As CPS prepares to start a second round of community meetings on Wednesday, hundreds of parents showed up to a community meeting Monday and voiced their opposition to school closings. Because of the large crowds being drawn for these community meetings, the one planned for Wednesday is being moved to a bigger location—House of Prayer Church of God in Christ, 3535 W. Roosevelt Road.
The parents and other supporters, including Chicago Teachers Union members, rallied against school closings at Logan Square Auditorium and then marched to the Fullerton Network meeting on closings at Armitage Baptist Church.
They represented schools from Logan Square and Belmont Cragin, as well as Near North Side schools like Jenner and Manierre. Some grew agitated when security guards would only let in meeting attendees a handful at a time, but all were eventually let inside.
On Wednesday, CPS is expected to release a list of schools that could potentially be targeted for closure.
Photos by Jonathan Gibby
ALBANY — As state exams near, education officials are growing increasingly anxious about the large swath of city students whose schooling has been interrupted this year by Hurricane Sandy and the ongoing school bus drivers’ strike.
Speaking to members of the Board of Regents at their monthly meeting today, Chancellor Merryl Tisch said she thought students with disabilities who have not been able to get to school should not have to take the state’s math and reading tests in April.
“I’m not comfortable asking this population to sit for state exams when they have missed chunks of the school year,” said Tisch, who pressed State Education Commissioner John King on the State Education Department’s authority to waive test requirements.
The city is mulling its options about how to use the test results of students with a high number of unavoidable absences, a spokeswoman said today.
One option for the most affected students could include not using their test scores in “high-stakes” ways. Typically, test scores determine whether a student is promoted to the next grade and factor heavily into school progress reports. Under the state’s teacher evaluation law, the scores will also play a significant role in how teachers are rated. But students and schools that were heavily affected by the year’s tumult might be spared the most severe consequences this year.
The end-of-year tests are designed to measure how much students have learned, but this school year was disrupted by two significant events. Schools citywide closed for at least five days after Hurricane Sandy last fall, and thousands of students living in hard-hit areas stayed out of school even longer.
Then, last month, bus drivers walked off the job in a labor dispute with the city, leaving 150,000 students — including 50,000 students with disabilities — without a way to get to school. Attendance rates for students who most rely on buses dropped by as much as 20 percentage points in January, and attendance in high-need special education schools is down 16 percent this month compared to the same time last year. In all, as many as 2,500 special education students haven’t gone to school since the strike started, according Advocates for Children.
City officials rescheduled most of the time missed because of Sandy for next week, which was originally slated to be a break. But a spokeswoman said today that the Department of Education could make additional changes because of the disruptions.
“We are aware of these concerns and plan to decide whether any adjustments are necessary after we have reviewed the data,” said Connie Pankratz, a department spokeswoman.
Many of the students who have missed school because of the bus strike do not have to take state tests because they have severe cognitive disabilities. Those students take the New York State Alternate Assessment, which relies on classroom observations and student work to measure learning.
Some districts have tried to stop high absenteeism from influencing teacher evaluations. Last year, King chastised Buffalo and its teachers union for trying to exclude the performance of chronically absent students from calculations of the value that teachers added to their students. Ultimately, he accepted a plan that lowered some performance goals in schools with many chronically absent students.
In New York City, a union official said a year ago that the city and union shared the belief that teachers should not be held accountable for the performance of chronically absent students. But a union spokesman said today that the role of attendance in teacher evaluations had not been resolved in the current round of negotiations.
Responding to Tisch’s questions, King said students are required under state law to take tests regardless of how much time they missed. He said he would leave it up the city to decide how to use the test scores in its decisions about about teachers, students, or schools.
“The city will have to make the accountability decision ultimately and they will need to adjust those decisions … consistent with their analysis of the situation,” King said.
The city Department of Education delivered a plan for how it will implement new teacher and principal evaluations to the state ahead of schedule today — but without giving state officials much of the information they asked for.
According to a memo that Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent today to the state, the city plans to spend $23 million in the next six months preparing city educators for a new evaluation system. The memo is a response to State Education Commissioner John King’s demand, made last month after the city and teachers union failed to agree on a new teacher evaluation system, that the city detail its implementation plans or lose state funds.
The plan that Walcott delivered today is broader than the highlights that city officials released last week. In addition to dealing just with teacher and administrator training about the observation model the city is planning to use to assess teachers in action, the memo also explains how city educators will learn about some components of evaluations that must be based on student performance. It also delineates different training programs for teachers, principals, department officials and attaches a price tag to each one.
But for the most part, the plan contains only the bare minimum of what city officials were told on Friday should be included in their implementation plan. In response to requests for guidance from the city, the state official overseeing review and approval of all evaluation plans, Julia Rafal-Baer, sent a chart to Chancellor Dennis Walcott with dozens of “key questions” whose answers do not appear in the plan the city submitted today.
City officials said the key questions arrived more than three weeks after King’s original request and just a week before his deadline. “We expected feedback from SED and will provide more information as requested,” an official said.
The plan contains no details, for example, about whether a city evaluation system would contain subjective measures of teacher quality other than observations; how teachers and principals who fall short would get help to improve; or how local assessments would be selected.
And in some cases, the plan does not even include the bare minimum. For example, the chart that Walcott received said the city should specify a “plan for developing SLOs in non-tested subjects.” The acronym stands for “Student Learning Objectives,” the name of the state’s required tool for evaluating student progress for teachers in grades and subjects that do not have state tests. But SLOs do not appear in the city’s document at all.
And while the memo says the city will execute the plans in accordance with union contracts, it does not say that the city has the UFT’s sign-off on using the Danielson Framework, even though schools have been practicing with the observation model for years and the union itself has trained teachers to use it. The city has to show that the union supports the rubric, according to Rafal-Baer’s chart, although it gave the city until March 1 to offer proof.
No endorsement was forthcoming from the union today, immediately after the city released its implementation plan.
“We are reviewing the DOE’s submission,” said Peter Kadushin, a union spokesman.
The union briefly called off teacher evaluation talks in December over the issue of implementation in one of several moments that led the city to miss a state deadline to adopt new evaluations. UFT President Michael Mulgrew accused the city of not providing adequate training for principals who would observe teachers under the new evaluation system, and last week, he told union members that he was not impressed by the draft plan the city had shown him, according to a teacher who heard the presentation.
Teachers will receive, on average, nearly six hours of on-the-job training on the new evaluation system. Teachers who are particularly weak or strong will get even more training, according to the memo.
According to the plan, training for principals will launch on Friday, and teacher training would follow in March. Telephone and email “help desks” will launch later this year to answer educators’ questions about teacher evaluations, according to the memo.
The funding would come in large part from state grants that are contingent on having a new teacher evaluation system in place, according to the city’s memo. Some funds are allocated already, according to department officials, but the additional state funds are necessary.
The city’s full implementation memo is below, followed by the chart that Rafal-Baer sent to Walcott on Friday.
Rep. Ray Scott was realistic about the prospects for his higher education funding bill, but he told the House State Affairs Committee that he wanted to start “a conversation” about energy jobs and about college support.
Scott’s House Bill 13-1122 would have created a two-year tax holiday for new oil and gas wells. After that holiday ended, revenue from those wells – an estimated $76 million a year – would have gone to the College Opportunity Fund, one of the accounts used to fund state colleges and universities.
“I’m under no illusions why I’m sitting here in this committee,” said Scott, referring to the fact that State Affairs is considered the “kill committee” for bills that House majority leadership doesn’t like. Not only was the bill sponsored by a minority Republican, but it would have taken energy-impact funds away from city and county governments, a powerful lobbying force at the Capitol.
After half an hour of discussion the committee’s Democratic majority met Scott’s assumption and killed the bill on a 7-4 vote.Daily roundup
Scott, a Republican businessman from Grand Junction, had told the committee that he wanted to start a conversation about both creating more jobs in the energy industry and about higher education funding. “All of us understand higher education is going to have some funding shortages in the future.” He also joked that instead of being known as the “kill committee,” State Affairs should be known as the “idea committee” and a place to discuss concepts “that are not ready for prime time.” (Get more details about the bill in this legislative staff memo.)Other college funding measures
State policymakers have been having a conversation about higher education’s funding woes for a long time, and this isn’t the first time that mineral and energy revenues have been discussed as a source for college funding.
And while Scott’s bill is off the table, other efforts to scrape together more cash for the state’s colleges and universities remain alive at the Capitol.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed a $30 million increase in state support of higher education for 2013-14. Current-year spending is about $513 million, plus $100 million for financial aid. Hickenlooper has suggested a $5 million increase for scholarships.
The legislative Joint Budget Committee, through Senate Bill 13-090, is proposing a $9.3 million mid-year boost for colleges. Several colleges lobbied that committee for the increase. The bill passed the House Monday and is on its way to the governor.
A Democratic bill to impose a permanent sales tax on cigarettes was amended – as the suggestion of Republicans – so that the additional revenues would flow to the College Opportunity Fund. That would raise an estimated $26.5 million in 2013-14. House Bill 13-1144 passed the House last week and is pending in the Senate Finance Committee.
Republicans like Scott aren’t the only ones who have eyed energy revenues as a funding source for higher education. Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter was a leading proponent of an unsuccessful 2008 ballot measure that would have increased mineral severance taxes to raise more than $320 million a year for college scholarships.
The Degree Dividend, a 2010 state report on the future of the higher education system, calculated that annual state support of $1.5 billion was needed to make the state system competitive with those in other states.
The State Affairs Committee’s long afternoon of killing Republican-sponsored bills also included two measures that would have affected union membership and rights.
House Bill 13-1106, a “right to work” measure, would have banned employers from requiring employee membership in unions or the payment of union dues or any fees in lieu of dues.
House Bill 13-1107 would have prohibited collective bargaining by public employee groups, including teachers unions in local districts.
The committee action brings to five the total of such bills that have been defeated this session.
Unions, of course, are a political dividing line between Republicans and Democrats. Labor organizations, including the Colorado Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are significant contributors to Democratic campaigns. Business groups that often back Republicans argue that right-to-work and similar laws foster economic development by attracting new businesses.
Related bills already killed in the Senate include Senate Bill 13-017, which would have allowed employees to join or resign from unions at any time; Senate Bill 13-024, a right-to-work measure, and Senate Bill 13-141, a variation of Senate Bill 13-017.
The full House Monday gave final approval to two measures primarily related to high school athletics.
House Bill 13-1047 would give school districts control over assignment of out-of-district students who want to participate in extracurricular activities – primarily athletics – that aren’t available in the students’ home districts.
House Bill 13-1095 would forbid districts from requiring home-schooled students to take classes as a condition for participating in some extracurricular activities, again such as athletics. Students could be required to take classes in cases where a class is formally tied to an activity, such as band.
Facing mounting criticism for paying insiders with state construction grant money, United Neighborhood Organization CEO Juan Rangel said Sunday the charter school network would at least temporarily stop doing business with a brother of UNO’s No. 2 executive, according to the Sun-Times.
SAVING A SCHOOL: Parents of students at Brentano Elementary Math and Science Academy in Logan Square knocked on doors and collected signatures in an effort to keep their school open. The parents don't know if the school will be among those targeted for closing when Chicago Public Schools releases its final list in March. But they've decided not to wait, creating one of the best-organized fronts in a battle being waged across the city by parents trying to save their local schools. (Tribune)
INVESTING IN BAM: Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday he is tripling the city’s investment in a mentoring program for at-risk boys. The program, called Becoming a Man, includes tutoring, mentoring, character development and counseling sessions that take place at schools and are provided by the nonprofit Youth Guidance. (WBEZ)
TURKEY BOLOGNA AND A FRESH APPLE: Chicago Public Schools are now releasing school menus each month. Here's an example of what's being served in schools in the southwest neighborhoods, thanks to the Sun-Times Community Network.
IN THE NATION
RHEE-FORM: Former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and a self-titled “radical” reformer for education has been making the rounds lately to discuss her views on education and advocate for standardized testing as a basis for evaluation. Watch video clips of her recent interviews on "NOW with Alex Wagner" and "The Daily Show." (MSNBC)
ACADEMICS AND ACCOUNTABILITY: As Congress contemplates rewriting No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s signature education law, legislators will tussle over a vision of how the federal government should hold states and schools accountable for students’ academic progress. (The New York Times)
Alongside the growing emphasis on student fitness and nutrition Colorado is seeing efforts to help teachers, principals and other district staff slim down, de-stress and take other steps to prevent health problems before they start.
The Poudre School District in Fort Collins is planning to open a free health clinic for employees by next fall. Denver Public Schools recently hired a full-time staff wellness coordinator to help launch a new program that includes a comprehensive staff wellness website, a wellness contest and a series of health–focused seminars. In the Englewood schools, employees have access to free yoga and exercise classes, biometric screenings, flu shots and pedometers to track their daily steps.
All these efforts aim to encourage healthy habits in employees, giving them no- or low-cost fitness options, preventive care and health education opportunities at convenient times and locations. The hope is to create healthier employees, reduce absenteeism and contain health care costs.
“Healthier employees, happier employees, more productive employees. Those things all go hand in hand,” said Tiffany Breeding, the new staff wellness coordinator for DPS.
Worksite wellness has been around for years in corporate settings, but it hasn’t been a priority in many school districts. That’s changed over the last few years in part because an emphasis on improving student health also has raised awareness about the health of the adults.
“You can’t teach a child to be healthy if you’re not doing it yourself,” said Kate Logan, a fifth-grade teacher at Palmer Elementary School in Denver.
Logan started working out with personal trainers at one of the district’s eight “Sound Body Sound Mind” fitness centers last spring. These days, she’s aiming to lose 15 pounds and compete in an Olympic-length triathlon. Logan, who also has participated in a pedometer program and plans to check out the new staff wellness web site, said she thinks the district’s continued focus on employee wellness is a positive step.
“I think oftentimes it’s too easy to get caught up in our work…People can lose sight of themselves,” she said.Wellness program vary
While many districts now offer at least some staff wellness activities, the size and scope range widely. Some districts provide a few on-site Zumba classes or designate an hour of staff-only time in the high school weight room. Others, often with grant funding or sponsorships from their health insurance companies, provide a wide array of highly-coordinated wellness activities.
Corina Lindley, senior community health manager for Kaiser Permanente, said the company is currently working to create more wellness opportunities for schools. She said many worksite wellness programs have catered to office workers who sit at desks all day, but teachers and other district staff don’t fit that profile and have different needs.
“We’re really pushing more energy into this,” she said.
Kaiser, which insures employees in 83 Colorado districts, has contributed funding for wellness efforts underway in DPS and Englewood. Cigna, which insures some DPS employees, has also provided funding for wellness projects in that district.
Worksite wellness resources
Lisa Walvoord, vice president for policy at LiveWell Colorado, said effective school district wellness programs require leadership, strong communication with district staff and ample opportunities for employees to participate. In addition, while a designated champion can often help launch wellness efforts, she said written policies establish long-term expectations.
LiveWell often focuses on small, low-cost wellness measures, such as better signage to encourage employees to use the stairs or healthy party policies for staff.
That said, Walvoord noted that the more comprehensive a wellness program is, the higher the impact.Aiming high
Ashley Schwader, Poudre’s wellness coordinator, said she believes the planned staff clinic will be one of the first of its kind in the state.
“It’s definitely very innovative and new,” she said.
Schwader said the focus will be on ensuring the district’s 3,500 employees have timely access to health care with no associated costs, including no co-pays.
In the Englewood schools, staff wellness efforts have ramped up in the last couple years, said Dale Lumpa, who serves half-time as the district’s wellness coordinator and half-time as a physical education teacher at Charles Hay World School.
In addition to fitness classes and health screenings, the district has updated its wellness web page, created a staff newsletter and enlisted “super champions” to promote wellness activities and answer employee questions.
“We really want one of the best wellness programs in the country. That’s our goal,” said Lumpa.
Craig Ferguson, principal at Charles Hay, takes on-site yoga classes after school twice a week, and in January got one of the free biometric screenings offered at the school by Kaiser Permanente.
He said the district’s focus on wellness has permeated school culture. For example, instead of convening for happy hour cocktails on a recent Friday evening, school staff went to Jump Street and bounced around on trampolines. Another time, during a break from an all-day training, teachers played kickball outside.
Ferguson said it’s not just the fit and active employees who are getting involved.
“You definitely see teachers taking walks during lunch that may not have been doing that before.”
Ensuring staff participation in wellness activities is an even bigger challenge in the 14,000-employee Denver Public Schools, where “The you revolution” wellness program launched last month.
Breeding , the staff wellness coordinator, said she will be thrilled if 1,000 employees participate in the upcoming three-month wellness challenge, which will award employees points for activities ranging from running a 5K race to visiting their primary care doctors.
By the third year of the program, Breeding hopes to provide a full lineup of activities and see frequent use of the staff wellness portal. There, employees can fill out health screenings, use a nutrition tracking program, log steps tracked by pedometers, accrue points in wellness challenges, look up doctors and keep track of upcoming wellness classes and fitness activities.
At that point, she said she’ll ask, “Are we seeing outcomes and the needle moving on health care costs?”
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, believes rather than fixing urban districts, they should be dismantled and rebuilt. He shared his ideas at Friday’s Hot Lunch series sponsored by the Donnell-Kay Foundation.
But these principles can be operationalized in countless ways. How we bring them to life is up to us. A good analogy is democracy. That too is a set of principles: suffrage for all adults; one person, one vote; secret ballots; and fair counting of results.
But it can take many forms. In the U.S., we elect a president and Congress separately. In the United Kingdom, the prime minister is part of their legislature.
The problem with urban public education is that we have been led to believe that there is but one real way to deliver public schooling: the district. In fact, many people believe that “the district” and “public education” are synonymous.
But they are not. The district is just one way to deliver public education.
We can do something different. We can protect the priceless principles of public education while ridding ourselves of this delivery system.
But it’s more than “can.” It is “must.”
The traditional urban school district is broken.
It cannot be fixed.
It must be replaced.
In the early 1960s, we realized something was terribly wrong with the outcomes of our urban districts. President Lyndon B. Johnson made fixing inner-city schools a focal point of the Great Society. The Coleman Report, commissioned in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, found that our urban schools were unable to compensate for out-of-school factors, such as parental education and poverty – meaning that a child’s demographics were predicting her future.
And so for 50 years, we’ve tried to fix the urban district.
We’ve tried increasing funding. Since 1965, Title I has sent about $400 billion to low-income schools. The federal government has also created countless other programs. Local districts greatly increased their spending. State legislatures increased funding even more. More money came from philanthropic contributions.
We’ve tried accountability. We’ve measured and publicized the performance of urban districts for ages now. Minimum competency testing in the 1970s then standardized states tests in 1980s and 90s. It reached its pinnacle with NCLB in the 2000s.
We’ve tried competition via inter-district choice, charters, tax credits, scholarships, and more. In many cities, a quarter, a third, in some approach half of students are choosing non-district schools.
We’ve tried human-capital strategies. We’ve tried different types of superintendents. We’ve had Teach for America and TNTP provide new teachers and a wide assortment of supports. We’ve had countless principal training programs.
We’ve tried interventions. Some states took over urban districts. More took over failing urban schools. NCLB forced states to put failing districts on improvement plans. Restructuring forced these districts to seriously intervene in their lowest performing schools. SIG has provided billions to urban districts to implement serious reforms.
The list of school interventions is jaw-dropping: needs assessments, staff surveys, conferences, professional development, turnaround specialists, school-improvement committees, training sessions, principal mentors, teacher coaches, leadership facilitators, instructional trainers, subject-matter experts, audits, summer residential academies, tutoring, research-based reform models, reconfigured grade spans, alternative governance models, new curricula, improved use of data – and it goes on.
What do we have to show for 50 years worth of these efforts?
After a half-century of work, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NAEP), most large urban districts struggle to get 15 or 20 percent of their eight-graders reading proficiently. Even supposedly stellar urban districts – winners of the Broad Prize – have the most dismal performance.
Those who know the urban district the best agree with my grim assessment. For example, the recently departed superintendents of Philadelphia and Chicago both left their positions saying that the district is broken.
But is there an alternative?
Yes, and it’s at our fingertips.
The traditional urban school district is broken.
It cannot be fixed.
But it can be replaced.About the author
Andy Smarick is a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. He most recently served as deputy commissioner of education in New Jersey where he helped lead initiatives including Race to the Top 3 applications, the launching of new teacher evaluations and an overhaul of the department’s charter school authorizing.
Agitated City Council members spent more than two hours today grilling Chancellor Dennis Walcott about the city’s refusal to restore job protections for school bus drivers or intervene in their nearly monthlong strike.
The hearing took place more than three weeks into the strike on a day when many families’ tenuous transportation plans were complicated by the start of a snowstorm. Attendance in schools for students with disabilities, which have been hardest-hit by the strike, fell from 76 percent on Thursday to just 50 percent today.
Maria Uruchima, whose nightmarish commute includes 8 buses and 4 trains, said her son wasn’t feeling well, “so I just kept him home because it’s going to be crazy out anyways.”
Even before the inclement weather, at least 2,500 students who attend schools in District 75, which serve special education students with the highest needs, “were still home,” Maggie Moroff, Special Education Policy Coordinator at Advocates for Children, said in her prepared remarks. For students that made it to school, Moroff said parents sacrificed hours of their work days to get them there and many students arrived late anyway.
The plight of students and families came up occasionally, but the hearing centered more on the ongoing labor dispute between Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the city and the School Bus Coalition, which was absent. The stated purpose of the hearing was “the costs of student transportation,” but that got short shrift as well.
In his testimony, Walcott didn’t say much about transportation costs that the city faced, something that irked council officials who organized the hearing. The one dollar figure that Walcott did cite was the $95 million that the city expected to save from new five-year contracts for prekindergarten busing. Those contracts did not include seniority protections for bus drivers.
School transportation will cost the city $1.1 billion this year, according to the Comptroller’s office, and increase to $1.3 billion by 2014, according to the council, which had asked the education department to come with a prepared breakdown of how that money was spent.
The costs were relevant, Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson said in his opening remarks, because the city has often cited the high costs of bus transportation for why it needs to seek new and cheaper contracts.
“We’ve all read and heard lots of heated rhetoric and half-truths, claims and counterclaims about the cost of busing in New York City, and now it’s time for a reality check,” Jackson said. More than half of that amount is reimbursed by the state, a fact that Jackson said was not mentioned by Mayor Bloomberg during his many press conferences on the issue.
Later in the questioning, officials confirmed some the per-pupil cost breakdowns. Eric Goldstein, Chief Executive Officer of the Office of School Support Services said the city spent an average of $6,900 per pupil on transportation — $2800 on general education students and $12,800 on students with special needs.
Jackson led the charge of criticism of Walcott. He accused Walcott of misleading the council on the city’s true intentions behind the labor conflict, suggesting he was either ignorant of the issues facing students, families and bus drivers in the strike, or he’s more nefarious than that.
“You’re like an ostrich with his head in the sand not willing to come out and deal with reality,” said Jackson, nearing the end of Walcott’s lengthy testimony, which once escalated into a tense exchange with a confrontational council member.
“I don’t know whether or not it’s about money, chancellor,” Jackson added. “I’m wondering whether or not this is about the Bloomberg Administration willing to attempt to try to break the back of the union.”
In response, the overflow room about 20 feet down the hallway, packed mostly with striking bus drivers, erupted in applause.
Walcott disputed the claim, saying that the city was getting rid of seniority-based job protections for its upcoming contract bidding process because they were legally obligated and to save money.
“We are not trying to break the union, as I’ve said over and over again,” Walcott said. “The union will still be in place even with the new bids.”
Walcott was defensive but remained even-tempered for most the of hearing. The exception came in response to questioning from Councilwoman Letitia James, a candidate for Public Advocate who repeatedly asked — and interrupted to answer herself — Walcott about the city’s interpretation of a 2011 court decision that he said justifies withholding job protections.
“You can come to the panel meetings and act out,” Walcott said, referring to the contentious Panel for Educational Policy meetings. “I’m not going to take it here.”
This week, commenters debated whether attendance should count in middle school admissions, students should spend school days in Albany, and new academic standards for student athletes will help or hurt students and schools.
A Remainders link to a parent and child psychologist’s article on why school attendance shouldn’t be used to screen students for selective middle and high schools sparked a conversation about what role attendance plays in academic performance and whose responsibility it is to get students to school.
A.S. Neill also wrote in favor of taking absences into account, arguing that they pose problems for individual students and for their schools:
Whatever the reasons for excessive absences in elementary school, by middle and high school, these students become problems for schools both because it lowers their rating scores, and they require extraordinary efforts to correct the deficiencies in their lagging education, often unsuccessful. As such, they pose difficulties for other students in the classroom as well, which is why parents know to try to get their kids in schools where the “good” students are.
Guest argued that attendance provides valuable data, and not only for middle-school admissions:
Psychologists might say that, but any teacher with five days or more experience will tell you that attendance is the most important piece of data we have on a kid. Can almost single handed predict failure. Yet another piece of data not included in any value added or growth measure.
Kitchen Sink shifted the debate to the question of who’s responsible for getting kids to school:
Hello? Does anyone out there think that SCHOOLS have a role in setting expectations for attendance?
This problem is the fault of the school system AND the families.
Whatever the poverty-related issues, the fact that our school system does nothing systematically to raise and address these concerns is a missing part of the tragedy.
The answer is to tackle the problem with the force multiplier of using every angle: schools holding families accountable, schools building institutional trust with families, social service agencies providing wraparound support, broad goal setting with specific outcomes and resources on the city and district/region/network level, creative thinking with new solutions like the celebrity marketing/wake up call ideas and vouchers for taxi rides in specific circumstances, expanded child care opportunities for families in need, and ACS taking educational neglect seriously.
A debate about academics versus other activites also took center stage stage in readers’ responses to a story about the announcement of stringent academic and attendance standards for the 40,000 students who play school sports citywide. (After Boys and Girls High School toughened its academic requirements for student-athletes in 2011, its championship mens basketball team benched seven players and exited the state tournament in its first round.)
Several readers asked whether the new standards would push athletes to excel in classes or walk out on school altogether.
Students Are Not Widgets wrote:
I’m all for closing the achievement gap and accountability but what about the student athletes that legitimately work hard and struggle in their classes and may need 5 years to graduate? So now these students should be punished and not allowed to excel in athletics? Maybe athletics is the one thing motivating the student to stay engaged in learning and removing it will lead to more drop outs.
Ellen raised the question of how the new standards will affect students with special needs.
The students who play and have IEPs may not be on track to graduate in 4 years, not because of failure but because of a course load that often includes resource rooms, OT and PT as well as therapy for students with hearing losses, etc. In light of the new directive from OCR on access to team sports PSAL needs to make reasonable accommodations on the new standards.
Finally, JuggleandHope wondered if the new standards could improve academics beyond simply requiring athletes to exceed a certain cut-off.
Maybe there will be enough concern for academically-weak and athletically-strong students that we will see the development of effective education practices that could be scaled to other students. Teachers could say, “Let’s do for her what we do for our star point guard.”
The candidates for a vacant seat on the Denver school board were put through lengthy questioning Thursday by the board, answering queries about the ideological split on the board, meeting the needs of English Language Learners and what programs best build critical thinking skills in students.
The series of interviews lasted nearly eight hours.
The vacant seat represents District 4, an expansive area that covers 15 distinct neighborhoods and 57 schools, from Stapleton to Five Points. Nate Easley recently resigned the seat to take over as head of the Denver Scholarship Foundation. The new member is expected to be the swing vote on a board divided over the district’s direction. A community forum featuring these candidates will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Smiley Middle School, 2540 Holly St.
Here are snapshots of the thoughts shared by each candidate.Mary Sam laments failing schools
Mary Sam, a longtime and active force in DPS issues – first as a teacher now as citizen, said she remains most concerned about the dismal achievement results at many schools in District 4. She lamented the state of affairs at Montbello High School, her alma mater. The school ranks “red,” or accredited on probation - the lowest rating - in the district’s School Performance Framework.
On the changing ethnic make-up of Northeast part of the city, she pointed out that she lives in the community and taught there.Learn about the other finalists
“Since I have taught and live with all those populations, I kind of know what’s going on in schools. I know about issues around kids who don’t speak English and what they need.”
Sam said she would work hard to involve stakeholders in key decisions, and if she believed the district should go in a different direction than the community wanted, she would “try to change their minds.” But if she didn’t succeed, she said she would do what community members wanted.
She did point out that the redeveloped Stapleton neighborhood, filled with urban professionals, is “pretty good lobbying for itself.” Still, she said she would include the entire community in her decisions.
“I would not leave them out of my advocacy. I believe every child has the right to grade level skills. That’s the bottom line.”
Interestingly, Sam said she would not run for re-election in November. So if the board chose her, she would effectively be an interim board member. Most of the other board candidates said they would put their names on the ballot in November.
Board member Andrea Merida asked her about social promotion. Sam said parents need more information about how their kids are really doing so the best decisions can be made for kids and families. Students may need tutors, smaller class sizes or even to be held back so that they can catch up.
“Right now parents don’t know their kids are below grade level. Teachers are afraid to tell them that. As teachers our duty is to let parents know where are kids are. I do believe in retention, and I take a lot of flack for that.”
In closing, Sam said she was “old-fashioned” and still valued textbooks, quality, classically trained teachers and a “good, strong curriculum,” and that she didn’t “hate” charter schools but that in her conversations with parents, that’s not what they are asking for.
Lisa Roy, executive director of the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation, said she was honored to make the short list for the seat.
“I feel this opportunity to serve on the school board is something I would have not have possibly dreamed of before. It wasn’t on my list of things to do before I died. But the opportunity came up. I am passionate about education, I am passionate about Denver and Denver’s kids. I am a community-oriented person.”
As for her philosophy on board governance, Roy said she would make decisions based on “defined expectations” and use data to make budget decisions. She said all decisions would be guided by her desire to “put the needs of students first.”
Roy said Denver needs to start striving to become a “world-class district” and not just compare itself to other Colorado districts.
“Too many times we’re comparing ourselves to a mediocre standard when we have to prepare our students to compete in the world,” she said. “We can’t just keep our kids at what we think is a high standard.”
As far as the top three challenges faced by schools in the NE, she talked about the need for higher expectations districtwide. She acknowledged, though, that some students – such as homeless students – need a range of wraparound services.
“I believe that parents, teachers and students themselves have to have high expectations for kids.”
She said she was concerned about collocating two very different schools, with different philosophies and outcomes, in one building.
“That’s one thing that’s disturbed me,” Roy said, mentioning Smiley Middle School, which shares a building with Venture Prep Charter School. “I don’t want to have a school within a school. I don’t want a school that serves one set of students one way, (and another set of students) another way.”
Yet Roy did seem to be a proponent of school choice.
“Parents want the best for their kids, and they trust folks who are in education to give them what they think they are supposed to have,” she said. “Kids learn at different rates and in different ways. We need to connect kids to the schools that work best for them.”
As for the ideological divide on the school board over charter schools and other reform strategies, Roy pointed out that she has a master’s degree in counseling.
“The answers lie within ourselves. My goal for us is to work on a common goal…It’s sort of like a family. I don’t take sides. I listen to every perspective. I’m going to do what’s best for the kids, and I believe you all have the same mission.”
As for meeting the needs of English Language Learners, Roy said the Spanish language should be embraced by students across the district.
“Dual language is so critical. We are one of the few countries where we think it’s inappropriate to speak two languages … Colorado in general has not embraced dual language learning as much as it could.”
Board member Jeannie Kaplan question Roy about her job and a possible conflict of interest.
Sean Bradley, national director of legislative affairs for the American Federation for Children, lives in Green Valley Ranch.
Before working for the AFC, he was the director of governmental affairs at the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
But he didn’t emphasize school reform, choice or charters in his comments. He focused on his passion to ensure that all students graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. And he said he supported teachers’ unions, pointing out that many of his family members were members of labor groups.
“Our kids in (Northeast) Denver need an objective leader to stand for them regardless of costs. It is not my responsibility to protect the adults in the room. I want to provide the best opportunity for students.”
Bradley said he believed parents choose schools for three reasons: safety, convenience and high academic performance. He said his job on the board would be to provide all three. He also highlighted the need for the district to do a better job with special needs children.
“The pipeline to prison is a serious matter,” he said. “We just don’t have time to wait any longer.”
Bradley said he’s visited 15 schools in the NE over the past couple weeks and talked to many community leaders and constituents. If named to the board, he said outreach would be a primary goal.
Bradley said that too many schools in the NE are facing challenges with their turnaround plans. He said schools ranked red in the School Performance Framework need to get to blue or green.
“We need to be careful when we are closing schools and when we’re making decisions,” he said. “We can’t send students from one failing school to another.”
Bradley also pointed out that people of color in the NE distrust the school board and the district.
“My job – if and when I’m up there with you - will be to help cultivate that trust, help them understand (the board) can be an ally for them, an advocate.”
Bradley said he believed the biggest challenge in the district is that “our kids aren’t learning fast enough.”
“The district is working hard to catch up with the demands of our students, but we’re just too far behind,” he said. “People in my community just don’t know what’s going on here. “
Bradley said he has many ideas about closing the achievement gap – one of them involves hiring and retaining the highest quality teachers. To that end, he suggested changing rules so that retired teachers with lots of experience can be brought back into schools. He also said communication needs to be improved between homes and schools for people who speak different languages.
He said as a black male professional, he would be a good role model for students – especially in schools where the only black males students see might be security guards.
Kaplan questioned him about a disparity she saw between his resume and work on school reform initiatives and what he was telling the board.
“Reading your resume is telling me one thing but what I’m hearing you say is completely different,” said Kaplan, pointing out Bradley’s work with the League of Charter Schools.
“You worked for a lobbying association that is very much on one side of this philosophical divide.”
Bradley, though, said he would make decisions independently while acknowledging his “strong education reform roots.”
”It’s what I do for a living, it’s what I’m passionate about, but I’m also mindful and very respectful and very open to doing all we can to maintain our traditional public schools in our neighborhoods.”
Board member Arturo Jimenez asked him about vouchers.
“Colorado has been very clear about vouchers. Douglas County is going through a lawsuit right now.”
Fred Franko, of Park Hill and founder and director of the non-profit Colorado Out-of-School-Time Network,said he would bring a thoughtful, analytical, mission-focused, and outcomes-focused perspective to the board.
He said he is “not confrontational.”
He said he believes every child should have an individual education plan to make sure each child’s particular learning needs are met. And, he said every school in the district should be an “innovation school.”
“We have to prepare children not just for school, but lifelong learning,” Franko said, singling out that students need help with study skills and financial literacy.
Ultimately the goal of the district is “not just accountability but success.”
Franko said board members need to operate under clearly articulated processes and be honest and open with community members and each other.
He said he views the most pressing issues facing DPS as high drop-out rates and low graduation rates, especially for male students of color.
“That is a starting point. We need to focus on moving the needle there.”
He said he also believes the district could do more around school readiness initiatives, including meeting the social and emotional needs of children.
Franko also advocated for more professional development for teachers.
On the achievement gap in the district, Franko said quality preschool, after-school and summer programs are essential. As for as programs that build critical thinking skills in students, Franko said he was a fan of “project-based learning.”
“I am very much a believer in that. … There is also the potential of blended learning in the classroom.”
Merida asked about what the primary needs of the Latino community in NE Denver are.
Landri Taylor, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, talked passionately about supporting kids and making sure they know somebody loves them and is looking out for them.
On the pending federal court decree that, when approved, will guide Denver’s efforts to meet the learning needs of English language learners, he said it serves “as a template.”
“It serves as a role model across the country,” he said. “It gives broader input for parents, a better role for teachers to understand, increases teachers that have to implement any of this policy.”
Taylor did say it’s essential that the teachers have the training they need to effectively implement the requirements of the decree.
He also stressed the importance of instilling critical thinking skills in students.
Taylor said he comes from a family of teachers, including his mother, sister and brother and that inquiry-based learning was integral to their lives.
Asked about student engagement, Taylor said that is one of his core passions. That is why he brought a program called Kids Vote to Colorado and to DPS years ago.
Merida asked him about best practices for stopping bullying and promoting safe school climates and whether he supported the district’s “positive behavior system.”
“Positive behavior can’t be talked down, it has to come from a peer group,” Taylor said. “You have to give the opportunity (to students) to know they are going to govern themselves.”
Taylor also said he endorsed anti-bullying strategies and programs developed by the Anti-Defamation League.
As far as challenges in the NE, Taylor, who was a critical force in the Far NE school turnaround plan, said the district has had “some great, great successes.” He said parents are more engaged than they have been in years in the schools.
“We’re on the right pathway,” he said.
However, he said the biggest challenge remained developing high-performing school leaders.
Board member Happy Haynes asked how much control individual schools should have over their budgets, hiring and schedules.
“You can’t create a bureaucracy when it comes to hiring and budgets. I believe in local control and local accountability. But you have to make sure standards and guidelines are there.”
The bottom line is that kids need to be “put in an environment that raises expectations of what we want them to achieve.”
“We have to put that responsibility on our principals, and make sure we have given them the tools to be great leaders so they can make decisions in a quick, transparent way.”
Kaplan asked him to cite examples of academic success in the Far NE.
Taylor talked about his work mentoring students at Collegiate Prep and how students there have changed in recent years.
“Students now want to achieve, and desire to achieve. They’re moving their growth at a level I have not seen before.” He said the same thing is happening in the learning center at Montbello High School.
“You don’t see adults or kids standing around them, they are working.”
Jimenez asked him how he would connect with Latino constituents.
Taylor said he was a “product of the civil rights era” and that he also made sure Hispanic contractors were part of the building project at Stapleton, where he worked as vice president of community affairs for the developer, Forest City Enterprises.
Antwan Jefferson, a former English teacher at Montbello, moved to Colorado from Virginia about a decade ago. His wife is dean of a school. Both are committing to having an impact on students, families and communities.
Jefferson said parents are often most concerned about their own child’s needs, but that he would work to ensure that people are thinking of the big picture needs that a school district must address.
He said one of the top challenges in the Far NE is varying levels of community involvement in the schools. He, too, said there is a lot of distrust of the district by people in District 4.
“I would work to engage the community in ways that make sense, not just community meetings at school,” Jefferson said, pointing out that meetings at churches or other locations might make more sense.
Further, he said inequity in terms of access to resources remains a major issue for the district.
“Expectations seem to be inconsistent. Not just from adults, but from students themselves.”
As far as the ideological divide on the school board, Jefferson said, “I don’t have an interest in changing ideologies.” He did say it was critical for anyone serving on the board to keep “the education and wellbeing of the children at the core.”
“My personal ideology cannot trump the voices of the community. That’s just wrong. My job is to represent.”
He said the biggest challenge facing DPS as a whole is that “it doesn’t work well for all students.”
He said linguistically diverse students and others “have a hard time.” He said it’s critical that teaching colleges start training future educators how to work in diverse communities by having field work in those communities – and not just in schools.
Jefferson was pointed in his response as to why an achievement gap exists.
“Part of the reason it exists is because education is horrible.”
He said the way success is measured is not consistent with the “endeavor of education.” He said there’s a difference between “education” and “schooling.”
Merida asked him what he knew about the Latino community in Montbello that others may not know.
“I don’t know if I feel qualified to answer that. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. Latino students in Montbello are not all the same. They have varied backgrounds….The Latino students I know want to be educated well, and want to feel the work is relevant to them.”
Jimenez asked him about his views regarding charter schools.
“Ambition works. Creative ideas work,” he said, noting that he’s been impressed by the community building he’s seen at some charter schools.
But he said charter schools should not be allowed to filter applicants.
“I don’t mind an application process so long as it’s not used to screen. I think that’s discriminatory.”
He also said charters should come from the community – not be “imposed” on communities by outside forces.
MiDian Holmes, the Denver head of the school reform group Stand for Children, said she wanted to run because of her own personal experiences after graduating from DPS.
She recalled one interviewer for a job expressing shock that she was so articulate.
“You shouldn’t have to be faced with that type of ridicule,” Holmes said. “I’m a hard-worker. I graduated third in my class.”
Holmes said the district needs to be focused on students “above all else.”
She said the top challenges in the Northeast are funding, school assessment, academic growth and college readiness.
Holmes said the district needs to do a better job building a “benchmark” for schools.
“Our schools are yearning for a systemic approach.”
She, too, described a lack of community engagement as a problem and cited the ongoing lack of trust between residents and the district.
“(The board) needs to effectively engage the community to make them feel greater ownership over their schools. At the same time, I understand urgency. It’s my duty to engage in strategic communication with my constituents. There is no way I could do this alone.”
As for the achievement gap, she said it’s “heartbreaking but not hopeless.”
“Schools in the district are not creating a quality learning environment. Until every child has access to high-performing teachers and curricula, the gap will continue to grow.”
She said there’s a need for “targeted professional support.”
Merida asked whether her work for Stand would taint her decisions if chosen to serve on the board.
“I’m a believer in public education, period. There are a lot of different avenues that will get us there. I support the modified consent degree and all facets of it.”
She said her affiliation with Stand actually brought her in closer contact with Latino parents.
Kaplan remained concerned.
“Stand (for Children) is a very politically divisive organization. You talked about asserting your independence. I want to know how that will play out.”
Holmes pledged to think independently and make her own decisions.
“Even in my affiliation with Stand I’ve been independent. I haven’t been a puppet. You have to be able to take a stand. You have to come to the table with a valid voice and that voice has to be your own.”Hansen aims to close “opportunity gap”
Taggart Hansen, an East High alum, chief counsel for labor and employment for CH2M Hill and a former educator, said he wanted to be on the board to expand the number of high-performing schools, ensure schools provide a safe and secure environment and close the “opportunity gap.”
He said a child’s zip code, race or language can’t determine that person’s “destiny.”
“We need to ensure a quality curriculum and have high performance standards.”
He said the board needs to “set the vision, set the direction of the district, and also set the tone at the top, ‘Does the decision I’m about to make give every child an opportunity to obtain a high quality, excellent education?’”
He said he tends to make decisions based on data and available information rather than ideology.
Hansen said the main challenge facing the district is “sustaining the progress DPS has made.” He added that if the progress is “not sustained, it quickly falls back.”
While expressing support for the current reforms underway in the NE, he said the district must be “cognizant of the community” when it makes sweeping changes.
He said it’s the school board’s responsibility to remove any barriers to access and expand choice, “real choice, in every neighborhood.”
He said the district must make sure traditional, charter and innovation schools are of a high quality and schools need to be held accountable “at all levels.”
On the consent decree, Hansen said “language should never mean a barrier to educational success.”
“We need to tackle it,” Hansen said. “If this board doesn’t faithfully implement (the consent decree) it’s not going to do any good.”
He also touted the importance of art and music, saying those are subjects that most help students in the real world and develop critical thinking skills – yet they’re too often first on the chopping block when budgets dip.
On dealing with controversial decisions, he said, “turmoil is going to be part of any change – particularly when you are dealing with very complicated issues.” Still, he said board members need to stand up for what’s right.
“Too often (people) haven’t had the backbone to say, ‘Yes here, yes now and here’s why.’”
“You have to help explain to people so they understand that perspective.”
Additionally, Hansen described school finance as “the next great civil rights issue.”
Vernon Jones, Jr., assistant principal at Manual High School, would bring a voice from the trenches to the board. However, while a district employee can run for a board seat, he will have to choose board service or his job if selected, according to district policy.
But Jones said since the district “innovates” on all other school issues, it should “innovate” its policies to consider a staff member’s ability to sit on the board.
Jones’ primary issue and concern is that the district’s policies guide “great practice.”
He said board members need to commit to reading all material and documents before them, not just scanning documents only minutes before a meeting.
“This is serious business,” he said. “We need to be learning constantly as a board. We need to make sure we are listening to our community. We can’t do this in a bubble. We can’t say we’re high and mighty because we’re sitting behind this dais.”
He said the board needs to make tough decisions – even decisions Superintendent Tom Boasberg may not agree with.
Jones lamented a trend of high turnover among teachers and leaders in struggling schools in his community.
“We need to make sure good leaders are there for the long haul,” Jones said. “We need to have teachers who want to teach – not people exploring whether they want to teach.”
Funding needs to target the district’s needs, he said. “We need to make sure more money is in the hands of the school than there is in the central office.”
He said the biggest challenge is the slow pace of change.
“We are tranquilized by gradualism. We celebrate small steps too often when the steps we need to take are much bigger. Dr. (Martin Luther) King said, ‘Why do we have to wait?’”
Jones also said the district needs a clearer vision and mission. “I do believe as a district we chase money too much. We chase whatever the latest grant is of the day. I think that’s because we don’t have a vision as a district.”
In terms of the achievement gap he said it’s the “district’s job to eliminate it.”
“The achievement gap exists because the system is ultimately the same system.., things have not changed as much as we think they have. We expect different results and keep doing the same thing.”
A month ago, administrators at William E. Grady Career and Technical High School had no reason to think the school’s after-school and enrichment offerings were at risk.
A year after getting the surprising news that the city would try to close the school, nine months after learning that the closure plan was off, and five months after reopening with a dramatically reduced student body and budget, the school was finally back on firm footing.
Administrators expected a new round of funding for extra services to kick in this fall. Since 2008, the school has offered after-school programs with the support of a state 21st Century Community Learning Center grant secured through a partnership with Good Shepherd Services, a youth and family development agency.
But last week, the school learned that in the next round of the grant, Good Shepherd wouldn’t be working with Grady, and the funding — at least $150,000 a year according to Good Shepherd — would no longer flow. The news came too late for the school to sign on to a different organization’s grant application.
Exactly why the news came as a surprise is not clear. Assistant Principal Jodi Infantolino said Good Shepherd’s on-site employees had told her they planned to stay on, and Principal Geraldine Maione said no one at the organization had communicated otherwise. But officials at Good Shepherd said they always knew they would not be able to work with as many schools in the grant’s next round — with the maximum funding reduced, the group would be able to apply for the grant in partnership with only six schools.
The bottom line is that after Jan. 14, Grady wasn’t part of Good Shepherd’s grant application, and it was too late for Maione to partner instead with the other two groups that had asked her to sign on with them.
Now, the school will have to figure out some other way to pay for the services — which administrators said had helped propel it from a D to a B two years ago — or go without them. It is the latest in a series of losses that began when the school’ federal school improvement funds vanished because of the city’s dispute with the teachers union; continued when enrollment dropped sharply; and compounded when Hurricane Sandy flooded the building last fall.
While Grady has faced a particularly tough series of blows, the episode highlights the challenge of using partnerships to pay for essential school services, something that schools have always done but that Chancellor Dennis Walcott recently urged them to do more often.
“What this is an example of is significant cuts to after-school funding, there not being enough money to go around, and organizations having to make really bad choices,” said Amy Cohen, who oversees government contracts and program development at Good Shepherd Services. “The process is very, very complex, and the rules changed in the middle. And as a result horrible things like this can happen as just an oversight of this miserable system. There’s not enough money and a very complex application process, so organizations and schools get hurt in the mix.”
Even if Grady had been included in Good Shepherd’s grant application, there’s no guarantee that the bid would have been approved.
Grady is just one of many schools across the city that rely on grants to supplement what the school can offer and help students complete enough credits to graduate. City funds for after-school programs are often the first to land on the chopping block when budget cuts are needed, and Mayor Bloomberg last month proposed cutting $10 million in city funding from an after-school initiative he created in 2005. Last year, a last-minute budget deal averted proposed cuts of an even greater magnitude.
“Once again, the mayor’s proposed cuts to after-school and early childhood programs will continue a disappointing trend of shrinking programs for the children in our city who need them most,” President and CEO of the Children’s Aid Society Richard Buery said in a statement last month after the mayor announced the preliminary budget for 2014.
With the grant funding that is still in place through the end of the school year, Good Shepherd Services staff a classroom at Grady where students can unwind, do homework, use computers, and participate in a wide range of classes. The agency also pays for four Grady teachers to teach for-credit classes after the regular school day. Infantolino said students started earning credits more quickly after Good Shepherd moved into the building.
The agency brought arts classes into the career and technical education school for the first time and organized trips to visit colleges in Boston and New York, as well as camping trips and museum visits for students Maione said “have never left their blocks in Brooklyn.”
“The staff has been amazing — young, energetic, and they relate to the kids,” Infantolino said.
“Good Shepherd staff are like parents and older brothers and sisters,” senior Orville Feanny said. ”If you’re not in class, they’ll come around and find you…to me, Andre is like a dad. I go to him for whatever advice I need, school or personal.”
Feanny said his favorite class is martial arts, and that his heart is set on attending Northeastern University, which he said he had never heard of until Good Shepherd organized a trip there.
If it weren’t for Good Shepherd programming, Feanny said, “I’d probably just play basketball and handball every day after school when I didn’t have a sports team.”
On the school’s most recent quality report, Grady was rated well-developed, the highest rating, in school culture. “This grant was part and parcel of how we were able to do that,” Maione said.
A follow-up study of students who attended the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Educare early childhood center show promising results—for parents as well as students.
Among the findings:
-- Graduates are outscoring their classmates on the reading portion of the ISAT: 67 percent of Educare students now in elementary school passed the reading portion of the ISAT, compared to 57 percent of a comparison group of students in the same schools.
-- In both preschool and 3rd grade, students scored higher than the national average on measures of social-emotional learning.
-- On a vocabulary test, students scored slightly lower than the national average but did just as well, compared to other students nationwide, as they had in preschool.
-- Fewer than half of the students who received special services at Educare still needed those services in elementary school.
A hallmark of the Educare program is a focus on helping parents find the best elementary school for their children, as well as helping children make a successful transition into kindergarten.
Educare has begun to focus on sending children to better schools. The percentage of students attending neighborhood schools shrank from 66 percent in year 1 of the study to 38 percent in year 6 of the study, when 62 percent of students went to charter, contract or magnet schools.
Portia Kennel, senior vice president of program innovation at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, says the experience of participating in Educare sets up families to continue building social relationships and accumulating “social capital” after they leave the program.
“We are creating a culture of parents who are armed out there to make sure their child gets the best education, and see themselves as responsible,” Kennel says.
The study also found, however, that some parents have struggled with schools that don’t value their input – and with helping students with homework once it gets more complicated.
Parents of Educare graduates, Kennel said, have now started an alumni network to continue the support they received in the program.
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at email@example.com.
Elgin Area School District U-46 will offer tuition-based, full-day kindergarten next year in a pilot program that could be expanded later, according to the Daily Herald.
SHOOTING DRILLS: In this State of the State address, Gov. Pat Quinn called for all of the state’s schools to hold annual drills to help students prepare for the possibility of a school shooting. (CBS Chicago)
IN THE NATION
STILL OVERRATED: In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better under new teacher-evaluation systems recently put in place. In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or better. Principals in Tennessee judged 98 percent of teachers to be "at expectations" or better last school year, while evaluators in Georgia gave good reviews to 94 percent of teachers taking part in a pilot evaluation program. Those results, among the first trickling out from states' newly revamped yardsticks, paint a picture of a K-12 system that remains hesitant to differentiate between the best and the weakest performers—as well as among all those in the middle doing a solid job who still have room to improve. (Education Week)
A DESEGREGATION ODYSSEY: A federal judge approved a plan on Wednesday intended to lift a longstanding desegregation order in the Tucson Unified School District that has served as a reason and an excuse for a lot that has gone wrong in the district over the past decades: shrinking enrollment, sliding graduation rates and insistent dropout rates. (The New York Times)
LOATHING 'BELOVED': A Fairfax County parent, Laura Murphy, wants the Pulitzer Prize-wining Toni Morrison novel, "Beloved," removed from classrooms. Murphy said the novel depicts scenes of bestiality, gang rape and an infant’s gruesome murder, content she believes could be too intense for teenage readers. (The Washington Post)
Jason Gaulden, a member of Roy J. Wasson High School’s class of 1996, pays tribute to his alma mater days after the District 11 school board voted to close it.
From the moment the board of education in Colorado Springs District 11 voted 6-1 to close an historic high school, Facebook lit up with activity paying respect and tribute to a place that significantly shaped the lives of many.
Roy J. Wasson High School, home of the mighty Thunderbirds, will be closed, leaving many former students in a state of mourning.
“Gone but not forgotten. We will always be the T-Birds.” – Toni Matlasz.
“Sad to see Wasson is closed. So many great memories.” – Jason Davis
“T-Birds for life.” - Cristina Portillos
This is the resounding sentiment of those who feel the closing of Wasson is a great loss. And in many ways, it is. The nostalgia is strong for good reason – the character and culture of the school makes for a very special, universal bond among T-Birds. In my biased opinion, the mid-90s was the golden age for Wasson. What an incredible era, and what good fortune my peers and I had to live through it.
Some of the most profound moments and memories of my life occurred during my years as a student at Wasson, many in that building. Some of my best friends to this day are a result of crossing paths there. So many priceless lessons that govern my life were molded by my high school experience.
I am the seventh Gaulden, after my six older siblings, to go through Wasson while transitioning from teen to adult. So I understand and share the grief of my fellow T-Birds:
“Goodbye Wasson, what a sad day.” – Ever Hopper
“Closing of another great school. Sad day in Colorado Springs. The silver lining is that we will always have each other, and Facebook!” – Freeman Thompson
“Woke up thinking about the demise of my beloved high school. Sad that a new generation won’t live the Thunderbird experience, but proud to be able to call myself a T-BIRD!” - Marisa Murphy
Like all those expressing discontent, I too have deep and unwavering passion in my heart for Wasson. It definitely feels like something bad has happened here.
However, there is another side to this issue that must also be acknowledged. In fairness, as much as so many of us benefitted from our experience at Wasson, we also have to remember the school’s primary charge – to provide an excellent education to all its students. Every student deserves that, and it is up to our schools to deliver it.
On its core mission and top priority, Wasson has struggled for many years. Today, its graduation rate is 65 percent. And of those who do graduate and go on to college, 56 percent of them require remedial classes to prepare them for the rigor of college-level work. That means they are paying college tuition for courses that do not count toward graduation in order to learn basic things that should have been mastered by the time they received their high school diploma.
Adding to the pressure is the unfortunate fact that the building is terribly underutilized. Families have exercised their right and responsibility of school choice, and have migrated to other schools. Not by force, but by choice.
When I graduated in 1996, the building bustled with 1,500 students. Enrollment today is 900, and, according to the district, the building is only utilized to 49 percent of its capacity. It is expected of those who manage our precious tax dollars be prudent, so it is reasonable to change course rather than continue the upside down financially situation.
These facts do little to ease the angst we feel about the closing of our beloved alma mater, but it does speak to a very important factor. Every child has a right to a high quality public education, and in honoring that commitment, sometimes we have to make tough decisions. Sometimes that means closing poor-performing schools and replacing them with better options.
That is what remains to be seen. What will District 11 do to create something even better – either in that building or elsewhere? Let’s all keep an eye on that.
I always try to find the silver lining in sad situations, and I think there is one here. The closure of Wasson doesn’t diminish any of our experiences or memories. Despite this end of an era, we should be filled with hope and determination to ensure this closure ultimately brings about something positive. Let’s direct our passion and engagement toward making sure the current and future generations get to create their own lasting memories of a great experience, both socially and academically.About the author
Jason Gaulden is founder and principal of Gaulden Group, a Denver-based consulting firm specializing in education policy, strategic planning and communications. Before consulting, Gaulden worked as a program officer for the Daniels Fund.