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Charter school families in Far Northeast Denver get discounts for going solar

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 15:34

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was on hand Thursday afternoon for the announcement of a unique partnership to between a health and wellness charter school in the Montbello neighborhood and a community solar company.

The partnership between Academy 360 and the Denver-based SunShare will provide participating families with 20-30 percent discounts on their energy bills for making a partial switch to solar power. That doesn’t mean they have to install solar panels on their roofs. Instead, they will tap into community solar energy produced by a “solar garden” that SunShare will build this late this fall near Green Valley Ranch Middle School.

While other customers, including a number of school districts and colleges, pay for Sunshare’s solar energy, the company will donate it to the families of Academy 360. Principal Sally Sorte said Academy 360 families will enjoy the energy discount as long as they are part of the school, which is intended eventually to cover the cradle to career continuum. About 79 percent of students at the K-3 school are eligible for free or discounted meals.

Karen Gados, community outreach coordinator for SunShare, said the company launched the projects because it wanted to contribute to low-income families and create a school-based partnership that can be duplicated in the future.

“We really like Academy 360’s mission because they really look at the whole child…They target healthy body, healthy mind, the sustainability component,” she said. “We hope to do this with other schools across the state.”

Categories: Urban School News

Anxious about loss of funds, schools lend parents a helping hand with paperwork

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 13:29

At Thornton Elementary’s recent back-to-school night, the computer lab was so mobbed that Principal Betsy Miller had to quickly open three nearby classrooms so parents could access more than a dozen additional computers.

At an event often characterized by teacher talks and classroom visits, why the rush on desktop computers?

The rush came at the urging of school staff as part of a new push to get more families to fill out Free/Reduced Price Meal applications. As cafeteria staff, volunteers and translators stood by to help, Miller took in what, to her, was a beautiful scene.

“It was packed all night long,” she said. “It was awesome.”

The effort at Thornton, where 80 percent of students qualified for free or discounted meals last year, is not unusual. Many school districts undertake special efforts—from school bus ads to outreach events at community agencies–to get the meal applications filled out by eligible families. Often the push starts well before the first day of school.

Parents at Thornton Elementary filled the computer lab during the school’s recent back-to-school night.

To be sure, these efforts aim to ease the financial burden of struggling families by extending meal benefits and other fee waivers.

But they’re also intended to accurately measure the level of need in schools and ensure schools get their fair share of millions in federal Title 1 dollars and other at-risk funding, especially at a time when some efforts to expand low-income students’ access to food may be having the unintended consequence of encouraging parents to pass on the paperwork.

“The more people you get to apply, the more funding you get that benefits the kids,” said Naomi Steenson, the director of nutrition services and Before and After School Enrichment in Adams 12.

Moving toward universal meals

With Colorado’s “Breakfast After the Bell” law, as well as district policies that increasingly emphasize universal meals for all students in high-poverty schools, getting the Free/Reduced forms completed can be a tricky task for district staff.

“A parent mentally thinks, ‘Well, I’m at a school where it’s free. I don’t have to apply,” said Steenson.

Part of her job is to combat that misperception, which she believes led to lower free-and-reduced percentages at several of the 13 district schools that offered universal breakfast and lunch last year. To get her message out, she asks her staff to fill out the form themselves so they can vouch for how easy it is. This year, she’s also emphasized the online version of the application form, commissioning school bus ads and suggesting principals offer open computer lab time so parents can fill it out.

For principals like Miller, it’s an easy sell. She believes last year’s free-and-reduced rate at Thornton doesn’t capture the true need among the school’s students and is hoping her efforts this year will boost that percentage.

“We’ve just been more diligent this year,” she said.

While Thornton students already enjoy universal free breakfast and lunch, Miller likes to remind parents that filling out the application could exempt them from the $45 student fee, and possibly other activity fees if they have older children in the district.

Aside from the financial impact on individual families, there’s also the larger school budget question. In addition to free full-day kindergarten, Thornton’s Title 1 funds pay for a bilingual family liaison and other instructional supports.

“When parents don’t complete the application it can impact our federal funding,” said Miller.

Free-and-reduced rates can also affect certain kinds of state funding as well as grant funding.

Administrators in other districts are also acutely aware of the potential funding at stake if parents fail to fill out the free-and-reduced forms. In Pueblo City Schools, where a number of schools offer universal free meals, Nutrition Services Director said she was forced to eliminate that model at two schools a couple years ago because too few parents continued to submit the applications.

“We basically say if we don’t get all the apps in we’ll go back to a paid system,” she said. “We do hold out, not necessarily the carrot, but the stick.”

In Adams 14, where universal meals are available in every school, the annual application process is routine for many parents, said Jim Rowan, the district’s director of nutrition services. Still, he’s found that principals push harder to get those forms turned in if their schools teeter close to the Title 1 funding cut-off.

“They are more focused on ensuring that number is higher,” he said. “It’s amazing how funding motivates people.”

Behind the numbers

On a Friday morning in early August, Lola Campos, a free and reduced meal specialist with Boulder Valley School District, met some of the parents behind her district’s statistics at a local food bank, Community Food Share in Louisville. It was part of a three-day outreach effort to connect parents with staff from Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley school districts.

Lola Campos worked with a parent to fill out an application for free and reduced-price school meals.

“School districts are trying to get more involved, which is a great idea because these people who have one need usually have several needs,” said Carol Cortez-Sagor, the food bank’s direct distribution coordinator.

Campos sat in a conference room along with staff from district preschool and Medicaid outreach programs, greeting parents and helping them fill out the free-and-reduced application. One mother followed Campos’ soft-spoken instructions as her elementary-age daughter spun around in a black swivel chair next to her, her toddler stood on tippy-toes repeating “Mama,” and her oldest leaned against the table watching intently.

“Your signature here,” instructed Campos. “And that will be it.”

In the end, the process took only about six or seven minutes. While parents are not required to provide proof of income, Campos noted that 3 percent of applications will be selected for further inspection in October and those parents will have to provide documentation of income then.

Aside from expediting the application review process for school districts, which are flooded with free-and-reduced forms during the early weeks of school, outreach efforts like the one Campos attended help parents avoid paperwork hassles later and calm hesitation about passing on sensitive personal information.

Shelly Allen, director of nutrition and warehouse services for St. Vrain Valley, said, “It’s a great opportunity for us to have one-on-one contact with parents.”

Without that personal connection, procrastination or confusion can inadvertently make life harder for families.

“What happens is mom just keeps sending them to school and we keep feeding them until we send letter home that their application from last year expired,” said Allen. “They run up these terrible bills.”

In addition to sending employees to Community Food Share every August, Allen ensures free-and-reduced applications are available at local churches, the housing office and homeless center. She also prints her name and number on school menus so parents can call her directly.

Things were different when she first arrived in the district, she said. There were no visits to the food bank or other concerted efforts to reach eligible families.

“It wasn’t quite as important here at that time,” she said. “We didn’t do it and we struggled.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: McMinimee wants Jeffco principals to have more say in schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 09:06

Jeffco Dramarama

The Jefferson County Board of Education rejected the recommendations of a third party to give "partly effective" teachers a pay raise this school year. Chair Ken Witt also surprised the board and district staff his own ideas of what compensation should look like. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

The fact finder, mutually agreed to by the board and teachers union, said the evaluation tool that measures a teacher's skill is unreliable and should be updated. You can read the rest of fact finder's report and recommendations here. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Meanwhile, Superintendent Dan McMinimee told CPR he wants his building principals to have more of say on what happens in their buildings. ( CPR )

something to chew on

A new federal program could feed more than 12,000 Colorado students in participating districts — with no application for free or reduced-price meals required. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Steel City Turnaround

Pueblo City School's superintendent will appeal a preliminary accreditation rating that is a few points lower than last year's. ( KRDO )

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

Families of a Montbello neighborhood charter school can expect to see their energy bill fall because of a partnership with a solar energy provider. ( Denver Post )

false alarms

A possible prank was the reason why one Littleton school was put on lock-in status earlier this week. ( 9News )

Meanwhile, faulty equipment is to blame for a Denver school going on lock down. ( 9News )

If at first you don't succeed ...

A charter school that had wanted to open in Douglas County is now eyeing Jefferson County after its initial application was sent back for revisions. ( Arvada Press )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board rejects fact-finder recommendations; Witt makes new compensation proposal

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 21:28

GOLDEN — Jeffco Public Schools teachers will continue to work under their 2013 compensation plan after the board of education here rejected the recommendations of a third party to provide salary bumps for teachers rated “partly effective.”

Instead, teachers will receive retroactive pay increases later this fall after the Jeffco Board of Education settles the compensation matter at a later date.

The board’s 3-2 majority blocked a resolution to accept the recommendations of the third party fact-finder that suggested teachers who were rated “partly effective” under the district’s evaluation system be given raises. The fact-finder also recommended that the district and teachers union improve the teacher evaluation tool that they said was not statistically reliable.

Because the board rejected the recommendations from the fact-finder, the final compensation system will be determined by the five-member elected body, as outlined in the district’s collective bargaining agreement. Given the conservative and free-market tendencies of the board’s majority, that could mean a radical shift in how teachers are paid.

During the board’s discussion of the fact finder’s report, board chairman Ken Witt presented his own compensation proposal, which surprised some board members, district staff, and board observers.

Witt’s proposal, characterized as “a lot” by Jeffco Public Schools’ chief financial officer Lorie Gillis, calls for every teacher to make at least $38,000 per year. The current base salary for a first year Jeffco teachers is $33,616.

Further, Witt also recommended compensation be increased based on the most recent employee evaluation ratings. Every “effective” and “highly effective” Jeffco teacher would receive a compensation increase, and “highly effective” teachers would receive a compensation increase that is at least 50 percent higher than the compensation increase of “effective” teachers.

Gillis, who said she had only seen the proposal for the first time tonight, told the board her team would need time to crunch all the numbers.

Jefferson County Education Association executive director Lisa Elliott said she was “flabbergasted” by Witt’s proposal.

“This board majority knows exactly what they’re going to do,” Elliott said earlier in the evening during an interview with Chalkbeat. “They’re just walking through the steps.”

The majority — comprised of Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — said they rejected the recommendation of the fact-finder because his suggestions were not in line with the district’s goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom.

Additionally, the three continued to raise fundamental concerns that the current pay structure for Jeffco teachers — generally based on a teacher’s number of years in the classroom — was unfair and not competitive.

“We need to explore making pay for new teachers more aggressive to competitive,” Newkirk said.

Minority members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted to approve the recommendations, repeatedly citing the report’s claim that the teacher evaluation tool is unreliable.

“There’s a lot of questions marks,” Dahlkemper said.  

Dahlkemper and Fellman also indicated their desire to move beyond the contract negotiations, which they said have had the unintended byproduct of sowing fear and mistrust between many of the district’s teachers and board majority.

The teacher evaluation system has been in place since 2008 and was created by the district and union together. However, this would be the first year teachers’ evaluation ratings would be tied to compensation across the district. The district has piloted a pay-for-performance model at 20 schools.

Salaries for teachers have been frozen since 2010. Teachers agreed to the salary freezes as the district weathered budget cuts from the Great Recession.

The current negotiations are only about annual compensation. The district’s and union’s full agreement expires in 2015.

According to the union, this is the first time the Jeffco Public Schools’ Board of Education has rejected either an arbitrator or fact finder’s recommendation during contract negotiations.

Categories: Urban School News

Universal free meals coming to high-poverty schools in eight districts

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 13:47

Eight Colorado school districts, most small and rural, are participating in a new federal program that will allow them to offer universal free meals in some or all of their schools.

The program, called Community Eligibility Provision or CEP, could feed more than 12,000 students in participating districts—with no application for free or reduced-price meals required. While CEP is intended to reduce child hunger and make life easier for families, some districts shied away from the program this year for fear of losing state at-risk funding or because of concerns that meal reimbursements under CEP won’t be enough for food service departments to break even.

Among the districts trying out CEP this year are Harrison, Moffat Consolidated, Centennial, Mesa County Valley 51, Sierra Grande, South Conejos, Alamosa and Mountain Valley. Notably absent from the group of eight is Pueblo City Schools, where some administrators initially hoped to pursue the program.

CEP participants

  • Harrison-19 schools
  • Mesa County Valley 51-1 school
  • Alamosa-districtwide
  • Centennial-districtwide
  • Moffat Consolidated-districtwide
  • Mountain Valley-districtwide
  • Sierra Grande-districtwide
  • South Conejos-districtwide

Jill Kidd, the district’s director of nutrition services, said former Superintendent Maggie Lopez didn’t want to saddle the new superintendent with an untested program as she started the job in July.

“Mostly it had to do with the potential loss of at-risk funding,” said Kidd. “With the new superintendent and 6 new principals, the former superintendent didn’t feel she should do that before she retired.”

The reason that school administrators worry about the loss of at-risk funding under CEP is that parents aren’t required to submit Free/Reduced-Price Meal applications, which have historically helped determine schools’ low-income populations and their eligibility for the funds. While parents at CEP schools will now be asked to complete a similar form called a “Family Economic Data Survey” to help track poverty levels, it’s voluntary.

While Kidd said CEP could have saved her department much time and effort, she added, “You really don’t tell want to tell your district, I just took $6 million out of your pocket.”

Community Eligibility, which was piloted in six states and the District of Columbia over the past three years, is being rolled out nationally this fall. Schools or entire districts are eligible for the program for four years if 40 percent or more of their students are “directly certified,” which means they are identified as low-income because they receive certain types of government benefits such as SNAP (formerly known as the food stamp program), or are classified as homeless, migrant or in foster care.


Categories: Urban School News

“Partially effective” Jeffco teachers should get raises, fact finding report recommends

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 12:14

Jefferson County teachers who were rated “partially effective” last year should get raises, a fact-finding report recommended.

The report, released today, also concluded teachers who are not rated as effective or above this school year should not be eligible for raises, so long as the district and teachers union agree to an improved evaluation system.

The recommendations, which are non-binding, are the latest in ongoing teacher contract negotiations between the Jefferson County Education Association and Jeffco Public Schools. The board asked for the third party opinion on negotiations after the board’s majority rejected a tentative agreement in June.

That contract provided raises for “partially effective” teachers. That was a nonstarter for board chair Ken Witt.

Negotiations between the two parties began in February. The Jeffco Board of Education now has 30 days to act on the fact-finders’ report. The board is expected to discuss the report in an executive session tonight before their first regular school board meeting of the school year.

Jeffco rated 89 teachers out of more than 5,000 as “partially effective.” The current budget has an $18 million placeholder for salary increases for teachers and other Jeffco employees. However, salaries will remain the same until an agreement is reached.

“It’s critically important that we ensure every Jeffco student has an effective teacher and we want to make sure that those teachers see an increase in their paychecks as soon as possible,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee in a statement. “We also want to provide additional support to those teachers who haven’t met that benchmark. We want every teacher to achieve their highest level of professionalism because our students deserve that.”

Jefferson County Education Association President John Ford said that fact-finder’s report will allow the district and the union to work together to refine the evaluation process and make it more accurate, provided the school board chooses to follow the report’s recommendations. 

“Teachers and the community have been calling on the Board to accept the fact finder’s recommendations throughout this entire process and now that those recommendations have been released, the District is stepping away from the commitment it made when it went into fact finding of honoring the process,” Ford said in a statement.

This story has been updated with response from the teachers union.

Fact-finder’s report DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1281017-jeffco-fact-finding-report' });
Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Graduation rate up, Urban Prep's first class, end of PURE?

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 09:17

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett are basking in the latest graduation and on-track rate numbers, saying the five-year cohort graduation rate is now nearly 70 percent. Instead of holding a press conference and taking questions, though, Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett announced it in an editorial in the Sun-Times.  They credit full-day kindergarten, the longer school day and better programs in neighborhood high schools, such as International Baccalaureate and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.

Of course, these initiatives probably had little effect on the graduation rate, as they are too recent to have had any impact on the cohort of students in question, who entered high school in 2009-2010. The Consortium on Chicago School Research has another theory: In 2005, the consortium put out a study stating that freshmen who earn at least five credits and no more than one “F” in a semester in a core course are 3-1/12 times more likely to graduate in four years. The findings prompted CPS to hire on-track coordinators to stay on top of freshmen, though many of those support positions have vanished due to budget cuts.

Even without the supports, though, the on-track rate is 84.1 percent, according to Byrd-Bennett’s announcement at Wednesday’s board meeting. (See a CPS summary of improvements.) Board member Henry Bienen said it was a fresh change of pace to hear positive news about CPS. “We hear so much criticism of staff and the board, on school closings, on investments, on our priorities,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the metrics are the metrics. This tells us not that we’re perfect, but that success is happening […]. We can put almost everything else on the side when we see this kind of data.”

Chief of Accountability John Barker said school-level graduation and freshman on-track data should be available sometime Thursday.

2. After graduation… The Chicago Tribune revisits the first class of graduates from Urban Prep Charter School, the city’s only all-boys charter school. Earlier this year, the Associated Press did a similar story. The school made news in 2010 when all its graduates were accepted into college. National Student Clearinghouse data later showed that 76 percent of the graduates actually enrolled. The question since then has been: How many of those students will persist and earn their college degree? The backdrop for this question: In 2006, a Consortium on Chicago School Research report found that only 3 percent of black male freshmen in CPS earned a bachelors’ degree by the time they were 25.

Urban Prep’s head, Tim King, declined to provide information for the Tribune on how many students from the first graduating class got their college diploma this fall. (Tribune columnist Eric Zorn says he should have talked about the problems students encounter as they transition.) But profiles of four of the students show that they struggled with figuring out how to find a support network and deal with the increased academic rigor. One impressive point: Urban Prep stepped up and helped support these students, paying for one student to have a writing coach and another to take summer classes.

The article doesn’t confront the fact that many of the students entered college with low ACT scores. In 2010, the average was 16; last year, 17.1. A 20 is generally considered the minimum for college readiness.

3. PURE activist moves on… Through the years, PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education) Executive Director Julie Woestehoff has sounded alarms about a myriad of issues in the school system, including the dangers of retaining students and of relying too much on standardized testing. She and PURE were perhaps the first to sound alarms about UNO Charter Schools when in January of 2013 they met with the Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General to ask for an investigation into the charter school’s financial condition.

But Woestehoff, who has been trying to keep PURE going on a shoestring budget, announced in a blog post that she has moved to Wyoming. She says later this month the board will have a meeting to decide if PURE will continue without her. 

4. Some school-related politics… The Sun-Times reports that Edward Oppenheimer is CTU President Karen Lewis’ first campaign donor for her potential mayoral run. The Oppenheimer Family Foundation is well-known among teachers for giving small grants for classroom and school projects, such as mosaic and gardening projects. Records show that Oppenheimer contributes to many campaigns. In 2011, he gave $500 to Miguel Del Valle’s mayoral campaign.

Also, this week lieutenant governor candidate Paul Vallas said that Chicago schools would face “devastating cuts” if Bruce Rauner becomes governor. He said that under the budget Rauner presented, schools would lose $4 billion annually. It is worth noting, however, that the education budget, among other areas, has been cut under Vallas’ running mate Gov. Pat Quinn. Neither candidate is talking about addressing structural problems that lead to annual deficits.

5. A look at the numbers … Chicago schools have long had more students of color than white students – not surprising, given the city’s demographics. But national student enrollment in public schools is catching up: For the first time ever, the number of Latino, African-American and Asian students is expected to surpass the number of non-Hispanic white students, according to Education Week.

Projections by the National Center for Education Statistics show that 50.3 percent of schoolchildren will be minorities this fall, with these populations remaining in concentrated major urban areas like Chicago, where just over 90 percent of CPS students are students of color.

The story points out that the most dramatic changes in public schooling have been seen in the increased numbers of students whose first language isn’t English. And the numbers are expected to rise, both in traditional urban immigrant hubs as well as the suburbs and rural communities. In Chicago, about 16 percent of CPS students were considered to have limited English proficiency last year. We reported on the challenges of bilingual education and how the suburbs are responding to the increased numbers of English Language Learners in 2012. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pueblo City Schools slips in preliminary state accountability rating

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 07:38

do the first day wiggle

The first day of school for one brand new teacher -- which included learning that some of her students can't read their own names -- is a fairly typical experience for the nearly 700 new Denver Public Schools teachers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Steel City Turnaround

Pueblo's state accreditation rating dipped slightly on the state's preliminary reports, meaning that the struggling school district will move closer to the end of the state accountability clock. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

room to grow

Although Poudre School District's students outperform the rest of the state on standardized tests overall, the district isn't meeting state expectations for growth among students who receive free and reduced-price lunch, black and Hispanic students, and those with special needs. ( Coloradoan )

setting priorities

New Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee says he doesn't yet have the answers to what the school district needs but rather intends to solicit community support. ( Colorado Public Radio )

building steam on stem

A new roadmap for improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education in the state calls for improving access to STEM instruction, particularly at the elementary level, and reducing the need for math remediation. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

too busy

After a five-year run as board president of the St. Vrain Valley School District, John Creighton announced that he's stepping down. ( Denver Post )

out of balance

The Denver Post editorial board argues that the state's child welfare system needs more than just additional staff members and should instead focus on increasing efficiency. ( Denver Post )


The new executive chef in Colorado Springs D-11 says his charge is to bring "awesomeness" to the district's cafeterias. ( Gazette )


A Fort Collins high school broke the record for the highest average ACT score in the state, topping the state's high school ACT scores for the third year in a row. ( 9News )

tax time

The South Routt school district will ask voters to renew a property tax on the November ballot. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

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