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Denver Public Schools to increase minimum wage with pension savings

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/03/2015 - 18:42

Denver Public Schools officials plan to set a new organization-wide minimum wage and increase stipends for teachers in high-needs schools next year using funds that would otherwise have been earmarked for pensions.

A bill that reduces the amount the district contributes each year to PERA, the state’s pension fund, was signed into law today. The new law frees up approximately $20 million per year.

DPS had previously contributed to PERA at a higher rate than other districts in the state and as a result has a retirement fund that is more fully funded than the rest of the state. (Read this Denver Post story for more on Denver Public Schools and PERA.)

“I was delighted to see the law pass to provide for equity between DPS and the state’s other school districts and fulfill the promise of the PERA merger.” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

DPS officials laid out their plans for the new funds at Gov. John Hickenlooper’s bill signing event this morning.

The new minimum wage for Denver school employees will be $12 per hour. The increase will affect some 1,700 employees, including paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, and custodial staff. Some of those employees are currently paid $9 per hour.

DPS will double its subsidy for health insurance from $750 per year to $1,500 per year.

The district plans to use the funds to add 30 teachers to its turnaround schools, to hire an additional 150 teachers in each of the next two years, and to expand its teacher leadership program.

DPS also plans to create a new set of financial incentives for teachers in 30 high-poverty, challenging schools. (Teachers across the district are slated to get a 5.6 percent raise next year.) Teachers would receive between $2,000 to $4,000 depending their evaluation score.

Boasberg said those changes were spurred partly by the recommendations of a task force focused on teacher retention in high-needs schools.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association representatives had advocated for some PERA funds to go to teachers, but one representative said DCTA had not given input on the proposal laid out at the bill signing.

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora school board OKs Munn’s innovation zone

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/03/2015 - 13:19

AURORA — The city’s school board gave Superintendent Rico Munn the green light Tuesday to advance his most ambitious school reform efforts yet.

But, school board members made clear, if Munn fails to garner community support he’ll need to go back to the drawing board.

Munn’s proposal is that Aurora Public Schools allow a group of schools to be freed from a variety of district and state policies, to accelerate student learning at some of it’s lowest performing schools, including Aurora Central High School. Known as innovation schools, those buildings and programs would have greater flexibility over its calendar, curriculum, budget and staff.

Aurora Central is at the heart of Munn’s plan, known as ACTION Zones, because the school’s time on the state’s “accountability clock” has run out. Aurora Central has been labeled as failing for five years by the Colorado Department of Education, because most students score below grade level on state tests. The school’s ACT scores and graduation rate are far below the state average.

APS has 17 other schools on the accountability watch list. And the entire district is at risk of losing its state accreditation if student achievement doesn’t improve.

Four other schools were identified by name in a memorandum of understanding APS officials will present to the State Board of Education later this month. The nonbinding document spells out Munn’s plan and timeline. However, after board members criticized Munn for not engaging those school communities, they were removed from the memorandum.

Data center
Find your school’s state rating here.

About a dozen teachers from Boston K-8, one of the schools named in the document, attended Tuesday’s board meeting. Two teachers thanked the district for not explicitly naming their school in the document. But Munn said Boston, which is also considered failing by the state, was still part of the plan.

Teachers and parents from Aurora Central also packed the board room.

Sharon Summers, an English teacher, told the school board that a group of teachers was working on ideas they hope can be incorporated into the final innovation plan.

While the most drastic changes won’t go into effect at Aurora Central and other schools until the 2016 school year, parents urged the board to move swiftly.

“I hate that I look at my daughter’s homework and know she can do it with her eyes closed,” said Erika Flores-Rowe, an Aurora Central parent. “I’d like to think it’s because she’s smart like her momma. But it’s because it’s super easy. She’s not being challenged. And I’m afraid of what will happen when she goes to college.”

In an earlier interview, Munn acknowledged parents’ concerns about the dire situation at Aurora Central. He said he’d be meeting with the school’s principal, Mark Roberts, in coming weeks to develop a plan for the fall.

With the school board’s OK, Munn and his team will begin establishing a variety of committees to craft plans for the schools, most in the Original Aurora neighborhood.

Under state law, for a school to receive innovation status from the state, a majority of the school’s parent accountability committee, teachers, and administrators have to sign off on the proposal.

“This will not work if we don’t have all the stakeholders at the table,” board president JulieMarie Shepherd said.

Other board members, who have been debating the issue publicly since February, said they were finally convinced innovation status would allow the district the greatest flexibility and community input.

“Even though we’ve been talking about this for seven or eight months, we’re at the beginning of the process — not the end,” Munn said.

APS memorandum of understanding with State Board of Education DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2092869-central-mou-draft.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-2092869-central-mou-draft' });
Categories: Urban School News

Asp nominated to be interim education commissioner

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/03/2015 - 13:03

Elliott Asp, special assistant to the state education commissioner, has been nominated to be interim commissioner.

A subcommittee of the State Board of Education recommended this week that Asp be named to the interim job. If approved, Asp would fill in after current Commissioner Robert Hammond’s retirement becomes effective June 25. The full seven-member board will vote on the recommendation at its meeting next week.

Elliott Asp / File photo

According to an email circulated within the Department of Education, “Dr. Asp has indicated he will not seek the permanent position.”

Asp is a well-known and respected figure in state education circles. He joined CDE in November 2012 after retiring as Cherry Creek’s assistant superintendent for performance improvement. An assessment specialist, he previously held a similar position in Douglas County and also worked in Aurora and Littleton. He’s worked in education for more than 35 years and has been a teacher and assistant principal.

At CDE Asp has worked on projects related to assessment, accountability, educator effectiveness and the Colorado Growth Model. He’s become a familiar figure at education meetings and at the Capitol explaining department work on those issues.

Hammond announced his retirement decision in late April. See this story about that announcement and read Hammond’s comments about the future of education in Colorado.

Another key Hammond aide, Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen, also is leaving CDE this month to become superintendent of the Fountain-Fort Carson district.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Cherry Creek fires employee who gave free lunches to low-income kids

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/03/2015 - 08:38

stressed out

The number of Colorado school districts tagged with one or more indicators of financial “stress” has dropped slightly in the past year, the state auditor reported Tuesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

no lunch for you

The Cherry Creek School District's nutrition services department fired the kitchen manager at Dakota Valley Elementary School in Aurora, for giving school lunches to students who didn't have the money to pay for them. ( Denver Post )

coming out

Twin Peaks Charter Academy will launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the canceled speech of valedictorian Evan Young, who planned to use his graduation oratory at the Longmont school to come out as gay. ( Daily Camera )

Emily Bruell is far from the first gay student, openly or otherwise, to attend Roaring Fork High School. But she is the first to come out publicly in her valedictorian speech to a standing ovation. ( Post Independent )

staying put

Teachers in Steamboat Springs are more likely to stay in their positions from year to year than teachers in nearby districts and many other districts across the state, according to state data published by Chalkbeat Colorado last week. ( Steamboat Today )

fitting tribute

Friends and family of State Rep. John Buckner, who died last week, have set up a scholarship fund in his memory ( Denver Post )

New supe

The Englewood Schools Board of Education has chosen the district's next superintendent: Chatfield High School Principal Wendy Rubin. ( Denver Post )

Two cents

A fifth-grade teacher says state standardized tests are getting more rigorous, but still fall short of the NAEP ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

test prep

The SAT is undergoing major changes for 2016. And, as of today, students — for free — can tap into new online study prep tools from Khan Academy, the online education nonprofit. ( KUNC/NPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Fiscal warning signs highlight pressures on districts

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/02/2015 - 20:25

The number of Colorado school districts tagged with one or more indicators of financial “stress” has dropped slightly in the past year, the state auditor reported Tuesday.

The latest Fiscal Health Analysis of the state’s 178 districts found that 70 districts missed one or more of the five benchmarks used by the auditor’s staff to gauge financial health. Last year 76 districts missed one or more benchmarks.

Missing benchmarks isn’t usually considered an indication of financial management issues. “Missing the benchmark may not necessarily mean there’s a problem,” said Gina Faulkner of the auditor’s office.

“We don’t necessarily have a problem with the indicators, but we want to hear the story behind it,” state Auditor Dianne Ray told members of the Legislative Audit Committee.

In recent years the story behind the benchmarks often has been districts making decisions in response to tight state support for K-12 schools. For instance, some districts have chosen to dip into reserves to cushion the impact of state budget cuts.

Missing benchmarks is “triggered because of very thoughtful, intentional decisions by school districts,” Jennifer Okes, director of public school finance for the Department of Education, told the committee. “They don’t take these lightly.”

Do your homework

The five indicators

  • Ratio of general fund assets to liabilities
  • Adequacy of revenue available for debt payments
  • General fund ending balance
  • Amounts added to reserves
  • Annual change in general fund balance

State auditors review three years of individual district audits to compile the report. This year’s document covered from 2011-12 to 2013-14.

The report noted that the most common missed benchmarks involved reserves and year-to-year changes in a district’s general fund.

The report found that 28 districts missed two or more benchmarks, and of those, “Twenty school districts reported that they have experienced the effects of the reductions in state school finance funding.” The other reason cited by some of those districts was the cost of needed building repair and maintenance.

The 28 districts with multiple benchmarks “showed some sign of fiscal strain,” said Crystal Dorsey of the auditor’s office.

Okes notes that “many of these districts are small rural districts, and many have declining enrollment.” She said half have enrollment of 400 students or fewer.

Only one district, Pueblo 70, missed four of the five benchmarks. Superintendent Ed Smith described some of his district’s challenges to the committee.

“It’s a combination of things,” he said, including planned spending of reserves for the last five years and incorrect income projections last year. “It’s a delicate balance” to juggle finances and classroom quality. The 9,200-student district is on a four-day week, and “the only place left for us to cut is in the classroom.” Smith said.

Four districts missed three benchmarks, Adams 50, Alamosa, Englewood, and Silverton.

Ray said a key function of the report “is to start those discussions” about finances in districts and between districts and CDE.

Okes noted that 15 of the 20 districts reported as missing two or more benchmarks in 2014 have improved their financial situations this year.

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado on the right path to close “honesty gap”

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/02/2015 - 16:45

As a veteran teacher of 13 years, I have witnessed many changes to Colorado’s education system. Among them were the adoption of the Colorado Academic Standards and the Colorado Measures of Academic Success test, or CMAS.

Unless you were living under a rock during the past few months, I’m sure you have heard about parents pulling students out of CMAS, or at least its math and English components, also known as PARCC. One of the more common arguments for opting out of the PARCC tests is that students will be labeled as failures.

But with the revealing data of the Honesty Gap Report, it is clear that Colorado’s old education system was the real failure.

On May 14, Achieve, a national education nonprofit, released data comparing the differences between what students were scoring on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, or TCAP, exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP, for short, is considered the “gold-standard” of student assessments.

The results of the comparison are sobering.

Achieve’s analysis for the 2013-14 school year in Colorado showed a 26-point discrepancy between students scoring “proficient” on TCAP versus NAEP in fourth-grade reading, and a 10-point discrepancy in eighth-grade math. While Colorado most recently reported that 67 percent of its fourth-grade students were proficient in reading, only 41 percent of Colorado fourth graders met NAEP proficiency requirements.

While there’s much work ahead to close this Honesty Gap, Colorado is ahead of its peers. In fact, more than half of all states had a 30-point or more discrepancy between what their state assessment and NAEP proficiency rates.

So what is Colorado doing right?

Colorado was the sixth state in the country to recognize the need to revamp education and adopt new standards and better tests. In 2010, we adopted the new standards in 10 subject areas for kindergarten through 12th grade. The standards outline what students should know and be able to do at each grade leading up to high school graduation.

With new material being covered, we needed new tests. Colorado chose to assess students in math and English using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

I have experienced both sides of the spectrum when it comes to assessment. From the days of almost no testing to our current system, I feel I have seen it all.

This was the first year  of administering PARCC. My students told me they liked the passages, the multimedia aspects, and the opportunity to show off their growing abilities to solve complex problems. Many of them commented that they felt confident and knew the material on the test.

PARCC is an assessment that will continue to help our students demonstrate readiness for college and career. There will be growing pains, and that’s OK. With a more rigorous assessment, there will likely be a drop in the initial scores. It is important to keep in mind that these scores are an honest reflection of student learning. Yet they are just one piece of the puzzle and a place from which to grow.

This honest assessment will allow teachers to meet students where they are and help them improve.

In order to help all students attain success, we need high standards and quality assessments. We need to keep in mind the benefits of honest data from a test aligned to our standards that will help teachers improve instruction to get students ready for their lives after high school.

I believe that this is the right direction to push Colorado and I am confident that this path will close the Honesty Gap and set all kids up for success in the real world.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: High stakes for Bureau of Indian Education schools

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/02/2015 - 09:49

Scary Food

Some Denver students will be getting more meal options after a student member of Padres y Jovenes Unidos pushed for school board members to check out the less-than-appetizing meal options at her school ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Summer of Action

The Jeffco Education Association kicked off a "summer of action" with a protest yesterday. ( Arvada Press )

Birds, Bees, and Beyond

How do you teach sex education in an era when many teens think they already know everything? ( KUNC )

Teachers Who Care

9News features a teacher at KIPP Collegiate Denver who's making a difference for his students. ( 9News )

Rick Hess blog

A pair of researchers assert that more funding in schools with more low-income kids could make a big difference in those kids' educational attainment. ( Education Week )

technology

A look at blended learning in a working-class Rhode Island school. ( Hechinger Report )

Takin gCare

Schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education are in dire need of improvement. ( Education Week )

Learning Languages

The Eagle County district is one of only two in the state where students can earn a seal for biliteracy. ( Vail Daily )

Teacher Turnover

Chalkbeat's district-level teacher turnover database is featured on Colorado Matters. ( CPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Outspoken student, burned sandwich and frozen fruit spur meal changes in southwest Denver

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 06/01/2015 - 13:54

The story didn’t start with the burned sandwich bun or the still-frozen strawberries on the lunch tray at Kepner Middle School in Southwest Denver. It started months earlier with a slow simmer of dissatisfaction over the quality of the school’s food.

But when that meal was served on May 12 during a lunch visit by school board member Rosemary Rodriguez, a district administrator, and representatives from Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, it perfectly captured the ongoing complaints: Food wasn’t prepared properly, some items ran out before the end of lunch, and there weren’t enough choices.

It was a Kepner student named Stephanie Torres, speaking about Padres’ health justice platform, who helped sound the alarm about such problems at a school board meeting in April. Her remarks spurred plans for the lunchtime visit by district officials. The visit, while coordinated in advance by central administrators, was not announced to Kepner’s kitchen manager or principal.

Monica Acosta, lead health justice organizer at Padres, went along on the visit and snapped a photo of her lunch tray.

“It was heartbreaking. That’s the type of food Kepner students have been having all year long,” she said.

In the last three weeks, Torres, Acosta, and others who participated in the lunch visit have reported positive changes in Kepner’s cafeteria.

Questions or comments about DPS meals?
Contact: Theresa Pena
Regional Coordinator for Outreach and Engagement
720-423-5657
THERESA_PENA@dpsk12.org

There’s no more frozen fruit or expired milk, and there are more hot entrée choices. Next year, there are plans to put Kepner on a different meal model that will increase daily hot entrée offerings from four to six, in line with most other middle schools.

“We’re very thankful those changes were implemented immediately,” said Acosta.

She said officials from the DPS nutrition services department have twice met with Padres representatives, including parents from Kepner and other district schools where complaints have surfaced.

“It’s definitely on the right track,” she said.

Navigating a bureaucracy

By most accounts, the changes at Kepner represent a win, but they also raise questions about what caused the problems in the first place, how pervasive meal complaints are in the district, and what mechanisms exist for students and parents to air their concerns about school food.

Theresa Peña, a former Denver school board member and now a district employee, said the nutrition services department is willing to have conversations with students, parents and school personnel about food. In fact, that’s a large part of her new job as the department’s regional coordinator for outreach and engagement.

If there are concerns, she said, “we are absolutely willing to do something different.”The biggest complaint I hear from students is the lack of variety.

Still, she agreed that in a bureaucracy like DPS, which serves nearly 80,000 meals at 185 schools a day, it’s not always clear to students or parents whom to approach when there’s a problem. Closing that “communication gap” represents a big opportunity for the department, she said.

There’s been talk about putting kitchen manager’s photos and contact information up in school cafeterias and bringing parents on behind-the-scenes kitchen tours. Currently, the district seeks feedback about school food through student surveys conducted at three mobile food service kiosks. Peña also plans to work with the district’s student board of education to solicit feedback.

“The biggest complaint I hear from students is the lack of variety,” said Peña.

A varied landscape

The problems at Kepner represent a distinct contrast with what multiple observers say is an upward trajectory for meal program quality districtwide.

About five years ago, DPS began moving away from a menu of processed foods to majority scratch cooking. (Both Kepner’s kitchen manager and another employee there have participated in scratch cooking training.)

The district is also well-known for its robust school farm program, which provides thousands of pounds of fresh produce to school kitchens every year. In addition, all district schools have salad bars.

“DPS is really doing some great things,” said Rainey Wikstrom, a healthy school consultant and DPS parent. “I would say one bad apple doesn’t ruin the whole barrel.”

Still, it’s not clear why the burned bun–ironically one of the district’s scratch-made baked goods—or the frosty strawberries were served on May 12.

“In any large district there’s always going to be a difference between the best intentions of the central office and what actually happens in schools,” said Sarah Kurz, vice president of policy and communications for LiveWell Colorado.

While Peña agreed the bun should have been thrown out, she said the Kepner kitchen, like others across the district, has struggled with short staffing throughout the year. She recalled that the workers were barely keeping up when she went through the lunch line herself that day.

Wikstrom said when she recently read a job posting for a school kitchen manager, it hit her hard how much is expected for a relatively low wage.

“We don’t pay our food service staff well…We need to offer them more support and more financial support,” she said.

As for the reason that Kepner students had few entree choices for most of this year, that’s because the school’s kitchen provides meals to a nearby district preschool as well and therefore followed a K-8 menu model. That model includes fewer daily choices than a middle or high school model.

A broader problem?

Kepner is not the only DPS school where complaints have surfaced about school food.

In fact, while lunch was the culprit this time around, breakfast has been a target of complaints in Denver and elsewhere over the last couple of years. That’s because more schools have added breakfast in the classroom since the passage of the “Breakfast After the Bell” law in 2013.

That trend, which often means delivering coolers of food to individual classrooms, has contributed to the use of easy-to-distribute, prepackaged items. Thus, there can be a big disconnect between what is served at breakfast and what is served at lunch.

“Breakfast items are not up to par…with where the lunch programs are” said Wikstrom. “[They] meet the requirements but don’t match the message or the philosophy.”

Padres parent Leticia Zuniga, who has a preschool daughter and first grade son, said through a translator that she is unhappy with how many menu items are flour-based.

Her daughter is clinically overweight and Zuniga worries that school food is not teaching her healthy habits. Her son, meanwhile, is not overweight, but comes home from STRIVE Prep-Ruby Hill two or three times a week saying he didn’t eat lunch.

“He doesn’t like the food,” she said.

In February, two students at McAuliffe International Academy wrote an article for their student newspaper in which they skewered certain hot breakfast items.

The girls wrote: “…it is a disappointment when your teacher opens the hot food container and all you see is half burnt pizza in a bag or half melted omelet in a bag. Even teachers think it’s gross.”

Peña acknowledged such complaints and said the district’s breakfast pizza has drawn particular ire.

She’s heard from multiple parents: “We think the idea of breakfast pizza is just wrong.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Longmont valedictorian gives speech

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

The central issue

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

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

RIP

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

speech controversy

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

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

Healthy summer

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

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

money matters

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

Human Resources

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

Two cents

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

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora Central parents: Make our school better now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowd booed.

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

To improve Aurora Central, first a town hall meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and healthier food in the cafeteria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And those scores are nothing to brag about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aurora Central parents may be the most eager for change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

House Education chair John Buckner dies

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

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

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

Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora

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

He was well respected on both sides of the aisle.

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

Tributes were posted quickly Friday on Twitter.

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

Classroom turnover

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

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

Free speech

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

Budget balancing

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

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

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

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

Big yellow buses

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

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

Top students

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

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

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

Healthy schools

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

Police report

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

Two cents

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

More Colorado teachers left their school districts last year

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits: Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat

//

Districts can’t entirely control when and why teachers leave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data source: Colorado Department of Education. Data reported as of Dec. 1 of each year.
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Rural schools have the highest and the lowest rates of teacher turnover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data source: Colorado Department of Education. Data reported as of Dec. 1 of each year.
Credits: Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat jQuery(function () { jQuery('#frl').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: 'Districts with higher poverty rates more likely to see high turnover' }, subtitle: { text: 'Percents next to district names = Percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.' }, xAxis: { categories: ['2012-13', '2013-14', '2014-15'] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: 'Teacher turnover rate (%)' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{series.name}: ' + '{point.y:.1f}', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: 'Aspen (5%)', data: [15, 21, 11] }, { name: 'Lewis-Palmer (9%)', data: [12, 13, 18] }, { name: 'Douglas County (11%)', data: [13, 17, 17] },{ name: 'Academy 20 (13%)', data: [14, 14, 14] }, { name: 'Byers 32J (13%)', data: [12, 25, 21] },{ name: 'Huerfano (83%)', data: [24, 12, 26] },{ name: 'Aguilar (83%)', data: [23, 33, 8] },{ name: 'Centennial R-1 (88%)', data: [26, 52, 18] },{ name: 'Sheridan (91%)', data: [35, 41, 30] },{ name: 'Center 26 (93%)', data: [16, 23, 12] } ] }); });

Districts with high poverty rates have higher rates of teacher turnover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Categories: Urban School News

Find your district’s teacher turnover rate

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco board member makes controversial comparison

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

money matters

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

apples to oranges

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

money matters

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

poverty's early impact

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

good faith

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

life lessons

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

fail first

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

Church and state

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

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

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

Mentors matter

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

dollars and sense

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

School safety

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

healthy weekends

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

Categories: Urban School News

Teacher sues Florence district for alleged promotion of religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As examples of improper religions activities, the suit cites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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