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Poll: Aurora voters support a tax increase even if the district isn’t doing enough to boost achievement

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/28/2015 - 18:04

Aurora residents would likely vote to pay more in taxes to repair existing buildings and build new ones despite having mixed feelings about the academically struggling Aurora Public Schools system — a new survey found.

Nearly two-thirds of voters in a telephone poll commissioned by the district said they would support raising property taxes by 65 cents per month for every $100,000 of their home’s value. The extra revenue would help repair school roofs, infuse classrooms with technology and build two new schools that would serve students in pre-school through eighth grade.

Support for a $350 million bond, which would raises property taxes by $2.30 per month for every $100,000 a home is worth, was lower at 43 percent.

At the same time, the survey found lukewarm support for what’s actually happening inside Aurora’s school buildings. Fewer than half of the voters surveyed feel Superintendent Rico Munn is doing a good job, and they also were split on a proposed policy to pay teachers more at some schools that have high turnover.

The survey’s results, which the school board will hear more about at its Tuesday meeting, will likely be used to influence some of the district’s most important policy discussions and decisions, especially whether to ask voters next fall to approve a tax hike.

Like many school districts along the Front Range, Aurora has struggled in recent years with a growing at-risk student body. Nearly every APS campus is at enrollment capacity, even after the district built a new school on Airport Road. Alternatives to a bond being floated include buying more mobile classrooms, shifting to a year-round school calendar and taking out a private loan to build another new school.

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Slightly more than 25 percent of voters believe Aurora Public Schools has gotten worse during the last three to five years.
  • 42 percent of voters believe Superintendent Munn is doing a good or excellent job at running the school district.
  • Nearly two-thirds of APS parents surveyed believe APS is doing a good or excellent job at meeting the needs of the district’s diverse student population.
  • But only 32 percent of parents believe the district has enough “innovation solutions” to boost student achievement.
  • 49 percent of voters believe teachers in all Aurora schools should be paid the same.

The poll of 500 likely voters was conducted between Sept. 8 and Sept. 16. The survey has a 4.3 percent margin of error.

APS is one of about a dozen school districts on the state’s watch list for low student achievement. If the district does not improve quickly, it risks losing its accreditation from the state.

In an effort to stave off state involvement, the district is launching an ambitious reform plan that would free Aurora Central High School and other schools in the Original Aurora neighborhood from some district and state policies. Those schools, in what is being called an ACTION Zone, would also have more flexibility around their budget, staff and curriculum.

An immediate lesson the district learned from the poll: it hasn’t done enough to communicate its plans for its struggling schools.

“We have not communicated a lot about our innovation plans and what we’re looking at as far as the ACTION Zone Plan and that is something we do plan to do,” said Rebecca Herbst, the district’s bond communication specialist.

Survey results DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-2434673-aurora-survey' });
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Middle school students want dress code changed

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/28/2015 - 08:51
Dress codes

A group of seventh graders at Boulder's Manhattan Middle School is advocating for changes to the school's dress code and how it's enforced, saying it discriminates against girls. Daily Camera

Election 2015

The increasing politicization of school board races is making it more costly to run for those seats. Reporter-Herald

Honoring Emily

More than 4,000 motorcyclists participated in the annual ride along U.S. 285 in memory of victims of school violence, especially Emily Keyes, killed by an intruder nine years ago at Platte Canyon High School. Fox31, The Denver Channel

Being green

Several aging buildings in Pueblo City Schools will soon have all new energy-efficient systems, estimated to save the district millions in utility costs in coming years. Chieftain


Police have issued 13 tickets this month in just one Colorado Springs school zone. KKTV

A Denver woman has been cited after state troopers say she backed into several children at Valley View Elementary School in the Mapleton district. 9News, Denver Post

Healthy Kids

With the help of a $1.4 million Colorado Health Foundation grant, the St. Vrain district is expanding to all elementary schools a program that encourages students to walk 100 miles each school year. Times-Call

Elite company

Wiggins High School boasts fewer than 200 students, but that doesn't mean it can't make a list of top U.S. high schools. Fort Morgan Times

What reform looks like

Some DPS schools like Trevista at Horace Mann are fundamentally changing how they look and feel. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

The current turmoil in Jefferson County is an object lesson in the intense politics of public education, writes Mike Rosen. Denver Post

Maybe American kids would eat school lunches if we fed them more like France feeds its students. NY Times


The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dwyer case is a reminder of the need for a frank discussion about funding levels for both K-12 and higher education. Times-Call

Haunted by Columbine

The killing of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in 1999 continues to shape how we view and understand school shootings today. NY Times video

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: The education policy passions for and against Arne Duncan

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 18:00
  • Arne Duncan’s quest to push for educational equity through high standards and accountability from the highest branch of government inspires a lot of passion, both in favor of his vision and in opposition to it. (Politico)
  • The “opportunity gap” doesn’t end at high school. Students from affluent families are more likely to land elite jobs after college than students from working-class homes because of social skills they learned from their parents. (Washington Post)
  • What the sound of slamming lockers, or lack thereof, tells us about the other ways a Denver school is trying to improve, including its use of a New York-developed Common Core-aligned curriculum. (Chalkbeat)
  • Do high schools that train students for technical vocations, not college, represent an abandonment of those students or an investment in their future? One Philadelphia school offers clues. (The Atlantic)
  • As a charter school chain designed to upend traditional school bureaucracies grows larger and its systems grow more complex, the ways its executive handles logistical snafus reveal a lot about the challenges of running large school systems and what changing those systems could actually take. (Chalkbeat)
  • An Ohio dad got Internet famous for posting on Facebook the donation check he wrote to a school making fun of Common Core… (Buzzfeed)
  • …And then an Ohio math teacher took him down for mocking what he didn’t understand. (Patheos)
  • Here’s a moving essay about the emotional toll it takes on immigrant students when teachers and peers refuse to learn how to properly pronounce their names. (The Toast)
  • The experience of having one’s name butchered is very common for English language learners especially, and can have subtle but lasting consequences on children’s educations. (Chalkbeat)
Categories: Urban School News

Opening a new chapter, a Denver elementary school on the rebound changes its look and feel

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 11:32

Each morning, the littlest students at Trevista at Horace Mann school would fight with the olive green lockers.

They’d struggle to unlatch them. They’d stand on their tip toes in futile efforts to hang up their jackets. Then in rapid succession they would slam the doors shut, because 4-year-olds tend to slam things.

This, school leaders thought, is not what an elementary school should sound like.

That was before. When students arrived for classes this fall in the art deco building in northwest Denver that for decades housed a middle school, they passed through freshly painted bright blue doors and under a new school logo designed by an outside marketing firm.

Those intimidating first-floor lockers are hidden from view — framed up and splashed with yet more blue paint. There are hooks within easy reach of small hands and shelves for lunch boxes and water bottles.

The striking visible changes at Trevista at Horace Mann grow out of a school of thought at a number of Denver public schools in or coming out of turnaround — schools that were performing so poorly, drastic changes were put in place accompanied by an influx by district and federal resources and dollars.

Along with a relentless focus on strengthening school culture and experimentation with schedules and curriculum, these schools are fundamentally changing how they look and feel, from tossing old furniture to plastering their logos on yard signs to spread the word.

At Trevista, the aesthetic changes that greeted students this year carry special weight. Last spring, DPS shut down the middle school portion of what had been a preschool through 8th grade school due to plummeting enrollment, and talk heated up about moving the elementary school out of the 1931 blond brick building.

That sea of blue is meant to send a message — the Trevista community’s goal is to stay put and climb from being one of the district’s lowest performing schools to one that is rated blue, or distinguished, on DPS’s school performance framework that measures academic proficiency, growth, enrollment and more.

“The aesthetic changes really represent what we feel as a staff and a community about the possibilities our students hold,” said Jessica Mullins, who as a teacher leader splits time between teaching 5th grade language arts, coaching colleagues and planning. “It’s a physical representation of what we believe our students are capable of. As an educator, it looks like to me a place where anything is possible.”

Changing school culture

Trevista was put on turnaround status four years ago, beginning a tumultuous period that included the hiring of a new principal, most of the teaching staff being cut loose and the granting of innovation status, which gives the school more freedom with staffing, scheduling and curriculum decisions.

New Trevista principal Jesus Rodriguez lives five minutes from the school and often runs into families at Safeway or a local pizza place (photo by Eric Gorski).

The school adopted an extended day and calendar that includes extra time for data analysis, planning and staff training. It gained waivers from district assessments and curriculum, allowing it to begin experimenting with a Common Core-aligned curriculum, EngageNY, the district has since embraced.

The City Year program, staffed by AmericaCorps personnel, provides after-school homework help.

Perhaps most notably, Trevista went to work on improving school culture, said Jesus Rodriguez, who took over as principal this year after previously serving as an assistant principal.

The school adopted three core values: work hard, show respect and be responsible. The idea, Rodriguez said, is to create an environment that sets high and clear expectations but also celebrates joy.

Students who demonstrate those values are rewarded with falcon feathers — for the school mascot — and are entered into drawings to win donated college T-shirts they can wear in place of their uniforms.

Between periods, students are instructed to walk silently, hands hooked behind their backs in two straight lines — which calls to mind practices at no-nonsense charter schools.

The changes were not enough to save the middle school, which had seen enrollment decline and performance lag. Last spring, however, the elementary school crept into green status on the DPS school performance framework, meaning it meets expectations.

Critics say the framework system is broken and includes far too wide a range for schools to meet that bar. But it was cause for celebration at Trevista.

Last year, Trevista ranked among the top 40 DPS schools in median student academic growth. Still, on the most recent state test scores available — 2014 TCAP assessments — Trevista students lagged behind their peers in the district in academic proficiency, often by wide margins. For instance, just three in 10 fourth-graders were at grade level in reading, compared to the district-wide rate of about 50 percent.

Trevista has chosen to set the bar higher — to strive to become the first “blue” school in northwest Denver.

“Blue represents distinction,” Rodriguez said. “No one questions whether it’s a great school.”

‘A crayon box full of colors’

To brighten the school more, Trevista did away with the uniforms of old. For the previous seven years, elementary school students wore blue polo shirts and middle-schoolers wore gray ones.

The student handbook barred red on campus, based on Denver Police concerns about gang associations. Rodriguez said the middle school closure made that a non-issue. Now, children can choose from a rainbow of T-shirts and polos — including red ones.

“The moment I walked into the rooms, it felt to me like when color TV hit the mainstream,” Rodriguez said. “I had spent the last few years in this seas of blue and gray and now am seeing a crayon box full of colors.”

The rallying crying for the Trevista community is “Destination Blue” (photo by Eric Gorsk).


Then there are all the physical changes. For the first time, the school has a sign bearing its name, rather than just Horace Mann Middle School. Grant money paid for the paint jobs on the framed-in lockers and panels on the second floor.

Rodriguez anticipates the new logo, stationery, banners in the entranceway and other branding will cost about $10,000, tapping into funds that support multicultural efforts.

Mallory Powell, who has two daughters attending Trevista, said the visible changes at the start of the school year “just shows kids and parents that the school cares — and that you are walking through a great school.”

She has seen other, more meaningful changes at the school over the last four years, including a transition from teachers who told her everything was fine — when it wasn’t — to those who called from their personal cell phones to welcome the family back for the new year.

Trevista borrowed much of its makeover blueprint from other DPS turnaround schools, in particular DCIS Fairmont and Ashley Elementary School, both of which like Trevista are innovation schools.

DCIS Fairmont, which replaced a dual-language K-8 school, adopted four core values, developed a system for rewarding positive behavior and and splashed everywhere it could its new logo — a colorful globe-shaped “cultural mosaic” that represents its international focus. Principal Anne Jacobs likened it to a company rebranding.

“We came into a neighborhood that has so much history with the school and the campus, and this is very true for Trevista, as well,” Jacobs said. “It can be a very tough and emotional ride.”

DCIS Fairmont made surprisingly quick gains, lifting itself up to green status within a year and seeing behavioral problems and suspension rates drop.

At Ashley Elementary in northeast Denver, the turnaround process included a similarly deep emphasis on school culture along with repainting the entire school and replacing every desk and chair.

“In the turnaround setting, we need to completely change what the perception of the school is — that the school looks and feels different than it did before,” principal Zachary Rahn said.

At the same time, Rahn said school leaders were careful to hold onto cherished school traditions. So December still brings the annual Nutcracker performance and International Arts Night arrives in the spring.

High ‘choice-out’ rates

The Trevista boundary is big, sprawling and unwieldy. It includes the city’s largest public housing project — the Quigg Newton Homes — and new arrivals moving into high-priced box-shaped duplexes.

But so far, the gentrification of the Sunnyside neighborhood at the heart of Trevista’s boundary is not reflected in the school. About 80 percent of students are Latino and 15 percent are black. About 97 percent qualify for government-subsidized meals. Those figures have remained about the same for years.

For two weeks before school began, educators at the school attended training dubbed “Trevista University” (photo by Eric Gorski).

The percentage of families in the Trevista boundary choosing to attend schools elsewhere was in the mid 60s last year.

This fall’s head count showed considerable work remains. Enrollment was about 340, or 26 students short of projections, setting up Trevista’s budget to be short about $115,000, Rodriguez said. Because Trevista is designated as a priority school, DPS provided money to help make up some but not all of the difference. Rodriguez made cuts in the operational budget, and a school psychologist is in the building one day fewer per week.

Rodriguez, unsurprisingly, would like to improve on those numbers.

He envisions Trevista as a large, diverse neighborhood school, a place where everyone vies for one of those college T-shirts, girls can wear red bows in their hair and the hallways are free of the sound of crashing lockers.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Backers of Denver college scholarship tax kick off campaign

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 08:53
Election 2015

Supporters of a tax increase to fund a college scholarship program for Denver students officially kicked off their campaign Thursday. Denver Post, Colorado Statesman

Mayor Michael Hancock urged voters to approve the ballot measure, which would increase the sales tax by 8 cents on a $100 purchase. 9News

Susan Harmon, one of two candidates running to unseat John Newkirk in the Jefferson County recall election, is profiled. Arvada Press

Two cents

Colorado legislators, local officials and business and community leaders need to get into schools and meet with students, teachers, principals and parents to learn about education issues, suggest two former superintendents who now serve in the General Assembly. Denver Post

In real life

An Innovations Night at a Manitou Springs elementary school was organized to show off math and science in action. Gazette

Better late then never

Pueblo City Schools high school students will have new textbooks in science classes within the next few weeks. Pueblo Chieftain

the way forward for funding

Colorado education leaders say they will continue fighting for stronger education funding at the Capitol and perhaps at the ballot box following a Supreme Court ruling upholding the state’s current finance system. Chalkbeat Colorado

The Supreme Court's decision means the Durango schools won't see any more money, said Superintendent Dan Snowberger. Durango Herald

Second opinion

There's a long history behind the Douglas County School District's request that the U.S. Supreme Court weigh in on its proposed voucher system. Colorado Statesman

extreme playground makeover

Every student at an Aurora elementary school — even those living with disabilities — have better access to the playground thanks to a $180,000 remodel that included new ramps. Aurora Sentinel

safe schools

A drive-by shooting near The Studio School in Northglenn prompted a school lockdown Thursday afternoon. 9News

A Colorado teenager has been arrested on suspicion of calling in fake bomb threats to a California high school earlier this month. Reuters via Review Journal

Three children suffered serious injuries Thursday afternoon after being struck by a sport utility vehicle at an Adams County elementary school. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Education leaders put on brave face in wake of Supreme Court ruling

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/24/2015 - 15:10

Colorado education leaders say they will continue fighting for stronger education funding at the Capitol and perhaps at the ballot box following a Supreme Court ruling upholding the state’s current finance system.

But supporters of more funding face steep hurdles in their quest, based on the state budget situation and past history.

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday rejected a constitutional challenge to the so-called negative factor, a formula the legislature uses to reduce annual school funding.

The decision in the Dwyer v. State lawsuit pretty much dashes the last hope for a sweeping fix to the tight funding situation that has vexed district leaders since 2010, when the negative factor was first used.

In that same time period, the Supreme Court has rejected two school funding lawsuits and voters defeated a proposed $1 billion tax increase to help support schools.

“K-12 is in for a bumpy ride,” said Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project, a research organization.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, had a slightly different take. Quoting the just-departed Yogi Berra, she said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it. That’s where we are,” she added, saying education now faces “a short-term route and a long-term path” on funding.

The heart of the issue

School funding is driven by two things — Amendment 23 and a 1994 school finance law. The constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2000, requires school funding to increase by enrollment growth and inflation every year.

Negative factor history

  • Fiscal year 15-16: $855.1M
  • FY14-15: $880M
  • FY13-14: $1.004B
  • FY12-13: $1.001B
  • FY11-12: $774M
  • FY10-11: $381M
  • FY09-10: $130M

The finance law divvies money up in two ways: Base funding, through which districts receive an equal amount per student, and factor funding, which gives districts varying amounts based on unique characteristics like size, number of at-risk students and staff cost of living.

Before the negative factor was created, the Amendment 23 formula was applied to both base and factor funding. The legal rationale behind the negative factor allows the formula to be applied only to the base, essentially allowing the legislature to reduce factor funding. Some argue the negative factor also has the effect of cutting the base.

It’s estimated use of the negative factor has cut school funding by about $5 billion since 2009-10. Support for basic school operating costs is about $6.2 billion this school year.

“The negative factor has had a devastating impact on school districts across Colorado,” said Lesley Dahlkemper, a member of the Jefferson County school board.

Does education face a “new normal?”

District leaders have been resisting the negative factor for five years, but some observers have concluded that tight funding is “the new normal” for schools. Opinions still differ in the wake of the court ruling.

“I don’t know how it’s not,” said Reilly Pharo Carter, executive director of Climb Higher Colorado, a group that advocates for high academic standards.

Others hope the situation will be temporary.


  • 2000 – Amendment 23 passed
  • 2010 – A23’s 1 percent annual “bonus” expires; negative factor imposed
  • 2013 – Supreme Court rejects Lobato funding lawsuit; voters defeat $1 billion tax increase to help fund schools
  • 2014 – Despite intense lobbying, legislators make only modest trim in negative factor
  • 2015 – High court rejects Dwyer lawsuit

“We can’t allow it to be the new normal,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, a funding advocacy group.

“We should not let anyone, legislators or the general public, think that because it’s the new normal it’s OK,” said Democratic state Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, a Jeffco teacher and member of the Senate Education Committee. “We shouldn’t let anyone forget what the old normal was.”

Legislative prospects are dim

With the state courthouse door closed for now, education leaders are turning toward Urschel’s short-term route: the 2016 legislative session.

Advocates made a hard push to trim the negative factor in 2014 and tried again during the 2015 session. But lawmakers were able to make only small reductions.

“If we are serious about providing a high quality education to the students of Colorado, the legislature and the governor need to make increased school funding a high priority,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

But none of the more than a dozen education leaders interviewed by Chalkbeat Colorado are optimistic.

“I hold absolutely no hope that our funding problems might be solved by the governor or the legislature,” said George Welsh, superintendent of the Canon City schools and a long-time advocate for smaller districts.

“It is not realistic to think that the governor and legislature will be able to ‘buy down the negative factor’ in the next few years,” said Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The key problem is that refunds required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a slowing of state revenue growth, automatic increases in base school funding and required support of transportation will leave lawmakers with little extra cash for the 2016-17 budget.

“There aren’t extra dollars, there is no unused pot of money and the legislature does not have the power to create more dollars by printing them, deficit spending or by raising taxes. Thus, lobbying ‘pressure’ won’t succeed here because it can’t,” said Republican Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker, a member of Senate Education.

“I think we’re going to be lucky to keep the negative factor where it is,” said Kathleen Gebhardt, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the Dwyer lawsuit.

Some people are looking to changes in the hospital provider fee for short-term relief. That fee is assessed on hospitals to attract higher federal Medicaid funding, with the money paid back out in Medicaid reimbursements. Even though it’s not a tax and can’t be spent for non-Medicaid purposes, the $800 million a year generated by the fee counts against the state’s TABOR revenue cap and helps trigger tax refunds.

Gov. John Hickenlooper wants lawmakers to reclassify the fee so it doesn’t count as state revenue. Doing so would free up money for state spending.

Many education leaders support the governor.

“It’s a short-term strategy that would give us some breathing room,” said Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger, who has been a leading voice on school funding.

Hickenlooper was unsuccessful in selling the idea to the 2015 legislature and likely will face a challenge in 2016, particularly with majority Republicans in the Senate, who don’t want to roll back TABOR refunds.

Going to the ballot

The long-term path for education leaders is developing some sort of education-funding ballot proposal for voters.

“I think it’s very likely we’ll have to go to the ballot,” Weil said.

But no one is predicting yet what a ballot proposal would look like. Options include raising the state revenue ceiling, a dedicated tax increase for K-12 or tinkering with Amendment 23.

Constitutional thicket
A variety of constitutional and legal provisions affect the state budget, including:

  • Balanced budget – The state constitution requires this
  • Taxes – TABOR says tax rates can only be raised by voters
  • Revenue cap – The amount of money the state can spend in a year is limited by TABOR
  • Refunds – If revenue exceeds the cap, the excess must be refunded to taxpayers, or lawmakers can propose a ballot measure allowing the excess to be spent
  • Other spending – State Medicaid spending is driven partly by federal requirements, and state law requires transfers to transportation and construction under some circumstances

Kerr and others note a ballot proposal could be a tough sell.

“There are people who have been talking about it all along, but I don’t see any appetite for going back to the ballot at this point,” he said, alluding to voter rejection of a proposed tax increase for K-12 education in 2013.

Any ballot proposal also would reopen discussions within the education community about changing school finance formulas. Both education reform advocates and poorer districts argue the formulas are outdated and inequitable.

“Equity, accountability and innovation … should be top of mind as we look for answers,” Watney said.

Broader constitutional fixes are being discussed in other quarters.

A group of civic and business leaders named Building a Better Colorado is holding public meetings around the state and studying a possible list of constitutional changes, not just to the state budget.

If that group moves ahead with a proposal, it will have to consider education, Gebhardt believes.

“If you don’t have K-12 support it’s going to be very difficult,” she said, because any campaign will need the “boots on the ground” provided by teacher and parent groups.

One last lifeline

There is one other court case still pending that could affect education funding.

A 2011 federal court lawsuit filed by some legislators, other elected officials and private citizens argues that TABOR violates federal constitutional guarantees that states have “representative” forms of government – including legislatures with the power to tax.

The case hasn’t been tried while procedural issues are being considered by the federal courts.

Learn more about school finance in Chalkbeat’s archives

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Dougco wrestles with bus driver shortage

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/24/2015 - 08:39
Behind the wheel

Stories of late school buses, overcrowded situations and too few routes are emerging as Douglas County School District officials acknowledge the district is 30 percent short of the number of bus drivers needed to serve the 11,000 students who ride the bus to and from school each day. Castle Rock News-Press

Chatfield tragedy

A 16-year-old Chatfield High School junior, who was allergic to peanuts, took a bite of s'more at a homecoming bonfire, became ill and went into anaphylactic shock before he died Monday night. Denver Post, 9News

School of future

The use of technology is changing instruction in the Greeley schools. Greeley Tribune

Senior selfies

The selfie phenomenon has infiltrated one of the bastions of high school tradition: the senior picture. But some say its influence hasn't been all bad. Gazette

Keeping track

The St. Vrain Valley school board wants Twin Peaks Charter Academy to participate in a newly created district high school climate survey and to notify the district of any discrimination complaints. The requests came in the wake of the school's decision not to allow valedictorian Evan Young to give a graduation speech in which he planned to out himself as gay. Daily Camera

Election 2015

An engineer, a retired community college professor, a library manager, a water delivery company operator and a pharmacist are among the five candidates vying for three open four-year seats on the Steamboat Springs School Board. Steamboat Today

Combining forces

Two teacher-preparation programs in Colorado will combine to create the state's largest teacher residency program. Denver Business Journal, CBS Denver, Chalkbeat Colorado

Kids in the garden

A gardening project at Newton Middle School has yielded 600 pounds of vegetables for a Salvation Army food pantry, with more to come. Centennial Citizen

looking back

Several generations of Harrison High students in Colorado Springs have unified under a common goal that culminates this week with a "throwback" homecoming theme. Gazette

Two cents

As interest in teaching seems to be declining, the nation needs to rethink how it prepares teachers, writes an assistant principal from Lafayette. Denver Post


The Colorado Supreme Court made the right call in its decision on school funding, but lawmakers still have a duty to improve school funding. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Combined residency programs promise a ‘deep bench’ of teachers for Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/23/2015 - 18:36

AURORA — Lily Wool is surrounded by dozens of kindergartners counting items in a jar.

Like the students, she’s learning valuable lessons — in this case, that students learn at different paces. While some can easily count to seven, others need a number line as a crutch.

Wool isn’t the classroom’s assigned teacher. She’s a member of the state’s oldest teacher-residency program, Stanley Teacher Prep, which will merge with the Boettcher Teacher Residency program to create Colorado’s largest teacher-preparation program of its kind.

The Public Education and Business Coalition, which runs the Boettcher program, announced the merger Wednesday.

Residency programs, while not new, are in vogue. They place aspiring teachers in well-run and effective classrooms to learn the practical lessons of teaching while they earn a master’s degree and teacher licenses from a university.

Residency programs, which usually run two years, offer a stark contrast to the traditional four-year program teacher college model, which usually only requires a semester of student teaching.

In its first year, 130 teachers-in-residence will enroll in the joint Boettcher-Stanley program. The program should grow to 150 by the 2016-2017 school year, said Rosann Ward, PEBC’s president.

“We’re creating a deep bench of teachers for Colorado,” she said.

Most graduates from the programs stay in the classroom for at least eight years. That’s a contrast to national surveys that find half of all new teachers leave within three years.

Colorado’s teacher turnover rate, which measures how many educators either left their classroom for a different teaching position or left the profession altogether, reached a 10-year high of 17 percent in 2014. Another report found fewer Colorado high school students are entering traditional teacher colleges.

But a Colorado Department of Education official said there’s little evidence that Colorado is part of a national teacher shortage — yet.

“We haven’t seen that much change over the last three years in the amount of licenses we issue,” said Katy Anthes, executive director of the department’s educator effectiveness office.

Finding teachers for subjects such as math or special education can be difficult. Rural schools also usually have a harder time drawing applicants, Anthes said.

“It’s a complex issue that breaks around subject area and geography,” she said.

Supporters of teacher-residency programs, including Tollgate principal Laurie Godwin, said the programs benefit students.

Teachers who enter the classroom through a teacher-prep program can be better prepared on their first day because they’ve spent so much time in a classroom already and have a wide network of support throughout the year.

“If we can train more teachers at higher levels in Colorado, we can close the achievement gap,” Godwin said. “But it starts with teachers.”

(Disclosure: Chalkbeat Colorado began as a program of the PEBC.)

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Lily Wool as Lily Woods. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver dedicates new school despite land swap lawsuit

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/23/2015 - 08:34
Parks and Litigation

Denver Public Schools dedicated the new Joe Shoemaker Elementary School this week, even as a lawsuit asking the land beneath the school be returned to the city of Denver is pending in the Court of Appeals. Westword

A Berthoud middle School is one step closer to getting its own school resource officer. Reporter-Herald

Election 2015

Brad Rupert, who is running to replace Julie Williams in the Jeffco school board election, said he would bring years of proven leadership, parenting experience and an analytical approach to the board. Lakewood Sentinel

But Williams said she still has work to do, including expanding choice offerings, reinstating the Special Education Advisory Committee and reducing the education gaps among Jeffco students. Lakewood Sentinel

Another successor challenger, Ron Mitchell said he would like to re-establish credibility in the board room, look at extending the teacher contract, stop teacher attrition and establish a task force to review the current compensation plan. Lakewood Sentinel

Meanwhile, volunteers are playing a central role in this high-stakes recall election. Hundreds — on both sides of the recall — are trying to reach uninformed voters. Chalkbeat Colorado

Papal visit

Six Regis Jesuit High School students are heading to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis. 9News

A helping hand

More than 550 Colorado Springs students received school supplies collected by Larry H. Miller Dealerships during the month-long “Stuff for Students” school supply drive. Gazette

Teaching nonviolence

Durango elementary students learned about nonviolence advocates such as Mahatma Gandhi on Monday, International Peace Day. Durango Herald

Building needs

Pueblo City Schools will receive a comprehensive review of all its buildings after the school board agreed to move forward with a districtwide facilities plan. Pueblo Chieftain

Categories: Urban School News

In Jefferson County, volunteers race to reach uninformed voters to sway in school board recall

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/22/2015 - 17:18

LITTLETON — Kim Gilmartin worries that if three conservative Jefferson County school board members are recalled this fall, her children’s charter school will lose funding.

So this mother of three volunteered a few hours Saturday to canvass a neighborhood in suburban Denver with the free market advocacy organization Americans For Prosperity-Colorado.

“I want to make sure there is choice and innovation in our schools,” Gilmartin said. “I don’t want that taken away from me.”

A few hours later in a nearby neighborhood, another mother of three Jeffco Public Schools students, Annie Bitsie, knocked on doors and explained to voters why she supports the recall of Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk.

Bitsie is worried the school board’s policies siphon off resources from district-run neighborhood schools and drive away the school system’s best teachers. The quality of schools, she reminded voters, is linked to property values.

Gilmartin and Bitsie are among hundreds of volunteers playing a central role in this high-stakes recall election. Despite all the headlines around the recall, organizers for both sides are finding an electorate that is largely uninformed, making the ground game all the more important in this politically diverse 800-square mile county stretching from the edge of Denver to the mountains.

“My biggest fear is waking up Nov. 4 and thinking, ‘If I had only done one more thing,’” Bitsie said.

Bitsie has good reason to worry. School board recalls are usually ineffective, said Daniel Anderson, an editor at, an election tracking website.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Americans For Prosperity-Colorado volunteer Kim Gilmartin, left, and AFP field director Alex Bolton, knocked on doors in a Littleton neighborhood Sept. 19 asking voters for their opinion on the school board majority’s policies.

In 2014, less than 10 percent of school board recall targets were removed from office, according to data from Ballotpedia. In 2013, that number was 11 percent. And in 2012, only 7 percent of recall efforts were effective.

“A significant majority of school board recall efforts do not make the ballot, and the majority of those who do make the ballot are not successful,” Anderson said.

A variety of reasons contribute to this trend. But for the most part, incumbents in all political races have an advantage and school board contests, no matter how controversial, are seen as low stakes to voters, Anderson said.

“The challenge you have is to make a public case for your position,” he said.

Enter Jeffco United and AFP-CO. Both organizations want to connect with as many voters as possible between now and Election Day to share their views on the board’s track record.

“A face-to-face conversation has the biggest response,” said Michael Fields, AFP-CO’s executive director. “There’s so much social media saturation.”

Jeffco United is explicitly advocating for the recall of Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk, and supporting a slate of five candidates. AFP-CO’s voter outreach is centered on two causes: expanding school choice and linking teacher pay to evaluations.

Bitsie does not share Fields’s opinion on charter schools and pay-for-performance, but she does echo his concern about talking to voters in person.

“Voters have heard the rumblings,” Bitsie said. “But they don’t know why this election is so important.”

Volunteers for Jeffco United and AFP on Saturday spoke to voters such as Patrick Hamm, who remembers the two weeks of student protests over a proposed curriculum review committee but hasn’t paid much attention to the school board since.

“I don’t really have the time to dig into these things,” he said. “I don’t really go seeking the information. I’m more, let it come to me in the news.”

Volunteers also spoke to voters such as Kellie Monhahan, who moved to the county for the district’s reputation but lost focus of the school board years ago after her children graduated.

“I’d like to know their track record,” Monahan said of the recall targets. “I’ve heard about them on talk radio. … But I don’t know what information is right and wrong.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Prospects for state tax refunds firm up

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/22/2015 - 09:00
TABOR trumps all

Colorado taxpayers are poised to receive a $154 million tax refund in 2016, even as this fiscal year's state budget faces a potential $220 million deficit. Denver Post, Durango Herald

Conservative advocacy groups are wary about possible efforts to tinker with the Taxypayer’s Bill of Rights. Denver Post

Race and achievement

The Cherry Creek district is among districts taking a fresh look at the role race plays in academic achievement. 9News

Negative factor validation

The Colorado Supreme Court’s rejection of a challenge to the negative factor drew wide media coverage. Chalkbeat Colorado, Gazette, AP via Durango Herald, Reporter-Herald, CPR, Denver Post, Chieftain

planning ahead

The Pueblo 60 school board is set to vote on proposal to spend $44,000 on a district facilities master plan. Chieftain

In court

An Erie family is suing the St. Vrain Valley School District and the Erie Police Department in federal court, alleging their son was wrongfully arrested and expelled from school over "unsubstantiated threatening behavior." Daily Camera

Hands-on learning

Mesa District 51 has partnered with Denver-based CoBank to implement a new performance-based learning curriculum and give 5th graders a real-world experience with the educational program Young AmeriTowne. WesternSlopeNow

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado education community reacts to Supreme Court decision on funding

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/21/2015 - 16:34

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a workaround of the state’s requirement to fund schools at a certain level was constitutional. It was a blow to many advocates who have repeatedly asked state lawmakers to restore the some $1 billion shortfall.

Here’s a look at how Colorado superintendents, education advocates and lawmakers are reacting to the decision:

Bruce Messinger, superintendent Boulder Valley Schools and plaintiff in the case:

Boulder Valley School District is disappointed in today’s narrowest of rulings in the Dwyer case. While we concur with the high court’s minority opinion, Colorado’s 178 school districts have been sent a clear message. The state legislature and the governor’s office are, for now, the primary political decision makers to ensure compliance with the letter and spirit of Amendment 23. Boulder Valley School District, joined by school districts of all sizes and demographics, will work as hard as possible in the next legislative session to ensure that Colorado does not retreat on our commitment to public education. Funding for Colorado public education is inadequate and we need to do more as a state to meet the needs of students.

John McCleary, superintendent Holyoke School District and plaintiff in the case:

The response from Holyoke School District is a feeling that even when the Supreme Court is wrong, they’re right. Our reactions don’t mean much. The courts addressed the issue with what we would consider a myopic view and failed to look at the bigger picture of equity.

As more and more districts slip towards base funding only, more and more services and support for students will have to be cut just to keep doors open. While the lawyers, legislators, justices, and advocates on both sides of this issue have received and enjoyed the benefits of a free and appropriate public education, the kids who are in the system now and who are in the system in the future will face a public education system that is neither fair nor equitable.

No matter the ruling, Colorado has a terrible, even miserable record of funding public schools. Our students will continue to suffer from poor funding, despite what the courts think. Parents and businesses in local communities will need to work harder than ever to show the Colorado Legislature what type of schools we want to have and hold their feet to the fire for supporting all students in our state.

Jan Tanner, School District 11 board director and plaintiff in the case:

We are disappointed in the Supreme Court ruling in the Dwyer/Amendment 23 case. We were hopeful that the Supreme Court would correct the State’s interpretation of the Amendment 23 negative factor funding reduction that is inconsistent with the intentions of voters when they approved Amendment 23. However, we will continue to do the best we can with the limited resources available in order to ensure success for all students.

Harry Bull, superintendent Cherry Creek School District:

We are disappointed with the decision, but we respect the court’s ruling. However, this year alone, the Cherry Creek School District is down by nearly $52 million in funding.

Funding for public schools has declined while our at-risk population has significantly increased. We have more and more complexity in our student population than we have funding to support. Those needs won’t go away in the future.

Colorado cannot continue to remain among the lowest of states in funding for public education and expect to prepare students to be competitive in the global workplace. Going forward the district will continue to advocate for changes in the school finance system to ensure that all of our students have the resources they need to be prepared to be successful.

Lisa Weil, executive director Great Education Colorado

Today’s disappointing decision is, unfortunately, just another in a long line of setbacks for the children of Colorado. Despite the voters best efforts to take students off the tracks of Colorado’s inevitable fiscal train wreck by passing Amendment 23, the state Supreme Court has put them right back in harm’s way. As the legislature continues to cut $1000 per student every year, today’s decision slams shut the courthouse door. It appears that the only remedy – the only way to make sure that every child has access to the educational opportunities that will lead them to success — may be to go back to the voters to renew our promise to the children of Colorado.

It is within our power as Coloradans to make all the investments necessary to ensure the continuing vitality of our families, communities and state economy. That power rests in tools available both to our legislature and the voters. There are already efforts to take such action in 2016; today’s ruling only increases the urgency of those efforts.

Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign:

Today, the Colorado Supreme Court determined the Colorado Legislature’s use of the “negative factor” in determining how much money to send to schools each year is constitutional. The ruling in Dwyer v. State of Colorado shines a new spotlight on Colorado’s escalating financial challenges and the need for state and local leaders to work together on a solution.

The interaction of several pieces of our state constitution—some limiting state revenue collections and others mandating spending increases—has resulted in a predicament no one intended. We need a state budget that has the flexibility to ensure every chance for every child in Colorado. Today’s Supreme Court decision is another sign that we are nowhere close to that goal.

As the unintended consequences of our state’s constitutional constraints reveal themselves, the Children’s Campaign urges legislators and other state leaders to seek solutions that will not only preserve funding for K-12 education, but provide sustainable solutions for other public systems that help children grow and learn. Among these services are early childhood education, child care assistance and programs that ensure children have access to health insurance.

Mark Ferrandino, chief financial officer, Denver Public Schools:

Historically, Denver Public Schools has been considered to be a very low-funded school system when compared to similar districts across the country. During 2009-10, we had a per pupil revenue of $7,672. Despite inflation and the rise in key costs since then, that number is down to $7,355 in 2014-15. We are getting less money per child this year than we were back then. Essentially, DPS has had more than $431 million in total program funding withheld due to the negative factor during that time period.

Today’s ruling shows how important it is for the legislature and the people of Colorado to resolve the funding issues in K-12 education that are a result of both the great recession and the inability to recover due to the fiscal restraints in the Colorado Constitution.

School districts across the state will continue to push for the legislature to prioritize K-12 funding, and will seek a solution so that the state can do more to invest in our kids and in schools

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union:

Today’s Supreme Court decision is extremely disappointing for every educator, family and student in Colorado. The Court’s ruling essentially allows the legislature to circumvent Amendment 23, passed by voters in 2000, and its clear mandate requiring the legislature to increase public education funds. The voters delivered a resounding message that all students, regardless of their zip code, deserve the support, tools, and time to learn. The Court’s ruling means the legislature can reduce public education funds by capping total school funding at their discretion. The Dwyer verdict ignores Colorado voters’ voice and will allow painful funding decisions to continue for all school districts. The state will march further down the destructive path of greater inequity between those who can ask their voters for local education funding increases, and those who cannot raise local resources to create great learning opportunities for their kids.

The chances a child has for success should not depend upon living in an affluent suburban neighborhood that can afford to raise additional education dollars. If we’re serious about every child’s future, let’s get serious about resourcing every public school so that all students have the education professionals they need, classes small enough for one-on-one attention, and a well-rounded curriculum. All students deserve a chance to succeed in school and become our state’s next generation of leaders and innovators. We will not give up our fight for a fair funding system that ensures every child has access to a high quality public education. Ending the negative factor is Colorado’s best bet for setting every student off toward a great future.

State Sen. Owen Hill, Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee: 

The decision is another reminder that we can’t just keep throwing money at education problems expecting improvement but that we need significant reforms that put the students’ and parents’ and teachers’ needs at the forefront of education funding decisions.

Kevin Larsen, Douglas County school board president:

The Colorado legislature needs to acknowledge that K-12 education funding is an increasing part of the general budget because the Gallagher Amendment forced the greater burden of funding to the state. Furthermore, the factors in the antiquated 1994 School Finance Act each year more heavily resemble political influences and demographics than the true cost of educating students.

We need to rethink this whole process and create a system that is equitable to all Colorado students. The system must be based on real costs where the money follows the child. It is critical to discontinue the artifices that concentrate resources in particular districts for reasons that have nothing to do with education and successful student outcomes.

Categories: Urban School News

Supreme Court rejects challenge to school funding formula

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/21/2015 - 10:34

The Colorado Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision issued Monday rejected a constitutional challenge to part of the state’s school funding formula.

At issue in the case of Dwyer v. State of Colorado was the negative factor, a calculation the legislature has used to reduce school funding to balance the state budget.

“At the end of the day, the State has not reduced statewide base per pupil funding below its constitutional minimum. That fact torpedoes Plaintiffs’ lawsuit,” the opinion said. (See full opinion at bottom of article.)

The decision was not unexpected, but it deals a hard blow to advocates of increased school funding by closing the last big court option available to them.

“This disappointing decision has slammed the courthouse doors on the children of Colorado, cementing in place our uncompetitive levels of education investment,” said Kathleen Gebhardt, a lead lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“We just have to keep trying” to strengthen school funding, she added. “The new normal, it’s just not acceptable. … The next step has to be the voters,” perhaps with a ballot proposal to tweak constitutional requirements for school funding.

The suit was filed just over a year ago by a group of parents and school districts organized by Children’s Voices, the Boulder nonprofit law firm that also put together the Lobato v. State of Colorado lawsuit. That case challenged the state funding system on broader grounds and was rejected by the high court in 2013.

The target in the Dwyer case was much narrower — the negative factor and the proper interpretation of Amendment 23, the constitutional provision that requires K-12 funding to increase annually by population growth and the rate of inflation.

The plaintiffs asked that the negative factor section be stricken from the state’s school funding law and that the legislature be barred from reinstating the factor in another form. The suit didn’t ask that lost funding be restored.

The case boiled down to a fundamental disagreement between the plaintiffs and the state on two key issues — the definitions of base school funding and per-student funding.

“Plaintiffs’ challenge to the negative factor presents a surprisingly straightforward question of constitutional interpretation. Quite simply, this case is about one thing: the meaning of the term ‘base,'” the ruling said.

The court’s majority came down on the state’s side.

“By its plain language, Amendment 23 only requires increases to statewide base per pupil funding, not to total per pupil funding,” the majority wrote. “The Supreme Court therefore holds that the negative factor does not violate Amendment 23.”

The ruling said that principles of ballot measure interpretation “compel the conclusion that Amendment 23 only requires increases to statewide base per pupil funding, not total per pupil funding. We know that this is what Amendment 23 means, because this is exactly what Amendment 23 says.”

The ruling also said those legal principles required that “We presume that the negative factor is constitutional, and we will only void it if we deem it to be unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The negative factor has been an issue of increasing concern — and even bitterness — among school board members, administrators and teachers since the legislature first used it in 2010, when state revenues still were reeling from the recession.

State and local funding for basic school operations totals about $6.23 billion this school year, an average of $7,295 per pupil. Without the negative factor, total funding would be $885 million higher. (See this spreadsheet of how negative factor affects individual districts.)

Legislators from both parties have been sympathetic about the negative factor’s impact on schools, if not to the argument that it was unconstitutional. They have concerns about reducing the legislature’s budgeting flexibility and about impacts on other state programs.

But for the last two legislative sessions, lawmakers have worked to reduce the negative factor, which had produced a funding shortfall as high as $1 billion in past years.

Budget experts fear it will be increasingly difficult to shrink the negative factor more in the future. Despite rising state revenues, constitutional requirements for annual state spending caps and taxpayer refunds make it unlikely significantly larger amounts of money will be available for K-12 in 2016-17 and beyond. (See the 2016-17 projection from the Colorado School Finance Project and these models of future negative factor impacts.)

How Amendment 23 works

Passed by voters in 2000, Amendment 23’s backers intended for it to provide a predictable and growing source of funding for schools. The amendment’s goal was to restore per-pupil funding to 1988 levels over time.

State funding for schools comes in two major chunks. The larger amount, base funding, provides an identical per-student amount to every district. The second chunk, called factor funding, gives districts varying additional per-student amounts based on individual district characteristics such as numbers of at-risk students, low enrollment and cost of living for staff.  Local property and vehicle tax revenues also contribute to what’s called total program funding for schools.

A third, smaller pot of state support known as categorical funding provides money to districts for programs such as special education, gifted and talented and transportation. That money is not distributed by the same formula that governs total program funding.

A key fact is that up until the 2010-11 school year, the legislature applied the inflation-and-enrollment increase to both base and factor funding.

Behind the negative factor

In 2010, the legislature created the negative factor (originally called the stabilization factor) to control school spending as lawmakers continued to struggle with the overall state budget. It applied to the 2010-11 K-12 budget and has been in effect ever since.

The legal reasoning behind the negative factor is that Amendment 23 applies only to base funding, not to factor funding. The original legal rationale for the negative factor is based on a 34-page 2003 memo issued by the Office of Legislative Legal Services.

With state revenues improving, reduction of the negative factor was the top priority for education interest groups during the 2014 legislative session. Their proposals ranged as high as $275 million. In the end, lawmakers agreed to a $110 million reduction.

The Hickenlooper administration and legislative budget experts resisted a larger buy down, arguing that a bigger amount would put too much pressure on the state budget in future years. That can happen because reducing the negative factor puts more money into K-12 base funding, which is subject to Amendment 23’s multiplier in the future.

Behind the Dwyer lawsuit

The suit was filed about a month after the 2014 legislative session, during which supporters of increased school funding were unable to persuade lawmakers to make a big cut in the negative factor.

Lawsuit backers met with key lawmakers near the end of the session, but legislators reportedly refused to be swayed by any possibility of a lawsuit.

But discussions about a challenge to the formula had been in the works long before that.

The lead plaintiffs were Lindi and Paul Dwyer, who have four daughters in the Kit Carson district.

Other plaintiffs  included the Colorado Springs 11, Boulder Valley, Mancos, Holyoke and Plateau Valley school districts, along with the East Central Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Other plaintiffs were the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus (now known as the Rural Alliance) and the Colorado PTA. Four sets of parents with children in the Kit Carson, Lewis-Palmer and Hanover districts also signed on to the suit.

The case also drew several friend of the court briefs supporting either the plaintiffs or the state.

Briefs supporting the plaintiffs were filed by the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Education Association, among others. A brief supporting the state’s position was filed by several business groups, including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Monday’s ruling was written Chief Justice Nancy Rice and supported by justices Brian Boatright, Nathan Coats and Allison Eid. Justices Monica Marquez, William Hood and Richard Gabriel dissented.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Transgender policy training comes at a cost for Boulder schools

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/21/2015 - 08:44
Equity in education

The Boulder Valley School District isn't funding leadership conferences for minority students this school year. Instead, the office of instructional services and equity will use $20,000 for staff training to improve consistency among schools and better implement a transgender policy approved in 2012. Daily Camera

Election 2015

Four candidates in Jefferson County are vying for two open school board seats this fall in races that will have just as much of an impact on the direction of the board as the results of the recall itself. Colorado Statesman

Higher education

Rebecca Chopp, the University of Denver's new chancellor, will have to tackle a variety of issues — including gender equity and creating better access to higher education for minority students— during her tenure. Denver Post

Colorado State University President Tony Frank used his annual fall address to launch a new effort to shape the next 150 years of the university. Greeley Tribune

college ready

A federal program in Lamar is helping low-income students graduate and transition to college. Lamar Ledger

Organizations looking to create scholarships — and then double those scholarships — can now submit their applications online. Denver Business Journal

early childhood education

Game-like software, aimed at children as young as 5, teaches basic computer programming skills — "the ABCs of coding"— with no reading necessary. NPR via KUNC

pomp and circumstance

Boulder Valley, like most Colorado school districts, will update graduation requirements after the State Board of Education adopted new statewide guidelines. Daily Camera

Back to cool

Volunteers and staff at City Year AmeriCorps kicked off the school year with a pep rally at Union Station. 9News

Learning without borders

A Longmont teacher is part of a team of students, teachers and scientists making their way to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. 9News

Extreme School Makeover

Students at Centaurus High are helping decide what should be included in the school's $23 million redesign. Daily Camera

Learning matters

How much homework is too much? Here are six answers. NPR via KUNC

School safety

Turner Middle School in Berthoud may get its own school resource officer for the second half of the school year if officials from three entities approve the plan. Reporter Herald

A 19-year-old Front Range Community College student was taken into custody Friday after allegedly publishing a Snapchat video referencing a “Columbine-type” incident. 9News

Two cents

Charter schools like those in Denver would be a difficult fit for Jefferson County schools, writes school board candidate Paula Noonan. Colorado Statesman

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: When school choice means moving from a struggling school to another struggling school

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 16:36
  • Neighborhood schools often serve as an anchor to personal histories and community ties. So when those schools cease to exist, there is usually a great sense of loss. (NPR)
  • School choice doesn’t necessarily lead to a student moving from a bad school to a significantly better one. In Chicago, more than a quarter of transfer students ended up at another struggling school. (Hechinger Report)

  • After 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing a clock he built to his Texas school, his school sent him — and others — the message that his creativity is something to be feared. (Vox)

  • Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, committed $50 million to change the model for public high schools. Will the handful of proposals that end up with funding make a difference? (Slate)

  • Poor kids are increasingly priced out of extracurricular activities that require fees and that exclusion can have long term consequences. (WGBH)

  • School districts around the country are trying to reform zero tolerance discipline policies, but are finding that making meaningful change is difficult. (The Atlantic)

  • A Los Angeles parent explains that her decision to send her children to private school is rooted in a distrust of public schools’ expectations for young black students. (LA Times)

  • A new study reports that the number of black teachers in nine cities dropped between 2002 and 2012, raising big questions about teacher diversity efforts. (Washington Post)

  • As schools rely more and more on philanthropy, some educators worry that schools are marketing their students to donors as charity cases and the competition for donations will leave many children behind. (Tiny Spark)

  • A year after the Ferguson protests, a student-led group is trying to improve the city’s schools from the inside out. (EdWeek)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Oil and gas bust reckoning in Garfield County

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 08:12
bust times

After oil and gas revenue dried up in Garfield County, a bond issue helped the school district rebound. Post Independent

fixing culture

The Adams 14 school district on Denver’s northeast edge — one of some 1,400 districts ordered by the federal government to correct systemic discrimination — is starting to understand how to prevent bias from hurting the children it serves. Education Week

Lancer pride

Students from Abraham Lincoln High School don't believe their southwest Denver campus has space for a middle school. The Denver Post, Chalkbeat, 7News, KWGN

shrinking pains

The rural South Routt School District is trying to stem enrollment declines and budget shortfalls that come with them. Steamboat Today

Total Recall

School board members targeted in Jefferson County's high-stakes recall defend their records in language that will appear on the ballot. Chalkbeat

head count

Moffat County School District saw enrollment dip, but the high school was a surprising exception. Craig Daily Press

high fives

All 25 girls in a St. Mary’s Academy class in Englewood racked up high scores on Advanced Placement calculus tests. 9News

change of heart

A candidate for a two-year school board seat in Steamboat Springs is dropping out, although her name still will be on the ballot. Steamboat Today

safe schools

A fake gun — apparently a theater prop — triggered a lockdown at Brighton schools. 9News

A student in Florence was arrested after starting an actual fire during a planned fire drill. Gazette

Categories: Urban School News

DPS board approves two new southwest Denver middle schools, battle building over Lincoln High

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/17/2015 - 20:52

The Denver school board signed off on plans Thursday for two new middle schools seeking to locate in southwest Denver, setting the stage for the next step of picking from among a group of district-run or charter schools vying for precious district real estate in the region.

This is the latest in a series of attempts by DPS to lift the quality of schools in heavily Latino and low-income southwest Denver.

The competition for building space in southwest touches on familiar themes, including the often emotional debate about locating multiple schools on one campus, worries that established schools are neglected as new ones open, and differing views over the roles of charter and district-run schools.

DPS wants to put a new middle school in Henry World Middle School, which is being phased out after years of struggles, and on the campus of Abraham Lincoln High School, which DPS says has the available space because of declining enrollment.

The Lincoln part of the plan is causing controversy. Students from the high school turned out in force at Thursday’s board meeting opposing the plan, saying their hallways, cafeteria and parking lots are overcrowded and that a middle school would alter the school’s identity.

“Don’t you believe in us at Lincoln?” said Carlos Martinez, a Lincoln junior. “Aren’t you proud of us? Why are you creating conditions where I have to fight for my education, every day?”

New policy test awaits

No decisions were made Thursday about putting a school in Lincoln. While the board signed off on two district-run schools, it will not vote on which schools will land in which buildings until next month.

That process will mark the first test of a new DPS policy that ties location decisions to schools’ academic performance, student enrollment patterns and other district priorities.

The board signed off on one school that wants space in the high school — Academia Lincoln, a district-run dual-language Spanish and English school emphasizing science, technology, engineering, math and the arts.

The other newly approved school, Bear Valley International School, is seeking placement in the Henry building. That school promises a rigorous International Baccalaureate program, personalized learning with a 1:1 technology ratio and biliteracy support with every student getting some Spanish programming.

Both votes were 6-0.

Two previously approved charter schools are in play for the two buildings — a new campus for home-grown network DSST, and Compass Academy. Compass Academy has temporary space in Kepner Middle School, where it opened this fall with sixth-graders only, with plans to scale up.

The charter schools identified both the Lincoln and Henry options as sought-after locations.

It is unclear what will happen with the approved schools that aren’t given buildings next fall. Board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver, voiced concern about the fate of Academia Lincoln if it doesn’t get its wish for space at Lincoln High.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said schools that are not awarded a facility in this round can try again and get one, which has happened before.

Lincoln speaks out

At Thursday’s meeting, the most noise surrounded the prospect of placing a middle school at Lincoln, which has seen its enrollment decline from about 1,900 in 2009 to 1,371 this year, officials said.

DPS says Lincoln can accommodate a 300-student middle school. An alternative high school, Respect Academy, is already housed at Lincoln, with just over 100 students.

Lincoln principal Larry Irvin attributes much of the opposition to a wariness of change at a proud school with a long history of being a large, comprehensive high school serving generations of neighborhood families.

At the same time, he said, if southwest Denver needs middle school seats and Lincoln has the capacity, “part of it just makes good sense and sound logic.”

“Regardless of what happens, Lincoln will still be here serving our kids and our community and maximizing success in high school and after high school,” Irvin said. “That won’t change.”

Standing with classmates on the sidewalk outside Thursday’s meeting, Lincoln senior Eudelia Koehler was not convinced.

“Seeing it for myself, going to class every day, I don’t see how we’re going to fit another 300 students in there,” she said.

As it stands, DPS boasts more than 20 shared campuses. Typically, multiple schools under one roof share common spaces like cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums and fields but have their own classrooms. The district is also planning for a middle school to share space at Manual High School in northeast Denver.

In southwest Denver, several schools have gotten new principals or programs, and several new charter and district schools have been recruited to open in the region in the next two years. DPS also created two new shared enrollment zones, which mean families are given preference at a cluster of schools rather than directly assigned to one school.

Southwest Denver charter schools in the KIPP, DSST and STRIVE Prep networks claim wait lists 150 to 225 kids deep, and families don’t get their first or second school choices at the rate of other areas of the city, district officials say.

“It tells us it’s important to have higher-quality choices, so people can look across the choices they have, put down a choice of one or two, and feel good they will be able to get into those,” Susana Cordova, DPS’s chief of schools, said at a community forum in August.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco school board members, in ballot statements, explain why they shouldn’t be recalled

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/17/2015 - 18:41

Three Jefferson County school board members up for recall this fall have provided statements to the county clerk explaining why they should not be booted from office.

The statements by board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk will appear on the ballot alongside language from recall supporters that accuse the board of misusing tax dollars, disrespecting teachers and violating the state’s open meeting laws.

The release of the statements by the clerk’s office follow an announcement that the Secretary of State has approved the clerk’s plan to align the recall with the regular Nov. 3 election.

The secretary of state’s office and others have questioned whether the recall could be part of the regular election, which saves Jeffco Public Schools hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The “justification statements” echo many of the board members statements since the recall effort was launched in June.

Board President Witt highlighted the board majority’s resolve for a leaner and more nimble teacher contract, as well as a new way to pay teachers.

“Because our majority stood strong, we were able to reach a leaner, more flexible union agreement that gives educators the flexibility to better provide our children with a world-class education” Witt’s statement reads. “Our new pay model is built on accountability and fairness, allowing us to recognize and reward great teachers while moving us closer to the goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom.”

Full statements
You can read the board majority’s full statements by clicking here:

Williams, the board’s vice president, renewed her vow to improve opportunities for students, like her own children, who live with special needs and are designated as gifted.

“I promised during my campaign to ensure the needs of every child were being met,” Williams’s statement reads. “My work on the Jeffco school board has been guided by that promise. During my time on the school board, I voted to support academic opportunities for every child by allocating additional resources to both special needs kids like Randy and gifted kids like Ryan.”

Meanwhile, Newkirk’s statement emphasizes the board’s work to improve opportunities for the district’s families living in poverty.

“We’ve also taken bold steps to tackle long-neglected issues, such as the community-led educational initiatives in the struggling Jefferson and Alameda areas,” his statement reads. “We have made free full-day kindergarten available to all low-income families.”

The statements represent the latest development on a long road to the November election.

Both the Jefferson and Broomfield county clerks will mail regular ballots to overseas voters later this month. Broomfield officials will mail recall ballot language at the same time.

About 2,000 voters in Broomfield live in the Jeffco Public Schools attendance boundary.

Jefferson County officials, however, will mail separate recall ballots to military and overseas voters after candidates running to replace the recall targets are certified.

If more candidates enter the recall between the time Broomfield and Jeffco officials mail their ballots, Broomfield will reissue ballots to eligible military and overseas voters — of which there are nine.

All Jefferson County voters living in the state will receive one package with both the regular and recall election ballot inside. The clerk’s office will begin mailing those the week of Oct. 12.

Both counties also will open additional polling centers for individuals to vote in person between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3.

If there is a last-minute lawsuit regarding the recall, a judge likely will decide how and when to hold that election, the Broomfield clerk’s office said.

So far three candidates running to replace the school board members have been certified for the ballot: Ron Mitchell, Brad Rupert and Susan Harmon.

Two other Jeffco residents, Paula Noonan and Matthew Dhieux, have pulled petitions to be placed on the ballot.

Residents who want to run as replacements should the recall be successful have until Sept. 28 to turn in petitions.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Cherry Creek board to consider controversial charter application

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/17/2015 - 08:45
choice and consequences

The Cherry Creek school board will vote next month on whether to allow a new charter school to open — a move that could double the number of charters in CCSD and is sparking some controversy because of its operator, Academica. Aurora Sentinel

labor day

By a 4-3 vote, the Thompson school board will appeal an injunction that protects the Thompson Education Association during a breach of contract lawsuit. The board will use an outside grant sought by a board attorney and the Independence Institute for legal fees. Reporter-Herald

Election 2015

The Secretary of State has approved the Jefferson County clerk's recall election plans, setting the stage for a November showdown. Denver Post

A slate of candidates in Jefferson County has grown from three to five. Lakewood Sentinel

Two incumbents and five newcomers are vying for three seats on the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education this fall. Aurora Sentinel

Denver school board President Happy Haynes missed a meeting Wednesday to discuss a possible conflict of interest by running both the city's parks department and school board. That's because no one told Haynes to be there. Chalkbeat Colorado


Enrollment in Pueblo City Schools has increased during the past two weeks, but the numbers continue to lag behind what officials predicted the student count would be this fall. Pueblo Chieftain


A Colorado Springs charter school, the Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy, is getting a new name to mark its 20th anniversary. Gazette

early childhood education

Did you know the city of Castle Rock has had its own preschool program for 13 years? Denver Post

Higher ed

Colorado State University enrolled its largest and most diverse freshman class this fall, according to new numbers. Denver Post

In an effort to give students more real-world experience, University of Colorado Denver students will work directly with City of Lakewood staff on projects that are more "environmentally, economically and socially sustainable" in an initiative called "Hometown Colorado." Denver Business Journal

Dress for success

A growing number of students and parents feel that dress codes are biased against female students. And that has led to complaints and protests around the country. NPR via KUNC

New Beginnings

A new school in Aurora is embarking on a bold experiment to link life skills such as perseverance and coping to learning, a strategy viewed as essential for students more likely to bounce from school to school. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

This is what student, teacher and community engagement looks like in education. And this is why it matters, writes a volunteer in the Roaring Fork school district. Post-Independent

Categories: Urban School News

At Aurora’s newest school, students taught life skills to become better learners and writers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/16/2015 - 15:07

AURORA — Emmanuel Zamudio is very much a 9-year-old boy. He knows what he likes — math, science and explosions. He also knows what he’d rather avoid — writing.

“I don’t know how to spell a lot of words, like, that are super hard,” he said, taking a break from riding his bike through his mobile home park along Colfax Avenue. “Like ‘example.’ I don’t know how to spell that.”

The fourth-grader is among the first class of students at a new Aurora Public School embarking on a bold experiment to link life skills such as perseverance and coping to learning, a strategy viewed as essential for students more likely to bounce from school to school.

As part of its first year, the Edna and John W. Mosley P-8 school is applying those principles to tackling one of public education’s thorniest topics: how to better teach writing.

If teachers at Mosley succeed, they’ll not only teach Emmanuel how to overcome his spelling paralysis and become a proficient writer, they’ll provide a model for other academically struggling schools in Aurora that must boost student scores on state tests or face sanctions.

A new school, a new model
In the fall of 2013, two-thirds of Aurora’s elementary and middle schools were at 90 percent or more capacity. With enrollment projected to climb by 2 percent annually the next four years, the district had to act.

So Aurora Public Schools officials asked their board to build a new school using a loan from the private sector.

The board agreed to finance $30 million for the school. At capacity, it will serve up to 1,000 students and take enrollment pressures off up to 10 schools.

Mosley, which is adjacent to Buckley Air Force Base, serves no traditional neighborhood. Nearly 80 percent of students who attend Mosley come from one of about a dozen apartment complexes or mobile home communities that surround the school — including Emmanuel’s.

The school’s lack of defined neighborhood boundaries reflects reality in Aurora, Superintendent Rico Munn said.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Emmanuel Zamudio, 9, rides his bike in his mobile home community in August before school starts.

“We have a lot of mobility,” he said. “It’s a reality of housing.”

Nearly three out of every 10 Aurora students will change schools each year, according to state data. This fact, in part, inspired Mosley’s unique model: Along with reading, writing and arithmetic, students would be taught academic resilience.

Principal Carrie Clark and her team define it like this: The process of students using their own strengths and support systems at school and home to persevere through difficult times and view challenges as opportunities for growth and empowerment.

In other words, students will learn how not to give up when the learning gets tough and how to strive to be their best.

In recent years, more school systems like Aurora that serve mostly students of color from low-income homes have been looking to “noncognitive” skills, like “grit,” to improve classrooms.

“Kids do have innate skills for overcoming situations,” said Dorinda J. Carter Andrews, an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. “Those are human traits. But when it comes to schooling, some kids based on their environment might not have the skill set to persevere in the context of those environmental conditions.”

Students at Mosley will spend 30 minutes a day during a morning meeting focused on building resiliency. But it won’t stop there. Throughout the day, teachers will ask students to put those skills to work while tackling tough math problems or reading a book with unfamiliar words.

“Academic resilience is something they can take with them,” Clark said. “It’s not something so specific only to Aurora or only to Mosley. We’re teaching them skills that they can apply in other areas. … We want to teach them something they can use in their future and not so specific to where that school is located. And I think the strategy of coping you can use anywhere you are.”

But Carter Andrews, echoing a backlash against “grit,” said asking students just to persevere isn’t enough. They need support systems before, during and after school.

“What we see nationally, where schools are the most effective, is everyone is taking part and helping those young people to learn and maintain skills,” Carter Andrews said.

She recommended that Mosley develop or partner with after-school programs with similar aims.

So far the school has teamed up with just one after-school program: Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that blends learning life skills with physical activities. More partnerships are expected, a district spokeswoman said.

Still, Mosley teachers and staff are at the ready and embracing Clark’s vision.

“There are a lot of schools in APS that don’t have a vision and don’t know what they’re working for,” said Aretha Savaloja, Mosley’s dean.

A focus on writing
Writing well is difficult. And most Aurora Public Schools students can’t do it.

Two-thirds of Aurora third-graders write below grade level, according to results from 2014 TCAP tests. That was true for sixth- and eighth-graders as well.

By comparison, about half of the state’s students are at or above grade-level in writing.

“It takes incredible attention, focus and resources,” said Steve Graham, a professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “… Writing is not a fun task for some people.”

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Sixth grade teachers Linda Mallory and Chris Butler worked together on creating common writing lessons during a summer training for Mosley teachers.

In national surveys, teachers report not being confident in their own writing skills and knowledge to teach writing. Teachers also report they don’t have enough time to teach writing or allow students to practice.

On average, Graham said, teachers will spend about 15 minutes a day teaching a writing lesson and students will spend 20 minutes practicing.

To turn the tide on these national trends, Mosley students in kindergarten through sixth grade will have a two-and-a-half hour literacy block to focus on reading and writing. Seventh and eighth graders will have about an hour each day.

Teachers also will work in teams throughout the year to identify proficient writing and develop shared lesson plans.

But reality is daunting: More than 800 students — at least a third of whom are learning English as a second language and 10 percent of whom have some sort of learning disability — enter Mosley at different writing levels and with different skill sets.

“How do you support students where they’re at and connect them to the rest of the lesson?” said sixth-grade teacher Chris Butler. “That’s really hard.”

To differentiate lessons, Clark, Mosley’s principal, is asking her teachers to be familiar with the gamut of content standards in order to identify where students are and how to catch them up. But teachers, Clark said, are not to lower expectations.

There’s good reason, according to research, not to lower the bar for students with the greatest obstacles to overcome, said Carol Booth Olson, an associate professor at the University of California Irvine. She’s researched English language learners since 1982.

English language learners “are capable of making really dramatic progress and people shouldn’t dumb down the curriculum for them,” Booth Olson said. “They should be given more strategies and encouragement. But they won’t get better if they don’t practice.”

As for Emmanuel, the 9-year-old who struggles with spelling, he’s ready for the challenge.

“The new school might push more people to get focused on learning,” he said. “They’ll challenge us to get better.”

Categories: Urban School News

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