Nine candidates have applied for the 3rd District vacancy on the State Board of Education created when board chair Marcia Neal announced her resignation.
Frieda Wallison, chair of the GOP 3rd District Central Committee, announced the candidate list Thursday after the deadline for applications closed.
The hopefuls include six applicants who surfaced earlier (see this Chalkbeat Colorado story) plus three additional names.
The new candidates include:
The other six applicants, who confirmed their interest earlier to Chalkbeat, include:
Wallison also announced the members of the vacancy committee, who were chosen based on party rules. They are:
The committee is expected to meet this month, but a date and location haven’t been chosen. The panel expects to interview all candidates and take a vote at that meeting.
There could be multiple ballots, given that state law requires the winner to be selected by a majority of committee members present and voting.
Neal’s resignation is effective July 31. The State Board doesn’t meet this month, so the new member is expected to be sworn in at the group’s August meeting. A new board chair and vice chair also will be elected. The board’s other members include three Democrats and three Republicans, so Neal’s replacement will maintain the 4-3 GOP majority.
Editor’s note: Weekend reads is coming to you a day early this week. That’s because the Chalkbeat offices are going to be closed Friday in observance of the July 4 holiday. Have a safe and happy holiday. We’ll see you back here on Monday!
Michelle Gunderson used to look forward to her weekly training sessions about how to work with struggling readers.
One morning per week, she and her fellow first-grade teachers at Nettelhorst Elementary School in Chicago would cycle through each other’s classrooms to discuss useful strategies and to see the visual aids others were using up close.
But then Mayor Rahm Emanuel mandated a seven-hour school day for all students, pointing to research tying more time in school to better academic outcomes. Under pressure to spend more time in front of students, teachers had to abandon the training sessions.
With 840 students to instruct, the school’s hectic schedule hasn’t allowed for shared planning time to serve as a replacement. And teachers also have less time during the school day to complete essential responsibilities such as writing lessons and grading tests.
“The nature of teaching is that you have to pace yourself so you have enough energy to get up and do it the next day,” Gunderson said, a veteran with 20 years of experience in the classroom. “If you spent all night planning and grading papers, what do you have to give the children the next day? We have to be able to reserve our energies so our instruction is effective.”
Gunderson’s experience reflects a fundamental tension in schools with expanded learning time for students: Research suggests that more time in school boosts students’ skills and long-term prospects, but adding productive time to students’ days often means cutting time from their teachers’. And that lost teacher planning and training time, research shows, also matters.
“It really is a balance. More time is only as good as it’s being used,” said Scott Barton, the principal of a California charter school whose model includes additional time for students and teachers alike. “To use that time wisely, we have to make sure that our teachers are prepared.”
New York City’s recent experience highlights the tug of war that can play out around learning time.
The city’s 2005 contract with its teachers union added 150 minutes per week of small-group instruction for struggling students, in keeping with then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Children First” education agenda. “We are taking 300,000 children who are performing below average, and as of today they are going to have an extra period, four days a week in classes of 10 or less,” he said at the time.
But when Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, negotiated a new contract with the union in 2013, he took a different approach and rolled most of that time back to make way for teacher training and collaboration.
The teachers union hailed the change. “We have to train teachers so that the time they’re spending with students is much more effective and valuable,” union chief Michael Mulgrew said at the time. “Versus doing, once again, this political punch line — more time with the student. Let’s make it better time with the student.”
But the tradeoff left some educators scratching their heads. “I honestly have never met one teacher who thinks the solution to the educational crisis is less time with students and more time in PD,” one teacher wrote on his blog.
The same balancing act is playing out in thousands of schools across the country that have extended the school day, according to Jennifer Davis, co-founder and president of the National Center on Time and Learning, a nonprofit that advocates for expanded learning time.
Davis said schools that are strategic about how to allocate time can optimize their schedules to meet both student and teacher needs. About half of the 2,000 schools her group tracks offer additional time for students and teachers alike, she said.
“I’m not saying it’s easy,” Davis said. “There are hard trade-offs, but there are ways to work it out.”
The Preuss School, the charter secondary school in La Jolla, Calif., that Barton runs, is one school where managing those tradeoffs has been a goal from the beginning. Founded in 1999 with more time for students and teachers as a key part of its model, Preuss requires students to be in school for 198 days a year, rather than the more typical 180 days.
In addition, Preuss teachers teach for six of the eight class periods per day. A teacher’s two free periods are blocked together for a daily 90-minute prep period, which is frequently used as collaborative planning time across departments or grade levels.
And the school has a later student start-time each Friday, providing all teachers with 105 minutes to collaborate and learn from one another every week.
“We felt from the beginning that there has to be time for teachers if we have more time for students,” Barton said. “Teachers need time and we need to build it in — not make it after school.”
Janis Gabay, an English teacher at Preuss and the 1991 National Teacher of the Year, serves as her department’s chair and said the Friday professional development sessions are unlike anywhere else she’s worked.
“When I worked in the large school district, staff development was kind of a monthly thing, if that, where you trotted out a speaker and you had people who sat in the back and wanted to grade papers,” she said. “Here, it’s a way to stay connected with one another. It’s where we’re encouraging the reflective teacher and asking things like ‘What have you struggled with? What are you curious about?’”
Charter schools like Preuss tend not to be bound by union contracts and so have the most flexibility in reworking schedules to balance the needs of students and teachers.
But traditional schools are finding ways to split the difference, as well.
Oakland, Calif., has found a way to resolve the tension by combining expanded learning time offerings in the summer for both.
Typically, summer school is a time for bare-bones instruction to ensure that students get the basics that they did not pick up during the school year. But last summer, Oakland hired coaches to work with English and math teachers as they worked to tie their teaching to the Common Core standards for the first time.
Tamrya Walker, who is a math teacher and instructional coach in Oakland, said one of the benefits of training during the summer is the smaller class size and fewer requirements placed on the teachers.
“There’s not as much stress in terms of assessment,” she said. “Teachers can focus on helping kids.”
A new program in Denver is taking the same approach. The district recently launched a three-week laboratory summer program for teachers to try out new strategies, particularly around how to tailoring instruction to individual students.
Signs of balance are even emerging in contracts between districts and their teachers union, traditionally an arena for tugs of war over time because they set parameters for how teachers’ days are spent. In December, Boston negotiated a new contract that added 40 minutes a day at dozens of schools and also doubled teachers’ planning and training time.
“Boston public schools have been saying for many years that we need a longer school day,” said Michael O’Neill, chairman of the city’s school governing board, said when announcing the contract terms. “But a longer day isn’t effective unless you also transform the quality of the education.”
Boston teachers at participating schools saw nearly $5,000 raises as a result of the added time.
In districts with less fiscal flexibility, figuring out how to balance teacher and student time has been more of a challenge.
In Philadelphia, School Reform Commissioner Bill Green is advocating for a longer school day in the district’s next teacher contract. “It’s fairly simple,” he said. “All of the research indicates that longer school days or years have a positive impact on the achievement of urban students.”
Green is also arguing that state law requires Philadelphia to increase instructional time by nearly half an hour a day — an interpretation of the law that the teachers union is contesting. But he has said the cash-strapped district cannot pay teachers any more.
“To expect that the district is going to be able to attract and retain teachers as long as they totally disrespect them as professionals is unconscionable,” Philadelphia teachers union president Jerry Jordan said earlier this year, reacting to Green’s longer-day push. “It’s not going to happen.”
Back in Chicago, where the 2012 contract resulted in the city’s first teachers union strike in 25 years, teachers hope a new contract will better balance time for students and time for teachers.
Time isn’t the biggest issue in ongoing negotiations, which appear likely to extend beyond the June 30 contract expiration. Instead, the city and teachers union are locked in conflict about how teachers should be evaluated and how likely layoffs will happen.
Still, Gunderson said she hopes an eventual contract adds resources so that teachers can work together to make the longer school day effective.
“Without the time we have together, I don’t have as much of a chance to connect with my fellow teachers in terms of mentoring,” she said. “Here I am with years of craft knowledge that I would love to be able to give to my fellow teachers, but I’m not afforded the time to anymore.”
This story was produced as a collaboration among all news organizations participating in the Expanded Learning Time reporting project.
Student organizations at the University of Colorado Boulder may lose about 75 percent of their funding compared to last year's funds due to a new proposal. ( Daily Camera )
Chief fundraising officer at CU-Boulder leaves position after less than a year. ( Daily Camera )
Summer food programs scarce for Garfield County students. ( Post Independent )
The great outdoors
Thanks to an environmental learning program, Jeffco students get hands-on in outdoor class. ( Denver Post )
On the job
Students with disabilities learn job skills through Summer Works Academy. ( 9News )
Game-based learning gives students a chance to learn in a non-traditional way. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Aiden Alexander is stranded in the middle of nowhere and armed only with a few items, including a cinch sack and machete, after his car runs out of gas. The rain makes the situation more difficult — it’s a lot to handle for an eighth grader.
Luckily for Alexander, it’s just a game at a workshop meant to teach him how to think on his feet as a sticky situation changes.
Using games to teach students isn’t a new concept. But some hope this classroom technique can be revamped to focus on “21st century skills,” such as critical thinking and creativity, as Alexander learned about in his game.
Game-based learning might also soon make its most substantial debut in Colorado in the fall of 2016 as the basis of a new school in the Aurora Public Schools system.
Game-like learning is exactly what it sounds like: Teachers use games to teach. Engaging with hands-on activities allows students to learn both specific lesson and a broader concepts, like how to collaborate as a team or how to solve problems, simultaneously.
“Games are really good at helping players achieve a goal,” said Ilena Parker, senior communications manager for Institute of Play, a nonprofit organization that promotes using games to teach students. “They help you learn the skills you need to achieve that goal. They give you feedback on how you’re doing and they let you try again when you fail.”
Earlier this month, the institute held a workshop in Denver, where students and teachers could sample educational games. This was a joint event with William Smith High School and the Hive Denver learning community.
According to some research on game-based learning, students who use games to learn work harder voluntarily. Studies have also shown students who use games to learn will retain more factual knowledge and skill-based knowledge than their non-game playing peers.
While the games are fictional, the lessons are not, Parker said.
“Games are really awesome at developing 21st century skills, things like creativity, collaboration, communication, problem solving, critical thinking,” Parker said. “Teachers can kind of incorporate learning goals into a game and it makes it more engaging and more memorable for students.”
The Institute of Play, which also operates a school in New York City, is working with leaders at William Smith High School, an expeditionary learning school in Aurora, to give game-like learning a permanent home. If the district’s school board approves, The Studio School, as it’s being called, will open in the fall of 2016 and use game design and student input to shape curriculum.
“Educators spend so much time trying to develop ourselves and design curriculum, thinking about ‘what would be great for students to do? How do we want them to learn? Let’s create this amazing experience for students,'” said Jackson Westenskow, who is helping lead the push for The Studio School. “And the one group we never ask for help with that is the students.”
But introducing more games into classrooms does not come without its challenges. A 2014 survey of teachers found that finding money to pay for the game materials and technology, identifying games that fit with instruction, and creating professional development programs so teachers are trained to use games effectively in classrooms, are potential barriers.
Back at the institute’s summer workshop, Alexander said he wouldn’t mind learning this way regularly. While the game was mentally tough, he enjoyed the challenge.
“I liked the freedom it had. It helps with critical thinking because I had to think of a way to go along with the situation,” said Alexander, who attends Excel Academy in Denver. “I would love to play this in school.”
Seal of approval
Denver Public Schools is the third school system in the state to now offer a seal of biliteracy with a student's diploma. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Some Colorado Springs high schools are turning to students to help hire coaches. ( Gazette )
Denver based teacher, dancer, artist and community leader Cleo Parker Robinson will receive the Diversity Trailblazer Award from the Youth Celebrate Diversity organization. ( 9News )
The Colorado Supreme Court should have given the Douglas County voucher program the OK, argues The Denver Post. ( Denver Post )
The court's ruling could be the best thing to happen to voucher-supporters, suggests Mike Littwin. ( Colorado Independent )
to recall or not to recall
The Denver Post opines that the proposed school board recall in Jefferson County goes too far. ( Denver Post )
STEM in Focus
Classroom content standards across all subjects should work together to build a greater STEM fluency, experts suggested at a conference on science, technology, engineering, and math. ( U.S. News & World Report )
An Arizona physical education teacher created a summer running club to keep students active while on vacation. ( KUNC )
Around the network
Shelby County Schools will open a new truancy center in a Memphis shopping mall to step up efforts to work with students who chronically miss school. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )
Indiana state Superintendent Glenda Ritz again will propose a shift in the way A-to-F grades should be applied to schools next year, this time suggesting grades issued this fall should only be made public if they improve over last year. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )
“Estudiantes de secundaria de Escuelas Publicas de Denver podra graduarse con un ‘Sello de Bialfabetizacion’ sobre sus diplomas comenzando el proximo año.”
If you’re one of the approximately 34,600 Spanish-speaking students in Denver Public Schools you already know that sentence means: “Denver Public Schools high schoolers will be able to graduate with a ‘Seal of Biliteracy’ on their diplomas beginning next year.”
What’s changing is that for the first time the district will formally acknowledge those students’ skills in both English and Spanish. Students can also earn the new diploma seal for any other language of their choosing.
The Seal of Biliteracy is a recognition given to graduating seniors for demonstrating proficiency in English and at least one other language. Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, DPS will be the third district in Colorado to offer this merit, following Adams 14 and Eagle County schools.
Darlene LeDoux, director of academic achievement for English learners in DPS, said that the roughly 38 percent of English language learners at DPS will benefit from the seal, but it is intended for all students. Eventually, more non-ELL students will get the seal than ELL students, LeDoux added.
“Certainly English language learners will benefit from this,” LeDoux said. “But this was not specifically for English learners, this was for all kids.”
Colorado doesn’t have statewide graduation standards so it is left to the districts to determine how these seals should be issued. The long-term plan is to have criteria for the seal that is approved by the state so there can be a state seal of biliteracy, said Jorge Garcia, who helped create the district criteria for earning the seal.
Proficiency in English and the other language will be determined by existing assessments, such as IB exams or ACCESS.
While some languages, such as Spanish and French, are easier to test with existing assessments, others are more difficult, Garcia said. But accommodations will be made.
For example, indigenous languages such as Lakota are offered at certain DPS schools but there isn’t an AP, IB or other standardized test offered in that language.
“If there’s not something that is commercially available, something they can just get and administer to the student, then they will develop a portfolio in consultation with the community that speaks that language in order to (figure out) how they can demonstrate this proficiency,” said Garcia, board member for the Colorado Association For Bilingual Education.
And in the event a school can’t find a nearby community that speaks that language, they will contact a consulate, embassy or school system in that country to find an assessment that will give students the opportunity to demonstrate that proficiency, he said.
In addition to making the program accommodating to students, DPS is also offering incentives early on to get students interested in speaking more than one language. Students can receive “pathway awards” in third, fifth and eighth grade if they demonstrate skills in two or more languages and are on the path to earning a seal at the end of high school.
Offering these awards and the seal gives students something to strive for, Garcia said, because it will formally acknowledge their bilingual skills.
“Students go through programs where they basically study in two languages, however, they graduate like everyone else and there’s not really a recognition of that,” said Garcia, who is also the director of the BUENO policy center at the University of Colorado Boulder. “This would help existing (dual language) programs give students the recognition they deserve because many of them have been in a program for many years working on these proficiencies…it gives students a reason to become more proficient than just being able to order at a restaurant in French.”
This recognition is important for employment and educational opportunities, the director said. Employers and colleges will see the seal and know that student’s bilingual abilities are formally recognized. It gives students a competitive edge.
According to a presentation LeDoux gave at a board meeting earlier this month, there are nearly 82,000 unfilled jobs nationwide that require bilingual speakers.
“(The seal) makes students highly marketable and prepared for any type of opportunity, college or career,” she said. “It gives them more choices and more options. I think that’s really exciting.”
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that a voucher program proposed by the Douglas County School District is unconstitutional. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
But members of the suburban school board said they would consider asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a second opinion. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The loss at the Supreme Court was a blow to voucher supporters. ( Denver Post )
"While we were disappointed, we are not surprised. This may very well be simply a case of delayed gratification. Douglas County kids may have to wait just a little bit longer to get full access to choice." — Kevin Larsen, school board President ( Douglas County News-Press )
"The decision means that money set aside for public education in Colorado can only be used the way it was intended to be used- for the betterment of education in Colorado public schools." — Cindy Barnard, President of Taxpayers for Public Education, on Monday in a statement. ( CPR )
The school district also vowed to modify the choice program as early as fall in order to be in compliance with state law. ( KDVR )
Members of a new committee that will review how school districts can best handle students' mental health issues and keep schools safe were announced Monday by the governor. ( Denver Post )
A second member of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education announced she will not seek re-election. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Jeffco Summer of Early Literacy program has expanded to 30 Jeffco elementary schools at 12 sites to help more than 1,200 students improve literacy skills. ( Arvada Press )
Standards by any other name? Check out this map of which states are carrying the Common Core branded standards and which have either dropped them or slightly altered them with a new name. ( Ed Week )
Meet the Colorado Springs 12-year-old who scored in the top 10 percent on the ACT's math and science exams. ( Gazette )
Montrose schools have a new superintendent. ( Grand Junction Sentinel )
The former superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District who resigned to return to Colorado will receive $275,000. ( Gazette )
CASTLE ROCK — Douglas County School District officials said Monday they may seek a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of their voucher program.
That announcement came just hours after the Colorado Supreme Court struck down the program, which was developed in 2011 but never went into effect, in a 4-3 ruling.
Douglas County school board members at a press conference said they believe today’s decision could pave the way for a U.S. Supreme Court challenge over the part of the state constitution that prohibits aid to religious organizations.
“This is a disappointing ruling for the students of Douglas County and all students in Colorado,” said Douglas County Board of Education President Kevin Larsen. “But today’s ruling paves the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to evaluate the constitutionality of Colorado’s Blaine Amendment, which is an ugly part of no fewer than 37 state constitutions.”
The so-called Blaine Amendment is a provision in Colorado’s state constitution that forbids direct government aid to educational institutions that have religious affiliation.
The Colorado Supreme Court in its opinion said because the Douglas County voucher program gave money to religious schools, it violated that constitutional provision and was illegal.
About 30 other state constitutions also have such clauses.
The clauses are named after the Republican U.S. Congressman James G. Blaine, who in 1875 unsuccessfully attempted to pass a federal Constitutional amendment that would prohibit state tax dollars or land to support religious schools. Blaine’s aim for the failed amendment, which spurred dozens of copy-cat initiatives in state legislatures, was to prohibit tax dollars to fund Catholic parochial schools.
Mark Silverstein, legal director of the Colorado ACLU, one of the organizations that argued against the voucher program, said he believes a U.S. Supreme Court hearing is a long shot.
“I’ll be interested to see their brief,” Silverstein said. “I think that the so-called Blaine Amendment argument is a red herring. In the 1870s, it’s true, there was an amount of anti-Catholic basis. But the school board’s argument is that [anti-Catholic bias] explains the presence of Section 7 in the Constitution. And I think that is too much of a stretch.”
Silverstein said the Blaine Amendment argument is nothing new when it comes to vouchers for private or religious schools.
“This argument has been bubbling up over school voucher programs for years,” Silverstein said. “But I don’t know if the U.S. Supreme Court has ever invalidated a state constitutional provision because the drafters were anti-Catholic bigots.”
Silverstein said he believes even if the Section 7 has anti-Catholic roots, it doesn’t detract from the validity of a neutral application to all religious schools today.
“A system of free secular public schools — that’s the principle Article 9 Section 7 embodies,” he said.
But Douglas County Superintendent Liz Fagen, and others, said the Choice Scholarship Program, as it is known, is about providing students with the best education to fit their needs.
“We don’t fear the idea that a student could benefit at another school,” she said Monday when asked why the district, which has the state’s highest accreditation rating from the state, needed to offer an alternative to its schools.
Although he declined to discuss specifics, board member Craig Richardson said the district will also work to modify the voucher program to be in compliance with the state’s Supreme Court ruling as early as this fall.
“We will adopt modifications to our Choice Scholarship Program expeditiously and in compliance with today’s Supreme Court decision,” he said. “We will not wait. We are undaunted.”
The Douglas County School District may not provide its families vouchers to send their students to private schools, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday morning.
In its decision, the state’s highest court effectively shut down the suburban school district’s choice program.
Douglas County school officials are expected to have a press conference this afternoon to discuss the ruling. It’s unclear whether the school district will attempt to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. (See updated from press conference here.)
In the 4-3 opinion, written by Chief Justice Nancy E. Rice, the court said the Choice Scholarship Program, as the district called it, was unconstitutional because it sent taxpayer dollars to religious institutions.
“[T]he Colorado Constitution prohibits school districts from aiding religious schools,” the chief justice wrote in her conclusion. “The CSP has created financial partnerships between the District and religious schools and, in so doing, has facilitated students attending such schools. This constitutes aid to religious institutions as contemplated by section 7. Therefore, we hold that the CSP violates section 7.”
Section 7 refers to a portion of the state’s constitution that flatly prohibits any state aid to religious institutions.
In oral arguments last year, lawyers for the Douglas County School District argued that parents, not the school district, chose where to use the vouchers. In their opinion, the district did not endorse religious schools, but parents.
A majority of the court disagreed.
“It is true that the CSP does not only partner with religious schools; several Private School Partners are non-religious,” Rice wrote. “The fact remains, however, that the CSP awards public money to students who may then use that money to pay for a religious education. In so doing, the CSP aids religious institutions. Thus, even ignoring the pragmatic realities that scholarship recipients face—such as the trial court’s finding that ‘virtually all high school students’ can only use their scholarships to attend religious schools—the CSP violates the clear constitutional command of section 7.”
But in a dissenting opinion, Justice Allison Eid said the court’s interpretation of Section 7 went too far.
“This breathtakingly broad interpretation would invalidate not only the Choice Scholarship Program, but numerous other state programs that provide funds to students and their parents who in turn decide to use the funds to attend religious schools in Colorado,” Eid wrote. “The plurality’s interpretation barring indirect funding is so broad that it would invalidate the use of public funds to build roads, bridges, and sidewalks adjacent to such schools, as the schools, in the words of the plurality, ‘rely on’ state-paid infrastructure to operate their institutions.”
The ruling means that Colorado tax dollars will stay where they belong in public schools, said one of the plaintiffs in a statement emailed shortly after the decision was made public.
“The DCSD voucher program took taxpayer funds, intended for public education, and used that money to pay for private school education for a few select students,” said Cindy Barnard, President of Taxpayers for Public Education, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “The decision means that money set aside for public education in Colorado can only be used the way it was intended to be used — for the betterment of education in Colorado public schools.”
Education analyst Ben DeGrow at the Independence Institute, a libertarian think-tank and supporter of school choice, said he he believed the court came to the wrong conclusion.
“It’s a disappointment that the Colorado Supreme Court did not uphold opportunity and choice for families in Douglas County,” he said.
The voucher program was unanimously passed by the Douglas County school board in 2011. It would have allowed up to 500 Douglas County students, who live south of Denver, to use 75 percent of the district’s per-pupil funding – or $4,575 at the time – to attend a participating private school approved by the district.
Students would have been able to use those funds to attend private religious schools.
Thirty-four private schools applied to participate in the voucher program. The school district approved 23 of those schools.
Of the 23 schools, 14 were located outside Douglas County, one of the wealthiest counties in Colorado, and 16 taught religious doctrine.
The voucher program was modeled after other programs across the nation that have prevailed in court. It gave students the right to “receive a waiver from any required religious services at the [participating private school],” according to previous court documents filed by the district.
In 2004 the state Supreme Court halted a statewide voucher program that would have provided similar scholarships to low income families.
Capitol Editor Todd Engdahl contributed to this report.
Jill Fellman, half of the Jeffco Public Schools’ board minority, will not seek re-election this fall, she said in a statement Monday morning.
Her decision comes about two months after her fellow minority member Lesley Dahlkemper announced she would not seek re-election either.
“This decision has been a difficult one, coming after months of reflection,” Fellman said in her statement. “While I have dedicated the biggest part of my life to Jeffco Schools and my loyalties run deep, I also have to consider some personal priorities and do what’s best at this time for my family.”
Fellman spent nearly her entire life in Jeffco schools. She attended Patterson Elementary, Carmody Junior High and Alameda High School. After college, she returned to Jeffco to teach secondary math at Bear Creek High School and then at Moore Middle School.
She retired from Jeffco in 2009 as a director of Learning and Educational Achievement.
Fellman said part of her decision was based on the shift in board leadership after the 2013 election.
“I can acknowledge that the board’s current leadership does not share my vision for the board or the school district,” she said in her statement. “I believe the board, under current leadership, has failed to focus on what is best for our children’s education.”
Fellman’s and Dahlkemper’s decisions coupled with news of a potential recall of the three-member board majority puts the status of the Jefferson County Board of Education in a radical flux. If a recall effort is successful, all five board seats could be in play this November.
A group of Jefferson County parents took the first step Friday afternoon toward a recall of three members of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, CPR via AP, Denver Post )
Too small to fail
In Colorado, 71 of 178 school districts have fewer than 400 students. Those 71 districts account for just 1.6 percent of Colorado’s K-12 student population, but they eat up 2.4 percent of per-pupil funding. ( Greeley Tribune )
Show me the money
State audit finds Douglas County School District owes $4.2 million. ( Douglas County News-Press )
Holyoke gets waiver
Starting next school year, student academic growth will count toward at half of Colorado teacher evaluations, except in the Holyoke School District. ( Denver Post )
Aurora Central High School to have new principal this fall. ( Aurora Sentinel )
Aurora Public Schools diverts $1.5 million from summer program and gives funds directly to schools to use as they see fit. ( Aurora Sentinel )
Out with the old, in with the new
School District 51’s technology department has proposed spending nearly $20 million over the next five years to bring district devices, software and infrastructure up-to-date. ( The Daily Sentinel )
A food bank is serving 500 more Colorado kids this summer. ( The Coloradoan )
A group of Jefferson County parents took the first step Friday afternoon toward a recall of three members of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education.
The parents, part of the organization Jeffco United for Action, said they filed their petitions for recall because they believe that board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk, wasted taxpayer dollars, violated open meeting and records laws, and lost respect of teachers and parents.
In their petition language, they cited last fall’s controversy over a proposal to review an advanced history class that led to thousands of high school students protesting along busy boulevards in the suburban Denver county.
“For over a year, the board majority members have made decisions behind closed doors and violated their own rules as well as state and federal laws,” said parent Wendy McCord, in a statement. “All of this secrecy and lack of transparency has resulted in over 700 educators and countless families leaving Jeffco Schools – this is unacceptable.”
The parents declined to comment further than the statement they issued.
Witt and Williams first learned of the petition filing from a Chalkbeat reporter.
Witt, in an statement, said he stood by his voting record and said he would continue to work toward achieving the platform he was elected to carryout.
“I am proud of the work that we have done on the Jeffco Board, including bringing greater equality to education funding, giving teachers $21 million in raises, opening meetings to the public, bringing free full day kindergarten to every child eligible for free and reduced lunch, and giving the community and principals greater control in their schools, among other achievements,” he said. “I recognize that change is difficult, but our students deserve a great education.”
Williams declined to immediately comment until she could review the petition language. Newkirk did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
If Jeffco United for Action is successful in obtaining enough signatures to force a recall of Witt, Williams, and Newkirk, that would mean all five seats of the Jeffco school board would be in play this November.
The Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder has seven business days to approve the language of the petition the parent group filed Friday. Following that, Jeffco United for Action has 60 days to gather 15,000 signatures for each of the three seats they are seeking to recall.
Witt, Williams, and Newkirk were elected — by wide margins — in November 2013. But rumors of a recall have circled through Jefferson County almost since the day they took office.
The board majority’s critics credit them with driving out Jeffco’s well known and respected superintendent and hundreds of teachers. They believe the board is bent on implementing similar policies as the neighboring Douglas County School District, including dropping the teacher’s collective bargaining contract.
The board majority’s supporters have thanked them for equalizing charter school funding, establishing student based-budgeting, and refusing to issue Certificates of Participation to build new schools.
Before the next school year starts, Denver Public Schools will have new chiefs of communications and human resources and new administrators in charge of academics, curriculum.
Jill Hawley, who was associate commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education, will be the district’s new deputy chief of academics. Devin Fletcher, who has been the district’s interim Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, will take on the role as a permanent position. And Kelly Kovacic, a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education who previously led the Preuss School and served on a state advisory commission on charter schools in California, will be the district’s new director of portfolio.
Those posts in the district’s Academic and Innovation Office were vacant as of a restructuring in this spring. Hawley, Fletcher, and Kovacic are taking the reins as the district has just issued a new strategic plan and is planning to revamp its approach toward working with schools by allowing principals to “opt in” rather than “opt out” of district services, including curriculum.
Nancy Mitchell, currently the Director of Strategy and Policy Communications, will be the district’s new Chief Communications Officer. She is replacing Maureen Harper, who came to DPS from Cleveland in late 2014. Mitchell is a former journalist who wrote for the Rocky Mountain News and served as the editor of EdNews Colorado, Chalkbeat’s predecessor.
Shayne Spalten, the district’s Chief Human Resource Officer, will be leaving her post at the end of July. The district is still recruiting a new director.
Dougco strikes back
The Douglas County school district is threatening to sue the Colorado Department of Education over an enrollment-count dispute. CDE says it’s just following the law in asking Dougco to repay $4.2 million. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
At least six Republican candidates are interested in appointment to the soon-to-be-vacant 3rd District seat on the State Board of Education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A free summer camp especially for Native American youth in metro Denver teaches healthy habits and cultural heritage by incorporating traditional crafts, sports and agricultural practices. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Boulder Valley school board has renewed Superintendent Bruce Messinger's contract for another three years and given him a 4.8 percent raise. ( Daily Camera )
The president of the Dallas school board says Superintendent Mike Miles resigned because of disagreements over changes to his contract. Miles has said he’ll return to Colorado Springs, where he once led the Harrison district. ( Dallas Morning News )
The Durango school district is giving a raise to teachers in its 2015-16 budget, which also includes a slight deficit. ( Durango Herald )
The Pueblo 70 board has managed to put together a 2015-16 budget without dipping into district reserves. ( Chieftain )
Dougco strikes back II
The end of the school year brings food gaps for some poor children in the Poudre school district. ( Coloradoan )
A summer program in Pueblo aims to instill a “manufacturing mindset” into students. ( Chieftain )
Four seats on the Estes Park school board are up for election this fall, and community leaders are looking for candidates. ( Estes Park Trail Gazette )
School and town
The Telluride Town Council has approved a contentious intergovernmental agreement with the Telluride schools involving expansion of the town’s middle/high school. ( Daily Planet )
For Sabrina Ehrnstein, Eva Grenawalt, Sofie Martinez and Makenzie McKenna — eighth-grade graduates of Euclid Middle School — history has taken on new meaning since competing in the National History Day contest this year. ( Littleton Independent )
Colorado may have the reputation of being a healthy state, but the state’s low-income children struggle with obesity. ( CPR )
The Poudre school district is using the summer break to catch up on $15.6 million of bond-funded construction and renovation work. ( Coloradoan )
The Jefferson County and Thompson school districts are taking positive steps in funding of their charter schools. ( Denver Post )
Leaders of the Douglas County School District say they’ll sue the Colorado Department of Education in a $4.2 million dispute over counting of high school enrollment.
The district took the spat public with a news release Thursday, two days after outgoing education Commissioner Robert Hammond responded to a district appeal in the matter.
Also on Thursday, school board President Kevin Larsen and Vice President Doug Benevento sent an accusatory and polemical letter to Hammond, writing, “We intend to pursue our remedies in the Colorado courts with all deliberate speed.”
The letter said the district “rejects the Department’s position as arbitrary, capricious and not the result of reasoned agency decision-making.”
The Larsen-Benevento letter also claimed CDE’s actions in the enrollment dispute “convey the unmistakable whiff of policy retaliation” because of district/department differences over other, unrelated matters.
Department spokeswoman Dana Smith responded, “We don’t really know what they’re referring to here, but this issue is a matter of state law. We are required to implement that.”
The department annually audits a selection of school districts to compare student enrollment against the amount of state funding allocated. Districts that received more funding than supported by enrollment data are asked to pay money back to the state. Whether students were properly classified as part-time or full-time is a common issue in the audits. Larger districts usually are audited more frequently than small ones.
The department has billed Dougco, interest free, for $4.2 million, money that was provided for a few hundred high school students CDE believes were inaccurately classified as full-time.Behind the disagreement Read the docs
The dispute focuses primarily on the interpretation of full-time and part-time and on the extent of CDE discretion in the matter.
The district news release claims, “The students involved in the audit averaged 96.7 percent of the required seat time, making it illogical and unreasonable for CDE to reduce annual funding for those specific students by half.”
The letter from the two school board members also argues, “The department clearly has the lawful discretion to make any funding reductions proportionate to the time for which the department’s audit could not account in district documents.”
But Hammond’s Tuesday letter to Dougco Superintendent Elizabeth Fagan noted, “There is no provision in state law to allow for proportional funding – students are either considered full-time or part-time. … Full-time funding is based upon a student having a schedule for 360 hours, and part-time funding is available for students with schedules greater than 90 hours but less than 360 hours in the first semester.”
In contrast to district claims that CDE didn’t use its discretion properly, Hammond’s letter noted that CDE did reconsider the classification of some students and reduced the amount owed by the district. “If the traditional calculation was applied in this audit, the district liability would have increased by approximately $737,000, resulting in a total audit liability of over $5.3 million.” The audit involved the fall enrollment counts for 2012 and 2013.
The disagreement appears to be rooted in counting changes and problems sparked by the district’s decision to increase the number of periods in high school schedules.Other district claims
The Larsen-Benevento letter fired several broadsides at the department, including:
“We intend to work expeditiously with the General Assembly to divest the department of the discretion that the department has either failed to exercise here at all or, to the extent it has exercised any discretion, has done so with such obvious incompetence and backward thinking.”
The letter also said, “It is hard to believe that, in this age of nearly constant learning through technology … the department still employs a vast bureaucracy of well-pensioned employees who seriously spend valuable time – at taxpayer expense – tallying the number of minutes that a student sits in a seat, rather than the results achieved by that student.”
Current state law contains no provisions that tie individual student performance to school funding.
Hammond is retiring, so the dispute going forward will be in the hands of Interim Commissioner Elliott Asp.
Associate Commissioner Leanne Emm said full-time problems are “a very typical audit finding. … This happens to be an uncommonly larger finding because they had an issue with so many students.”Department also in enrollment dispute with Sheridan
The department was sued by the Sheridan school district last March in a $1 million disagreement over high school students that CDE believes weren’t eligible for state funding because they also were taking classes at Arapahoe Community College.
The state asked Sheridan to repay nearly $1 million, and the district went to court, asking that the repayment requirement be voided. The suit is pending in Denver District Court. (Get more information in this previous Chalkbeat Colorado story.)
The Sheridan case doesn’t involve the full-time/part-time issue but rather the question of funding concurrent enrollment students – those taking both high school and college classes.
Emm said CDE doesn’t have any similar disputes currently pending with other districts.
Normally, the five Denver teens who gathered for breakfast at the Egg & I restaurant would have been cooking their own meals at the Four Winds American Indian Council building.
The recent diner meal was a rare exception for the youth, all participants in a summer camp for Native American teenagers. Still, it was clear from their conversation that tradition is at the core of the free eight-week experience.
Seventeen-year-old Katrina Her Many Horses, who recently graduated from the Denver Center for International Studies, talked about her family’s 22-hour drive to Louisiana for a powwow the previous week.PHOTO: Ann SchimkeRoberto Ballesteros, 12, takes a seed packet from Shannon Francis. Sisters Taloa Cardinal and Jasmine Anderson stand nearby.
Twelve-year-old Roberto Ballesteros, a student at West Leadership Academy, pulled up a picture on his smart phone of the red and white beaded bracelet he’d been making at camp. Jasmine Anderson, a soon-to-be senior at Denver’s South High School, shared photos of the traditional ribbon shirts the campers planned to work on next.
Formally called “Let’s Move in Indian Country Youth Cultural Camp,” the camp is the second iteration of a program begun last summer by the Denver Indian Family Resource Center in Lakewood. The first version was for students age six-17, but leaders decided they wanted to focus on teenagers.
“We know programs aren’t adapted to that generation of kids,” said Daryle Conquering Bear, healthy living assistant at the center.A niche for Native youth
The camp provides a gathering place for Native youth, who often comprise small minorities in their schools.
With its focus on health, culture and leadership, there isn’t anything else like it in the area, said Terra Her Many Horses, co-leader of the camp and healthy living supervisor at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center in Lakewood.The campers meet three days a week at the council building on 5th Ave. in Denver.
In the 10-county Denver metro area, 48,000 residents consider themselves Native American, Alaskan Native or some portion thereof, according to 2012 estimates from the American Community Survey.
Elias Her Many Horses, 15, said the camp is a place “to bond with other kids” and has “a lot of activities to…keep us occupied.”
Fostering healthy habits among participants is also a priority.
“We know that historically there’s some health disparities in Indian Country,” said Conquering Bear. “With the rates of diabetes …and making healthier choices with eating.”
Sixty-five percent of Colorado’s American Indian and Alaskan Native adults are overweight or obese, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In addition, data from the federal government’s Office of Minority Health indicates that nearly 18 percent nationwide have diabetes, compared to about 7 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Such statistics are part of the reason that campers learn gardening, take cooking classes and make breakfast and lunch together on most camp days. On their culinary to-do list this summer will be creating a healthier version of a fast food burger and a nutritious family meal with just $10 to spend at the grocery store.
Elias, who next year will be a junior at the Denver Center for International Studies, said cooking is one of his favorite parts of the camp. Among the dishes they’ve made so are are yogurt parfaits, turkey meatballs, chicken wraps and salads.
“Pretty soon we’re going to be able to grow some of our own ingredients,” he said.Backyard transformation
That’s where the indigenous permaculture class, taught by Shannon Francis, comes in.
The idea is to teach the teens grow their own food, including traditional crops like the “three sisters” trio of corn, beans and squash. It’s also meant to incorporate Native American values such as respect, mindfulness and reciprocity.PHOTO: Ann SchimkeKatrina Her Many Horses and camp co-leader Daryle Conquering Bear water the garden.
These themes came through on a recent morning in the fenced back yard of the council building. Francis instructed the campers how to turn over the soil with their metal shovels.
“You’re not going to do too much stabbing because there’s a bunch of worms in here and you don’t want to chop all the worms in half,” she said.
Later, as the campers poked shallot, radish and mustard seeds into the loose dirt, Francis reminded them, “Always remember to keep talking to your seeds.”
Katrina Her Many Horses doesn’t have a home garden because she lives in an apartment, but said she enjoys gardening with Francis at camp.
“This is what our ancestors did back then, this type of gardening,” she said. “You know how farms have it in rows and stuff…This is more natural.”Mixing traditional and modern
This summer, a dozen youth attend the camp, which meets all day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. As was true the day of the breakfast outing, turnout tends to be lower on Thursdays since many families use it as a travel day to attend pow wows.
The camp is funded with grants from five organizations including the Colorado Health Foundation, the Denver Indian Family Resource Center, the Peyback Foundation Running Strong for American Indian Youth and the N7 Fund.PHOTO: Ann SchimkeElias Her Many Horses helps move an old tire out of the way as the campers work to expand their garden.
In addition to traditional crafts, cooking and gardening, the camp puts an emphasis on physical fitness. Besides typical camp sports like swimming and horseback riding, participants will learn traditional Native American sports like lacrosse and its precurser, stickball.
“Everyone is coming from tribes that were physically active, so that’s what they’re trying to get back to,” said Terra Her Many Horses.
“We do a lot on how their ancestors lived,” she said.
There are also some distinctly modern elements woven through the experience. These include field trips to Native-owned businesses such as the restaurant Tocabe, Lakewood’s Belmar shopping center and the Denver-based American Indian College Fund. The campers, even the ones still in middle school, also practice writing college application essays.
“We really want them to think college,” said Conquering Bear.
Some of the older campers are already well on their way. Katrina has already earned a spot on the basketball team at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling for the fall. After that, her sights are set on the Ivy League.
“After this junior college, after I’ve given basketball a shot, I want to transfer to Dartmouth University,” she said. “That’s my main goal, to go there.”
Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Colorado Health Foundation.
At least half a dozen people are interested in the State Board of Education seat being vacated by Republican Marcia Neal of Grand Junction.
The potential applicants include a former candidate for the 3rd District seat, an anti-Common Core activist from Pueblo, three people with local school board experience and a parochial school principal from Grand Junction.
Neal announced two weeks ago that she’s resigning effective July 31. Her decision was sparked by board dysfunction and personal health issues, she said. (See this story for details on her decision, and this article about reaction.)
Under state law the seat will be filled by a Republican Party vacancy committee. The chosen applicant will have to run for election in November 2016.
Freida Wallison of Snowmass, Pitkin County Republican Party chair, said earlier this week, “We are in the process of setting up the vacancy committee.” She’s set a June 30 deadlines for applications, which consist of biographies and photos.
Applicants have to be registered Republicans who live in the 29-county district, which covers all of the Western Slope from Glenwood Springs west but also includes the San Luis Valley and Pueblo County. No other qualifications are required.
“The inquiries we are receiving are by and large from people who have a connection to education,” Wallison said.
The 13-member vacancy committee will include members of various other GOP committees, representatives from Mesa and Pueblo counties and five other members, each representing a group of smaller counties.
Wallison hopes to convene the committee in July for a single meeting to interview candidates and vote. State law requires the winning applicant to be selected by a majority of committee members present and voting.
Chalkbeat Colorado talked with people across the 3rd District, including potential candidates, to develop this list.Jake Aubert
Jake Aubert – As principal of Holy Family Catholic School in Grand Junction, Aubert said, “I think I bring a unique perspective.”
He said earlier this week, “I am interested and working toward applying for that position.”
Aubert said he’s concerned about the amount of standardized testing in public schools and hears that concern from many other educators. “What PARCC testing and the Common Core mandate is extremely frustrating” for teacher, adding, “Parents are extremely frustrated with the amount of class time their students are missing.”
He added, “The centralization of education is very concerning. A one-size-fits-all model simply doesn’t work.”Roger Good
Roger Good – A Steamboat Springs business owner, Good was elected to the Steamboat Springs school board in 2013 and serves as president.
He confirmed Wednesday that he’s applied for the appointment, saying he has “a passion for education and an appreciation for education.”
Good said he would bring “a very open mind” to contentious issues like testing. The two most valuable things about testing, Good said, are that results provide data for comparing schools and districts and that results be timely.
He also said protecting local control of schools is very important for him. “Local control is under attack.”Michael Lobato
Michael Lobato – A rancher, Lobato is president of the Center school board in the San Luis Valley and is serving his last term.
Lobato, who has background both on the Colorado Association of School Boards and in Republican politics, said, “I’ve sure had a lot of pressure put on me. Am I interested? Yeah. Have I made a firm commitment? No.”
He said he’s weighing personal considerations before deciding whether to seek the post and indicated he also wants a better sense of who will be on the vacancy committee and of the other candidates.
Lobato believes his experience in Center, where the district has improved academic performance and built a new school in recent years, means, “I think I can bring a lot to the table.” He also feels it would be valuable to have a small-district rural voice on the State Board.Debbie Rose
Debbie Rose – A former member and president of the Pueblo 70 school board, Rose has been active on other local and state charitable and government boards.
She’s currently board vice president of the San Isabel Electric Association and ran unsuccessfully for Pueblo County commissioner in 2008 and 2012.
Rose believes she could be helpful on the State Board, “having had personal experience with turmoil on boards.”
“I strongly believe in local control. The community knows best,” she said, adding that she’s concerned about over-testing and about a lack of vocational training in schools.
Reflecting on education in general, Rose said, “I think we need to be rethinking the direction we’re going.”
Rose is a businesswoman in Beulah, west of Pueblo.Barbara Ann Smith
Barbara Ann Smith – Having lost to Neal by only 1,783 votes in a 2014 primary, Smith is trying again for the seat. “You bet I’m going to run. I’ve applied for it,” she said.
In a letter she distributed this week, the retired teacher highlighted her opposition to the Common Core, PARCC tests and improper uses of student data. She also says she’s a strong supporter of local school control.
Smith has been active in Republican politics and civic groups in the Grand Junction area.
Neal last year said she wouldn’t run for reelection, but she changed her mind after Smith entered the race. Neal was victorious in the Republican primary, with 26,138 votes, compared to 24,355 for Smith. Neal went on to win the general election by nearly 33,000 votes over Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo.Anita Stapleton
Anita Stapleton – A fixture at State Board meetings and many legislative hearings, Stapleton has become one of the better-known grassroots critics of the Common Core and PARCC testing.
A nurse from Pueblo, Stapleton speaks frequently to civic and political groups about her criticisms of a wide variety of education reforms. She also was active among the parents and activists who monitored testing and data privacy legislation during the 2015 session.
Stapleton said, “I do have other issues than Common Core.” She said schools need to better support both parents and teachers and “rebuild” relationships with parents. “How we’re going about it now is not the answer.”
Learn more about the State Board’s tumultuous spring in this archive of Chalkbeat stories.
If you’ve heard of other people interested in the State Board vacancy, write to Todd Engdahl.
Chairman of the board of Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District issued a warning about the potential risk of catastrophic fire to Woodland Park residents, due to the presence of the 150-acre Charis Bible College. ( Pikes Peak Courier )
Local high school robotics team hosts programming camp to get kids interested in tech. ( The Daily Sentinel )
Summer school at Windsor RE-4 School District aims to help struggling youth with instruction two-and-half hours a day, three days a week. ( KUNC )
National Hispanic Institute holds mock legislative session at Colorado State University for students interested in government. ( 9news )
Summer school get revamping at Colorado Springs School District 11 with arts component. ( The Gazette )
Denver Public Schools holds Summer Lab Academies, a new three-week program designed to be a place for both students and teachers to try new things. It’s one of a number of programs in Denver Public Schools’ “innovation lab,” known as the imaginarium, which district officials say will be a place for new ideas in education to be created, developed, tested, revised, and, if they succeed, expanded. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Not college bound
Fewer than half of the Greeley-Evans School District 6 high school graduates immediately attend college, according to the latest data released by the Colorado Department of Higher Education, ( Greeley Tribune )
On a Tuesday in June, Kayla Shaw Wilford Thomas and Maliah Thompson had found a nook under a table in a first-floor classroom at Columbine Elementary in Denver and were hard at work. Their task? To operate a photo program on a laptop computer using an electronics kit instead of the keyboard.
So far, it was a mixed success. “Why’s it taking so many pictures?” Maliah exclaimed.
But their teacher, Caitlin Caliguiri, said whether or not the program was working perfectly wasn’t the point. The goal was for the students to be exposed to new objects and ideas, and to come up with questions and solutions on their own. In the meantime, Caliguiri, who will be leading a personalized learning program at Columbine next year, was herself learning through experience about what kinds of student-led projects are most effective.
The computer experiment was part of Denver Public Schools’ Summer Lab Academies, a new three-week program designed to be a place for both students and their teachers to try new things. It’s one of a number of programs in Denver Public Schools’ “innovation lab,” known as the imaginarium, which district officials say will be a place for new ideas in education to be created, developed, tested, revised, and, if they succeed, expanded. (The district does not capitalize the “i” in promotional materials.)
As part of a restructuring this spring, DPS combined several programs into the new department, run by senior director Makisha Boothe.
Denver schools, students, and teachers apply to work with the imaginarium‘s team on an ever-growing list of projects. The current set includes a school design program focused on personalized learning, the summer lab academy, a peer-to-peer learning program for district and charter school teachers, and a competency-based arts program.PHOTO: Susan GonzalezStudents at Columbine Elementary School play Pacman using MaKey MaKey invention kits (and a banana).
The imaginarium refers to its schools and projects as “clients” — terminology that foreshadows how more Denver Public Schools departments will interact with schools in coming years. The district’s board voted in May to allow schools to opt into district offerings instead of being automatically enrolled including professional development for teachers.
Most of the imaginarium’s current programs were initially independent initiatives funded by different philanthropies, including the Janus Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation. (Chalkbeat also receives funding from the Walton and Gates Foundations to support its news coverage of education issues.)
Boothe, a drafter of Colorado’s Innovation Schools Act, said that while the DPS has been trying new programs and strategies aimed at improving student achievement and equity, “there was no consistent infrastructure” for evaluating which worked and expanding those that were successful.
“We wanted to bring them all together for research, development and innovation, to capture the learning, capture the failings, and to disseminate case studies and know what we should scale,” she said.
Once an idea — which might be as small as a classroom strategy or as big as a new school design — is developed, the imaginarium team runs through a series of piloting and reflection exercises. The team then presents a case to district leadership about whether that project should be scaled up.
That same idea of testing and reflecting was on display on a smaller scale at the Summer Lab Academy at Columbine.
Participants were hoping to hone in on successful approaches to personalized learning, which has become a buzzword in education even as what, exactly, it should look like has remained unclear.
Teachers who were interested in personalized learning could sign up to test “hypotheses” about different classroom strategies. Each sample lesson was observed by a team from the imaginarium, which then worked with the teacher to determine how to refine the idea. Boothe referred to the process as “PDSA,” short for Plan-Do-Study-Act.
In the high-stakes environment of the regular academic school year, teachers are often wary of trying new things, said Jacqueline Dawkins, a field manager in the imaginarium. At the camp, the stakes are lower for students and for teachers.
At the Summer Lab Academy, for instance, Dawkins had taught a group of 6- and 7-year-olds how to create and share Google Docs. Another teacher had created a lesson to see what would happen if students were asked to create their own rubrics for a book project.
“All the learning we’re doing this summer will eventually be piloted in classrooms,” Dawkins said. But for now, she said, “there’s no test scores tied to it, so they get to enjoy the learning process.”
The idea is that the imaginarium will foster the same sort of space for other new programs within Denver Public Schools, said Boothe.
“Teachers and school leaders are always trying to maneuver and try new things, but they often don’t have the space to do so,” she said. “We’re trying to make the tools available for change to be safe, strategic, and responsible.”
At Columbine, the summer classes “feel really different” than the regular school year, said Kayla. “We have more opportunities here to do different kinds of stuff hands on.”
“We’re learning, but we’re learning in a fun way,” said Maliah.
And the girls’ next try at operating their computer without the keyboard, this time to play a computerized piano? It worked like a charm.