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Jeffco board dials back curriculum proposal; plus questions we hope to answer tonight

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/02/2014 - 15:09

A controversial proposed curriculum review committee is still in play in Jefferson County, but the version the board will consider tonight has been stripped of many of the elements that ignited a firestorm in the district during the past two weeks.

Gone are references to patriotism and civic disorder. In their stead is much tamer language outlining only the formation and basic objectives of such a committee.

Board member John Newkirk’s proposal reads in part, “The District’s Chief Academic Officer shall serve as advisor to the committee. The charge to the committee is to review curricular choices for accuracy and omissions, conformity to Jefferson County academic standards, and to inform the Board of materials that may reasonably be deemed to be objectionable.”

Under Newkirk’s proposal, each board member would be able to appoint two members to the committee. A majority and minority report would be presented to the board, if so ordered.

The new language is an attempt to move beyond the most contentious portions of the original proposal, which sparked more than a week’s worth of protests, and focus only on the mechanics of the committee.

“I’d like to see a focus — not on the turmoil — but academic achievement of our students,” board chairman Ken Witt said today in an interview that will air Friday night on Rocky Mountain PBS’s Colorado State of Mind.

Regardless, tonight’s Jefferson County Board of Education meeting is likely to be the most politically charged yet. And that’s saying a lot given this board’s short but controversial tenure.

Students, parents, and teachers are expected to rally at 4:30 p.m. outside the Jeffco Public Schools EdCenter, where the meeting will begin at 5:30. They’ll tell reporters at a press conference why they object to a curriculum review panel that will be discussed later in the evening.

The board will also hear recommendations from Superintendent Dan McMinimee, which brings which brings us to the first of five things Chalkbeat will be paying close attention to during the evening’s events.

1. Will McMinimee lead and will the board follow?

Vocal parents and teachers, critical of the county’s board majority, have been equally skeptical of McMinimee, who spent more than a decade as a principal and administrator in nearby Douglas County. Those community members are concerned Jefferson County will adopt similar reforms to the ones Douglas County has undertaken, which many Jeffco parents and teachers find objectionable.

McMinimee told the community he would listen and lead the entire district not be a “yes” man.

His first test came earlier this month when the board discussed its teachers’ compensation plan. He argued that the board should accept an alternate version of the tentative agreement that the union had ratified but the board majority objected to. But the board majority steamrolled him and adopted a new program that deviates significantly from the status quo.

Tonight, McMinimee will outline his own proposal for the curriculum review committee to the board. He’ll suggest the board majority work within already existing policies, but expand those committees to include students and members of the community.

How hard will McMinimee push his proposal? And will the board listen and adopt it?

The answer to those questions could foreshadow the tenor of the rest of McMinimee’s three year contract with the district.

2. How will the board define its governance style?

There’s no question that Colorado school boards clearly have the responsibility to approve and review curriculum. But to what degree should the board be involved with “making the sausage?” That’s a question that has long been debated here and across the country.

Most researchers will tell you boards of education should not be worried with the granular details of a school district’s bureaucracy — that’s the superintendent’s job. Given the district already has more than 20 policies to govern curriculum, It would appear the curriculum review committee proposal is a step in the micromanaging direction. But President Witt disagrees the board is governing through management. He believes the board needs as much information possible, and from a variety of sources to make informed decisions. He believes a new committee that reports to the board would be another conduit of information for the board to rely on.

He told Rocky Mountain PBS’s Colorado State of Mind that he hopes whatever resolution the board comes to tonight will be as “inclusive as possible.”

3. How will the students use their voice?

Last week, students took to the street to make their frustrations with the proposal known. In some instances, not all were as informed as they thought. Dozens of students met with McMinimee in small groups. And in some instances, entire schools met with the superintendent and board members.

Students vowed to bring their grievances to the school board in both letters, petitions, and speeches. How many students will make the effort to speak out and what will their message be?

4. Will Julie Williams’ base show up?

Board member Julie Williams, who first introduced the curriculum review panel, won her seat by the widest margin last November, capturing 61 percent of the vote. But her base has hardly had a vocal presence at board meetings. That may change tonight. At least two email threads have circulated across the district and state encouraging her supporters — or, at least those who agree with her opinions regarding the history curriculum — to show up in force.

5. Has the latest dustup up attracted new skeptics?

Despite the large audiences the Jeffco board meetings have attracted, it’s often the same faces filling the seats meeting after meeting. But William’s proposal seems to have reverberated through the district in ways previous board debates did not. Was it enough to get new faces to the Ed Center to pay attention to the board or will we hear from and see the same folks we always do?

New blood might mean trouble for the board majority. It could provide an opportunity for their critics to gain momentum and share their concerns with a whole new audience. By contrast, if only the same pockets of vocal skeptics show up, it could indicate their concerns don’t resonate throughout the county.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Reaction to Hancock change, City Colleges free ride, feds issue equality guidelines

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 10/02/2014 - 10:06

So far, the reaction to the announcement on Wednesday that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials want to convert Hancock High School in McKinley Park into a selective enrollment  school has not been entirely positive. Ray Salazar, an English teacher at Hancock and a columnist for ChicagoNow, was quick to post a blog questioning the decision to convert an old school, built in 1936, and into a selective school when more affluent areas of town are getting brand new annexes and buildings. He says that the $10 million investment that CPS plans will not completely fix Hancock’s faulty heat, inefficient air conditioning, outdated auditorium, and a long list of other problems.

“How do political and district leaders expect Southwest Side families and educators to accept this is a reasonable solution when other selective enrollment high schools get $115 million buildings and $17 million expansions?” Of course, he’s referring to the new Jones College Prep in the South Loop and the plans to build an annex to Payton College Prep on the Near North SIde, where the mayor also wants to build a new selective enrollment school.

Salazar is not the only one critical of the move. After using a $5.7 million federal grant to partner with the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago, Hancock is now a good Level 2 neighborhood school, says Sarah Duncan, co-director for the Network. In Catalyst’s story on the announcement, she wonders why CPS would dismantle the high school and the work that has been done there.

Another outstanding question is how neighborhood high schools will absorb the students who do not win one of the spots at Hancock. According to 2013-2014 data, most of the other high schools in the area--two UNO charter schools, Curie, Solorio, Kennedy and Kelly--are at more than 100 percent capacity and edging toward being overcrowded. The closest high school is Gage Park, but it is significantly lower-achieving compared to Hancock.

A public hearing has yet to be held and the board has yet to approve the move, but the district is already allowing students to apply for the school.   

Free college ride… CPS students with above a 3.0 GPA will not have to pay to attend Chicago’s city colleges, announced Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Sun-Times reports. Full-time tuition, school fees and books cost about $4,400. The scholarship being offered by the city will fill the gap after federal aid and Emanuel estimates that it will cost about $2 million a year. The Sun Times describes this as another “pre-election bone to black voters who helped put Emanuel in office but abandoned him in droves after he closed 50 public schools, most of them in impoverished neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.”

City Colleges have traditionally attracted the highest percentage of CPS graduates who enroll in college, although one study found that many graduates could get into better schools than the ones they landed in; plus, students are more likely to finish college at four-year institutions. More than 100,000 students took classes at City Colleges of Chicago in 2013, according to the Illinois Community College Board. But only about 10,000 received associates degrees or certificates. The City Colleges has launched a “reinvention” process to try to improve degree-completion and transfer to four year university rates.

A noble move… The Pritzker Foundation announced that it will award scholarships to undocumented immigrants who graduate from one of the Noble Street Charter School campuses. The $3 million that the Pritzkers are making available is intended to fill in the gap for the students who do not qualify for state or federal grants because of their status.

Seven of Noble Streets 13 campuses serve predominantly Latino populations.

It is unclear exactly how many undocumented immigrants graduate from CPS each year. The Urban Institute estimated that in 2010-2011, about 16,000 16-and-17-year-old non-citizens were living in the Chicagoland region. Some are in the United States legally, but those who are not often struggle to stay interested in school knowing that college will be difficult, if not impossible, to pay for.

However, some opportunities have opened up in recent years for undocumented immigrants. The federal Dream Act, initiated President Barack Obama in 2012, allows some to get federally-backed student loans, as well as temporary legal status and some benefits like health care. In 2011, a law created the Illinois Dream Fund, which provides scholarships for undocumented immigrants. On November 1, the fund will begin taking applications for scholarships. Also, Illinois is one of only a dozen states that offer in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.  

Backing off layoffs… Though it does not seem like this will solve some of the larger issues, Aramark said it will only lay off 290 custodians, not the 468 they had previously announced, according to WBEZ and the Sun-Times. In March, Aramark took over the management of custodians, promising to bring new technology to campuses and to take the onus off principals to monitor the work (though building engineers supervised custodians). The company promised that they could get building cleaner and save the district nearly $20 million a year.

But principals complained that schools were not being cleaned, and that Aramark was shuffling around custodians, hiring unfamiliar people and laying off workers who have been in schools for years.

Just as these complaints were reaching a fever pitch, CPS confirmed that Aramark was planning to reduce staffing. SEIU-Local 1 President Tom Balanoff tells WBEZ that he thinks Aramark can accomplish their task with the workers they are keeping on and the 2,000 others that are in place. But to make the principals happy, Aramark will also likely need to find some way to give principals control of the custodians. After all, when a classroom is dirty or a school gets bed bugs, it is the principal who hears about it.

Guidelines for equality… Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Wednesday new federal guidelines for reducing racial disparities in education, reports the New York Times. Among the issues the guidelines tackle are access to high-level classes such as calculus and Advanced Placement courses, as well as whether students go to facilities with air conditioning and computers. These guidelines follow discipline recommendations by the Department of Education, stating that schools should only call police as a last resort and work to reduce suspensions and expulsions.

These guidelines and recommendations are being called a “refreshing change” by civil rights advocates.

In CPS, disparities persist, according to the latest collection of data. Though CPS’ student population is about 12 percent white and Asian, they make up nearly 30 percent of students in programs for gifted and talented students. And while access to Algebra 1 in 7th and 8th grade is relatively equal, pass rates of black students pale in comparison to white, Asian and Latino students.

 



 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco school board protests planned for tonight

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/02/2014 - 10:03

Count off

Denver Public Schools has seen more and more students enroll each year. This count day promises to be no different. But that boom isn't hitting all schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Sticking together

Columbine High School, site of the infamous shooting, has its first new principal since the event. But students and staff have embraced the school's new leader. ( Denver Post )

Out and proud

Many LGBT students struggle to simply show up to school but at an LGBT conference for students, the focus was on how they could become leaders. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The Jeffco Roundup

Students, teachers and parents plan to protest at tonight's Jeffco school board meeting. ( 9News, The Denver Channel )

Eight local and national organizations sent a letter to the board urging them to back off on the planned review of the AP history curriculum. ( Denver Post )

Business owners say the ongoing protests and high profile conflict is negatively impacting the local economy. ( Denver Business Journal )

The protests, which come just a month before the election, are roiling Colorado's divided politics. ( Coloradoan )

But the conservative backlash against the changes is rooted in misunderstanding, one of the curriculum's designers says. ( CPR )

What would actually change under the new curriculum? Take a look at the new test questions and the old ones, too. ( AP via Gazette )

Still confused as to why, exactly, all the drama broke out? Here's an explainer. ( AP via Gazette )

Healthy schools

St. Vrain schools are stepping up their disinfection efforts after more than 20 students fell ill, potentially of enterovirus. Neighboring Boulder schools have had at least two cases. ( Daily Camera )

School safety

A Cherry Creek school was placed on "secured perimeter" yesterday due to a police chase of a suspect. ( Denver Post )

Not just a school cop

At a struggling Lakewood middle school, a new principal has taken the reins, with a different kind of background than most. ( Denver Post )

Not a teacher's paradise

A recent survey that ranked Colorado as one of the worst states for teachers came as no surprise to Pueblo union leaders. ( Chieftain )

By the numbers

Westword looks at where Denver's lowest performing schools are. ( Westword )

Gotta move to learn

Schools across the state are hoping to take a theory -- kids learn better when they move -- and put it in to action in their classrooms. ( CBS4 )

In Colorado Springs, students participated in a walk-a-thon to get moving, raise money and draw people's attention to obesity awareness. ( Gazette )

Cents for science

A Colorado Springs-area school district got a Department of Defense grant to build up STEM instruction. ( Gazette )

It's a family business

Meet one Colorado family who lives and breathes education. ( La Voz )

Alone in school

More and more unaccompanied minors are arriving in New Orleans schools. ( nprEd via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

At LGBT conference, a push for student leadership

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/01/2014 - 17:56

Natasha Fircher’s Gay-Straight Alliance helped her come out to her parents.

The same student organization at Rangeview High School in Aurora stopped Odessey Granger from hurting herself.

And if it wasn’t for the safe place the GSA provides Torrell Jackson, the leader of the organization, he believes he’d fall into self-destructive patterns, get in trouble, and break the law.

“The GSA teaches you, you can turn to other people,” Jackson told Chalkbeat Colorado last week during One Colorado’s fourth annual GSA Leadership Summit.

The daylong workshop at the Auraria Campus, hosted by the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization, aimed to build relationships among the state’s various gay-straight alliances. More than 150 middle school, high school, and college students gathered to learn, share ideas, and brainstorm how to improve their own school-based organizations.

In particular, this year organizers hope students left with the skills necessary to organize and campaign to run for a student leadership position.

For LGBT students, showing up to school, let alone running for an elected office, can be a difficult task with additional roadblocks. Advocates believe, and students profess, GSAs help students overcome those social and emotional obstacles to perform better in school. Now, One Colorado hopes the organizations can develop good students and active leaders.

“I was very nervous,” said Drew Turley, the Community College of Denver’s student body president, referring to his own campaign during a  lunch work session. “I had conversations with members of all the different communities on campus — all I ever got was encouragement.”

Commerece City Democrat State Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, the youngest state senator and one of eight openly LGBT lawmakers in the General Assembly, told participants he and his family still get “funny looks” from constituents.

“We’re different than straight folks,” he said. “That’s OK. You shouldn’t be terrified to ask for support.”

As part of the summit, One Colorado is offering small grants to students who want to run for an elected office.

“We hope the summit allows students to have the platform to develop into the people they want to become and to be able to contribute to their community,” said Lauren Cikara, One Colorado’s safe schools manager.

In her role, Cikara coordinates services for more than 100 GSAs across the state. She also carefully monitors school districts and their anti-bullying policies.

Lauren Cikara on why GSAs are important

Colorado’s General Assembly in 2011 passed one of the most progressive anti-school bullying laws in the nation.

The new law, Cikara said, provides teachers and school administrators the ability to stop bullying and hopefully turn the situation into a teachable moment.

Coupled with the state’s existing nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender presentation, Colorado is often considered on the forefront of such policies.

“It all goes hand in hand,” Cikara said.

But as of the end of the 2013-14 school year, only 64 percent of school districts have updated their own guidelines to become compliant with state law.

While rural Colorado schools make up the lion’s share of districts that have not updated their polices, several school districts along the front range still lag behind, Cikara said.

Denver Public Schools, for instance, only updated their policies last school year. Separately, the Denver school system has expanded its GSA network from eight in 2011 to 40 this school year. According to Paula Keenan, who leads the district’s LGBT task force, 22,000 Denver students have access to a GSA.

“For the first time we have momentum in the middle schools,” Keenan said during a discussion of making schools more inclusive.

Students who participated in the same discussion encouraged teachers to make their curriculum and lessons more inclusive.

“Teachers’ lessons are more heteronormative than you think,”  a student said. “All queer kids see during school is examples of straight couples. It would be so awesome if some examples on homework included same-sex couples. Teachers just don’t understand how LGBT students feel.”

Torrell Jackson on what his GSA is doing this school year

Categories: Urban School News

Hancock to become a selective admissions school

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 10/01/2014 - 17:45

CPS wants to turn Hancock High School in McKinley Park into a selective enrollment and career and technical education (CTE) school, saying that families, elected officials and community leaders in the area want more selective admissions seats.

The decision, which still must go through public hearings, prompted criticism from one of the leaders of a well-regarded University of Chicago initiative that works with neighborhood high schools to improve academics and increase college-going.

“You can understand trying to shake up a school that is not performing, but shaking up something that is working really well, it looks like you’re trying to undo it or reduce its effect,” says Sarah Duncan, co-director of the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. “The conspiracy theorists might say they’re undermining high-achieving neighborhood schools on purpose. It kind of looks like that.”

The Network for College Success has worked with Hancock since 2008. As it does with other schools in the city, the staff helps with Hancock’s organizational development and making improvements that are based on research and data. It also partnered with the school in its $5.7 million, three-year federal School Improvement Grant, which ended this past school year. The SIG program is a reform effort aimed at improving the worst schools in the country, without firing an entire staff, as in a turnaround.

Last year, Hancock was rated a Level 2 school. Its freshman on-track rate, a measure of whether freshmen are earning enough credits to graduate on time, was 91.2 percent, up nearly 10 percentage points from the previous year. Research by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research has shown that the on-track metric is a strong predictor of high school graduation.

“Hancock is a neighborhood school that while serving its neighborhood kids, has solved its dropout problem, its on-track rate is in the 90s, it’s really raising the bar on instruction and getting kids into better colleges,” Duncan says. “Why would we take half of that opportunity for successful neighborhood schools away from that community? Honestly, it is a model of a neighborhood school.”

Money for capital improvements

The new programs at Hancock will also entail $10 million in capital improvements, which CPS says the state will finance.

The district plans to phase in the selective enrollment slots one grade at a time starting next fall, with a freshmen class of 105 students. An equal number of slots will be available for the CTE program, focused on pre-law or engineering, and students from a wider area will get a preference for those seats. Still, students must apply for admission into both citywide programs.

“We are enthusiastic about the potential of a revitalized Hancock High School and look forward to establishing a new high-quality option in the far southwest side of Chicago,” said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a statement.
CPS projects the school will serve about 840 students after four years, which is less than its current enrollment level of 920 students. Neighborhood students who don’t make it into either the selective-enrollment or CTE programs would get diverted into one of the area neighborhood high schools, whose attendance boundaries will be redrawn.

The two closest neighborhood high schools are Curie and Hubbard, both of which are also Level 2.

Even though the transformation has not yet been approved, CPS says it will start taking applications for seats in Hancock’s proposed selective enrollment and CTE programs today. The application process for all selective enrollment schools will close on Dec. 12.

Categories: Urban School News

On count day, a look at the ups and downs of Denver enrollment

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/01/2014 - 15:04

Schools around the state are keeping a close eye on attendance today as they prepare to submit the exact number of students they have to the state. For many Denver schools, that number is higher than it was a month ago, when school started.

Oct. 1 is count day, when the number of students in classroom seats on that day determines how much funding schools and districts will receive. In Denver, that count will likely show a continuation of an upward trend that started several years ago, with more and more students enrolled in Denver Public Schools. Last year, that trend resulted in Denver Public Schools beating out Jeffco Public Schools for the title of state’s largest school district.

But it’s already clear that the enrollment increase isn’t uniform across the city. Some schools have seen a steady stream of students arriving, even after school started. For others, the numbers of students district officials projected would enroll failed to materialize.

District estimates suggest that over 2,000 more students have enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in Denver than official state counts last year. Preschool enrollment, a focus for the district, is still too in flux to estimate but last year, it helped boost Denver’s numbers above Jeffco’s.

But one pattern that has also emerged — and promises to create challenges for schools — is a large number of students enrolling after the start of the year. The number of students who enrolled after the first day of school district-wide almost doubled this year, from 750 to 1406.

Large numbers of students arriving after the start of school creates a tangle for teachers and schools, as they try and retrieve records and place students where they’ll learn best. Districts like Denver have tried to streamline their systems to make new student arrivals a faster and less disruptive process, but experts say it’s still a challenge both for students and schools to manage. It can take weeks for a student’s records to arrive and teachers often have to figure out a student’s abilities or academic history with little prior knowledge.

And some Denver school have seen a veritable flood of students. At George Washington High School, 37 new students enrolled between the first day of school and Sept. 11. Also high on the list was Place Bridge Academy, with 32 new students, and Eagleton Elementary, with 28 new students.

Explore our database of how many new students arrived after the start of the year at Denver schools in the past two years.

But some schools are facing a different challenge entirely — not enough students. At Manual High School, where an impending but undefined overhaul has thrown the school’s future into question, enrollment fell substantially below the district’s projections.

Just 279 students have enrolled in the school this year. That’s down over thirty percent from last year and is over 140 students fewer that district officials predicted. That drop led to a loss of roughly $262,000 in funding for the school, even after the district provided additional support to the struggling school. That means school leaders have had to cut four teaching position and a staff position.

Across the district, 31 teachers will lose their positions due to reductions in staff, based on enrollment. The district did not provide additional details on where those cuts took place.

Teachers, have you noticed lots of new faces in your classroom? What are the challenges of getting them incorporated in the flow of the classroom? Any tips for other teachers? Tell us at co.tips@chalkbeat.org or on Twitter @ChalkbeatCO. We’ll follow up with teachers’ responses and more on the challenges of getting new students up to speed.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: A Colorado superintendent defended his teachers’ work on new standards

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/01/2014 - 09:57

Jeffco Interrupted

Jefferson County's poor and Latino students have more to lose if their school board goes ahead and makes changes to the district's Advanced Placement U.S. history course. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Students at one Jeffco middle school followed their older peers to the street Tuesday. Their protest was the first organized by middle school students. ( Denver Post, AP via CPR )

A Jefferson County teacher, in her own words, explains why some of her colleagues have chosen to participate in a sick-out. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Meet the Colorado professor who helped redesign the AP U.S. history course. ( CPR )

What's the difference between the old Advanced Placement U.S. history course and the new one? Here's your explainer. ( Hechinger Report )

If Jeffco students do decide to walkout today, Count Day, school leaders will have a window to prove enrollment numbers to secure funding for next school year. ( 9News, The Denver Channel )

The dustup in Jefferson County may have an outsized affect on statewide politics this November. ( US News )

One, two, three

Today is Count Day, one of the most important day's in the state's public education system. Schools will report their attendance numbers today to secure funding. ( Gazette )

dollars and sense

Speaking of funding, plaintiffs in Colorado’s latest school finance lawsuit have fired back at the state's Attorney General, arguing that his motion to dismiss their lawsuit is wrong. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Gov. John Hickenlooper and his Republican opponent Bob Beauprez squared off on a number of issues at The Denver Post debate — including school funding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A new report by the Brookings Institute sheds light on a growing opportunity gap. Wealthier families are spending more than ever on their children's educations while their lower-income counterparts are barely treading water. ( AP via Yahoo )

To the core

Eaton Superintendent defended his school district's rollout of the new state standards at a town hall meeting Monday filled with skeptics of the Common Core State Standards. ( Greeley Tribune )

Examplar

A Fort Collins Elementary school is among the best in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Education. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Face time

A new study found that kids who spent a week at outdoor camp were able to see emotion in other people's faces. Here's why. ( NPR )

Atlanta testing scandal

When public school employees cheat on standardize tests, students may miss out on services that could help them make actual academic gains. ( The Atlantic )

Categories: Urban School News

Hickenlooper, Beauprez talk education funding during debate

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/01/2014 - 00:24

Gov. John Hickenlooper and his Republican opponent Congressman Bob Beauprez agreed at a debate Tuesday night that Colorado needed to see more money from Washington to fund the state’s public schools.

But Hickenlooper cautioned: Looking to Washington for money is a fool’s errand. Complicated formulas and logistics, not the demands of a governor, dictate how much money states receive see returned from the federal government, the governor said.

Colorado sees about 84 cents of every dollar it sends to Washington return, Beauprez said at The Denver Post debate.

“I want to get the money, Joey, that we sent to Washington in the first place,” Beauprez said, speaking directly to one of the moderators, when the debate turned to funding Colorado’s public schools. “We’re not talking about small change here. If Colorado could just move up to the middle of the pack among the 50 states, instead of being ranked 50th, check the Census data, 50th right now, we’ve fallen from 42 to 50th. We’re talking about tens of millions, hundreds of millions, every single year, that are being left on the table.”

According to polls, Hickenlooper and Beauprez are locked in a statistical tie as Coloradans soon head to the polls.

The governor, who last year supported a constitutional amendment that would have raised $1 billion for K-12 schools, said the voters were clear when they soundly defeated it.

“[T]hey want to see smaller, local based funding for their schools,” Hickenlooper said. “They want to make sure they control what can happen in their schools — how much is going to go to teachers, how much is goes to the building”

The governor praised a school transparency bill that was resurrected out of the Amendment 66 loss.

In his rebuttal, Beauprez pledged to expedite student achievement, especially third grade reading levels.

“We’re going to bring opportunity to every child that has a chance to learn how to read,” Beauprez said.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco’s Latino students: U.S. history debate could cost them a chance to get ahead

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/30/2014 - 20:06

EDGEWATER — Students at Jefferson High School want their school board to know they’re just like their peers: They want their advanced U.S. history curriculum left alone.

“We want [the school board] to know every Jeffco student feels this way,” said Angelica Dole, a sophomore and the lead organizer of the Jefferson High’s Monday protest.

But for the upperclassmen at Jefferson High School — who are mostly Latino and poor — the debate over the district’s Advanced Placement U.S. history program may have higher stakes than for their more affluent peers around the county.

Nearly 90 percent of the 552 students at Jefferson High qualify for free- or reduced-lunch prices, a proxy of poverty. In contrast, only about a third of the entire district are low-income. For students all over the district, success in AP classes means a easier path to college. But for the district’s low-income students, that path is often much more challenging and students at Jefferson High School fear that changes to the AP U.S. history curriculum could throw up one more obstacle.

“The school board is not putting themselves in our shoes,” Dole said. “We’re trying to learn and get smarter. We’re trying to get to college.”

Students who successfully pass an Advanced Placement test, like the one offered with U.S. history, may earn college credit, effectively giving students a head start and saving tuition money.

But now, students fear that opportunity might be in jeopardy after school board member Julie Williams proposed a review of the Advanced Placement U.S. history course. William’s proposal ignited a dozen days of acrimony across the county. Jefferson’s own small but rowdy outcry capped a list of 17 neighborhood high schools that rallied in the streets across the county.

The protests were bookended by teachers missing class en masse due to their own criticism of a new compensation plan at four high schools, including Jefferson High.

Students’ fear that their AP credit might be at stake were stoked Friday when the College Board, the company behind the Advanced Placement courses and SAT, said they would forbid Jeffco Public Schools from offering the U.S. history course under their banner if significant changes were made to the curriculum. While the course is one of the most popular advanced electives in the county, for Jefferson High School students, it’s also the rare opportunity to get ahead.

Board chairman Ken Witt told Chalkbeat Colorado last week he is not in favor of scrapping the AP U.S. history course. But, the leader of the conservative board majority doesn’t appear to be backing down from the idea that a panel of community members should be established to review the course’s materials — and other subjects.

“I do want you to understand that I am not advocating to eliminate AP U.S. history,” Witt said in an email. “I do believe that there is enough concern expressed from many sources to warrant careful review, rather than naive assumption.”

Conservatives, like Williams, believe the AP U.S. history course, which was redesigned last year to put more emphasis on historical themes and critical thinking than fact, is revisionist and portrays the nation’s history in a negative light. The architects of the new framework and teachers disagree.

And students said their opportunities should not be limited because of political infighting.

“It’s not their education they’re taking away,” said Elissa Jaramillo, a junior at Edgewater High. “It’s ours.”

Because most of the students at Jefferson High are Latino, they are already less likely to take an Advanced Placement course and test than their peers. According to state data, Jeffco’s Latino students accounted for only 10 percent of the 1,169 student who enrolled in the AP U.S. history course during the 2012-13 school year. By comparison, 25 percent of the district’s entire student population is Latino.

Further, it appears Latino students either have fewer options for AP classes or, at the least, not taking advantage of some course offerings. Only four AP courses during the 2012-13 school year had more than 100 Latino students enrolled: English, literature, U.S. history, and world history. In classes like AP physics, government and politics, and micro-economics, fewer than a dozen Latino students were enrolled.

In total, Latino students enrolled 1,163 times in AP courses across Jefferson County during the 2012-13 school year. (The state’s data does not indicate whether students were enrolled in more than one AP class at a time.) That’s slightly more than the 1,049 white Jeffco students who were enrolled in AP English and Composition alone.

“Studies have shown that students who take AP courses are less likely to need remediation and more likely to graduate from college,” said Lesley Dahlkemper, vice president of communications for the Colorado Education Initiative. “Unfortunately, many students either are not offered this opportunity or do not take advantage of it. If we hope to close the achievement gap, expanding access to and success in AP must be part of the solution.”

Dahlkemper is also a member of the Jeffco school board. She and fellow board member Jill Fellman, who together generally make up a dissenting minority, raised concerns about Williams’ proposal at a Sept. 18 meeting.

There are some signs that more Latino students are participating in Advanced Placement classes. According to Jeffco officials, the number of students at Jefferson High enrolled in AP English language and AP English literature doubled during the last year. The increase is due in part to a $10,000 grant from the Colorado Education Initiative that goes toward fees, classroom equipment and supplies, and study sessions for AP math, science and English courses.

According to the nonprofit, Colorado schools that received similar grants have seen a 106 percent increase in the number of passing scores by African American and Latino students on AP math, science, and English exams.

The out-of-pocket cost for just one AP course can be more than $100, which could be a determinant to some students.

“It’s a paradigm shift for our kids to be more successful because it’s opening doors and removing obstacles that would have stopped them in the past,” said Molly Harrington, a former Jefferson High counselor, after the grant was announced.

Jefferson is also offering more AP courses this year, students said as they marched toward Wadsworth on Friday.

“We have to work harder,” said Hannah Pape, a junior.

The Jefferson County Board of Education is expected to pick up the curriculum review discussion Thursday. And students from Jefferson High have a message they hope the board hears.

“We’re not one of the richer schools,” Jaramillo said. “We get looked down upon. But we want to learn and get out of here. I want to be somebody in life.”

Categories: Urban School News

School finance lawsuit arguments focus on meaning of “base” funding

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/30/2014 - 16:56

Plaintiffs in Colorado’s latest school finance lawsuit have fired back at Attorney General John Suthers, arguing that his motion to dismiss their lawsuit is wrong and that the state’s “efforts to avoid judicial inquiry into their devastating interpretation of Amendment 23 should be rejected.”

A group of parents, school districts and advocacy groups filed suit in late June, arguing that the “negative factor” used by the legislature to set the amount of annual K-12 funding is a violation of Amendment 23, the constitutional provision that requires annual increases in school funding. (See story on lawsuit.)

In a brief filed in August, Attorney General John Suthers asked that the suit be dismissed, arguing that A23 clearly applies only to “base” K-12 funding, not to the additional funds districts receive to compensate for their size, number of at-risk students and other factors.

The funding shortfall created by the negative factor, used since 2010, is just under $1 billion. Suthers also argued that the plaintiffs don’t have proper legal standing to file the suit. (See story on the state’s motion.)

The plaintiffs’ answer, filed Monday in Denver District Court, argues that use of the negative factor “cuts statewide base per pupil funding” by any definition of that term and that “Defendants’ interpretation of Amendment 23 contradicts both the text of the amendment and the overwhelming evidence of voter intent. Plaintiffs have alleged and will show that Amendment 23’s requirement of annual increases in ‘statewide base per pupil funding’ was intended to prevent the legislature from doing exactly what it has done via the negative factor: slashing per pupil funding across the state.”

The state’s motion to dismiss and the plaintiffs’ answer are standard opening gambits in lawsuits of this kind. Even if a district judge grants the state’s motion, that won’t be the end of the suit as the plaintiffs would appeal that ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The suit, Dwyer v. State, asks that the negative factor section be stricken from the state’s school funding law and that the legislature be barred from reinstating the factor in another form. The suit does not ask that lost funding be restored.

The plaintiffs’ answer brief is below. See the original lawsuit here, and the read the attorney general’s motion here.

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Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco teacher on why her colleagues called in sick: “it’s about the disrespect”

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/30/2014 - 14:51

After so many teachers called in sick or took a personal day that classes at four Jefferson County high schools had to be canceled, observers are split on whether those teachers are heroes or harming children.

Some parents have told Chalkbeat they support the teachers, even if it means their students have to stay home for a day.

Critics, including The Denver Post’s editorial board, say the teachers’ “antics” are “indefensible both ethically and professionally.”

Many of those critics point out the district’s new teacher compensation package — which links compensation to raises and bonuses to evaluations and has been the focal point of the teacher sick-outs —provides most teachers with raises.

But Tammie Peters, a Golden High School teacher, says it’s about more than money. In a statement she emailed to Chalkbeat, Peters  — who did not actively participate in the sick-out due to a prior commitment — explains why 81 percent of teachers at her school might have chosen to participate:

I stand with my fellow teachers who are “sick” of the board majority’s actions.

While we need some reforms in Jefferson County, the board majority is not providing the reforms we need or want.

The board majority continues to show disrespect to the voters, the taxpayers, the teachers, the parents and the students of Jefferson County.

Some of you may have heard that teachers received a pay raise, so you might wonder why we are so upset.

It’s not about the money — it’s about the disrespect.

The board majority has refused to work with teachers to develop a fair and equitable pay system.

The board majority blames teachers for the student unrest, as though teenagers can be intellectually herded like sheep, and they have shown great disrespect for the voices of our advanced placement students who are concerned about their educations.

The board majority has continually wasted money of the taxpayers and rejected the input of Jeffco citizens in the budgeting process.

The board majority continues to show disrespect to the voters of Jeffco who approved a recent mill levy override under certain conditions — the board majority has decided not to honor the promises made.

It’s not about the money.

Many of those Golden teachers today are taking a day without pay to make a point. It’s not about money — teachers willingly took pay decreases and pay freezes for the past five years to help Jeffco weather the rough economy.

Our frustration is with the way the Board has implemented policies without any sort of collaboration, all the while treating teachers and their professional association as some sort of enemy.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: What exactly is “count day”?

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/30/2014 - 08:44

The drama continues

Teachers shut down two Jeffco high schools yesterday by calling in sick or taking a personal day. ( Westword, AP via Times-Call, Westminster Window, Reuters, CBS )

District officials are warning of disciplinary actions for teachers who closed down the two Jeffco high schools. Meanwhile, the union continues to deny involvement in organizing the protests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Superintendent Dan McMinimee said principals would sit down with teachers to verify the reasons behind their absence or face docked pay. ( Denver Post )

Teachers said they did not take the decision to do a "sick-out" lightly, while the district's superintendent worried about the impact on students. ( CPR )

Candidates in the race for governor weighed in on the hubbub. Both cautioned students and teachers on the impacts. ( 9News )

Historical perspective

Controversial changes have rocked Colorado Springs D-11 over the past several years, much like Jeffco. So why did students and teachers not protest then? ( Gazette )

Count off!

Jeffco students threatened to protest on Wednesday on the state's official "count day." What exactly is count day? And what happens for schools if students are absent? ( Coloradoan, The Denver Channel )

Pueblo-area school districts are predicting higher enrollment than originally thought for tomorrow's count day. ( Chieftain )

Election season

Colorado's school boards group opposed two education ballot measures. One would expand and tax gambling for schools. The other would require open negotiations between boards and unions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Gaming the system

Douglas County officials and community members are working on a curriculum that would use popular video game Minecraft to teach students. ( Douglas County News-Press )

School safety

A school bus caught on fire on the way to a football game over the weekend. Everyone on board evacuated in time. ( Journal Advocate )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco superintendent vows “appropriate action” after second sickout closes two high schools

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 19:34

GOLDEN — Teachers who prompted two Jefferson County high schools to close today by taking either sick or personal days may face disciplinary actions, the district’s superintendent said this afternoon.

Teachers at Jefferson and Golden high schools will be required to meet with building principals to either provide proof of their illness or prove they followed the guidelines to request personal time off laid out in a collective bargaining agreement between the district and the teachers union.

If teachers are unable to provide proof or requested time off too late, Superintendent Dan McMinimee said, they could lose a day’s pay.

In less than a dozen days, Jeffco Public Schools has gone from the quintessential suburban school system to a district in crisis mode. Along with shuttering schools due to teacher absences, Jeffco officials have had to respond to student-organized protests over a proposed curriculum committee critics believe will lead to censorship.

Now, Jeffco’s controversial leader, hired just months ago on a split vote by the board of education, is walking a tight rope between the conservative board majority bent on upending the status quo and a vocal community of teachers and parents demanding to be heard.

“I’m really disappointed,” McMinimee said. “We don’t need to be in this place … We’re all adults.”

In an effort to curb anxiety over a proposed review committee critics believe could lead to censoring parts of U.S. history, McMinimee also told reporters today he plans to recommend board members work within current policies that guide curriculum challenges at an Oct. 2 meeting.

Today’s apparent teacher sick-out is the second time in two weeks Jefferson County teachers actions have led to the district closing entire buildings. At Golden High, 81 percent of teachers called in. At Jefferson High, 75 percent of teachers called in. Previously, about 30 percent of the teaching staff at Conifer and Standley Lake high schools orchestrated the first sick-out Sept. 19.

The Jefferson County Education Association today once again denied any role in the mass teacher absences.

“This was not organized by JCEA but we certainly understand the frustration our teachers and the entire community are experiencing when their school board majority are making decisions in secret, wasting taxpayer dollars, and disrespecting the community’s goals for their students,” said John Ford, president of the union, in a statement.

Tension between the board majority — made up of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — and vocal teachers and parents has been high almost from the moment the three conservatives were elected in November. But a series of recent decisions have only increased the criticism and fear among some portions of the community.

The sick-outs are an attempt by the teachers to raise public awareness across the county about those fears. While teachers are concerned about the direction the district’s board majority is taking them, the mass absences are perhaps most directly linked to the adoption of a new pay-for-performance compensation plan for teachers.

The new compensation plan, which is expected to go into effect in November, links teacher raises and bonuses to evaluations. Previously, teachers saw an increase in pay based on time served and their own education level. Under the new model, nearly every teacher will see a raise.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia A Jeffco Public Schools employee arrived at Jefferson High School Monday morning to learn classes had been canceled. Too many teachers requested substitutes Monday at Jefferson and Golden high and school was canceled.

But teachers have two primary concerns. First, the model will rely almost exclusively on a teacher evaluation system a third party fact finder found unreliable. Second, because the new compensation model was proposed by Jeffco board chairman Ken Witt without input from educators, teachers are frustrated and worried their pay could change all over again in a year.

“Given the consistent academic success of Jefferson County Schools, a merit based compensation program is greatly to the advantage of the overwhelming majority of Jeffco teachers,” teachers from Conifer High wrote in a statement after their sick-out. “Merit based pay is not the issue. This issue is the use of an arbitrary, nontransparent evaluation system that vests absolute authority in administrators to determine all levels of teacher effectiveness.”

Meanwhile, the sick-outs have provided plenty of grist for critics of teachers unions, who believe the actions are informal strikes.

Legal experts who spoke to Chalkbeat about the sick-outs today said if the district were to pursue legal action, the burden would likely be on Jeffco officials to prove an explicit link between the teachers calling in sick and the union.

“Some courts have seen through that,” said Dick Mandelson, a labor attorney with the Baker-Hostetler law firm. “But it’s a fine line.” 

McMinimee declined to call the sick-outs illegal, and said the district is not considering legal action against individual teachers or the union.

The sick-outs also bookmark a week’s worth of student-led protests over a proposed curriculum review committee that made national headlines. Over the course of the last week, students from each Jefferson County high school took to the streets to rally against a proposed curriculum review and stand in solitary with their teachers.

Those protests continued today when about 50 students at Jefferson High School in Edgewater, just west of Denver, also demonstrated.

“We have a right to our education,” said Laura Solis, a Jefferson student. “For them to not want us to know the full story of our history — that’s wrong.”

The curriculum review committee, if established as proposed by board majority member Julie Williams, would go to work first on an advanced history class conservatives believe is revisionist and unpatriotic.

Despite mounting public pressure in the streets and a trending backlash on social media, board members who support the idea to establish a community committee to review curriculum at their pleasure don’t appear to be backing down.

But McMinimee told reporters today he’ll suggest the board work within the district’s existing policies to vet their concerns.

“There are already vehicles [to address concerns],” McMinimee said.

There are currently more than 20 policies governing curriculum in the district, including one to directly challenge classroom materials.

McMinimee said after listening to students throughout the district, he’s prepared to recommend to the board they expand those committees on a case-by-case basis and include students and community members.

Today’s developments in the ongoing turmoil in Jeffco clearly frustrated McMinimee.

“Everybody owns responsibility for where we are now,” he said, urging all parties to make better decisions for students.

Correction: The caption on the accompanying photo has been corrected to reflect the woman photographed is an employee of Jeffco Public Schools, not an administrator. 

Categories: Urban School News

School boards group opposes two education ballot measures; defeats anti-PARCC resolution

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 17:27

Members of the Colorado Association of School Boards have voted to formally oppose Amendment 68 and Proposition 104, the two education-related measures on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The CASB delegate assembly, which met Saturday in Pueblo, approved resolutions opposing both measures by wide margins, according to Jane Urschel, CASB deputy executive director.

The assembly defeated another proposed resolution that would have called on state elected officials to withdraw from PARCC, the multi-state group that has produced the online language arts and math tests that all Colorado students will take next spring.

Urschel said the delegates were opposed to A68 because it sends “an unfortunate message” about funding schools with unpredictable revenues. The amendment would allow opening of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park race track, with part of the revenues earmarked for per-pupil distribution to school districts. Proponents claim it would raise more than $100 million a year for schools.

Proposition 104 would require that all school district contract negotiations be open to the public, as well as school board strategy discussions. Urschel said delegates opposed that measure “because they feel that’s an issue that should be decided locally.”

Members of the Colorado Association of School Executives voted earlier this month to remain neutral on A68 but to oppose Proposition 104 (see story).

While both groups take positions on ballot measures, and CASE endorses legislative candidates, neither group makes campaign contributions to candidates or committees.

Every school board that belongs to CASB is entitled to send one member to the delegate assembly. Urschel said 81 delegates attended Saturday’s event.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: new principals

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 11:50

Mark Grishaber has been named principal of Taft High School. He was formerly assistant principal at Young High School.

New principal, Michael Herring, has been named principal of Jahn.

Former interim principal at Burnside, Kelly Thigpen has become contract principal.

Kelly Moore-Shelton has been rehired as principal at Attucks.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones: vjones@catalyst-chicago.org

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Fewer tenured teachers rehired, voucher rally, Elgin charter fight

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 10:13

As promised, many of the educators who were laid off earlier this summer as a result of drops in enrollment were rehired, but rehire rates were different for tenured versus non-tenured teachers.

Of the 299 non-tenured teachers laid off this summer, 177 or 59 percent were brought back for full-time jobs, according to district data that the CTU shared with Catalyst. Meanwhile, of the 231 laid-off tenured teachers, 123 or 53 percent were rehired and more of them landed only substitute of part-time jobs.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey says the stats prove that the district’s new student-based budgeting model discourages principals from hiring more experienced teachers because they are paid more. Last week, CPS officials announced they wouldn’t cut school budgets if their enrollment numbers fell below projections. Sharkey says he’s glad principals won’t have to lay off more teachers, but that it’s too late to reverse some of the negative impacts already felt by experienced teachers because of the new budgeting formula.

2. Enrollment drain… Another revelation from Friday's announcement that CPS won't cut budgets based on enrollment is just how many fewer students are going to traditional schools. Just a decade ago, about 393,000 students went to district-run schools and only 12,000 students went to charter schools. On Friday, CPS officials said that 309,182 students were in traditional schools on the 10th day. CPS has yet to provide information on the count at charter schools.

Some of the enrollment drop at traditional schools is caused by students being lured away by charter and contract schools. But another part of it is that families are either moving out of Chicago or choosing to send their children to private schools. Overall, CPS officials said total enrollment was down by about 3,000 students. In a large school district, that is a small drop of less than 1 percent. But it bears keeping in mind that for at least the past decade CPS has been losing about 1 percent of students each year and now, for the first time perhaps ever, it will serve less than 400,000 students.

The Sun-Times applauded the move to let traditional schools keep the cash for students who did not show up. In an editorial, the Sun-Times says CPS should stop threatening to take money away from schools that don’t meet their enrollment projections. CPS is such a transient system with students who live transient lives and schools shouldn’t be penalized for their movements, the editorial argues.

3. Are vouchers on the horizon? Last week about 500 people--mostly affiliated with the Archdiocese of Chicago--gathered outside the State of Illinois Building to rally for school choice. They want state education money to follow children into private schools -- and expect to see a related bill in the State Legislature sometime this spring.

“The Bill Gates’ of the world don’t need school choice,” said Rebeca Nieves Huffman, state director of Democrats for Education Reform. “We would love to see something that prioritizes the lower-income families.”

Patrick Landry, the principal at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Humboldt Park, says that “parents are the primary educators of their children and deserve the right to choose their child’s education.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Chicago’s new archbishop, Blase Cupich, will handle these issues. A Chicago Tribune article this weekend detailed how Cupich battled to keep inner-city Catholic schools open despite declining enrollment at his previous post in Spokane, Wash., where he oversaw just 16 schools; Chicago’s system is the nation’s largest with more than 83,000 students and 244 schools. The article notes that his predecessor, Cardinal Francis George -- who has cancer and will retire from his duties as archbishop --  was big on lobbying legislators for tax credits and private school vouchers.

4. Suburban fight… In July, School District U-46 board members rejected the proposal for the Elgin Math and Science Academy, saying they were worried that the approval would “open the floodgates” for charters in the town. Board members also said they would rather the local not-for-profit leaders work with the school district to improve math and science education for all students in the district.

 But now the charter school operators appealed to the State Charter School Commission and are in the process of drumming up support for the idea. Last week, they won a victory when the Elgin City Council passed a resolution endorsing the charter school. On Tuesday evening, the charter school commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal.

Outside of Chicago, charter schools are pretty rare with only 15 campuses serving about 5,000 students. This past Spring, there was a major effort to abolish the charter school commission, which can override local school board decisions to reject charters. Schools approved by the Illinois State Charter School Commission are funded directly through the state, which winds up costing school districts more. But after being passed by the Senate, the bill to scrap the Illinois State Charter School Commission was sent to the Rules Committee in the House and never left.


5. Money for STEM teachers … Two teacher training programs in Illinois will receive a total of some $18.5 million in federal funds to recruit, train and support more STEM teachers in high-needs districts over the next five years. One grant for $10.2 million will go to a project at Illinois State University run by Robert Lee, who is well known for the Chicago Teacher Pipeline program he oversees. The other, for $8.3 million, goes to National Louis University’s Science Excellence through Residency program, directed by Shaunti Knauth.

The grants, which were announced last week, are also supposed to increase the participation of underrepresented groups, including women, minorities and people with disabilities, in teaching STEM subjects.

 

 












Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Looking forward (and back) at Jeffco controversies

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 09:58

BREAKING NEWS

Classes at Jefferson and Golden high schools were canceled this morning due to an apparent sick out by teachers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco Interupted

After a week-long districtwide protest over a proposed curriculum committee, It's unclear where the Jefferson County community heads from here. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

However, the organization behind the advanced history course in question said Jeffco may lose its ability to offer the course for college credit if substantial changes are made. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, KDVR )

Jefferson county students disputed the claims made by some board members that their teachers persuaded them to walkout. ( CPR )

Echoing earlier reports, teachers tell the Denver Post not much has actually changed despite the new Advanced Placement Framework. ( Denver Post )

Gov. John Hickenlooper and his Republican challenger Congressman Bob Beauprez weighed in on the mounting tension in Jeffco. Hickenlooper said he hopes the history curriculum covers a variety of topics. Beauprez said if the residents don't like what the school board is doing, they can let them know that at the polls. ( Durango Herald )

Meanwhile, a member of the Jeffco school board member defends the actions of the majority. ( Denver Post )

ICYMI: Here's the long (Denver Post) and short (Chalkbeat) of how Jeffco became a suburb divided. ( Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado )

"Testing madness"

Superintendents from Douglas, Jefferson, and Eagle County opine there are too many tests that don't provide enough good information to schools. ( Denver Post )

back to school

School at a Colorado youth detention center begins today, more than a month later than usual. But things haven't been on track at the state-run center for a while. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

School improvement

Denver Public Schools needs to replicate the success at McMeen Elementary School, the Denver Post editorial board said. ( Denver Post )

Exit ticket

In a letter to parents, a Denver principal said she's leaving at the end of the year due to low test scores. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Steel City Turnaround

"There's a lot of work needed to be done," said Pueblo City Schools' superintendent pitching her new strategic plan to The Pueblo Chieftain. ( Chieftain )

"Friday Flu"

Local school districts regularly see an uptick in requests for substitutes on Fridays. The increase is putting pressure on an already shallow substitute pool. ( CBS4 )

Teaching and learning

For a third year, Boulder Valley fourth graders got a lesson in agriculture last week. ( Daily Camera )

With the help of technology, Lego toys are teaching Palmer Lake Elementary students reading, writing, computer and teamwork skills. ( Gazette )

Cassidy Montoya, the Fort Collins teacher of the year, said education is a team sport. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

This fall, about 2,000 St. Vrain students in 12 schools are learning Mandarin. It's one of the largest Chinese programs in the state. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco cancels classes at Golden, Jefferson high schools due to teacher absences

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 08:01

Classes at Golden and Jefferson high schools are canceled today because of a large portion of teachers called in either claiming to be sick or using a personal day.

At Golden, Jeffco officials said, 81 percent of teachers requested a substitute. It was not clear how many teachers requested a substitute at Jefferson.

It’s the second time this month that Jeffco Public Schools is canceling class due to a high number of teacher absences.

It’s unclear why the teachers are calling out en masse. But tension between the suburban community’s teachers and school board has been rising for months. It reached a symbolic boiling point earlier when the Jefferson County Education Association voted no confidence in board chair Ken Witt. The union denied having any role in the earlier sick out.

The apparent Golden sick out follows a week of protests organized by students. Students are upset about a proposed curriculum review committee they believe could lead to censorship. No action has been taken by the school board on the committee.

Previously, classes at Standley Lake and Conifer were canceled Sept. 19, when about a third of teachers at those schools missed classes.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Valverde principal to depart at the end of the year, citing test scores

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 20:36

The principal of a southwest Denver elementary announced plans to resign at the end of the school year, due to a drop in the school’s scores on statewide tests.

Franziska Zenhaeusern informed her staff Friday that this year would be her last as principal of Valverde Elementary School. She cited the school’s stagnating proficiency scores and low growth on this year’s test scores, released in August.

Explore Chalkbeat’s database of this year’s TCAP results.

This year, the school saw small gains in both reading and math and a seven percentage point jump in writing. Still, the school’s growth scores were below the district average, by double digits in several subjects.

In her letter, Zenhaeursern said, “our students’ growth compared to similar schools in the district has been very low.”

She also cited ten years of stagnating reading scores at the school. Roughly 29 percent of students scored proficient or advanced this year. In her letter, Zenhaeursern said that 60% of 3rd through 5th graders read below grade level. She called this fact “unacceptable.”

“As a leader, I take responsibility for these disappointing results and have decided to resign by the end of this school year,” she said.

Zenhaeusern plans to finish out the year, which would be her fourth year as principal at the school. On average, principals in traditional Denver Public Schools stayed for 3.4 years.

She plans to meet with parents and community members on Monday at 3 p.m. at the school to discuss her decision and what is next for the school.

Read her full resignation letter here:

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Categories: Urban School News

After week of protests, an uncertain path forward for Jeffco schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 19:14

LITTLETON — After a week-long student-organized protest against a proposed curriculum review panel that some fear could lead to censorship, it appears both sides of a fractured Jefferson County Public Schools community are digging in their heels.

In interviews and statements to the media, members of the school district’s majority appear resolute in their pursuit of a commission to study an advanced history course’s curriculum and other texts as they see necessary to ensure coursework is balanced.

Meanwhile, parents and teachers critical of the board are preparing to step up their ground game by establishing a countywide network in order to quickly mobilize parents if they believe the board steps out of line.

Given the battle lines drawn, it’s becoming more uncertain how the two sides of the fractured community can find their way back to one another.

“There’s just so much,” said Jeffco Public Schools parent and teacher Allison Olis, referring to the growing list of controversies that have fractured the school system.

Olis was one of about two dozen parents and teachers who gathered early Friday morning to wave protest signs at a busy intersection in the suburban Denver commuinty. Another, larger protest is scheduled for next week.

CHALKBEAT EXPLAINS: Jeffco Interrupted 

Tina Gurdikian, a vocal parent activist who also joined the morning gathering, said the rash of student protests — and rumors of more — should be enough to get the board majority to listen to the community.

“We’re doing our part,” she said. “Now they need to do theirs: listen.”

The board will have that chance at its Oct. 2 meeting, the first since the controversy around the proposed review committee made national headlines. Students who participated throughout the week’s protest pledged to take their concerns to Golden, where the board meets.

An agenda published for the meeting late Friday afternoon did not include the proposal. However, the board can add a discussion item to the agenda up to 24 hours before they meet.

The stakes for the school district might even be higher next week, according to 9News. The station reported that students are considering a districtwide walkout on Oct. 1, the state’s official “count day” that establishes funding for school districts. If students skip school en masse Wednesday, that would cause a logistical nightmare for Jeffco Public Schools, the second largest school system in the state.

In order to secure funding for students not present on Oct. 1, schools must provide additional evidence to the state to prove just how many students are enrolled in its schools.

Students who helped organize walkouts at Chatfield, Lakewood and Pomona high schools said they haven’t heard of such plans yet. But the Chatfield principal took to social media to plead with her students not to miss class.

“If we have an inaccurate October count, we will end up being shorted on money that supports all facets of the school and school district, including possible class offerings and teacher staffing and salaries, two of the issues that many students have said they are fighting for,” Principal Wendy Rubin wrote on the school’s Facebook page. 

Board chairman Ken Witt said in a statement to Chalkbeat that he hopes the students who took to the street realize that curriculum review is just part of the job for a school board.

“To ensure that the board fulfills that charge, it has been proposed that the board establish a curriculum review committee to provide input from parents and the community, in addition to many other inputs, including the school district,” Witt said. “My goal is to ensure we have balanced and thorough curriculum.”

In interviews with other media outlets, Witt has laid blame on the student walkouts at the feet of the county’s teachers union.

“I have had students tell me so, directly,” Witt told Chalkbeat when asked for evidence to support his claim the union fostered the student protests. 

But dozens of students who spoke with Chalkbeat throughout the week of protests expressed frustration that their teachers in fact aren’t talking about the growing tension.

The Jefferson County Education Association has strongly pushed back against Witt’s claim it had anything to do with the protests or an apparent “sick-out” that forced Jeffco officials to close two high schools last week.

“It’s defamation of character, as far as I’m concerned,” Gurdikian said. “Give our kids some credit.”

Gurdikian said she and other parents critical of the board majority are working toward establishing a network of parents throughout the county — at least one family from every school.

“Seventy percent of Jeffco isn’t connected to the school district,” Gurdikian said, referring to those who either don’t work for or send their children to the system’s schools. “We have to reach them. This majority was elected by the people who didn’t vote last year.”

In the off-year election, about 130,000 people, or 31 percent, voted in the last year’s school board race. Williams won by the widest margin, with 61 percent of the vote. Witt earned 58 percent of the vote and Newkirk beat his opponent with 54 percent.

Sheila Atwell, executive director of reform-minded Jeffco Students First and general supporter of the board majority, pointed out those who did vote are getting what they asked for.

“We ran on giving every effective teacher a raise,” she said. “And that’s what the board majority is doing.”

Nearly 100 percent of Jeffco teachers are expected to see a raise this year after the board approved a new teacher compensation model earlier this month. The proposal came at the same meeting that the board’s majority rejected recommendations from a third party on how to settle ongoing negotiations with the teachers union.

While some teachers are concerned about linking raises to evaluations, which the third party found to be unreliable, a louder concern was the lack of collaboration between the board and the Jefferson County Education Association.

And Atwell acknowledged the criticism that chairman Witt’s sometimes-bullish behavior at meetings doesn’t provide a welcoming atmosphere.

“I want [the board majority] to succeed,” Atwell said. “So, it’s frustrating. I do wish Ken had a more conciliatory style. That would be nice.”

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