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As opt-out numbers grow, Arne Duncan says feds may have to step in

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 15:01

[A version of this story was originally published in Chalkbeat New York.]

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week that the federal government is obligated to intervene if states fail to address the rising number of students who are boycotting mandated annual exams.

Duncan’s comments came a day before Gov. John Hickenlooper and two former Colorado governors publicly defended the state’s testing and accountability system and spoke against opting out of tests.

Testing has been a hot-button issue this year, as many Colorado districts are reporting higher-than-usual rates of students opting out of state standardized tests. This fall, approximately 83 percent of eligible Colorado students took 12th grade exams. Official figures for spring tests have not yet been released.

States across the country are also seeing more students and parents refuse to take standardized tests: In New York, an advocacy group reported that more than 15 percent of eligible test takers refused to take standardized English exams last week.

The trend has raised questions about the consequences for districts. Federal law requires all students in grades three to eight to take annual tests, and officials have said districts could face sanctions if fewer than 95 percent of students participate.

On Tuesday, when asked whether states with many test boycotters would face consequences, Duncan said he expected states to make sure districts get enough students take the tests.

“We think most states will do that,” Duncan said during a discussion at a conference of the Education Writers Association in Chicago. “If states don’t do that, then we have an obligation to step in.”

Duncan said that students in some states are tested too much, and acknowledged that the exams are challenging for many students. But he argued that annual standardized exams are essential for tracking student progress and monitoring the score gap between different student groups.

He also said the tests are “just not a traumatic event” for his children, who attend public school in Virginia.

“It’s just part of most kids’ education growing up,” he said. “Sometimes the adults make a big deal and that creates some trauma for the kids.”

Former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, said on Wednesday that while the state might currently have “too much of a good thing” (too many tests), he believes opting out is harmful to a system that is ultimately beneficial for students.

But Colorado’s state board of education passed a resolution in February saying that the state’s education department cannot penalize districts with low rates of student participation in standardized tests due to parent opt outs. And a bill that would protect parents’ right to opt students out of tests passed in the state Senate earlier this month.

A federal education department spokeswoman said last week that the agency could withhold funding from states if some of their districts have too few students take the exams, but that it has not yet done so because states have addressed the issue on their own.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Opt-out supporters claim calendar manipulation

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 08:50

gung-ho grizzled govs

As the legislature prepares for floor debate on key testing bills, two former governors urged lawmakers not to tinker too much with standards and assessments. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Timing is everything

Sponsors of a student assessment opt-out bill are worried not only about a veto by Gov. John Hickenlooper, they fret that lawmakers won't have an opportunity to override the possible action. ( Colorado Statesman )

Mountain homeless

The number of students in Routt County qualifying for services under a national homeless education act surged during the 2013-14 school year, according to state data. ( Steamboat Today )

outdoor classroom

Three-and-a-half years ago, it appeared that Jefferson County Schools' Outdoor Lab program had no future as budget cuts had forced it onto the chopping block. But now its future looks bright. ( Denver Post Your Hub )

aural reading

Denver Public Schools has given 80,000 audiobooks to students struggling with dyslexia. ( 9News )

boulder bikes

The Boulder Valley School District held its seventh annual Bike to School Day on Wednesday, Earth Day, as students around the district rode their bicycles to school on a sunny spring morning. ( Daily Camera )

more masters'

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will add a master's degree in accounting and a bachelor's degree in engineering education in the fall to comply with increased state licensing requirements and to help increase the supply of high school math and science teachers. ( Gazette )

best bucks

Roaring Fork School District is looking to the state to help pay for a $26.6 million, 79,800-square-foot overhaul of Glenwood Springs Elementary School. ( Post Independent )

Two cents

A parent and marketing executive says she "recognize(s) the value of the data PARCC gathers." ( Denver post )

Categories: Urban School News

Ex-governors have Hick’s back, defend standards and testing

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/22/2015 - 16:04

As the legislature prepares for floor debate on key testing bills, two former governors urged lawmakers not to tinker too much with standards and assessments.

Former Govs. Roy Romer and Bill Owens joined current chief executive John Hickenlooper to defend 30 years of Colorado education reform, including standards and testing begun on Romer’s watch and expanded under Owens.

Romer and Owens didn’t mince words on touchy issues that included opting out and continuation of 9th grade testing; they oppose the former and support the latter. Hickenlooper, who will have to decide on whatever testing bill the 2015 session sends him, was non-committal on specific issues.

All three said the testing system can be streamlined and some tests eliminated but didn’t offer specific suggestions.

“We probably have too much of a good thing,” said Owens.

Hickenlooper didn’t commit himself when asked about specific issues like 9th grade testing (an issue the House and Senate currently are at odds about) and possible elimination of social studies tests.

“I want to see what the bills look like. We’re open to looking at each of these issues.”

The governor also said he sees ninth grade testing as an important component, and added that he and the legislature “should be able to work through that.” He said he’s discussed testing repeatedly at his regular meetings with legislative leadership and is hopeful a good bill will be produced.

Republican Owens said he initiated the idea of the news conference and enlisted Democrat Romer. Owens said Democratic former Gov. Bill Ritter had a schedule conflict and couldn’t attend.

Owens said the two “want to make sure we don’t throw away those 30 years” of education reform.

The two ex-governors were unequivocal on two issues.

“I’m opposed to opting out of tests,” Owens said, and Romer said, “Why would anybody opt out? … To opt out is harmful to the system.”

On 9th grade testing, Owens said he supports it, and Romer said, “You need a test in the 9th grade.” Arguing you don’t “is nonsensical and illogical.”

Owens was asked why so many Republicans now are critical of standards and testing when he and past GOP legislators were among the architects of Colorado’s current education system.

“That system is under attack … this is stunning to me,” Owen said.  He said some people have forgotten all the work done in the past. “I’m concerned we’ve gotten away from it.”

Three testing bills are pending on this week’s calendars, two in the Senate and one in the House, but all three of those were laid over Wednesday and may or may not be heard Thursday.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Dougco school leader is proud of his schools — even after separation

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/22/2015 - 09:03

safe schools

The Colorado Senate gave the first OK to a bill that would hold school districts liable for some violent crimes. The bill was renamed the Claire Davis School Safety Act. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

During debate, some Democrats unsuccessfully tried to higher the threshold of what districts could be liable for. ( Denver Post )

Human Resources

A Douglas County charter school principal is proud of the schools he opened — even if he's been fired from them. ( Douglas County News-Press )

A Jeffco fifth grader, who battles epilepsy and autism, won a visit from the daughter of Jackie Robinson for an essay he wrote about breaking barriers. ( 9News )

The nation's best school janitor could be in the Cherry Creek School District. ( 9News )

On the Move

A special education class at Peck Elementary School in Jeffco promotes social and educational skills through activities like dance. ( Arvada Press )

won't you dance?

After prom activities are meant to be fun and keep students safe. ( Daily Camera )


Authorities have charged a man who has Parkinson's disease with vehicular homicide and reckless driving after his truck slammed into another vehicle and killed a Colorado school district's chief financial officer. ( AP via Times-Call )

yes you can

Schools across the country, including those in Colorado, are beginning to offer "seals of biliteracy" on diplomas. Here's why. ( NPR via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Senate passes district liability bill

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 17:54

Updated April 22, 9:30 a.m. – The Senate Wednesday morning voted 25-9 to pass the bill that would make school districts legally liable for certain kinds of violent incidents.

Several amendments were added to soften Senate Bill 15-213 during preliminary debate on Tuesday, but those didn’t go far enough for some Democratic senators, who proposed other amendments to further limit districts’ liability. Those were defeated.

School districts have raised concerns that the bill sets an ambiguous standard for lawsuits and that it might cause schools to overreact and take such steps as expelling students seen as potentially dangerous.

The bill was prompted by the December 2013 death of Arapahoe High School student Claire Davis, who was shot by fellow student Karl Pierson. Her parents, Michael and Desiree Davis, have long complained that the Littleton Public Schools have been uncooperative in providing information about the tragedy and what led up to it. (Earlier this month the Littleton school board agreed to arbitration with the family on the issue of information sharing.)

One floor amendment approved Tuesday formally names the bill the Claire Davis School Safety Act.

Pushing for changes in the bill presents a delicate political challenge for districts. The measure is sponsored by the Senate’s two top Republicans, President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs and Majority Leader Mark Scheffel of Parker. And their House sponsors are that chamber’s top Democrats, Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder and Majority Leader Crisanta Duran of Denver.

The main elements of the bill would allow districts and charter schools to be held liable if they don’t use “reasonable care” in protecting students, faculty or staff from “reasonably foreseeable” acts of violence that lead to serious bodily injury or death.

Damage caps would be set at $350,000 for individuals and $900,000 in cases of multiple victims. A provision to allow another $350,000 for lawyers’ fees was removed in committee earlier. The bill also would make it easier for families to get information from districts.

The Senate approved these amendments that were proposed by Scheffel:

    • Districts could not be found negligent solely on the basis of failing to expel a student.
    • Individual schools employees couldn’t be held liable unless their actions were “willful and wanton.”
    • Districts would have two years to implement new safety policies before they could be held liable for incidents.

The bill uses the legal standard of simple negligence. Democratic amendments to raise that to the harder-to-prove standards of gross negligence or deliberate indifference were defeated.

The Senate’s nearly 90 minutes of debate Tuesday were sober and serious.

“The goal is to affect change, to motivate behavior” in order to make schools safer, Scheffel said.

But Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, said, “Do we solve the problem with legalese? I don’t think so.”

“This is a dramatic shift in state policy,” warned Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. He said he fears the bill would discourage teachers from trying to help troubled students. “Reaching out one more time should never be considered negligence.”

But Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, supported the bill. After reciting a long list of school tragedies, she said, “Senate Bill 213 is challenging our school districts to move to a new normal. … We all know that laws can be changed, but dead students, dead teachers cannot be brought back to the classroom. So I choose to take the risk” of passing the bill.

A companion measure, Senate Bill 15-214, would create a legislative study committee on school safety and youth mental health.

School districts, like other government agencies, are immune from a wide variety of lawsuits. But there are specific exceptions in state law, and districts can be sued in contractual disputes, for discrimination and civil rights issues, for unsafe building conditions and for injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Lawmaker wants medical marijuana patients to have access in school

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 09:54

Defining medicine

A Colorado lawmaker wants students with medical marijuana prescriptions to have access to their medicine in school. ( The Denver Channel )

Two cents

A charter school founder writes that it takes a village to raise a charter school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

history lessons

On the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, two Colorado schools got threatening messages. ( KPTV )

Government Substitute

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet was a substitute teacher for a government class at Northglenn High last week. ( Denver Post )

Building lessons

The Garfield RE-2 district is creating academic units based on the new Colorado standards. ( Post Independent )

School Finance

The Fort Morgan Times gives a rundown of the school finance bill that moved forward in the General Assembly last week. ( Fort Morgan Times )


In Steamboat Springs, immunization rates range from 1.2 percent to 10 percent. ( Steamboat Today )

Two cents

State Representatives Terri Carver and Rep Paul Lundeen write in the Gazette that there needs to be more balance in school testing. ( Gazette )

The more things change...

Online resources don't mean physical textbooks are going away. ( Education Week )

Capitol Roundup

The House is working on a data privacy bill. Four proposals to cut testing are no longer on the table. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Books heard round the world

A group of Castle Rock middle schoolers wrote books in Spanish that will be sent around the world. ( 9News )


Boulder Valley is considering changing Louisville Elementary's attendance boundary. ( Daily Camera )


Columbine High School hosted an annual moment of silence and canceled classes yesterday to mark the anniversary of the shooting. ( Gazette )

Thinking it Through

Free breakfast for kids is drawing fire from some families and teachers who say it wastes learning time and is based on false assumptions. ( Associated Press via Aurora Sentinel )

Life Skills

At Peck Elementary, a class focuses on social and life skills for special needs students. ( Arvada Press )

Categories: Urban School News

Ranks of testing bills culled as session’s days dwindle

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 23:11

Four testing bills were killed by the House Education Committee Monday, including measures that would have repealed the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests.

The committee did approve a measure that would impose new data privacy requirements on vendors who provide services to schools.

All four testing measures had Republican sponsorship and had been expected to die in the Democratic-majority House, although the committee didn’t split along party lines on two of the four bills. The measures have been hanging around on the calendar while lawmakers have been trying to reach agreement on the issue.

The bills died after a hearing of more than six hours that featured now-familiar testimony from testing critics and from interest-group representatives who want only minor changes in the system.

The committee’s action leaves six testing-related bills alive in the legislature, which has only 16 days before adjournment. The two major assessment measures, House Bill 15-1323 and Senate Bill 15-257, are on the  House and Senate floor calendars Tuesday, but they may or may not be heard then.

These are the bills that were killed Monday:

House Bill 15-1105 – The main elements of the bill would have ended Colorado’s participation in the Common Core and PARCC and required creation of new state standards. 9-2 bipartisan vote.

House Bill 15-1123 – The key feature of the bill would have given districts flexibility is choosing their own tests rather than having to give the statewide assessments. 8-3 bipartisan vote.

House Bill 15-1208 – The measure originally would have taken Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards, required adoption of new state standards and new tests and given districts some flexibility in choice of tests. Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs, offered a successful amendment to trim the bill down to just pulling out of PARCC. Then the committee killed the bill. 6-5 party-line vote.

House Bill 15-1125 – Its provisions were similar in many ways to HB 15-1105, but it also provided district and State Board of Education flexibility and created a schedule for periodic updating of academic content standards. Sponsor Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, made a last-minute plea to have the bill laid over, but chair Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, declined to do that. 6-5 party-line vote.

Republican Reps. Kevin Priola of Henderson, Jim Wilson of Salida, and JoAnn Windholz of Brighton voted with committee Democrats on some of the four bills. Only GOP Reps. Justin Everett of Littleton and Lundeen supported all four of the bills.

A 9-2 majority of House Education members passed HB 15-1323 on April 13 (see story).

The two bills pending on the House and Senate floors don’t touch the Common Core or PARCC but would reduce high school testing and streamline early literacy and school readiness assessments. The major difference is ninth grade testing, which the House bill would continue but the Senate bill would eliminate. The Senate bill also proposes some district flexibility in testing.

One testing-related measure, Senate Bill 15-233, doesn’t propose changes in the assessment system itself but codifies parent rights to opt students out of tests and clarifies what happens to schools and districts when test participation levels fall below required levels. That bill currently is scheduled in House Education on April 27.

(Get more details on the measures decided Monday and all other assessment bills in the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this article. Learn more about HB 15-1323 and SB 15-257 in the chart below the Tracker.)

Privacy bill still in play

The data privacy measure, Senate Bill 15-173, has been the subject of intense negotiations since it passed the Senate more than a month ago.

Technology industry lobbyists have been promoting amendments to soften some of the bill’s requirements, particularly the amount of disclosure companies would have to make about contracts with school districts. Parent activists have been fighting to keep the bill in the form it left the Senate.

House Education Monday approved two amendments, one intended to meet some of the industry concerns and a second that adds further limits on the types of student data that vendors can’t use for commercial purposes.

The main thrust of the bill prohibits educational data companies from sharing, mining, selling or using personally identifiable student data, and from compiling such data for commercial uses. The bill also would ban direct marketing to students based on their individual data.

The committee sent the bill to the House on a 10-1 vote.

For the record

The House gave final approval Monday to these education bills:

House Bill 15-1317 – The bill would authorize the state to set up “pay for success contracts” under which private investors and philanthropists could fund social services such as early childhood programs and recover their investments from savings in other programs such as special education. 52-11

House Bill 15-1326 – The measure would prohibit state colleges from discriminating in admissions and financial aid against graduates of high schools in unaccredited school districts. 35-28

The House also gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1334, which would create a legislative study committee plus a technical advisory group with powers to review the state’s school finance system and makes recommendations for changes to the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

Prime sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, told her colleagues, “This is a really important bill. You’ve probably been under a rock if you haven’t heard we have some issues in our state regarding school finance.”

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

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Categories: Urban School News

It takes a village to raise a charter school

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 15:31

My journey to create a school for pregnant and parenting teens began in early 2012 with two questions.

First, was there a need in northwest Aurora for a school tailored to the unique needs of young parents as anecdotal evidence suggested?

Second, could a small alternative charter school for students with complex needs be financially viable?

The first question was easily answered with a resounding yes. The enthusiasm and encouragement I received from people working with teen parents in the community and others in the field propelled me down the path I’ve been on for the past three years. The data backed up what I heard and learned anecdotally. Despite the overall drop in teen birth rates over the past 20 years, the teen birth rate in Denver and Adams Counties was still 50 percent higher than the state and national average. Hundreds of teens in the Aurora community are dropping out of school each year due to parenting obligations.

The second question was more difficult to answer. Having started another charter school, I knew the challenges of the charter financial model for small alternative high schools. We knew from our research that the charter schools that served this population best were small and that they provided a variety of academic and non-academic supports. The resources needed to effectively serve the students and their families exceeds per pupil revenue (PPR) and fundraising would always be a necessity.

While it still felt like a leap of faith, I came to believe that the school could be viable — through partnerships.

New Legacy Charter High School would not be opening this fall were it not for a number of key community partners and supporters.

Finding a suitable facility proved to be perhaps the greatest challenge. After looking at a number of buildings in original Aurora that needed significant work and wringing our hands and hearts trying to figure out how we as a brand new school might finance the needed improvements, we were fortunate to connect with the Urban Land Conservancy (ULC).

ULC is a Colorado non-profit committed to preserving urban land for community benefit. ULC has done a ton of great work in Denver and had been looking for an opportunity to work in Aurora. With any partnership, there must be alignment of mission, purpose, and a value proposition for both parties. We found both with the ULC.

Although building schools is not something ULC had done before (and it typically does construction through development partners instead of directly as it has done with New Legacy), this partnership seemed to be a special circumstance and all the pieces fell together. The school’s building – designed to house a high school and early learning center – is currently under construction at 2091 North Dayton Street in northwest Aurora and is scheduled for completion in early August 2015, just in time for the start of the school year.

Our partnership with ULC will continue for many years as ULC will be the school’s landlord through a long-term lease.

I would never have imagined a small alternative school like ours could open in a new building, but the reality is that we could not otherwise find a suitable space in northwest Aurora that could be retrofitted. The ULC has positioned us to serve our students well and to be a part of the northwest Aurora community – we are beyond grateful for their support. The building is being designed with a community room that will be available for use by community groups in the evenings and on the weekends.

Our work with ULC is one example of a partnership that helped answer Question #2, but there are many other partnerships at play.

During this journey, I have been continually honored by the community of people who share my belief in the potential of teen parents and support the school’s vision by volunteering their time, connecting us with potential students, offering financial support, and sharing their skills on our board, advisory council, and committees. I have found that when there is an identified need and a clearly articulated plan to address that need, people come alongside you to support it.

The highs and lows of the last three years have been many, but what makes this work possible and energizing for me is the students. They first inspired me when I visited a small school in Montrose called Passage Charter School in the early 2000s. And now as I get to know the students who have applied to attend New Legacy and who have been participating in our Youth Leadership Council, I continue to be inspired.

They are resilient, they respond well to feedback and support, and they are motivated to create a great legacy for their child. They remind me that I need to continue digging into my own “grittiness” to overcome challenges. On those days when the journey is difficult and anxiety-ridden (and there are many), I think of our future students – their strength and potential keeps me going.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Aurora, Pueblo mulling turnaround plans

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/20/2015 - 09:43

Jeffco Interrupted

School board member Julie Williams apologizes for sharing a link to a "hate group" on Facebook. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Under Construction

A rare Friday session of the House Education Committee aired parent concerns about the privacy of student educational data, but committee decisions on a key data bill won't come until this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Readers respond

We asked readers last week what they thought of the sample report Colorado parents will receive on this spring's PARCC tests. Respondents were split, but a plurality said either "yes" or "sort of" when asked if the information was useful. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Clock is ticking

Aurora Public Schools officials say a tight state deadline for restructuring long-struggling Aurora Central High School could lead to "chaos" next year and they are asking the state to start the process sooner. ( Aurora Sentinel )

As the state accountability clock continues to run for Pueblo City Schools, each tick brings the district one step closer to losing state accreditation. ( Chieftain )

student voices

A Denver teacher's lesson plan has gone viral after it revealed the inner workings of her students' minds. ( Denver Post )

Looking ahead

An online high school in Academy School District 20 will shift its focus to what the program creator believes is the next generation of online learning. ( Gazette )

Expanding access

Boulder Valley schools have added about 8,500 Chromebooks in the last 30 months, between Chromebooks carts used in classrooms and a pilot at Lafayette's Centaurus High that gave every freshman a device. The district's goal is providing "one-to-web" access. ( Daily Camera )

Healthy meals

While reforms aimed at creating healthier school lunches for the more than 9,100 students served daily have good intentions, the desired results have been slow to follow, at least in Mesa District 51. ( Daily Sentinel )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: How often schools send students to police in all 50 states

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 23:36
  • In most states, black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities are disproportionately referred to the criminal justice system. Virginia, where an 11-year-old autistic boy who struggled with a police officer was found guilty of felony assault this month, has the highest referral rate. (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Parents of students at Success Academy charter schools in New York City share their experiences following the Times’ feature on the network last week. (New York Times)
  • At one of New Orleans’ “second-chance schools,” teachers fight to reach the students who have been nudged out of or expelled from other charter schools. (NPR)
  • “Opting out students stands as a powerful rebuke of the idea that standardized tests should be the primary determinant as to whether a school stays open or not.” (Jose Vilson)
  • The head of Chicago’s schools is taking a leave of absence as federal officials investigate a no-bid contract awarded to a company the schools chief once worked for. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Undocumented students offer a different perspective and bring a strong work ethic to their classrooms and school communities, a teacher explains. (The Atlantic)
  • A teacher-mentor has five ideas for teachers ready to throw in the towel. (Edutopia)
  • How computer science could and should be woven into all sorts of classes, according to some educators. (Hechinger)
  • A comprehensive look at the research on blended learning shows little definitive evidence that it works (or that it doesn’t). (Ed Week)
Categories: Urban School News

House Education still has a ways to go on data privacy bill

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 19:20

A rare Friday session of the House Education Committee aired parent concerns about the privacy of student educational data, but committee decisions on a key data bill won’t come until next week.

Senate Bill 15-173 passed the Senate unanimously more than a month ago, and since then a lot of behind-the-scenes lobbying has been going on in the House.

For now, the bill’s major provisions prohibit educational data companies from sharing, mining, selling or using personally identifiable student data, and from compiling such data for commercial uses. The bill also would ban direct marketing to students based on their individual data. (See this story for details.)

But technology industry lobbyists are concerned that the bill doesn’t properly differentiate among different kinds of data companies, and don’t like a provision requiring companies to post detailed information about school district contracts on their websites.

Parent activists told committee members Friday that they like the bill as is.

“Support this bill as it came over from the Senate,” said Rachel Stickland of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. “I urge you to please listen to the parents and not those who are paid to gut this bill.”

“This bill was purposely written to not put the burden on school districts,” said Fort Collins parent Cheri Kiesecker in reference to the proposal that would shift transparency requirements away from vendors and on to districts.

No proposed amendments have yet been offered in the committee, which was scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday but ran out of time after hearing only a few witnesses.

The data bill is on the committee’s Monday afternoon calendar, but chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, indicated the panel might or might not get to it. The committee also has four Republican-sponsored testing bills scheduled for that meeting. All are expected to be killed.

Other bills do move on

House Education did take action on two bills, sending both to the House Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 15-1339 would streamline some district financial reporting requirements approved by the 2014 legislature. That law mandated that detailed information, broken down to the individual school level, be both reported to the state for use on a central website and posted on individual district sites.

School districts have seen the 2014 law as onerous (see story), and this year’s bill would remove the requirement for posting on individual district sites.

The statewide financial transparency site isn’t supposed to go live until 2017.

House Bill 15-1273 would update – and provide some funding for – the system by which school incidents are reported to the state and, ultimately, to the public. Among other things, the bill would require separate reporting of marijuana-related incidents and of sexual assaults, two things that now are included in catchall categories.

The bill also would create a new, more streamlined way for police and sheriffs’ departments and district attorneys’ offices to report school-related incidents to the state.

The committee heard testimony on the bill a month ago, but the measure has been in the shop while sponsor Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton, worked out some issues with school districts, police and other interest groups.

For the record

During a floor session that listed into early afternoon, the House voted preliminary approval of these education bills:

  • House Bill 15-1317 – The “pay for success” measure that would allow private investors and philanthropists to fund social services such as early childhood programs drew support at the microphone from both Democrats and Republicans (background here).
  • House Bill 15-1326 – There was no debate on the proposal intended to protect the college admissions prospects of students who hold diplomas from high schools in unaccredited districts (background here).

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 4-3 to kill House Bill 15-1104, the proposal that would have offered a very modest tax deduction to teachers who paid for school supplies out of their own pockets.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board member apologizes for sharing link to “hate group” on Facebook

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 19:10

Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams said late Friday that she was “sincerely sorry” and that she would remove a link on her personal Facebook page that she shared that encouraged families to keep their students home Friday and “away from perverse indoctrination” of the“homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda.”

“To be honest with you, I didn’t read the article,” Williams said.  “I just saw it and thought I was sharing information with parents.”

The link, like most on Williams’ wall, was posted without comment. It directs Facebook users to a newsletter published by, but neither overtly endorses nor condemns the group and its message.

Friday is the national “Day of Silence.” It is organized by GLSEN, an organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and teachers in schools. The aim of the protest is to raise awareness about LGBT bullying. Students who participate in the protest attend school but remain silent. Some put tape over their mouths. describes itself as a “frontline pro-family leader standing strong for moral virtues for the common good.” But the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the organization a hate group, akin to the white supremacy political party American Freedom Party and Westboro Baptist Church.

Williams said she was not familiar with the group and that she was “rattled” after learning it was recognized as a hate group.

The newsletter reads, in part, “The Day of Silence postures every person who identifies as a homosexual or cross-dresser as a victim of ongoing, unrelenting harassment and discrimination (being ‘silenced’). While some incidents like this do occur, this event is an overwhelming exaggeration in an effort to manipulate our kids’ natural sympathies. The result ironically is that youth develop favorable views about a controversial, high risk behavior.”

Williams said she does not support the statements in the newsletter read to her by a Chalkbeat reporter.

“I believe in choice — who you are and want to be and what you want to do,” Williams said, distancing herself from the newsletter that paints LGBT students as “unnatural.”

A screen shot of Williams’ Facebook post.

Last fall, Williams gained national notice for suggesting the school district review an advanced high school history course. She wanted to make sure the course was “patriotic.” Her proposal incited weeks worth of student protests.

The board ultimately dropped plans to review the course, but did make changes to how curriculum would be reviewed.

Williams is part of the conservative three-member majority on the Board of Education. The majority has been criticized for many decisions — a new teacher compensation program, giving more money to charter schools, and hiring a new superintendent — by a vocal group of parents, students, teachers and community members.

The board’s critics also claim the majority does not value diversity.

Williams’ post, first revealed Friday afternoon by the political blog, will likely provide grist for her critics.

“Julie Williams and the rest of the board are not LGBT, and they will never know what it is like to feel adversity based on who they love and how they identify their gender,” said Arvada High School student Leighanne Grey. “Because she doesn’t understand our experiences, she has no right to tell us that not speaking is a “perverse” act of the gay agenda.”

Grey is the president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. She led her group in protests over Williams’ proposal to review the Advanced Placement U.S. history class.

The post on Williams’ Facebook page does not represent the opinion or policy of Jeffco Public Schools, said Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

“As Jeffco Schools always strives to foster an environment that encourages students to feel safe, to learn, and to thrive, we respect students’ rights to participate in Day of Silence, a student-led effort, and to express themselves as they prefer.” McMinimee said in a statement to Chalkbeat. “We celebrate freedom from bullying.”

Earlier in the week, Jeffco officials provided schools with guidance on how to respect students who were participating in the Day of Silence. The guidance was approved by the Jefferson County Education Association.

Schools were encouraged to provide “reasonable accommodations” for students who choose to participate. But “staff should not solicit, proselytize, advocate for or against of a non-school sponsored event.”

Colorado is considered by many to have some of the most robust protections for LGBT people among the states — including an anti-bullying law. But that doesn’t mean bullying has been eradicated.

One reason may be because several school districts have failed to align their anti-bullying policies with state law.

According to a review of bullying policies from 166 school district in the state, 107 school districts, or about 64 percent, include sexual orientation in their anti-bullying policies and are in compliance. Only four school districts include gender identity in their anti-bullying policy. The scan was done by One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization. 

Jeffco includes sexual orientation protections but not gender identity protections in its policy, One Colorado found. 

“I think it would be helpful for Ms. Williams to know the challenges LGBT students face every day in school, which are pretty appalling,” said Dave Montez, executive director of One Colorado.

Seven in 10 Colorado students said they were verbally harassed based on their sexual orientation, according to a 2013 survey conducted by GLSEN. Eight in 10 student regularly heard other students in their school make negative remarks about how someone expressed their gender.

Students here also reported hearing anti-LGBT language from school staff, according to the survey. Nearly 20 percent regularly heard staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression, and 8 percent regularly heard school staff make homophobic remarks.

“The numbers have to change. And that’s part of what the Day of Silence is all about,” Montez said.

Montez said as more students come out bullying will decrease and that will create a climate and cycle that will lead to more students feeling comfortable about coming out.

While Grey, the Arvada High student, said she’s aware many of her peers experience harassment, she considers her school to be an anomaly.

“It’s a pretty supportive school,” she said. “No one ever walks out or boos us when we participate in assemblies. A few teenagers might say some stupid things like ‘no-homo.’ But they’re cool with us being happy.”

Colorado LGBT climate survey DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1965872-glsen-2013-colorado-state-snapshot' });
Categories: Urban School News

Students solve gender gap at annual event

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 18:12

A mid-April draft blew through the trees on Regis University’s campus as members of the Regis community gathered inside to watch middle school students perform for a panel of judges on solutions to mend the global gender gap issue.

Students dove deep into this issue unearthing a wealth of information about a variety of different regions.

The students were participating in The World Affairs Challenge, hosted at Regis University. The annual challenge asks middle school students to address a range of global issues spanning a multitude of nations in an effort to promote knowledge on subjects that reach beyond the boarders of the United States.

After presenting their findings and solutions to a panel of judges each student participated in a group yoga exercise followed by an art and culture presentation. After, teachers attended a presentation on how to address gender in the classrooms.

The final portion of the day was set aside for the winning school to perform their solutions on stage for their parents. Out of 17 districts Boulder Valley took first place and presented on the current standing of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Categories: Urban School News

Readers: PARCC parent report better, but could still be improved

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 13:19

On Monday we asked our readers what they thought of a sample report Colorado parents will receive with their student’s results on the state’s standardized tests. The report is supposed to be more user-friendly and provide parents with a clearer picture of where their students are academically — especially compared to previous reports like this one.

Did PARCC, the nonprofit responsible for the state’s new standardized test achieve that goal?

Readers were split, but a plurality said either “heck yes,” or “sort of.” Here’s a look at the breakdown:

Let’s go to the comments.

On our Facebook page, opt-out activist and parent Illana Spiegel was concise:

On our website, Christopher Richardson said the report was pretty. But compliments stop there.

But teacher Mark Sass pointed out that the information in the report is markedly better:

And on Twitter, Jason agreed.

More friendly than TCAP info RT @ChalkbeatCO: Is the new PARCC score sheet for parents user-friendly? | | #edcolo

— Jason (@jason_seybert) April 14, 2015

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter. Check back Monday for a new question!

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Hick pushes plan to free up money for K-12

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 09:44

Small change

The most modest school-funding bill in recent memory was passed 9-0 Thursday by the Senate Education Committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

End of the line

Less than three years after Denver’s first all-boys public charter school opened its doors, Sims-Fayola International Academy is preparing to close. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A founding family watches in dismay as the school prepares to close. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco Interrupted

The president of the Jeffco teachers union explains why the group filed suit to block rollout of a new compensation system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

moving on

Nicole Veltzé, the principal of Denver’s North High School, has told families that she will leave the school after the end of this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Freeing up funds

Late in the legislative session, Gov. John Hickenlooper is promoting a plan that would free up money for both education and highways and change how taxpayer refunds are distributed. ( Denver Post, CPR, Denver Business Journal )

Snow day for some

Jeffco closed its mountain schools and Dougco is starting later on Friday, and wet weather also affected schools in El Paso County. ( Denver Post, Gazette )


Three boys who allegedly brought guns and a smoke bomb to Denver's Skinner Middle School have been charged with felonies. ( Denver Post )

Day of silence

Some students will be marking the annual event that calls attention to bullying and harassment of LGBT students. ( Gazette )

Artistic differences

Cherokee Trail High School students claim censorship of student plays, but district officials say a performance is just being delayed for normal review. ( 9News )

Hot button issue

Two legislators debate the Indian mascots bill. ( Denver Post )

Pushing back

Parents at a Castle Rock charter school say their kids are being punished for opting out of state tests. ( CBS4 )

Starting over?

Some Greeley school board members think the district ought to toss out its contract with teachers and start fresh. ( Greeley Tribune )

Getting closer

The Fort Morgan school district is crunching the numbers in a final push to build a long-awaited new middle school. ( Fort Morgan Times )

On watch

Eight for-profit colleges in Colorado have been placed on a federal watch list for financial reasons. ( CPR )

planning ahead

Steamboat Springs citizens are reviewing four options for updating school district facilities. ( Steamboat Today )

looking back

The departing superintendent of the Custer County schools reflects on his work as he prepares to move to a new district. ( Wet Mountain Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Senate Education passes “very small” K-12 funding bill

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 21:26

The most modest school-funding bill in recent memory was passed 9-0 Thursday by the Senate Education Committee after some prolonged member handwringing about Colorado’s K-12 finance woes.

Sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, acknowledged that Senate Bill 15-267 is a “very small bill.”

While the measure would increase K-12 funding by $306 million to about $6.23 billion next school year, most of that is driven by constitutionally required hikes to cover enrollment growth and inflation.

The only discretionary increase in the bill is $25 million that would be applied to the state’s K-12 funding shortfall, the so-called negative factor. That figure currently is about $880 million, and in the past it’s been as high at $1 billion.

Average per-pupil funding would rise to $7,295 from this year’s $7,026. (Get more details on the bill in this staff summary.)

Only a couple of witnesses testified. Adams 50 Superintendent Pam Swanson urged that the new money be targeted to at-risk students.

She was followed by Jane Urschel, veteran lobbyist for the Colorado Association of School Boards.

Urschel is known around the Capitol for this description of K-12 funding: “School finance is like a Russian novel – long, boring, bloody and in the end everyone dies.”

Thursday, Urschel said to Hill, “Senator, you’ve written a children’s book. It’s short and it ends sadly.”

Saying, “I hope to add a slightly happy ending to this short story,” Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, proposed a couple of amendments to the bill, but they were mostly for show.

The first would have taken $200 million from the State Education Fund (a dedicated K-12 account) and added it to the bill, divided among the negative factor, small rural schools and at-risk students. (Johnston’s amendment was in the spirit of a plan that’s been pushed by 174 of the state’s 178 superintendents.)

That amendment predictably failed, as did a second Johnston motion to split the $25 million between rural aid and at-risk students.

“I appreciate what you’re trying to do here,” Hill said, to which Johnston replied “the kiss of death.” (Hill uses the “I appreciate” phrase almost every time he starts speaking against a bill or motion.)

Hill started the session with high hopes and big talk about reducing the negative factor, providing more money for charter schools and deciding on the school finance bill much earlier in the legislative session.

“The money available for our K-12 schools unfortunately has been squeezed out by what are seen are higher priorities. I’d like to change that,” he said.

Hopes for bigger increases in school funding have run afoul of the state’s paradoxical financial situation. A healthy economy is driving higher state tax collections and other revenues, but that income has pushed the state above the annual spending limit imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That triggers refunds to taxpayers, meaning the much of the new revenue can’t be spent for education or other state programs.

Capitol budget experts consider heavy use of the State Education Fund, as proposed by Johnston, unwise because money spent from that fund one year becomes an obligation of the state general fund in future years. Because state constitutional provisions set a ceiling on overall state spending in a given year, automatic increases in education funding reduce the amount of money available for other programs.

See the link on this page for a spreadsheet listing how SB 15-267 would affect individual school districts.

Categories: Urban School News

Celebrated North High School principal to leave at end of year

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 17:58

Nicole Veltzé, the principal of Denver’s North High School, told families last week that she will leave the school after the end of this year.

Veltzé has been North’s principal since 2011. She led the school through a period of significantly improved attendance, academic performance, and graduation rates.

North students work on a project in journalism class in spring 2015.

Veltzé and the North Collaborative School Committee have recommended that Scott Wolf, the school’s associate principal, become the North’s principal starting in 2015-16. School officials said they expect Wolf’s appointment to be finalized within the week.

Before Veltzé’s tenure, North was a turnaround school.  Her work at North, and the school’s significant academic improvements, were spotlighted in an article and video in The Denver Post earlier this year.

Veltzé was previously the principal of Skinner Middle School. When she left to come to North, she was also succeeded by a former assistant principal. She has not announced plans for after she leaves North.

North High School was the site of Denver Public Schools’ announcement that graduation rates across the district had increased earlier this year. The school had the largest increase in on-time graduation of any of the district’s comprehensive schools.

Principal turnover, training, and support have been a concern in Denver Public Schools in recent years. Veltze outstayed the district’s average principal tenure of 3.4 years.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco union president explains lawsuit on compensation plan

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 16:44
This inequitable new salary structure will punish our loyal Jeffco teachers who have been with the district for years. The same teachers who agreed to pay freezes and roll backs during the recession to help the district balance its budget and keep cuts away from students as much as possible.
– John Ford, president of the Jefferson County Education Association

That’s the crux of why the Jefferson County Education Association filed a lawsuit to block the rollout of a new compensation system for teachers and specialists joining the suburban school district in the fall.

We shared news about the lawsuit via Complete Colorado in our morning headline roundup, Rise and Shine, and newsletter.

Complete Colorado is funded by the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank and advocacy organization that backed Proposition 104. That measure, which Coloradans overwhelmingly approved, requires school districts and teacher unions to bargain in public.

The article correctly points out that all five school board members approved a pay bump for new hires with masters degrees, who are specialists, and teachers who are hired at high-needs schools. And that Amy Weber, the district’s chief human resource officer, urged the board to address the discrepancy between current and Jeffco educators.

However, union representatives who reached out to Chalkbeat took offense at some of the article’s claims including that the union has created anonymous Twitter accounts to stir the digital pot and has encouraged public disruptions at board meetings. Those claims lack evidence.

“We have not supported board meeting disruptions, many of those were done by the students,” said Lynea Hansen, a spokeswoman for JCEA. “We actually do rallies outside the building.”

The union and the school district resumed open negotiation meetings in public this week after several “small group” meetings behind closed doors.

The focus of those sessions was to discuss priorities around teacher evaluations, school level autonomy, compensation, and educating the whole the child.

Here’s Ford’s statement about the lawsuit in full:

This week we filed for a temporary injunction to prevent the district from violating the Negotiated Agreement between the District and everyone protected under this agreement. The injunction will prevent the Jeffco School District from implementing changes to the teacher compensation structure unilaterally.

In March, the District unilaterally changed the salary structure for new teachers who would be coming into the district. This non-negotiated salary structure will result in teachers new to Jeffco making thousands of dollars more than current Jeffco teachers with comparable education and experience.

As an example, a current Jeffco teacher with a master’s degree and five years of experience makes $38,000 and under the District’s new plan a brand new teacher to the district with the same qualifications will make $48,017.

This inequitable new salary structure will punish our loyal Jeffco teachers who have been with the district for years. The same teachers who agreed to pay freezes and roll backs during the recession to help the district balance their budget and keep cuts away from students as much as possible.

The Jeffco School District and the School Board Majority cannot continue to undervalue our Jeffco teachers if they want to continue our tradition of excellence in educating Jeffco’ s children.

The Jeffco School Board promised to improve pay when the recession ended if we would defer our salary increases during the recession, and they have reneged on that promise time and time again. Now, the School Board Majority are going to give large raises to new employees and leave current employees out.

Categories: Urban School News

Founding family watches in dismay as three-year-old school closes

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 15:19

Jordan Robinson was not initially enthusiastic about the idea of an all-boys school. But when you’re an 8th grader, “your parents make most of your decisions for you,” he said.

And his mother, Yashakia Robinson, had made up her mind. “The public schools were failing him,” Robinson said. No matter how hard her son studied, she said, teachers were constantly telling her he was falling behind.

Robinson, who had moved to Denver from Mississippi when Jordan was in kindergarten, was considering relocating to Chicago so her son could attend an all-boys public school there.

But then she met Dedrick Sims, who was planning to open Sims-Fayola International Academy. Robinson attended an open house and was impressed by Sims’ pitch: Public schools aren’t meeting the needs of male students, especially young black and Latino men. Sims-Fayola would be a new model, tailored to meet boys’ needs.

In 2012, Jordan enrolled in Sims-Fayola International Academy one of the school’s founding freshmen.

The Robinsons relocated from Lakewood and bought a house in the far northeast part of Denver to be closer to Sims-Fayola.

“We invested,” she said. She and other founding parents helped with everything from recruiting to painting school walls.

Jordan Robinson also invested. He says he quickly adjusted to the all-boys environment and came to appreciate the sense of brotherhood.

Jordan Robinson, a junior at Sims-Fayola, was one of the school’s founding freshmen.

He has thrived academically. This spring, he was wearing a gold tie, reserved for Sims-Fayola’s honors students. He was looking forward to being one of Sims-Fayola’s first graduates.

But this fall, word got out that the school might be in financial and academic trouble. In November, the Sims-Fayola board voted to close the high school, and in January, it announced that both the middle and high school would close at the end of this school year.

Read more about Sims-Fayola and the school’s closing.

Yashakia Robinson was furious. “In his junior year, you’re told he won’t get to be a senior at Sims-Fayola, which is everything you dreamed of,” she said. “You wanted to see him walk across the stage as a Sims-Fayola man.”

“I understand the data says this or that, but I also understand what was working,” she said. “And I know that had they given them a chance it could have worked.” She said several families had even investigated whether the school could remain open as a private school.

Denver Public Schools and Sims-Fayola staff worked with families to make sure all of the students had places to go. But Robinson wanted her son to be able to maintain at least some of the relationships he’d developed at Sims-Fayola.

So she and a half dozen other families of juniors at Sims-Fayola coordinated with each other and school officials to enroll their children at nearby Collegiate Prep, a co-ed charter school.

“Jordan will be fine,” Robinson said. “Everything he’s learned at Sims-Fayola over the last few years, he’ll take that with him.”

Jordan said that while he is frustrated that the school is closing, he is not overly concerned about the transition. “It’s a place to graduate.”

Robinson said that despite the abrupt ending, she would do it all again. She says she still believes in the value of all-boys education.

But she wishes her son had had a chance to graduate from a school they – and others – threw their hearts and souls into.

“Don’t think our boys failed,” she said. “Our boys didn’t fail. We failed our boys.”

Categories: Urban School News

Denver’s first and only all-boys public school to close

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 15:17

Less than three years after Denver’s first all-boys public charter school opened its doors, Sims-Fayola International Academy is preparing to close.

After external reviews highlighted financial, logistical, and academic challenges, the charter school’s board voted this winter to shutter Sims-Fayola’s middle and high schools, which currently house grades 6-11 in an office park in far northeast Denver.

The 165 boys who attend the school have been guaranteed spots at other schools for the 2015-16 school year.

But for Sims-Fayola’s students and families, the closure marks the loss of a school with a mission, unique in Denver, that some felt was critical: To provide an academic and social experience tailored to the needs of male students, especially African-American and Latino boys.

“We built a brotherhood and could be academic at the same time,” said Cy’ree Page, a junior who was one of the school’s founding freshmen. “When you think about it being taken away, it’s hard.”

But, he said, “I think it should have been shut down. It was more chaotic this year.”

The school has been plagued by inconsistent leadership and high staff turnover since it opened in 2012. Three years in, the school has had three principals. Just one teacher remains from the opening year.

Another blow was when founder Dedrick Sims left the school last fall. A board member said that the board had decided that while Sims was able to inspire families, his management and planning had “some deficiencies.” Staff and students said he was rarely in the school and spent much of his time fundraising for its expansion.

Sims, who was also the school’s principal in its first year, is planning to open a Sims-Fayola school in Atlanta and could not be reached for comment.

Principal Deborah Blair-Minter, who was recruited out of retirement by the Sims-Fayola board, came to the school early this school year to help right an unsteady ship.

“Trying to create the vision and get funding—you need to be able to do that piece. But you also have to have someone who understands how to run a school,” she said.

That tension between vision and execution is present for other charter schools. Tony Lewis, who heads the Donnell-Kay Foundation and sits on the state Charter School Institute’s board, said it can be hard for a charter school authorizer to predict whether a start-up school like Sims-Fayola will succeed. “Any time you authorize a school you’re taking a risk,” he said.

But he said it’s important to look beyond a school’s written application. “Do they have the leadership both at the school and board level to pull it off? It might all sound good on paper, but can they actually do it?

“If you take no risk on a school, then you’re never going to have new school models, you’re never going to have things like Sims-Fayola,” he said. “But the flip side is, if you take too much risk and you have a school that’s open for one, two, three years, the worry is, you haven’t harmed kids but you certainly haven’t given them a stable environment.”

A vision that resonated

In Sims-Fayola’s charter application, submitted in 2011, Sims made an impassioned case for the school. Sims cites high drop-out and incarceration rates for young African-American and Latino men and says his school will create “a learning experience for young men that will increase college readiness, global competence, and global awareness.”

That vision resonated with the families of the dozens of 6th and 9th graders Sims recruited to help start the school, and with notable Denverites, including Mayor Michael Hancock and Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams, both of whom visited the school.

When Sims-Fayola opened in 2012, it was the city’s second single-gender public school, after GALS Academy, an all-girls charter. (A second all-boys school, Miller-McCoy, was proposed in 2011, but never opened. GALS is considering opening an all-boys school.)

The plan was to enroll 250 6th and 9th grade students in the first year, and to build up to a 700-student 6-12 school.

The school did attract its target audience. In the 2013-14 school year, 92 percent of the school’s 198 students were identified as minorities by Denver Public Schools. More than three quarters were eligible for subsidized school lunches.

But enrollment never lived up to Sims’ projections. Some students rebelled against the all-boys model and misbehaved in class. Some parents were concerned by the academic track record and ever-changing cast of teachers. The school’s location in an office park far from downtown Denver may also have been a barrier.

By the end of the 2013-14 school year, Sims was projecting that 270 students would enroll in 2014-15. Just 202 boys showed up.

Lack of enrollment put the school in an untenable financial position, said Les Walker, a member of Sims-Fayola’s board. Schools are funded largely based on enrollment.

The board was initially going to close just the high school, which had seen the most dramatic drops. That plan was presented to and approved by the Denver school board in November.

But after those plans were announced, even more families and staff began to leave the school, Walker said. “We thought it was better to end it now.”

So far this school year, nearly 50 students have left the school.

Walker, who joined the school’s board last year, said that while he knew parents and students were upset, “they’ll probably thank us later that they went to a better school…we should have had a consultant to help with demographics, with academics.”

Still, he said, two and a half years seems to him like a short period of time to establish a new school.

Academic and social challenges It’s considered bad luck to walk on the Sims-Fayola insignia.

In 2013-14, just 31 percent of Sims-Fayola students scored proficient or advanced in reading and fewer than 15 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in math on state tests. The school’s growth scores were better, but in its second year, Sims-Fayola still earned the lowest rating on Denver’s school performance framework.

Some students took that low rating to heart. “We didn’t realize that what we were doing was causing our school to be destroyed,” said one eighth grader.

But Blair-Minter said the school’s teachers weren’t sufficiently trained in project-based learning, part of the school’s model, or in the kinds of classroom management or academic strategies that would have been most effective for the students, most of whom came into the school behind grade level. She said a too-long school day, too little time for gym and fresh air, and an irregular schedule were burning out teachers and students.

Rebecca Sanders, a high school social studies teacher who has been with the school for two years, agreed.

“It wasn’t just one thing. We had new teachers who weren’t quite sure how to teach…and there was a lack of consistency about expectations and when we were observed,” she said. “Some of us pushed the kids and some took it to mean I could show a movie every day.”

“Students saw that,” Sanders said.

Jarion Hamm, a junior, said some teachers seemed afraid of the students. “We had some great teachers. But nothing was consistent,” he said. “There was a lot of childishness.”

Other parts of the school’s program also never came to fruition. Just two students went on an international trip initially intended for an entire class.

Sanders said that she thought that given more time and Blair-Minter’s leadership, the school could have been improved. “They are very loving, thoughtful, compassionate kids who deserve better than this, who deserve a better future.”

But now that the closing is imminent, the focus has shifted from stabilizing the school to preparing to close up shop and transition students to new schools.

Students are going to more than 20 schools throughout the metro area. Juniors, who will have just one year in their new schools, got special attention.

But many of the students still have a fierce sense of school pride, and frustration at what they say is a false perception, influenced by a few misbehaving boys, that all of the school’s students are “thugs in suits.”

“We weren’t just a bunch of well-dressed hooligans,”said junior Angel Magana, a founding freshmen. “We were a family.”

Categories: Urban School News

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