokeswoman Christine Lyle.

Lyle said that the district employs more Teach For America corps members than some neighboring districts, and that some, but not all, of those teachers stay on for longer than their two-year commitment. She said the district’s proximity to a military base also contributes to high teacher mobility.

Meanwhile, Denver Public Schools is focusing on reducing principal turnover, which officials say is tied to teacher turnover. The district has also started using “voluntary teacher turnover” — teachers who are leaving not because they were fired or promoted — as an indicator of schools’ quality. DPS is also planning to increase financial incentives for teachers who work in high-needs schools, which have the highest rates of turnover.

Officials say not all turnover is a bad thing and tie high departure rates to low scores on evaluations

DPS reported that last year, teachers with higher scores on its LEAP evaluation system were less likely to leave.

Douglas County school officials made a similar claim. “Higher turnover in the Ineffective and Partially Effective categories allows us the opportunity to get the best teachers in front of our students,” said Paula Hans, the district’s spokesperson, in an email. She said that more than 90 percent of teachers rated highly effective or effective have stayed with the district, while a third of teachers rated partially effective and all of those rated ineffective have left.

These evaluation systems have been greeted with mixed reviews by the state’s teachers. The teacher TELL survey found that teachers were skeptical of new evaluation systems, though attitudes varied in different districts.

And from an economic perspective, turnover isn’t all bad for districts. While pension plans incentivize teachers to stay in their posts for longer periods of time, “the reality is that new teachers are cheaper than old teachers,” said Reichardt.

Data source: Colorado Department of Education. Data reported as of Dec. 1 of each year.
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Districts with high poverty rates have higher rates of teacher turnover

School districts with the highest rates of students eligible for subsidized school lunches had higher rates of turnover than districts with the lowest poverty rates.

“The teachers with the least experience are often put into the toughest settings,” said Bruce Caughey, the executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives. He said that new teachers are not prepared by their training for the challenges that face them in schools with the neediest students. Schools with higher poverty rates are also more likely to be the targets of turnaround efforts that involve replacing teachers.

The Charter School Institute had a higher rate of turnover than most school districts, but it includes only a fraction of the state’s charter schools

The new state data does not separate out charter schools authorized by districts, which make up the bulk of the state’s charter schools. It does include the state’s Charter School Institute, which currently has 34 charter schools throughout the state. The CSI’s turnover rate was 36 percent in 2014-15 and 48 percent in 2013-14.

Institute Executive Director Ethan Hemming said that the rate has fluctuated as the Institute has added and removed schools.

Hemming said that the fact that charters do not have to follow district or union rules about hiring or firing teachers may be a factor in the high turnover rates, and that leaders should acknowledge and address high rates of attrition.

Notice anything interesting? Send us an email at co.tips@chalkbeat.org or let us know in the comments.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Find your district’s teacher turnover rate

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/28/2015 - 13:42

Colorado teachers were slightly more likely to leave their school districts this year than at any point in the recent past. But turnover rates have varied significantly from district to district and from year to year.

Chalkbeat has compiled a database of district-level teacher turnover rates for each of the past three years.

Search for your Colorado school district’s rate below. For a closer look at turnover rates throughout the state, read this Chalkbeat story.

And check out our data center for more searchable databases about schools and districts in Colorado.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco board member makes controversial comparison

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/28/2015 - 08:30

money matters

The majority of the Jefferson County school board signaled Tuesday it had no intention of steering more money into teacher pay in its next budget. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

apples to oranges

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk compared funding disparities between charter schools and district schools to racial discrimination in the South in the 1960s. ( 9News )

money matters

Boulder Valley School District officials Tuesday described next school year's budget as "disappointing" because of lower-than-expected funding from the state. ( Daily Camera )

poverty's early impact

Poverty, which affects a growing number of American students, begins its negative impact on learning as early as the beginning of kindergarten, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report released Thursday. ( Huffington Post )

good faith

Despite the last couple of years of tension in the Adams 12 Five Star School District, it appears that both sides of the negotiating table are finding a way to do what’s right by teachers and students. ( Complete Colorado )

life lessons

More and more people in education agree on the importance of learning stuff other than academics. But no one agrees on what to call that "stuff". ( KUNC/NPR )

fail first

PBS education correspondent John Merrow says students need to know that adults try and fail and fail and fail — and keep on trying. More than that, they need to experience failure. ( PBS News Hour )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board likely won’t add more money for teacher raises next year

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/27/2015 - 16:31

GOLDEN — The majority of the Jefferson County school board signaled Tuesday it had no intention of steering more money into teacher pay in its next budget.

The increased amount earmarked for employee compensation, about $12 million, coupled with ongoing teacher contract negotiations has become the latest political hot potato in the suburban school district.

The Jefferson County Education Association said the district needs to put more money on the negotiating table, especially if it wants to lure new hires by paying teachers more early in their career and compensating for advanced degrees.

But both board chairman Ken Witt and secretary John Newkirk said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that the district could not afford more money for raises.

The standoff between the school district and its board and the teachers union potentially means school principals won’t be able to fill about 300 open teaching positions before school starts in August.

The budget as proposed, includes $5.2 million for raises, $5 million for health insurance and retirement benefits, $1.2 million to pay for master’s degrees and other factors, and $763,000 for substitute teacher raises.

“These problems weren’t created by this board, they were inherited by this board,” Newkirk said, referring to the approximately $27 million in pay freezes teachers have lived through since the Great Recession. “It’s going to take more time and money than we have in this budget cycle.”

He added, “I think [$12 million in compensation increases is] reasonable for what we have to work with.”

Jeffco is receiving about $19.3 million more dollars from the state this year than last. But that’s a small increase for a billion-dollar budget.

Next school year will be the first per pupil funding is greater than pre-recession levels in Jefferson County. In the 2009-2010 school year, Jeffco received $7,070 per pupil. In 2015-2016 the per pupil funding will be $7,109. Per pupil funding was at its lowest, $6,309, during the 2011-2012 school year.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper said teachers aren’t asking for all $27 million back. But she said the district should find another $3.5 million for compensation. That additional amount would allow the district to pay new hires and 1,600 veteran teachers a comparable salary, district officials said.

“This budget doesn’t cut it in terms of compensation,” Dahlkemper said.

About a dozen Jefferson County residents and teachers spoke during public comment. Most suggested the board find more money to increase pay for district veterans.

“We are not prioritizing the most important element of my children’s education — their teachers,” said Lisa Cook, a Jeffco parent.

The school board will hold another public hearing on the budget June 11. By law, the board must adopt a budget for next school year by June 30.

The next bargaining session between the district and JCEA is scheduled for June 10.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the district planned to spend an extra $12 million on teacher compensation. That amount is for all employees, not just licensed staff.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Sheridan wants every freshman to have a mentor

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/27/2015 - 09:32

Church and state

A teacher in Florence is suing his school district claiming unconstitutional promotion of religion at the district’s high school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

"By using a public school to further their own personal religious beliefs, the school administration made us all fund their own personal religion. Not only is that illegal, it’s wrong," says Paul Maxon, an attorney for the plaintiff, Robert Basevitz ( CPR )

But the pastor at the center of the controversy said he will not apologize for being in Florence High School. ( Denver Post )

Mentors matter

The Sheridan School District wants every incoming freshman to have a mentor next school year. ( 9News )

dollars and sense

Boulder Valley School District officials Tuesday described next school year's budget as balanced but "disappointing" because of lower-than-expected funding from the state. ( Daily Camera )

School safety

A recent stabbing at K-8 school in Broomfield has raised concerns and questions about how schools will improve safety features when students return to class in the fall. ( Times-Call )

healthy weekends

Despite a program's growth, there are still hundreds in the Thompson School District who still need the food bags to make it through the weekend. ( Reporter Herald )

Categories: Urban School News

Teacher sues Florence district for alleged promotion of religion

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/26/2015 - 17:52

Updated May 27 – A teacher filed suit against the Florence school district Tuesday, claiming unconstitutional promotion of religion at the district’s high school.

Robert Basevitz, a teacher at Penrose Elementary School in the 1,373-student Fremont RE-2 School District, filed his complaint in U.S. District Court in Denver.

“This is not one or two isolated incidents but pervasive entanglement with religion” at Florence High School, said Boulder lawyer Paul Maxon, who is representing Basevitz.

Named as defendants are the district, Superintendent Rhonda Roberts (listed by her previous surname of Vendetti in the suit) and Florence High Principal Brian Schipper.

According to the suit, Basevitz started working at Florence High last fall but was transferred to Penrose in January at the same time administrators decided to take no action on an administrative complaint he filed last December. The suit describes Basevitz as “to his knowledge, the district’s only Jewish employee.” (Read the full complaint at the bottom of this article.)

Maxon said Basevitz chose to file a suit “because we weren’t able to resolve it informally.”

The suit alleges a “pattern and practice of the defendants’ endorsement and promotion of religion in a public school setting” and argues that Florence High “operates largely to promote the evangelical Christian ideals of The Cowboy Church at Crossroads.”

That non-denominational church holds Sunday worship in the school cafeteria. The suit claims that a student group named the Fellowship of Christian Huskies is “a front designed to allow Pastor [Randy] Pfaff and the church to use the school as a platform for his ‘mission work’ of preaching to students and staff.”

As examples of improper religions activities, the suit cites:

  • Daily prayer around the flagpole outside the school’s main entrance. The suit claims crowds sometime are so large that they block the main entrance, and that administrators suggested Basevitz use side entrances if the front door was blocked.
  • Distribution of religious flyers in school.
  • Use of the school’s public address system for church announcements.
  • Placement of a prayer request box in the faculty lounge.
  • Use of classrooms for weekly “Jesus Pizza” sessions for students.
  • Annual presentation of bibles to graduating seniors during a ceremony in the school.

Superintendent Roberts said Tuesday that administrators hadn’t yet seen a copy of the complaint, but on Wednesday she issued this response:

“The district and our legal team have been working diligently to settle this matter informally, but regretfully, we were unable to do so. … I also want to reassure our community that Florence High School has been, and continues to be, an educational institution that does not promote religion, as contended in the complaint. The majority of the information in the complaint is inaccurate, or at best, taken out of context. Any concerns raised by Mr. Basevitz were immediately addressed.

“Additionally, it is important to understand that there has been no retaliation against Mr. Basevitz. All of the district’s staffing decisions are based on the needs of our students and consistent with the terms of our negotiated agreement.

“Fremont RE-2 School District is in compliance with the guidance in law regarding the separation of church and state. The district is committed to following the letter of the law, while still allowing students the right to have student-led clubs that reflect their interests.”

The lawsuit concludes, “The defendants’ actions are designed to, and have the effect of showing favoritism toward religions, and in particular Christianity, in violation of the establishment clause of the 1st and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution.”

The suit requests an injunction banning the flagpole prayer, using the school for church events and other alleged practices.

The lawyer said he wasn’t aware of any recent similar cases in Colorado but referred to “a larger movement nationwide by evangelical organizations to bring religion back into the schools.” He cited a recent article in The Nation magazine as evidence of that trend.

A national group named See You at the Pole promotes an annual prayer session around school flagpoles. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 23.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Tracing Colorado schools’ transition to Common Core

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/26/2015 - 09:52

New Way of Walking

A look at what teaching to the Common Core looks like in action at Ashley Elementary in Denver. (Part one of a Denver Post series on the Common Core) ( Denver Post )

New Way of Walking

At Boston K-8, a school in Aurora, transitioning to the Common Core has involved a steep learning curve for students and staff. (Part two of a Denver Post series on the Common Core) ( Denver Post )

Opt Out Repercussions

A Boulder teacher was stripped of his teaching assignment for teaching Advanced Placement courses during standardized testing time to his students - all of whom had opted out of the standardized tests. ( Daily Camera, 9News )

Common Core

For high schoolers, the switch to Common Core brings a change in expectations. (Part three) ( Denver Post )

Evaluations

The Denver school board approved the district's plan to not tie teacher evaluations to test scores for the 2014-15 school year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Transitions

Frank DeAngelis, the former principal of Columbine High School, is adjusting to retirement. ( Denver Post )

Tightropes

In college admissions, the goal is creating a "balanced class" as much as it is being fair to any individual student. ( KUNC )

Buildings

Douglas County parents are pushing the school board to put a bond for unmet capitol and building needs on the ballot this fall. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Survey

Douglas County board members have not administered a survey of staff and community to gauge the popularity of reforms since 2012. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Filmmaking

A former Colorado Springs teacher made a documentary that aims to "bring trust back to teachers." ( The Gazette )

Transitions

A new superintendent in Colorado Springs said his focus will be on building relationships with the community. ( The Gazette )

Contagion

Are Tennessee teachers unwittingly contributing to testing anxiety? ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Two cents

A Denver educator writes that technology can help close achievement gaps. ( Denver Post )

Jeffco Public Schools

A Jeffco parent and former teacher is planning to run for school board and says she hopes to bring a neutral voice to the table. ( Arvada Press )

Security?

Jefferson County Schools' decision to not host a Gov. Hickenlooper for a bill signing has drawn criticism. ( Arvada Press )

Student data

State legislators are struggling to address concerns about student data privacy. ( Education Week )

test scores

Selective high schools ponder increasing diversity. ( Education Week )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Why kindergarteners might need more play and less work

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 17:41
  • A growing number of researchers and educators say that the current trend of less play and more academic work in the early grades could be slowing emotional and cognitive development. (New York Times)
  • One-room schoolhouses continue to thrive in Michigan, even close to much larger school districts, in part because parents from larger districts are choosing to send their students there. (Bridge)
  • A focus group of Iowa Republican likely caucus-goers admitted that they aren’t judging Jeb Bush’s support for the Common Core because they don’t understand what it is. (Vox)
  • A British study found that schools with complete bans on cell phones posted higher test scores. (EdWeek)
  • Families at an elite New York private elementary school are divided over a new program to combat racism by discussing the racial awareness with third-graders in and out of racial “affinity groups.” (New York Magazine)
  • At Vox, Jenée Desmond-Harris argues the program is a good idea because it teaches that ignoring racism doesn’t work and it increases white students’ awareness of their own role in ending racism. (Vox)
  • The epidemic of male loneliness and suicide begins with the odd societal expectations around boy friendships. (The Good Men Project)
  • A columnist argues that myths of manhood are harmful to boyhood, but a Colorado high school seminar is trying to change that. (Denver Post)
  • Are tests biased against kids who just don’t give a, um, hoot? (The Onion)
  • Today’s the last day of school in lots of places. Here’s a history of the making of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” (Deadspin)
  • And in honor of David Letterman’s last Late Show, here’s one advocate’s top ten ways to have a better conversation about education. (Education Post)
Categories: Urban School News

Denver school board OKs not using student data for teacher evaluations

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 14:20

The Denver Public Schools board voted Thursday to approve the district’s plan to not use students’ results on state or local tests as a part of teacher evaluations this year.

But principals will be able to consider available information about students’ growth compared to academic peers when making decisions about teachers whose scores place them on a cusp between ratings.

By state law, school districts are required to use measures of student growth, a calculation based on scores on state or local tests, as 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations. The other half is based on measures of professional practice, which include ratings from observations by supervisors and student surveys.

But since the state is using a new standardized test this year, local school districts are permitted to use growth as a smaller portion of evaluations or not at all.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole vote against approving the resolution. He said LEAP, the district’s teacher evaluation and performance management system, is more accurate than previous evaluation systems but is still a subjective measure of teachers’ performance.

Check out our Board Tracker for a full list of all Denver Public Schools board votes.

The board also approved a slate of personnel decisions that included teacher non-renewals for teachers on probationary status. Denver teachers are on probationary status until they have demonstrated three years of effectiveness under LEAP. (This presentation describes changes to LEAP and district non-renewal policies)

About 5 percent of district teachers, and 10 percent of teachers who are still on probationary status, were not renewed this year, said Denver’s Chief Human Resources Officer Shayne Spalten. That is consistent with past years’ rates, she said.

This year, 2 percent of teachers are not immediately eligible to be rehired and must show three years of success in a different district before reapplying for jobs in Denver. Fewer than 1 percent of teachers are permanently ineligible to be rehired. The remainder of non-renewed teachers are eligible to be rehired immediately in other schools.

More than a dozen teachers appeared before the board to contest their non-renewals. Several contested the district’s policy of requiring some teachers who are non-renewed to wait for three years before reapplying to work in the district, while others made pleas for the board to consider personal or professional circumstances.

Board member Jimenez also voted against the personnel transactions.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Fears raised about Lincoln High campus sharing

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 09:26

Jeffco Interrupted

The Jefferson County school district and its teachers union failed Thursday evening to reach an agreement about how much to pay teachers new to the district in the fall. That means the district potentially won’t be able to fill hundreds of teaching positions at the peak of its hiring season. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Out of the box

DPS is investing significant time and money in hopes that the non-traditional program will improve principals’ and instructional superintendents’ skills, job satisfaction and retention. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing relief

Colorado families Thursday got good news on shorter state testing times, just a day after a new law was signed that will reduce the number of tests students have to take during their school careers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

BEST grants

Annual grants recommended by the state’s school construction board include a $14.9 million project to renovate and expand a 93-year-old junior/senior high school for the Edison district in rural El Paso County. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

First person

Students need to learn about healthy relationships between governments and citizens, writes Aswad Allen of the CU Denver school of education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Nervous

Representatives from the Abraham Lincoln High School community came to the DPS board Thursday to express their concern over the possibility of a middle school being added to the campus. ( Your Hub )

Human Resources

The Englewood school board has chosen Chatfield High School Principal Wendy Rubin as the district’s next superintendent. ( Englewood Herald )

Contract troubles

A second effort at a teachers' contract failed when the Thompson school board rejected the negotiated contract by a 4-3 vote — the second failure in as many meetings. ( Reporter-Herald )

Jeffco Interrupted II

An information sheet sent to members of the Jeffco teachers union hints at the possibility of a strike, but a union spokesman said efforts are still focused on collaborating with the school district. ( High Timber Times )

Campaign notebook

Incumbent Denise Montagu has announced that she will run for reelection to the Thompson School District Board of Education. ( Reporter-Herald )

Gavin Kaszynski, director of finance at a medical practice, is running for one of five seats up for election on the Poudre School District’s Board of Education. ( Coloradoan )

Historic first

For the first time in its history, the prestigious Boettcher Scholarship has been given to a student who entered the United States illegally. ( 9News )

Door is closed

Overcrowding has forced the Aspen school district to end a policy that offered automatic high school enrollment to students from the K-8 Aspen Community School charter in Woody Creek. ( Aspen Times )

Balancing act

The Durango school district, like many others, is doing a lot of juggling to come up with a budget for the 2015-16 school year. ( Durango Herald )

Top students

Young entrepreneurs compete for cash at Denver’s first “Guppy Tank” competition for students, a modern twist on science fair projects. ( Denver Post )

Five eighth-graders in the gifted and talented program at Challenger Middle School in El Paso County who won the state Optimist Brain Bowl championship left Friday for the national contest in New Orleans. ( Gazette )

Soggy

The wet weather has forced Greeley high school graduations indoors. ( Greeley Tribune )

Community concern

Recent youth suicides at a Colorado Springs middle school represent a “terrifying situation” that must be addressed, an El Paso County official says. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Jefferson County teacher contract talks stall

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 22:35

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County school district and its teachers union failed Thursday evening to reach an agreement about how much to pay teachers new to the district in the fall. That means the district potentially won’t be able to fill hundreds of teaching positions at the peak of its hiring season.

Representatives from the school district and union took a detour from bargaining over a new contract to discuss the matter, after a judge put on hold a portion of a compensation system that paid experienced teachers new to Jeffco more than district veterans.

District officials said a new proposal that increases compensation for new hires and gives raises to only about 25 percent of district veterans would make Jeffco Public Schools competitive for the first time in years, especially when vying for teachers early in their careers.

Representatives from the Jefferson County Education Association said it was a slap in the face to veterans who weathered the Great Recession with the suburban Denver school district.

“You’re gonna lose us. You’re gonna lose me. That’s not what is best for kids,” North Arvada Middle School teacher Barb Aswege said during Thursday’s bargaining session. “I will leave if you pay new hires more than me.”

Jeffco’s chief human resource officer Amy Weber told the bargaining team that the district has in the past hired some new teachers with comparable credentials and paid them more than district veterans.

“This is not a new problem that was created with the plan to hire new teachers,” Weber said. “That existed with the old approach.”

JCEA members stressed that the district had to find more money to pay veteran teachers.

Jeffco’s proposed budget for next year allocates about $3 million for raises. That money would be spent quickly by providing raises to district veterans who began their careers after 2010, when the district froze its salary schedule, and for those teachers who earned a master’s degree after 2012, when the district stopped compensating for advanced degrees.

District officials had proposed spending about $5 million left over from the current school year on raises for teachers next year. But the Jeffco school board’s majority decided that all savings from this school year should go toward construction needs.

Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson said the district’s budget is under more than usual pressure from mandates, including $3 million going to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“If I could find more money, I’d be thrilled,” she said during an interview.

The district’s lawyer, Jim Branum, asked union representatives repeatedly to first negotiate a salary schedule to determine how much new hires would make before moving on to how much teachers returning to the district would be paid.

“We do not have the authority to spend the money to address that bigger, broader question,” Branum said.

JCEA said it would meet with district officials after the school board holds a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the budget. The next regularly scheduled negotiating meeting is June 10.

Thursday’s meeting had the largest audience — about 100 teachers and parents — since the school district and union began negotiations in March. The current agreement expires on Aug. 31.

New outlets recently reported that the union has circulated information about what a strike might mean for teachers. A spokesman said the union is focused on negotiating in good faith with the district.

Categories: Urban School News

State construction grant will upgrade 93-year-old school

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 19:33

Annual grants recommended by the state’s school construction board include a $14.9 million project to renovate and expand a 93-year-old junior/senior high school for the Edison district in rural El Paso County.

The state Capital Construction Assistance Board this week recommended approval of 26 projects totaling $90.2 million, including $47.5 million in state funds and $42.6 million in local matches. The State Board of Education and a legislative committee have to review the recommendations next.

Edison’s school was built in 1922, with a major addition constructed 47 years ago. The district’s application to the Building Excellent Schools Today program includes a long list of structural, safety, utility, and instructional deficiencies that will be remedied by the project. The district has 194 students, 39 percent classified as at-risk.

The BEST program, created by the legislature in 2008, was designed especially to help small districts like Edison that have aging buildings but insufficient financial resources to build on their own. Edison, for instance, was required to provide matching funds of only $274,202.

The state portion of BEST is funded primarily by annual revenues from state school lands. In past years the program has been able to award more grants because sales of bond-like instruments were used to fund construction, with the debt paid off over time. For instance, $273 million in projects was recommended in 2012.

But BEST has reached its legal ceiling of $40 million in annual bond repayments so now can make only cash grants, mostly for smaller renovation projects.

Two projects on the priority list recommended this week are larger than Edison’s, including a $27.5 million project in the Roaring Fork district and $16.7 million school addition in DeBeque. But in both those cases the districts are putting up the majority of the money.

State officials estimate Colorado has an $18 billion backlog of school replacement and renovation needs.

Get the full list of recommended 2015-16 BEST grants and learn more about this year’s applications here.

Categories: Urban School News

DPS leaning on non-traditional leadership training program

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:56

By the end of this summer, more than a third of Denver’s principals and all of its instructional superintendents will have participated in a training run by the nonprofit Relay Graduate School of Education, a nontraditional education leadership program that grew out of a teacher training program started by leaders of several well-known charter school networks.

The district is investing significant time and money in hopes that the program will improve principals’ and instructional superintendents’ skills, job satisfaction, and retention. That, the thinking goes, will improve the quality of and caliber of academics at the schools.

Chief Schools Officer Susana Cordova said that the district wants to tailor the program to Denver Public Schools, which has a more diverse population and set of schools than the charter networks for which it was originally designed.

But Cordova said the program’s building blocks, which include using video recordings to analyze specific practices, strategies for working with data, and giving specific feedback, are useful for most school leaders. She said the program is voluntary and drew more interest than the district had reserved spots for this summer.

“Relay has really given us some common language and common approaches for school leaders, especially in approaching data-driven instruction, thinking about observation and feedback, and looking at school culture,” Cordova said.

Leadership ecosystem

Relay has campuses in Chicago, Philadelphia, Memphis, New York, Houston, Delaware, New Orleans, and New York. It was founded by leaders of three urban charter school networks, KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First. The initial focus was on training teachers who went on to work in charter schools that worked with low-income students and used the highly structured model sometimes referred to as “No Excuses.”

But DPS’ main focus has been on Relay’s newer leadership program, which Norman Atkins, the organization’s president, said was created to fill a gap in practical offerings aimed at improving principals’ effectiveness.

Last summer, Denver sent 19 instructional superintendents, who manage principals, and 23 principals to New York for training sessions. This year, as many as 85 Denver school leaders will attend a two-week training in Denver. That’s the largest group of principals and instructional superintendents to participate in Relay training from any one district.

DPS has budgeted approximately $400,000 for Relay training this year. The district is using funds from the Wallace Foundation, the Colorado Department of Education, and school budgets to cover the training costs.

The introduction of Relay’s teacher training program in several cities triggered concerns about its content and fears that the program might replace existing, more traditional university-based programs.

Denver is already home to a variety of district and nonprofit leadership programs. Jane Shirley, a vice president at Catapult Leadership, said the programs need not conflict. “I think that they can really effectively build on one another,” she said.

Principals and instructional leaders do not receive course credits or degrees at the end of this program. Relay does offer a separate masters degree.

How it works

The Relay National Principals Leadership Academy includes a two-week session in the summer and four in-person follow-up sessions over the course of the year.

The program focuses on concrete skills and strategies rather than on theories of leadership. Its website describes the vision: “We believe that becoming a great teacher or principal is much like becoming a great musician or surgeon: It takes relentless practice, feedback and dedication.”

The summer session focuses on a set of topics that include data-driven instruction, school culture, and giving feedback. Over the course of the year, participants practice and receive feedback on specific skills or ideas.

Many of the components a principal might introduce to teachers are very specific, such as starting the day by greeting each student; creating routines to transition between classes; or standing still while teaching to help focus students’ attention.

An instructional superintendent focused on giving feedback might film herself having a conference with a principal and then analyze whether she and her employee had really landed on the same page at the end of a conversation.

There’s also a focus for both principals working with teachers and instructional superintendents working with principals on using “bite-sized” feedback and tackling and improving one skill at a time.

Mixed response

Relay has drawn praise from many participants, who say it offers practical strategies for honing in on the details that matter for improving schools. “It’s difficult to find professional development that’s relevant once you’ve been a principal for a while,” said Ginger Conroy, the principal at DCIS Ford. “But this was.”

“They weren’t things I was unfamiliar with — data-driven culture, focusing on adult culture — but it was very efficient and effective,” Conroy said. She said the Relay training had introduced her to a group of principals from around the country who shared her passion for education and were experiencing many of the same challenges as her.

Tanya Carter, an instructional superintendent in the Denver Summit Schools Network, of which DCIS Ford is a part, said the Relay training had helped focus her conversations with principals. “It helps us not get into some of the other noise.”

Carter said it had been helpful to go to the same trainings as the principals she works with. “We’re talking the same language and have the same goals,” she said, adding that the program has value even for more experienced school leaders.

Conroy said her school had introduced a few new routines due to the training, but that there had not been pressure to change any specific parts of her school.

But in some corners, the program’s approach to school culture and climate and that same attention to detail have drawn some concerns.

Tonda Potts, the principal at Park Hill Elementary School, has not gone through the training, but said she is concerned that the rituals and strategies would disrupt established school cultures at successful schools.

A group of parents in Park Hill Elementary’s Collaborative School Council watched videos based on the Relay training. Some said they were unnerved by the practices they observed, which one parent described as regimented and contrary to the spirit of free inquiry.

Cordova said that the training is voluntary for leaders and that each principal can choose how to tailor the strategies to their schools. “We’re figuring out how we make this make sense for each or our schools given our wide range of schools. We’re not Uncommon,” she said. “We have learned a lot from the trainings, but we don’t feel it has everything we have to learn.”

“But we want to be able to have conversations where all of our leaders have an opportunity to say, this is what I need to work on, as well as to say, this is what I’m seeing in practice,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

Healthy relationship between governments, citizens is a must for our students to learn

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 15:40

In April, the University of Colorado Denver hosted the second annual Colorado Black Education Impact (BE!) Conference on the Auraria campus.

The conference brought together 300mlocal high school students, parents, educators, and community leaders to explore solutions regarding Colorado’s educational culture gap and to encourage group and individual ownership of our youth’s education and development.

The ongoing goal of the conference is to promote student engagement, elevate promising practices associated with enhancing the educational experience for our African American/black students, and contextually support academic success.

Community health and safety are inexorably linked to education, especially in a time when communities are questioning the social equity of our society. It’s critical that citizens and institutions take a close look at the role and responsibility we all play in creating a safe place to live, work, and learn.

At the core, creating a safe community for our students does not have anything to do with race, ethnicity or social status. It has everything to do with the basic human right to life. This year’s BE! Conference magnified the importance of a healthy relationship between governments and their citizens to create a safe place for our students to live and to learn.

The focus of BE! is to facilitate the interaction between students and adults, while providing the opportunity for student voices to be heard. Student-led workshops for other students focused on topics including college readiness, public safety and youth, combating racial profiling in the classroom, academic justice, and multicultural identity and communication.

At the adult sessions, Denver Police Chief Robert White and clinical psychologist Dr. Peggy Mitchell Clark discussed how improving relations between citizens and police and how raising awareness of mental health issues can have a positive impact on education; a community that feels safe can better support and educate its youth.

Student facilitated sessions at BE! demonstrated the willingness of youth to become involved with their education through community change. Students led and participated in discussions centering on racial identity and racialized experiences that highlighted the importance of understanding differences and the power of forgiveness as central in resolving race oriented strife.

A session about racial profiling in the classroom revealed empirical data regarding standardized testing, and the impact on college access for people from ethnically diverse communities. Participants learned how the limitations of language and monolithic values can negatively affect diverse test takers and produce unfavorable test outcomes. These findings raised awareness around standard test preparation and reform.

Throughout the student and adult sessions, relationship building emerged as a common theme vital to student success. Public safety officials need to have positive relationships with youth, with parents, and with educators so that our students feel safe.

In the adult sessions, it was apparent that Chief White and the City of Denver genuinely care about the state of affairs in education and want to understand the social context of the city they are policing.

While it was reassuring to hear Chief White’s commitment to the Denver youth in the adult session, it was the panel discussions with high school students that underscored the importance of brining youth together to discuss education and social justice. Throughout the day students indicated the value that education plays in solving social justice challenges. As students discussed high profile cases of racial violence and discussed their own, often negative interactions with police, it was clear they understand that they too, play a role in advancing social equality.

As an educator, it was uplifting for me to hear that students recognize that they need to be educated to make a difference. At the end it was clear, it is this kind of positive, knowledge based orientation towards social change that empowers our youth.

Overall, spending a day surrounded by the engagement and power at BE! highlighted the importance of listening and community dialogue. Listening to youth is a way to generate positive relationships, mutual understanding, and recognize the shared ownership in our students’ educational success. It is our goal to empower our students to take charge of their education and personal development by seeking help and resources, sharing their insights about their learning experiences, and establishing trusting relationships with adults and educators.

The BE! Conference was created as a way for CU Denver to facilitate connections with our surrounding community, and bridge relationships between the campus, community leaders, parents, and youth.

As we continue to build capacity for critical community dialogue, our goal is to establish a national platform for promoting sustainable student support networks.

In the end it is paramount that young people everywhere know that they have the right to life and education in a safe place.

Categories: Urban School News

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