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Rise & Shine: Opting out is everywhere

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 10:10

Survey stakes

Parents have to approve their children’s participation in the controversial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, an assistant attorney general told the State Board of Education Friday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Opt me out

Boulder Valley parents are engaged in a grassroots effort to encourage opting out of upcoming state tests in protest, saying testing is excessive and taking away too much class time. ( Daily Camera )

Backlash against standardized testing has strengthened a grassroots movement promoting the rights of parents to hold their children out of new assessments designed to measure readiness for college and career. ( Denver Post )

Opt me out, national edition

Almost every state has an “opt out” movement. Its true size is hard to gauge, but the protests on Facebook, at school board meetings and in more creative venues — including screenings of anti-testing documentaries — have caught the attention of education officials. ( New York Times )

Opt me out, teacher edition

An Aurora teacher has become a hero in the opt-out movement by announcing she'll refuse to give state tests to her students this month. District officials say she can't do that. ( Denver Post )

Explainer

Just what are these new state tests anyway? ( Aspen Times )

Tick tock

A Colorado Springs magnet school has almost run out the accountability clock, and is trying several new approaches to save itself. ( Gazette )

The state's Turnaround Network helps a rural elementary school boost its performance ( Gazette )

All told, 30 schools across the state are feeling the hot breath of state accountability on the back of their necks. ( Daily Record )

Dual duel

Even as Denver ponders cutting some of its dual-language programs, the Thompson School District is poised to add a couple. ( Loveland Reporter-Herald )

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

Utah vaccination rates are far higher than Colorado's, despite nearly identical regulatory environments. Why? ( Denver Post )

eco-friendly

Fresh off a lobbying victory that brought a plastic bag fee to Boulder, Fairview High students are getting water bottle refilling stations installed at the school. ( Daily Camer )

Two cents

The president of the state teachers' union says education reformers are in denial about the burden testing is placing on classroom teachers. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

State Board told prior parent consent required for health survey

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 20:36

Parents have to approve their children’s participation in the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, and schools can’t merely offer parents the opportunity to opt out, an assistant attorney general told the State Board of Education Friday.

“I conclude that prior written parental consent is required before any Colorado public school students can be administered” the survey, Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl wrote in a memo to the board.

The survey has been criticized by some parents who are offended by questions on student drug use, sexual practices, drinking and other sensitive issues.

Board members started asking questions about the survey at their Feb. 19 meeting. They asked Dyl to write the memo, which he presented to them at Friday’s session.

“Merely affording parents notice and an opportunity to ‘opt-out’ of the [survey] is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the law,” Dyl wrote. “Read together, these two statutes are not ambiguous.”

Dyl concluded that consent is valid only if a school district has given written notice of the survey, made a copy of the survey available for viewing, and given parents two weeks to respond.

The way most schools currently administer the survey appears to be at odds with Dyl’s opinion. Some 92 percent of schools use a “passive consent” letter, which allows parents to opt out if they choose, according to Sarah Nickels, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey lead at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Another 8 percent of schools use “active consent” letters, which require a parent signature for any student who participates in the survey.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is given every other year to students in randomly selected schools that agree to participate. More than 220 schools and 40,000 youth took the 2013 survey. Learn more here, and read the 99 questions on a past survey here.

Dyl cited federal and state law that say that parents must consent to any survey required of students that touches on certain topics. A recent version of the survey specifies that students’ participation is voluntary.

Dyl’s memo is what’s known in state government as an “informal opinion,” meaning it represents the legal opinion of the lawyer who wrote it and is not a formal ruling of the attorney general. Such formal opinions have the force of law. (See full memo below.)

The board considered passing a motion directing education Commissioner Robert Hammond to distribute the memo to school districts and provide advice on the issue. But members decided to delay any action until the next regular meeting on March 11-12.

Angelika Schroeder, a Democrat from Boulder, said it’s important that the board be able to hear public testimony on the issue.

While no action was taken, some board members made their views on the issue clear.

“The whole thing just seems really poorly handled. … Why is it so hidden?” said board member Deb Scheffel, a Republican from Douglas County. “I feel like I’m flat footed; I don’t have any information” when questioned by parents.

Schroeder questioned whether parents are in the dark about the survey. “We’re generalizing that parents were the last to know, and that’s not true.” Schroeder is a former Boulder Valley school board member and said, “Parents certainly in my school district were notified.”

Pam Mazanec, a Republican from Douglas County, said the survey “strikes me as exploitive of children. … I think it’s inappropriate. It’s repulsive to me.”

Both Scheffel and Mazanec said they believe the survey has become more intrusive in recent years.

Rebecca Holmes, a Department of Education associate commissioner, said the origins of the survey go back to 1991 and while questions have been added over time, sensitive questions “have been asked for most of the 24 years of the survey.”

The survey is the Colorado version of a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey and is supervised by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Department of Human Services and CDE. The public health school at the University of Colorado Denver does the survey work.

Questions about the survey have come up frequently in recent committee hearings on parent rights and student data privacy measures being considered in the legislature.

There’s clearly some misinformation circulating on the issue.

On Thursday, State Board members took questions from local board members during a Colorado Association of School Boards conference.

One member of the audience said parents had told her that the health survey was given as part of the PARCC language arts and math tests.

“It’s not part of the PARCC test,” SBE member Steve Durham told the questioner.

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Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: What we learned from education research last year

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 19:40
  • The Brooklyn principal who became famous when her school was featured in “Humans of New York” explains what makes a good school leader. (The Atlantic)
  • The lessons learned from education research last year include insights on social-emotional learning, math teaching, new standards, and more. (NPR Ed)
  • Unable to generate the political will to ditch Common Core standards in many states, some lawmakers are now trying to sabotage the implementation by targeting funding and new tests. (Politico)
  • Twitter has allowed a new type of education activist — mostly non-educators and mostly opposed to the Common Core — rising influence in policy debates, a new study has found. (Hechinger)
  • Silicon Valley has had a hard time breaking into the education sector, and it’s because adults are willing to let the tech industry’s wild-west culture into their own lives but are still nervous about their children. (Wired)
  • A study of images showing historical conceptions of the future of education reveals a lot about our current anxieties over the role of technology in schools. (Medium)
  • Can schools have an effect on American family composition? Michael Petrilli argues that schools can support stable families by better preparing students for careers. (Education Next)
  • With Lena Dunham’s “Girls” character headed into teaching, we may be hitting “Peak Education” on television. (This Week in Education)
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: To close or not – snow days spark debate

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 10:50

Student Protests

The Colorado teenagers who organized their peers in student protests last fall are still pursuing the causes that led them to activism. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Contested health survey

The State Board of Education on Friday is expected to discuss the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which has come under increasing fire from some parent groups. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Snow Days

Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMininee says lots of factors go into the decision to close schools because of snow. ( CBS Denver )

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg apologized for the last-minute call to close schools. ( KDVR )

The decision not to close schools drew parent ire in Boulder Valley. ( Daily Camera )

Common Core

Traditional curriculum sources haven’t been meeting the demands of the new set of math and English standards. More and more teachers are scrapping off-the-shelf lessons and searching for replacements on the Internet or writing new curriculum themselves. ( Hechinger Report )

That bad smell

The hydrogen sulfide problem at Boulder's Casey Middle School is complicated as well as puzzling. ( Boulder Weekly )

Dads in class

Fathers are becoming more common as classroom volunteers in Aurora. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Craftsmanship

Thompson district students hand-make leather books at the Loveland museum. ( Loveland Reporter-Herald )

Sweet music

Three Denver kids beat the odds to sing with the National Honor Choir. ( CPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Student protest leaders in Colorado see ripple effects, aim for bigger changes

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 08:30

Months after the series of student-led protests that rippled through Colorado in late 2014, the teenagers who organized their peers are still pursuing the causes that led them to activism and searching for evidence that their activism has had an effect.

The first protests this fall started in September, when students in Jefferson County raised concerns about potential changes to the district’s curriculum and other policies.

In November, Boulder students staged a walk-out to protest the amount of time spent on standardized tests, especially a new science and social studies assessment for seniors, while seniors across the state, including in nearby Douglas County and the tiny Mancos school district, refused to take their tests.

And in December, students at nearly 30 Denver schools joined protesters around the country who were concerned about police brutality and racial disparities in the wake of the deaths of two unarmed African-American citizens at the hands of police by organizing a variety of walk-outs and rallies.

All in all, hundreds of students at dozens of schools were involved in some form of activism.

Denver Public Schools, law enforcement, and the city’s mayor responded by holding conversations focused on the Denver students’ concerns. Debates about the role of testing have continued to percolate through the state legislature and board as well as through local districts. And Jefferson County’s students have formed a formal group, Jeffco Students for Change, that continues to protest their school board’s decisions.

Below, a few student organizers talk about why protesting seemed like the best approach; whether they think the protests were effective; and what comes next.

If you’d like to hear more from some of the many student activists, come to Chalkbeat’s event at the University of Denver next Wednesday. RSVP here.

Miles Holland, senior, Denver School of the Arts, Denver Public Schools

Issue: Police brutality, racial disparities in school

Action: Helped organize a walk-out at Denver School of the Arts and a multi-school rally at City Park, Denver

What inspired you to protest?

It was really just a bunch of emotion at first. The walk-out was a way that I thought my school was going to stand behind me in expressing this emotion.

The consistency of police inflicting violence on African Americans was mainly what inspired me and what drew me to speak on these things, along with the events of Michael Brown. I was 17 when I led the walk out. And at that time you’re sort of orienting yourself to the world. You get off that leash and start thinking about going into the world, at a time when, being an African-American, it felt like we were going backwards.

Were there conversations about these issues in your school?

That was the thing. There were not conversations, there was not talk about it.

Why did you feel it was important to have a follow-up event that brought goether students from multiple schools?

We wanted to be not so much speaking as a voice from one school, but as different individuals coming together, as a unified voice, as the youth of Denver.

Do you feel the protests were effective? 

I feel like it’s been a little brushed aside. I feel like the government, and especially the media, has a way of obscuring it. It’s relevant for a little bit and then it’s done. They look at you, they acknowledge your presence, but they don’t put forward any ideas to really address the issues.

 What comes next?

At DSA we’re putting on a play about black history on March 25. There’s also a group in the district that’s talking about what comes next.

Rachel Perley, senior, Fairview High School, Boulder Valley School District

Issue: Too much standardized testing, especially for seniors

Action: Co-organized student walk out

Why protest?

First we wrote an open letter and we thought, people will just say, oh their parents wrote that, they’ll just kind of disregard it.

When we met with Superintendent [Bruce] Messinger, we were talking to him about, what is the feasiblility of having a protest, what risk do students run by participating? Could that be damaging to our district, funding, etc. He said, oh you guys should try a diplomatic approach. He recommended we speak at meetings with the task force.

But we found there was no real avenue and no desire for student input until we said we’re going to take a drastic measure and protest.

Did you feel the protests were effective? 

We didn’t want to just protest once and then our point goes away. The intent was to start a conversation, and I think we were successful.

What’s happened since?

There was a panel of students and adults from Dougco, Jeffco, and a few others to discuss what we want to happen. We met with Congressman Jonathan Singer and others to talk about our concerns.

What comes next?

Well, with PARCC coming up, it still messes with our class time, right before Advanced Placement tests. I mean, there’s a certain amount required by federal law, but adding testing on top of that pushes it to the breaking point.

Do you see connections between your protests and other student activism?

We were afraid that some of the protests in Jeffco came across as, oh, their teachers put them up to that. It was important that we didn’t have the reaction, and that people not think that we’re not being lazy, we’re not just opting out.

With Ferguson, it’s maybe the idea of student voice, and how students should have a voice in the way our world works.

Ashlyn Maher, senior, Chatfield High School, Jeffco Public Schools 

Issue: Changes to Advanced Placement U.S.. History Curriculum, concerns about school board management

Action: Organized student walk-outs, created blog, staged events at board meetings

What inspired you to protest?

I have been paying attention to the board for a while. As a student I didn’t know what I could do about it until the teacher sick out, and then other students were talking about walk outs. I realized other students cared about this, too. We started a Facebook page, tried to get as many followers as possible – it was pretty fast.

It’s important for our voices to be heard. I know myself and other people at my school have taken AP U.S. History. We learned about the 60s, civil disobedience and how that impacted history. It was in the back of our minds, how it’s important to stand up even if you’re standing alone.

Do you feel your protests were effective?

The board is still making all kinds of changes. It’s clear that we weren’t heard, and we have to continue to find ways to make ourselves heard.

What’s happened since? What comes next?

We have a group called Jeffco Students For Change. There’s also been discussion of getting a recall election going.

…Later this month, we’re having a panel and we invited the board members to join.

Do you feel like there are misconceptions about teenagers and protests?

I do. I feel like when you hear about a bunch of 15 and 16 year olds walking out of school you think, they just want to ditch class. But if you listen to what they’re saying, a lot are walking out for good reasons and they know what they’re doing.

 

Categories: Urban School News

State Board turns to another touchy topic

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 20:01

The State Board of Education, fresh off action on testing waivers and opting out of tests, on Friday is expected to discuss the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a biennial health study of students that has come under increasing fire from some parent groups.

Board members brought up the issue late in their Feb. 19 meeting, when member Deb Scheffel noted, “a lot of parents are upset by it. … Is there anything we can do to alert parents?”

Some survey questions are very specific about drug use, sexual activity, and other risky behaviors.

Member Steve Durham said, “I hate to be a prude about this, but this [the survey] isn’t age appropriate.”

Durham asked if the attorney general’s office would look into whether the board could require school districts to standardize how parents are notified about the survey. Some board members would prefer that parents have to opt in to the survey.

Member Pam Mazanec said opting out is “a practice that is really annoying to parents.”

The board is expecting to hear back from the attorney general’s office at its meeting Friday, when it also will be briefed on education bills in the legislature.

Durham told Chalkbeat Colorado Thursday that he didn’t know if he would propose a motion on this issue until after he’d seen the attorney general’s memo.

The health survey conducted periodically by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Department of Human Services and Department of Education has come up frequently in recent committee hearings on parent rights and student data privacy measures being considered in the legislature.

Parents have complained the survey is intrusive, asks inappropriate questions, and that that they sometimes weren’t properly notified that the survey was being given.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is given every other year to students in randomly selected schools. More than 220 schools and 40,000 youth took the 2013 survey. Learn more here, and read the 99 questions on a past survey here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Unable to repeal Common Core, foes try sabotage

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 10:00

Tech too

The House Education Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would tweak the state’s school and district rating system to give credit for high school graduates who move into career training programs, as well as those who attend college. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Sound familiar?

Republican lawmakers in state houses around the country are hitting roadblocks as they try to repeal Common Core State Standards. So, aided at times by unlikely allies in the teachers unions, they're trying a new tactic: sabotaging, in incremental steps, the academic guidelines and new exams rolling out this spring. ( Politico )

Know your rights

A Colorado Springs mom who served on the state testing task force wants parents to be better informed of their rights. ( The Gazette )

s'no big deal

Some practical tips for avoiding cabin fever when your kids have a snow day (which many do today). ( The Gazette )

getting testy

More parents in Boulder Valley seem poised to opt their kids out of state tests being administered in March. ( 9News )

Down from the ivory tower

NPR compiles a list of useful education research that emerged in 2014. ( KUNC/NPR )

meet and greet

Three final candidates for the Superintendent of Cañon City Schools position were named Wednesday during a special board meeting. they will meet the community March 12 ( Cañon City Daily Record )

Lockdown

Palmer High School in downtown Colorado Springs was on lockdown briefly Wednesday after a student brandished a BB gun. ( The Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Bill to encourage tech careers advances in House

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 19:55

The House Education Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would tweak the state’s school and district rating system to give credit for high school graduates who move into career training programs, as well as those who attend college.

The measure, House Bill 15-1170, is one of several bills related to “workforce development,” a hot topic for both parties in the 2015 legislative session.

The bill also reflects a growing interest among some lawmakers and policymakers to broaden the definition of student success to more than just attending and finishing college.

“This bill redefines the meaning of success after high school and fills Colorado top jobs with skilled workers,” said sponsor Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada. “We’ve incentivized our schools to send kids to four-year colleges.” Under HB 15-1170, “Schools get credit if kids are going into any of these viable careers.”

Since passage of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids in 2008, the focus of state education policy has been assuring that students are “postsecondary and workforce ready” by the time they leave high school. But many advocates feel workforce readiness has taken a back seat to preparing students for college.

The current state accountability system rates high schools’ postsecondary and workforce readiness performance using student ACT scores, dropout rates and graduation rates.

HB 15-1170 would add these indicators: The percentages of graduates who enroll in career and technical education programs, community college or four-year colleges in the school year immediately following graduation. Each enrollment option would be given equal weight in calculating school performance.

Witnesses representing community colleges, vocational schools and business groups supported the bill during testimony.

Luke Ragland, lobbyist for Colorado Succeeds, a business-oriented advocacy group, said, “The current system doesn’t adequately prepare students for the modern workforce. … Aligning our accountability system is an important change.”

The bill also would strengthen business representation on district and school accountability committees.

The measure passed 10-1, with only Rep. Justin Everett, R-Jefferson County, voting no. It goes next to the House Appropriations Committee because of its $232,848 price tag. That would cover the staffing costs of a new office in the Department of Labor and Employment to coordinate efforts to expand career and technical education.

Among other workforce bills involving education are House Bill 15-1190, which would provide state assistance to districts in focusing on workforce needs, and Senate Bill 15-082, which is designed to increase scholarship funding for career and technical students.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to detailed information about every 2015 bill related to education.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS requests state review of school grade changing

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 10:48

Keeping Up Appearances

Denver Public Schools has requested a state review of a school where staff have verified that they changed students' grades. ( Denver Post )

Jeffco Public Schools

Jefferson County's school board will vote next week on a slew of changes for six of its struggling schools, which include combining 7th and 8th grades with high schools. ( Denver Post )

Honor Roll

A new school in Denver will be named for Colorado senator and conservationist Joe Shoemaker. The DPS board celebrated the decision last Thursday. ( Denver Post )

Tell Me More

Nick Dawkins, who will be Manual High School's principal next school year, talks about his path to school leadership and his hopes for the school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Colossal Readers

In Greenwood Village, an entire school is reading a book about a wonder of the ancient world. ( 9 News )

Toxic

Boulder parents showed up en masse to share concerns about toxic gas at a local middle school. ( Daily Camera )

Who's Who

Don Haddad, the superintendent at St. Vrain, was featured in Education Week's Leaders to Learn From report for his focus on STEM. ( Daily Camera )

On the Move

Deirdre Pilch, currently deputy superintendent in Boulder Valley, will become superintendent in Greeley-Evans in July. ( Daily Camera )

Around the network

Nearly 30,000 students in Indiana are now using the state's voucher program—and many of them never attended public school. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

Digital Media

Colorado Springs honored a high school digital media team. ( Gazette )

Jeffco Public Schools

School reconfiguration in Jeffco is drawing attention and excitement. ( Arvada Press )

It's all about the buildings

Dougco is searching for ways to finance capital improvement projects. ( Douglas County News Press )

suicide prevention

On preventing suicide contagions in schools. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Manual’s principal-to-be: “Changing the narrative” at a school that’s close to home

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 10:33

Nickolas Dawkins grew up six blocks away from Manual High School. This summer, he’ll be returning to his old neighborhood as the school’s principal.

Dawkins is stepping into the spotlight: Manual is the district’s lowest-performing high school and has been subject to a series of reforms and leadership changes in recent years. Dawkins’ appointment is part of the district’s newest effort to turn the school around.

Dawkins has been principal at southeast Denver’s Hamilton Middle School for two years. He was the Education Center’s principal of the year in 2014. Before that, he worked as a teacher at South High School, an administrative intern at Thomas Jefferson High School, and an assistant principal and principal-in-residence at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College.

Below, Dawkins talks with Chalkbeat about his path to a career in education, his plans for Manual, and building relationships with teachers and the community.

How did you get into education?

I’m a DPS graduate, I went to East High School. But this road for me was started by a really hard time in my own schooling. In my sophomore year I lost a parent. You can imagine my world was rocked. There were some key educators who became instrumental in my life, including one who is kind of like a godmother. She made sure I graduated—she actually drove me down to Metro [State University] to make sure I got to class….

Through that, I decided to go into teaching.

And through the process of teaching, and having successes, I was able to earn a scholarship to Oxford University. I really came back jazzed about the idea of providing a really high level education to students, because I hadn’t had any exposure to that kind of education at that level.

That’s when I began to think about school leadership.

PHOTO: via Nick DawkinsNick Dawkins, currently the principal at Hamilton Middle School, will be principal at Manual High starting next school year.

Why Manual in particular?

I’m not just a principal who wants to be at any school. I didn’t just want to be a principal to be a principal. I thought back to my own upbringing during those tough times, when there was certainly a sense for many of us who grew up with single mothers…we had a feeling of, does anyone care that we’re struggling down here? We often felt like, I wish you would come back and help us out here.

That certainly became a memory for me again when I began to see the student protests this winter. Here we are again where we see our youth feeling like they don’t matter very much.

A lot of that was on my mind. I was wanting to follow my heart and say, I feel confident that I can be a leader for these kids.

And what a story for them to know that we do come back for the community.

I’ve always been a believer in the restorative nature of education, the way it can restore communities and bring people together. What an opportunity it would be to go back and try to help.

Can you talk a bit about equity at Manual?

I want to make sure our kids know, stats don’t define who they are. They can write their own story. It comes through hard work,education and relationships. Making sure there’s something who’s willing to hold you accountable.

If you look at my resume, I talk about closing achievement gaps. That’s very important to me.

You’re coming into a school that’s been under a lot of scrutiny, and people have a lot of opinions about what happens to it. How do you as a leader build relationships with those stakeholders?

We have so many people who have so much vested interest. We can’t do everything at the same time, but we can focus on some key areas of common ground, and try to do it well from the outset.

The thought partners [a community group focused on Manual] have put forth some ideas that are very exciting, and I’m just getting into those. I can’t talk specifically about what emerges out of that work…

We’ll likely host a common grounds process, which was very successful for me at Hamilton, where we’re able to get a diverse group of opinions and thoughtful partners into the same room for a consistent amount of time.

What would you say to people who question whether you’ve had sufficient experience to become principal at this school?

I feel like my experiences have given me a very unique set of leadership skills and capabilities. While I appreciate the question of, hey, is he high-school ready, middle school was newer for me than high school. My background has been exclusively high school with the exception of Hamilton. So I certainly feel prepared in that regard.

I have also worked with a similar student population before. I’ve been in the neighborhood.

Also, as far as the size of the school, I run a school of 900 kids, that’s co-located so we’re closer to 1000. Manual’s about the size of one of my grade levels.

That isn’t to make light of the challenge at Manual. But I have had experiences with very large schools. And I feel up to the challenge.

What’s your philosophy about how the school will run, its model? Manual has seen a No Excuses philosophy, it’s seen a social justice bent… 

So my approach is simply one that every kid matters and that we come together to put our best work forward to make sure every kid succeeds. No Excuses is something I’m familiar with. I think social justice is important too. I think it’s really a combination. But really my philosophy is, we work relentlessly, we work our hardest, and we put kids first.

What about discipline?

A restorative approach is very important to schools—to get at restoring the community when harm is done. I’m a big believer in that, but I’m also a big believer that we need to have a safe learning environment, and students first means safety first.

Discipline is a really challenging thing. You’re often weighing the needs of one student against the whole community. That’s a hard balancing act.

We’re trying to fight this battle of keeping kids in schools, but at the same time, if you’re doing that and you don’t put the right layers of systems in place, it can be perceived as, kids aren’t being held accountable.

What else should we know about your plans for Manual?

I’m really excited and continue to think that we should dream big. I’m looking forward to enhancing a narrative from a school that’s been having hard times to a school that’s on an upward trajectory and where kids can be found being wildly successful.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Search for new principals is on in Boulder and St. Vrain

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 11:09

Rat Race

An East High School student argues that class rank is an antiquated practice and pits students against each other. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

stay in school

The Los Angeles Unified School District has put a focus on kindergarten attendance. ( KUNC )

Growing

Denver Public Schools got 18 letters of intent for new schools next year, including another round of expansion plans from DSST that mean the network would eventually educate a quarter of DPS's secondary students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Principal Search

St. Vrain is looking to fill three principal positions next year, and Boulder Valley needs eight. The districts are switching up their approach to recruiting to fill the gaps. ( Times-Call )

Injunction Junction

A new injunction means Jeffco is prohibited from releasing the names of educators involved in this fall's sick-out, at least temporarily. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Principal Awards

Jennifer Passchier, the principal of Aurora's Crawford Elementary School, is the Colorado Association of School Executives' pick for principal of the year. ( Co-CASE )

Blended Denver

A story on blended learning highlights work at Grant Beacon Middle School in Denver. ( Education Week )

Ew!

Boulder's school board will hear concerns about a "sewer gas" smell in Casey Middle School. ( Daily Camera )

Snow Day

Colorado Springs made an early call to close school on Monday, and the children were glad, the Gazette reports. ( Gazette )

Question of the week

Colorado preschoolers are more likely to be kicked out of school than K-12 students. Tell us: How can schools and policymakers address high preschool suspension rates? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

DSST boosts long-term growth goal to 22 schools by 2021

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 19:54

DSST Public Schools is hoping to add eight additional new charter schools—four middle and four high schools—to its already-growing network in Denver by 2021.

The charter network submitted eight letters of intent to Denver Public Schools last week proposing plans to open two schools per year in 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2021.

DSST is already in expansion mode. The network currently has nine schools and has been approved to run five more.

The new expansion, if approved, would bring DSST’s total number of schools to 22. That would make DSST the largest charter network in Denver and in Colorado.

Altogether, DPS received 18 letters of intent this year, including the eight from DSST. The letters indicate interest in creating new schools to open in 2016 or later. This year, five are proposed district programs. The remaining 13 are from charter schools.

The letters of intent are non-binding, but give an indication of which schools are likely to submit full charter proposals later in the spring. Final proposals are due on March 20, and district officials will recommend which schools should open by early June.

DSST plans

Under its already-approved plans, DSST is projected to enroll 6,500 students by 2020-21. If the new letters of intent are followed up by proposals, and if those proposals are approved, DSST would enroll about 10,000 students by 2024-25.

That represents a significant chunk of DPS’s secondary school students: The district currently enrolls just over 40,000 students in grades 6-12, which means that if enrollment were to stay constant, DSST would be educating roughly a quarter of all DPS secondary school students by a decade from now.

Bill Kurtz, the director of the network, said DSST’s plan to expand is a response to DPS officials’ Denver Plan, a five-year strategic plan that aims to have 80 percent of all students attending high-performing schools.

“We’ve heard the call, and we think people should be taking this call seriously. Just 33 percent of students in the 6-12 student population are going to high-performing schools,” Kurtz said.

He said submitting plans several years in advance allows both the school and district to plan ahead.

DSST has a strong academic track record. Five of its schools were among the top ten public schools in Denver, according to DPS’s school performance framework in 2013-14. The network has also focused on closing achievement gaps between low- and higher-income students, with some success. Last year, low-income sophomores at its high schools outperformed higher-income peers on some state tests.

But expansion presents challenges. STRIVE Preparatory’s network of charter schools, for instance, saw test scores drop this past year after a period of rapid growth. DSST is already working to address teacher turnover at its schools.

Kurtz said the network is working on improving “quality as well as quantity.”

“That’s part of the reason why we’re not trying to open a lot of schools next year,” he said. “It’s trying to be planful.”

While some charter networks that have started as local schools have expanded to other cities—think of YES Prep or KIPP—Kurtz said DSST’s focus is currently on growing in Denver.

Other plans

The batch of letters of intent submitted last week also includes a mix of school program styles and several brand-new charters.

The five district-run programs are: Denver Dual Language Academy, an ECE-8 that would be located in the near northeast; Public Service Academy, a high school focused on service professions; and three middle schools with special focuses, including an expansion of McAuliffe International School in the near northeast.

As anticipated, University Prep, which currently runs a K-4 school in northeast Denver, submitted a letter of intent for a 360-student K-5 school in the home of the current Pioneer Charter School starting in 2016-17.

The district also received one letter of intent for a new school in Southwest Denver, two to open elementary schools in the near northeast part of the city, and two to open mixed-grade schools also in the near northeast.

The Downtown Denver Expeditionary Middle School submitted a letter of intent to open a school in Central Denver.

Most of the school proposals responded to needs outlined in DPS’s Call for Quality Schools.

Just where all of these programs will go has yet to be determined. The DPS board approved a new facilities placement policy last week that guides which schools will get access to district facilities at a time when building prices in the city have soared and the district’s existing facilities are filling up.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole vote against the policy, which he said “is actually codifying DPS’s role in opening up district facilities to more corporate, privately-run-with-public money charters.”

Kurtz said that DSST had not located facilities for its proposed new schools.

See the full list of school proposals here.

According to DPS, the district has opened 59 new schools since 2008 and has 23 more already approved to open.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco union wins injunction to stop release of names of educators involved in sick out

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 16:35

The Jefferson County teachers union has won a preliminary injunction that temporarily stops Jeffco Public Schools from complying with an open-records request to provide the names of teachers who collectively called in sick last year.

According to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:

A motion filed by the union in Jefferson County District Court last week asserts that teacher-absence files are personnel records and “medical information” that must be kept confidential under the Colorado Open Records Act. Releasing the names, it claims, would violate the teachers’ privacy and “cause (them) irreparable injury.”

Fifty teachers at Conifer and Standley Lake high schools called in sick Sept. 19 in a protest against the conservative school board majority. Both schools canceled classes. Classes at Golden and Jefferson high schools were also canceled Sept. 29 after a large number of teachers also called in sick or took personal days.

At the time, Superintendent Dan McMinimee vowed that teachers who did not follow the proper protocol for calling in sick or taking a personal day would be reprimanded.

But that wasn’t enough for the parents who filed the request, according to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:

Golden parent Kathy Littlefield told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition that she requested the teachers’ names because “I don’t want them teaching my kids. I don’t think they showed much respect for the kids, doing what they did. If you’re going to (protest), do it on your own time.” The teachers, she added, should “take responsibility and show who you are. Why are you hiding yourself?”

Littlefield is one of at least two parents to request this information.

Parent and teacher Kyle Walpole had previously requested the names of teachers at Conifer who participated in the sick out. At first, he was denied the information. However, a lawyer arguing for the coalition pointed out that the request did not seek the reason for the teacher absences, only whether they were absent.

Jeffco officials eventually released to Walpole the roster of teachers who called in from Conifer, but the names of teachers from the other three schools have not been released.

From the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:

After Littlefield’s CORA request, which was sent by email on Feb. 10., the school district notified the teachers union that it intended to release the records “on or about” Feb. 18, the motion says. Littlefield received an email from district community relations assistant Veronica Bennett on Feb. 12, saying that she would “forward the documents” on Feb. 18.

Littlefield was notified last week that the district would not fulfill the request to release the names of teachers publicly. A hearing on the matter is set for May 15.

“Jeffco teachers and our community need clarity about what is part of a private personnel file and what is public information,” the union’s president John Ford said in a statement.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed a statement from the union. It should have been attributed to John Ford, the union’s president. This post has also been updated to clarify that the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition does not represent Kathy Littlefield. 

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What can Colorado do to lower preschool suspension rates?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 16:24

Last week we reported that in Colorado, there’s a growing push to establish state policies and data collection methods around preschool expulsion.

National data shows that boys and minorities are disproportionality suspended from preschool. And the limited state data that exists indicates that young children are expelled from preschool and child care at higher rates than K-12 students are from their schools.

Early childhood stakeholders agree that even with new policies and data collection mechanisms, any expulsion strategy must include training and supports for service providers.

That brings us to our question of the week: What strategies should the state roll out to decrease the number of suspensions and expulsions in preschool? 

Each week, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Commentary: Class rank is an antiquated practice that pits student against student

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 14:00

“I heard he’s not number one anymore.”

My ears perk up as I hear the familiar discussion about class rank.

“Are you sure?” the other student asks excitedly. His level of enthusiasm is similar to when school lets out for the summer.

But this excitement isn’t concerning an A on a math test, or a sports team win. The excitement is in response to the realization that someone’s class rank dropped. It’s just a number, and someone else’s for that matter, but somehow it means this much.

East ranks its students. This makes sense at first: teachers, administrators, and colleges alike should have a general understanding of where a certain student falls academically. However, across the nation, more and more schools are ceasing to release their students’ class ranks because of the competitive environment it fosters among students and the subjectivity of ranking academic excellence.

They are beginning to realize that class rank is an inaccurate measure of student success and accomplishment, and doesn’t always represent the most hard-working individuals.

Although there is a certain element of competition in every high school, class rank makes competition a numerical goal that the 600 or so students in a given grade strive for. The number of times I have been asked, “What’s your class rank?” is not only crazy, but it also cheapens the idea of love of learning. It leads to students actively hoping for their peers to falter academically so that their own class rank will improve.

Class rank is important, but it should not encourage students to wish for their peers’ failure.

This competition, and the obsession with improving one’s class rank, causes students to take classes simply for the honors credit required to be in the top 10. The amazing thing about East is that it offers so many opportunities to students that encourage passion. This becomes difficult to sustain with the focus on class rank.

I’ve taken newspaper and choir for all my years at East, and these classes have been the cornerstones of my high school experience. Do I get honors credit? No, and my class rank suffers because of my non-honors classes, but I wouldn’t give these two classes up for anything.

When I first applied to join the newspaper at the end of my freshman year, I was advised not to take the class because my class rank would drop. It is unfair that these classes have proved themselves so incredibly beneficial to my growth as a person, and as a student, but in terms of class rank, taking them means I am valued less than many of my peers.

I’ve done more work by far for newspaper than most of my other classes. The real difference is that I love journalism. It’s not a class I’m taking for the sake of AP credit, but a class I’m taking for the pursuit of learning.

The idea of someone with an affinity for journalism choosing not to take the class for the sole reason of class rank saddens me, but it’s a reality here at East.

Really, class rank limits the horizons and potential of all East students, telling them that their accomplishments are only significant if they add up numerically.

The main problem with class rank is how significant it has gotten to be at East. The yearbook even has a page dedicated to the 10 top-ranked seniors in the school. I believe that academic excellence should always be recognized, and the top 10 have obviously worked extremely hard in high school, but what about the 30 other students in the grade with straight A’s? Their academic excellence is somehow deemed less significant than that of the top 10.

The short answer is that the top 10 have taken more honors and AP classes. But this isn’t the whole story. East students are amazingly eclectic.

We are a school that exhibits every passion, every pursuit, and essentially every talent within each student. We are a school that embodies what it means to be passionate about something. Our school should not pressure students to fit a mold so that they are valued more than others.

What would encourage and highlight the accomplishments of East students?  How about a page in the yearbook devoted to students who have done amazing things, not only with regard to school, but also independent of school.

The point of class rank is to see where students fall academically; to see their strengths and weakness laid out on a piece of white paper. The truth of the matter is that strengths and weaknesses of any student go far beyond a single sheet of paper. The individual accomplishments of each student go far beyond 100 pieces of paper, and they certainly go beyond class rank.

The truth is that class rank is an antiquated practice that pits student against student, and is being discredited by universities and other high schools across the nation. These institutions are realizing that academic excellence and achievement are not things that can be measured by a ranking system.

The message East is giving us is that education is a series of numbers, and we have to fit the mold of those numbers. We need to break the mold.

This First Person post was originally published in The Spotlight, East High School’s student-produced newspaper.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado GOP leading charge against standards, tests

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 10:48

Talking about pot

Chalkbeat readers disagreed about what schools should share with students regarding recreational marijuana. The fault lines appeared to depend on personal views about the drug. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Meanwhile, a school official says the state's changing views on marijuana are sending mixed messages to students. ( NPR )

About face

Colorado Republicans are leading the local legislative fight to roll back the state's involvement in nationwide reforms like the Common Core and its aligned exams. ( Denver Post )

Parents for Privacy

An increasing number of parents — like one Monument mother — are becoming increasingly worried about the number of data points schools are collecting and monitoring on students. ( Gazette )

Not this time

Poudre School District will not receive any money from legalized recreational pot sales, and some Fort Collins-area parents who see needs in the district’s 50 schools are angry. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Survey says

By a 2-to-1 margin respondents in a new survey told pollsters that kids who do not receive standard immunizations should not be allowed to attend schools or childcare facilities. ( KOAA )

Healthy schools

All schools in Mapleton now have salad bars. ( Arvada Press )

A bill to spend about $5 million to put more local produce in school cafeterias passed its first test last week at the legislature. ( AP via KRQE )

Teaching and learning

A newly published paper suggests how much you are like your teacher contributes to his or her feelings about you — and your grades. ( NPR via KUNC )

Hundreds of elementary school students from Denver Public Schools recently heard one form of music for the first time. ( CBS 4 )

A free, three-week course in coding is taught by software engineers in Lafayette as a way to introduce pre-teens to programming. ( Daily Camera )

Higher ed

Budget leaders at the University of Colorado are projecting a tough road ahead for public colleges and universities as Colorado wrestles with a complex set of budget pressures. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis opines the nation's federal education laws need nontraditional and entrepreneurial ideas to work. ( Colorado Statesman )

The Wonkette Blog celebrates the Jeffco school board's non-decision-decision to not review an advanced U.S. history course. ( Wonkette )

The Colorado health department's recommendation to increase the number of times parents would have to fill out nonmedical exemption forms for childhood vaccines is a small step toward a more sensible policy, writes the Denver Post's editorial board ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Different viewpoints on pot yield different conversations

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 02/20/2015 - 17:06

On Monday, we asked our readers “What should Colorado schools do to address the issue of legalized marijuana?”

Our question was prompted by a recent investigation from Rocky Mountain PBS I-News that found a major uptick in drug-related incidents at Colorado middle and high schools.

Chalkbeat readers’ opinions were mixed and often appeared to be influenced by their view on marijuana use.

Reader Kathleen Chippi suggested in a comment that marijuana is nothing to worry about. 

Be honest? Cannabis is the safest therapeutic substance known to man and has no known lethal dose. History shows us people have used cannabis for many uses for the last 8,000 plus years.

Educator Jeff Buck countered:

It seems to me that an open and frank conversation about the effects of marijuana (and other abused substances for that matter) on a developing brain would be the logical place to start. … In combination with the current trends in Growth Mindset, Grit, and Mindfulness in schools, we could effectively engage students in thinking and decision making about their futures. Like, do you really want to be a disorganized mess who cannot prioritize the simplest of activities for the rest of your life? Not scared straight tactics but research based scenarios of what they can look forward to if they decide to alter how their brain develops.

Meanwhile, Jeff Deutsch said students need to know the difference between medical marijuana and recreational pot. 

Kids in high school and college already know about recreational marijuana — they get it from their friends. Medical Marijuana is different. Kids need to learn about compassion from an early age. The earlier they learn about the fact that we all are our brother’s keepers, that people in pain need our compassion, the better human beings they will become.

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: How the early childhood “word gap” could affect teachers, too

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 02/20/2015 - 17:00
  • One viewpoint remains almost entirely absent from the conversation around how to improve education: that of people who weren’t always good at school. (U.S. News and World Report)
  • Teachers who are tired of seeing education policy being driven by non-educators are looking more to teacher leadership programs as a way to amplify their voices. (EdWeek)
  • One major obstacle to closing the word gap for low-income students: many early childhood educators are also at risk for functional illiteracy. (Answer Sheet)
  • A Wisconsin teachers union leader argues that unions need to redefine their mission beyond a traditional trade union model to one that more broadly reflects the needs of their communities. (Rethinking Schools via Answer Sheet)
  • A former college admissions officer advises parents to relax about what college their student might be admitted to and instead focus on evidence of their self-motivation and accountability. (Rox and Roll via Grade Point)
  • An ed tech company called Instructure has raised $40 million in advance of an anticipated public offering and wants to take on one of the industry’s behemoths, Blackboard. (Buzzfeed)
  • Why Oklahoma legislators — like some Colorado school board members before them — want to scrap Advanced Placement United States History courses. (NYMag)
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Former teacher alleges grades changed at DPS high school

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 02/20/2015 - 10:56

Preschool expulsions

Do you think kids don’t get expelled from preschool? Think again, and read about efforts to tackle the problem. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Dissenting voices

Some members of the State Board of Education are raising questions about key elements of state education policy. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Charter change

The DPS board is considering a change of management for the Pioneer Charter School. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Community leaders honored

Aurora's newest school will be named after a prominent African American family, a first for the school district. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Grades changed?

A former DPS teacher claims grades were improperly raised for some failing students at one high school. ( KDVR )

No PARCCing

Opponents of standardized testing are holding workshops to help parents opt their children out of state tests scheduled this spring. ( KOAA )

History flap

The Jefferson County school board won’t review the controversial Advanced Placement U.S. history class, an issue that sparked student protests. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

Teaching STEM

A program in Fort Collins is encouraging girls to explore STEM fields, aided by students from CSU. ( Coloradoan )

Cost overruns

The Ignacio schools are juggling funds to cover changing construction costs. ( Pine River Times )

Commentary

A Denver middle school is one example of how schools are rethinking zero-tolerance policies. ( NEA Today )

Editorial

The state should pay TABOR refunds to taxpayers and instead cut Medicaid to protect funding for schools. ( Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

No cow too sacred for some State Board members

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 02/19/2015 - 21:52

The State Board of Education has taken some surprise actions on testing in its first two meetings of 2015, and there’s also a new tone in some board members’ questions and comments during presentations by Department of Education staffers.

The board voted Wednesday to end penalties for districts if they drop below required test participation levels because of parents opting kids out of tests (see story).

Thursday’s meeting didn’t yield any big decisions as board members sat through a long agenda of briefings on some major issues. Most of those agenda items were progress reports on matters like testing and high school graduation guidelines, work primarily mandated by the legislature in the wave of education reform bills passed over the last six years.

Some member comments indicated an interesting level of skepticism about the basic premises behind those programs. Here’s a sampling:

Testing and academic standards – State testing chief Joyce Zurkowski gave the board an update on the complicated process for setting “cut scores” to establish achievement levels on the science and social studies tests given to high school seniors last fall.

Republican board member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs called the descriptions of the four achievement levels “kind of hokey” and suggested the test results be reported merely as percentiles of how students scored. People want to know “how do you stack up against other Colorado students.” He cited Iowa Test of Basic Skills results as an example.

Zurkowski explained that the tests are designed to show student knowledge on academic standards, not just percentile comparisons.

“The problem I have is … the standards don’t mean anything. They are a subjective measure that some individuals or groups have put together,” Durham said. Just report test scores “by percentile and send them out to the schools and let them do what they want,” he suggested.

Board member Angelika Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat, called that “good old 1950s information” and argued that reporting test scores in that way “isn’t the goal that has been stated by our legislature.”

Member Deb Scheffel, a Douglas County Republican, warned that reporting test scores by the four achievement levels is “creating a narrative of failure” and asked “What are our options?” (She was referring to the results of the new science and social studies tests for elementary and middle school students. Only about a third of fifth and eighth graders scored in the two highest levels on science tests, and 17 percent of fourth and seventh graders scored at those levels on social studies. See this story for details.)

Pulling out of Common Core – The board also was briefed Thursday on the mechanics of pulling Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests. (Basically the board can’t do that by itself – see this legal memo.)

Scheffel suggested that the state needs less-detailed standards that create “a core of commonality rather than the pervasive commonality we’ve created with Common Core and PARCC.”

Republican member Pam Mazanec, also of Douglas County, said this about the Common Core: “For me it does not matter if these standards are perfect. I’m opposed to them because they invite federal intrusion. Standards drive curriculum, they invite federal intrusion in curriculum.”

Graduation guidelines – One of the many components of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids law was creation of high school graduation “guidelines” that school districts are supposed to meet or exceed. The board was updated (see slides) on that long-running process; the eventual guidelines won’t go into effect until the end of the decade.

Durham complained, “These are not guidelines” and should be labeled as requirements. Scheffel said she felt the proposed plan was much too detailed. “What is the minimum the State Board can do? Being heavy on the regulatory side doesn’t really serve the kids, the parents, the schools,” she said.

The board is scheduled to vote on the guidelines later in the spring.

Chair Marcia Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction, closed the long afternoon session by calling it “a good meeting” but gently noting, “I do get a little concerned about the accusatory note sometimes toward the staff.” (Durham had been a bit abrupt with Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl at various times Wednesday.)

Neal also told Durham, “I strongly suggest that when you have a motion you write it out.” Durham’s motions on testing in January and on Wednesday were made orally. Neal also suggested members should have a month to consider such motions before voting. Durham didn’t say anything in reply.

Following up on Wednesday’s news

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond on Thursday sent a letter to the state’s superintendents advising them how to handle the State Board’s Tuesday votes on testing waivers and parent opt-outs.

“Districts should continue preparations for the administration of the upcoming assessments,” Hammond wrote.

On the question of opt outs, he advised, “The effect of this motion is that districts will not be penalized by a lowering of their accreditation rating should their student participation rates fall below 95 percent on the PARCC assessments due to parental refusal of their students to take the PARCC assessments. Districts still need to engage in good faith efforts to test all students in accordance with state and federal law and maintain documentation of parent refusals.”

See the full letter below.

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Categories: Urban School News

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