More than $300 million worth of school construction projects will be the table starting Tuesday, when the state Capital Construction Assistance Board opens a three-day meeting to decide its annual grants.
As has happened every year since the Building Excellent Schools Today program was created in 2008, some applicants will go away disappointed. The program, funded by a share of state school land revenues and restricted in how much debt it can incur, can fund only some of the applications it receives.
This year nearly 40 districts and about a dozen charter schools have submitted a total of more than 60 requests. Those bids total about $308 million in total project costs, including $228 million in state funds and $80 million in promised local matches.
The board’s staff is recommending spending up to $10 million in cash grants and a little more than $80 million for larger projects that are financed with debt.
The applications range from a $27,601 request the from Mountain Valley district in the San Luis Valley for security upgrades to a $37.4 million bid to build a new middle school in Fort Morgan.
Last year the board approved about $280 million worth of projects from a list that totaled about $440 million.Do your homework
Smaller projects such as roof replacements, new boilers and security upgrades generally receive direct cash grants from the BEST program. Big-ticket projects – new schools and major renovations – are paid for through lease-purchase agreements. State and local funds are pooled to pay off those agreements, known technically as certificates of participation, over several years.
The BEST selection process is unique in that the construction board has a certain amount of discretion in making its recommendations and because it makes its decisions request-by-request in an open meeting, unlike the bureaucrats-in-an-office process that governs many grant programs. Applicants also are allowed to make brief in-person pitches to the board, in addition to the voluminous applications they filed months ago.
BEST applications are evaluated on a complicated set of criteria including building conditions and suitability for educational uses, cost and local financial ability to provide matches, among other factors. In some cases the board can adjust matching formulas.
The board’s decisions won’t be the last word on 2012-13 grants. The State Board of Education – and for the first time this year, the legislative Capital Development Committee – will review the construction board’s recommendations later this summer.
Surviving that selection process is only the first hurdle for successful applicants. Many school districts, especially smaller ones, require voter approval of bond issues to raise their local matches. The board selects alternate applications to be considered for awards in November if any of the finalists fail to pass bond issues.The big requests
Here are the requests with project costs of $10 million or more:
Fort Morgan – $37.4 million to replace a middle school. State share 6.2 million.
Aurora – $31.5 million to replace Mrachek Middle School, including a $25.8 million state share.
Limon – $25 million to build a new PK-12 school in this eastern plains district. $17.7 million state share.
AXL Academy – $20.9 million to construct a new PK-8 building for this Aurora charter. State share $19.7 million.
South Conejos – $19.7 million to build a new PK-12 school for this San Luis Valley district. State share $14 million.
Moffat – $16.7 million for a replacement PK-12 school in this San Luis Valley district. State share $12.1 million.
Swallows Charter Academy – $15.2 million to construct a new PK-12 charter school in Pueblo. State share $10.5 million.
Creede – $14.5 million for a replacement K-12 school in this San Juan Mountains district, one of the most isolated in the state. State share $6.7 million.
Montrose – $14.2 million for a new middle school. State share $7.1 million.
Animas High School – $13.7 million for a new building for this charter school in Durango. State share $11.4 million.
Ross Montessori Charter – $12.9 million for a new building to house this Carbondale K-8 charter. The school was a 2012 finalist but was pulled off the list late in the year because its financing and land-purchase arrangements weren’t complete.
Edison – $10.8 million to renovate and expand the junior/senior high school in this plains district east of Colorado Springs. State share $10.5 million.
Kim – $10.6 million to renovate and add to the PK-12 school in this district south of La Junta. State share $7.9 million.
Independence Academy – $10 million to build a new K-8 charter school in Grand Junction. State share $8 million.
The construction board convenes the selection process at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Adams 12 Conference Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton.
Colorado ranks among the top seven states experiencing declining teen birth rates in recent years, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While teen birth rates declined nationally by 25 percent from 2007-2011, Colorado’s rate declined by more than 30 percent. The other six states to achieve similar drops are Idaho, Nevado, Utah, Arizona, Minnesota and Florida.
Colorado’s birth rate among Hispanic teens also declined by more than 40 percent from 2007-2011. Nationally, there was a 34 percent decline for that group.
Colorado Youth Matter, an advocacy group promoting teen sexual health, suggested in a press release that the declines may be due to “enormous statewide efforts and funding to increase prevention efforts.”
“This data highlights how critical it is that current efforts and funding continue — because there is still more work to be done,” said Executive Director Lisa Olcese in the release.
According to the CDC fact sheet on the teen birth data, babies born to teens are at greater risk of premature birth, low birth weight and dying in infancy than babies born to mothers ages 20 and over.
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at email@example.com.
The Denver teachers union isn’t wasting time getting ready for the November election, opting to announce three endorsements four months earlier than normal. Those endorsements are: Meg Schomp, Roger Kilgore and Michael Kiley.
The 3,000-member Denver Classroom Teachers Association Thursday announced three endorsements but conspicuously did not endorse anyone running for the southwest Denver seat now held by Andrea Merida. Merida has announced plans to run for re-election. DCTA endorsed Merida four years ago. But DCTA Fund Chairperson Michelle Miller said DCTA hasn’t had an opportunity to interview people who may run against Merida, such as union organizer Rosario De Baca. Miller said DCTA expected to make its final endorsement by the end of the school year.
“We’re getting a jump on it a little earlier,” Miller said. “We think it’s a really important race. We found some really quality candidates and we want to get behind them as quick as we can.”
In a statement the DCTA said believes the following three candidates “exemplify DCTA’s core values of educator excellence, student success and shared accountability.”
In District 3, which represents central Denver, DCTA is putting their weight behind Schomp, an active parent in her children’s schools. The seat is now held by Jeanne Kaplan, who is term-limited after eight years on the board. School finance lawyer Michael Johnson is also running for the seat.
“Meg Schomp’s desire for educator excellence is literally in her DNA,” the DCTA stated in a news release, pointing out that Schomp’s mother Kaye was an education civil rights leader during her tenure on the school board a generation ago.
In District 4, which covers northeast Denver, the teachers union is backing Kilgore over board member Landri Taylor.
Kilgore is co-chair of the District School Improvement and Accountability Council (SIAC).
“We find Roger’s ability to be an independent voice in a polarized environment refreshing,” the release said. “As a board member, Kilgore will use his expertise and analytical skills to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, bringing community into the process.”
Finally, DCTA is supporting Kiley in the at-large race to fill outgoing board President Mary Seawell’s seat.
“Though his children are still in elementary school, Kiley has become engaged in both his neighborhood middle school (Skinner) and North High School, rallying parents, teachers, and the community around the schools with marked success,” the statement read. “Kiley’s at-ease style should not be mistaken for naiveté, as his depth of knowledge of DPS issues is remarkable.”
The DCTA described Kiley’s goal of a quality school in every neighborhood as not being at odds with the district’s heavy emphasis on choice, but “is truly the missing component of a process that has received scrutiny for its shortcomings.”
Former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, now head of Get Smart Schools, is also pondering running for the at-large seat. If she does, that’ll mean a tough fight for Kiley.
Miller said the key issues this year for the DCTA are the implementation of Senate Bill 10-191, the teacher effectiveness law, the district’s fiscal management and concerns about whether enough money it making it to the classroom level, and due process for teachers.
“We feel really confident about these candidates, that they are able to represent community interests as well as teachers and students,” Miller said. “We’re very impressed with their opinions about how to engage our communities…and make sure all stakeholders have e a voice in the reforms.”
The DCTA endorsement carries with it the promise of a significant financial boost. Five labor unions – the DCTA, its statewide affiliate the Colorado Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, and the United Food and Commercial Workers – pitched in a total of $103,450 to support its three candidates in 2009.
In 2011, an independent expenditure committee called Working America campaigned in support of board member Arturo Jimenez and Emily Sirota, who were endorsed by the Denver teachers’ union. Jimenez won; Sirota lost. Working America raised and spent $4,079, with all contributions coming from Working America, which describes itself as a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO in Washington D.C.
The DCTA and the statewide Colorado Education Association were the sole donors to Delta 4.0, a 527 political organization that supported Jimenez. The unions contributed $86,000.
Jason Glass, Iowa’s chief state school officer, has been named superintendent of the 6,400-student Eagle County School District.
Glass has been director of the Iowa Department of Education since 2010 but has previous Colorado ties. He worked for the Colorado Department of Education in special education, was a vice president for Qualistar Early Learning in Denver and was the director of human resources for the Eagle district.
Get more background on Glass here.
He succeeds Sandra Smyser, 2013 Colorado superintendent of the year, who earlier this month was hired as superintendent of the Poudre School District.
In 2009, a Colorado school district in turnaround took a leap: it abandoned traditional K-12 grade levels and instead implemented a system that advances students based on how well they do rather than how long they sit in class.
Administrators and teachers staked the struggling district on the “standards-based education” gamble, and four years later — after lots of tinkering — it looks like they won.
In what Adams 50 now calls its “competency-based system,” the district’s 10,000 students — of whom 81 percent eat free or reduced lunch and 45 percent are English Language Learners — advance through academic levels once they demonstrate competency in the subject, not once the school year is over. When school starts again, students pick up where they left off.
The move toward standards-based education is a national one, as test-based assessments and performance become more ubiquitous. But it’s rare for a district to implement reform as comprehensive as Adams County’s, which took its cue from a similar, though more radical, program in Chugach, Alaska.
Critics feared the system would create classrooms with broad age gaps and hinder social development. Proponents insisted it would encourage students to take charge of their education.
But over the past four years, the biggest changes in the district have been more subtle: students have begun to see themselves at the center of their education, teachers say; achievement gaps have become more apparent and easier to address; and district-wide, those gaps have been closing.
Though the district’s lowest-performing schools have improved steadily since the new program’s implementation, the new system has not come without significant challenges, many of them caused by logistical problems.
The competency-based system is heavily based on data gathering, requiring teachers to enter reams of minutiae to track student progress. Constantly fluctuating state and national educational standards have thrown wrenches in the carefully planned curriculum, making constant reevaluation of the district-set levels a necessity. Administrators seem battle-worn after years of wrestling with the logistics and legwork required to align those levels with grade-level based state requirements. Next year the number of levels a student must pass through will shift to 12, to align with traditional grade numbers.
Despite the turmoil, the district’s TCAP scores have shown steady improvement, and the district shook the turnaround label last year. The 2013-2014 school year will be the first that all students, from pre-K to 12th grade, will be integrated into the system.
So is the district’s competency-based system working as it should? In Adams 50, though the system may be straying from the model the district initially conceived, it seems to be working for the students.Competency takes hold behind the scenes at Hodgkins Elementary
A visitor checking out classrooms at Josephine Hodgkins Elementary School might be surprised at how traditional everything looks. But it’s the little things that catch a visitor’s eye: the charts and graphs on the walls depicting student performance on tests; the small groups of students working on different projects at once; and the students buried in folders, highlighting skills they’ve learned on a chart as they progress toward reaching the next level.
Sarah Gould, the school’s principal, allows teachers to choose whether they would prefer a classroom full of students at the same age, or students at the same level, a luxury afforded because of the school’s large size.
That means many students attend classes surrounded by kids their own age, though they may be studying at different levels. That system also makes it easy to integrate students with specialized learning plans or those in special education with peers their own age, without abandoning the levels system.
Courtney Nelson, a literacy teacher, chose to keep a traditional “fourth grade” classroom, though her students perform at levels ranging from 3-7.
“This is the first year that I’ve had a straight age group,” she said, comparing her current classroom setup to the one she experienced as a student teacher when the district was first implementing the system. “In my student teaching I had second through fifth grade in one room, and that was very difficult.”
And having such a wide range of levels benefits students, who end up helping each other, Nelson said: “I often see my level 7s will choose to partner with a level 3, and vice versa.”
Hodgkins Elementary has also departmentalized its teachers, so math teachers and literacy teachers have a support group to draw from and teachers can focus on the subject they prefer to teach.
Those are just some of the logistics each school has to work out under the system. In middle school, it gets more difficult, Gould said. Students move to a new school no matter their level, so teachers have a wide range of abilities to address. Elementary students who advance early sometimes sit in class with a specialized multilevel instructor on that campus, or are walked over to a nearby middle school to study.
Oliver Grenham, the district’s chief education officer, has considered K-8 buildings to help alleviate those problems. But for now, those plans — which would be costly and require a lot of legwork — are just talk.A system in flux
The system, with levels spanning ten content areas, has also undergone changes on a broader scale. In spring 2010, then-superintendent Roberta Selleck increased the number of achievement levels students were required to complete from 10 to 14, because younger students were moving through the levels too slowly. Next year, the district will collapse those levels into 12, aligning them with standard grade levels, which will make it easier for the district to use standard textbooks as well as comply with state standards.
Grenham said the district was shifting the levels at the behest of teachers and parents, not ill-fitting state requirements. Still, he acknowledged that teachers were likely asking for change in response to increasingly demanding state and national standards, which make finding curricular resources challenging and increase the number of tasks a student in the district must complete to go on to the next level. Increased requirements mean more data and learning targets a teacher must keep track of.
But everyone interviewed insisted the coming change was not a backslide toward a more traditional model.
“Just because there’s an alignment doesn’t mean we’re abandoning what we’re doing,” said Stephen Saunders, the spokesman for the district.
“You could have an eighth grader next year who’s at a level 6 in math and a level 7 in literacy,” Grenham added.
Heffernan, the teacher at Hodgkins, said she was excited for the shift back to grade-aligned levels.
“It makes sense to parents. It makes sense to me,” she said. “It’s still leveled, but within the level are national standards under second grade.”Too far, too fast
Over time, teaching methods in the district have shifted, too.
When Adams 50 initially decided to implement a standards-based system, they overshot, said Hodgkins Elementary teacher Joyce Heffernan, who is nearing the end of her 40th year as a teacher and has a classroom of second graders working between the levels of 0 and 3.
“When it first went to [standards-based education], it really went too far,“ Heffernan said. “I think we are finally getting to a place where we are saving the good stuff and not throwing everything out and starting all over again.”
Teachers used learning-level packets and did less whole group learning, and the curriculum was extremely individualized — to the detriment of students, Gould and Heffernan said.
“We had to pull back after a couple of years and determine that good teaching is just good teaching,” Gould said. “The best practices, those we still have in place. It’s just the systems that run behind the scenes are different.”
Heffernan said she’s using many of the same teaching tactics that have worked for decades: setting clear goals and using assessments to find out whether students have reached them. Competency-based education helps teachers do that, she said: it sets clear learning targets and tracks student progress step by step.
Now, Nelson said she could tell that this year’s students have grown up in the system.
“The kids that I have this year have only been (taught) in a competency-based system, and they’re much more authentic with their learning. They want to take responsibility for it,” Nelson said. “I see even my very low, struggling learners feel successful in the classroom, because everything I’m giving them is at their level.”Closing the gaps
Despite the experiments with different numbers of levels, the district continues to be focused on its data-driven, student-centric system, in which a student advances in each subject, one at a time, as they meet standard requirements. Perhaps most importantly, administrators and teachers say the system addresses the achievement gaps more easily ignored in traditional education systems, because students can’t progress until they’ve demonstrated proficiency — and the system allows schools to narrow those gaps sooner rather than later.
That’s clear in the district’s gradually rising TCAP scores. In 2010, just 31 percent of Hodgkins students scored in the proficient or advanced category in reading. This year, in keeping with steady gains, 53 percent of third graders scored advanced or proficient on the test.
More importantly, Hodgkins’ economically disadvantaged students and students with limited English proficiency have been steadily improving on the reading test over the past few years. District-wide, those groups of students, along with migrant students, have shown slow but steady improvement in every TCAP subject, according to data through 2012.
“What we’ve seen is the gaps, especially in our building, have gotten smaller, and that’s a direct correlation to their TCAP scores going up,” Gould, the school’s principal, said. “Because we’re finally closing the gap. We’re stopping the bleeding. And I think that’s the biggest thing: this system actually helps support stopping the bleeding.”A national trend toward standards
Broadly, states are realizing set standards and competency requirements are a good way to evaluate student learning, said Jennifer Dounay Zinth, a senior policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States.
New Hampshire in particular has instituted successful reforms allowing students to take tests in lieu of classes, she said. Though different in structure, the systems share a common idea: a student’s ability to demonstrate competency in a subject is more important than how much time they may have spent in a classroom.
“If I’m learning it on my own, I might get more excited about the material,” Zinth said. “States that had more narrow policies [testing competency over seat time] are expanding those policies, and states that maybe didn’t are developing them.”
It’s part of a wider shift toward testing school performance instead of school processes — things like how many students sit in a classroom and whether schools pass various types of inspections. Testing and performance-based assessments are the trend in schooling both nationally and internationally, according to Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University whose work focuses on evaluating reforms and policies.
“In theory, [the push toward competency testing] represents a shift toward accountability,” he said. “If outcomes are satisfactory, seat time becomes less important. … It’s good if the standards are good.”
Miron said testing based on curriculum and learning targets — such as the tests Adams County uses to monitor student progress throughout the school year — is the most accurate kind of testing.
“If it’s a good set of standards and a good assessment aligned to the standards, then teaching to the test is exactly what you want to be doing,” he said.
Grenham, who’s navigated many of the logistical challenges the district has faced while putting the competency-based system in place, said Adams County 50 still has a long way to go. How long, exactly?
“That Beatles song,” Grenham said with a laugh. “‘Eight Days a Week.’”
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teachers: The Colorado Department of Higher Education needs you.
The DHE is looking for high school teachers who are willing to participate this summer in a Core to College Initiative, which attempts to promote collaboration between K-12 and higher education in the subjects of math and language arts.
The initiative will bring high school teachers and higher education faculty together in these subjects to improve the transition of students from K-12 to postsecondary education.
Partnerships will launch in four regions: Metro Denver, southeast, northeast and the Western Slope. Interested teachers are asked to send contact information and a brief paragraph describing their interest to: Emmy.Glancy@dhe.state.co.us.
Colorado is one of more than 10 states participating in the national Core to College Initiative, funded by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
Parents upset that five probationary teachers at their school will not have their contracts renewed next year kept their children home from school Tuesday in protest.
Teachers and staff confirmed Wednesday that about 100 of the school’s 413 students were absent from classes at Schmitt Elementary in southwest Denver.
Several teachers and parents burned the midnight oil late last week in a marathon school board meeting to raise concerns about the teachers who were losing their jobs. Some were also put on a controversial “do not rehire” list, which bans them from ever working for DPS again. The school board and district staff are now re-evaluating the policy due to questions about its fairness.
The school board this week accepted the list of 220 probationary teachers districtwide whose contracts will not be renewed, including the Schmitt teachers. About 80 of them ended up on the district’s “do not rehire” list.
Read the EdNews story on the 10-hour board meeting that focused on these decisions.
Huge red strawberries were the star of the show for the three- and four-year-olds eating their weekly vegetarian lunch at Sunshine Center Head Start in Commerce City on a recent Tuesday. The children, who also had whole grain rolls, one-percent milk, and baked potatoes with grated cheese and sour cream, asked for seconds, thirds and fourths of the berries.
Watching the children eating fruit like candy, it was momentarily hard to believe that excess weight can be a pressing issues for these preschoolers. But about 18 percent of the 545 low-income children here and at other Head Start locations run by Adams County, are overweight or obese.
It’s a problem that staff members like Health and Nutrition Supervisor Andrea Pruett are working hard to address. Although she says the process is just beginning, a number of changes have already taken place this year.
Meatless meals, ranging from roasted red pepper hummus to black bean and sweet potato chili, are now offered once a week. More money has been allocated for fresh fruits and vegetables, lessening the program’s reliance on canned products.
In addition, items like white flour biscuits, juice and bacon have been eliminated in favor of foods with less fat and sugar and more whole grains. After an unpopular skim milk trial, one-percent milk replaced two-percent milk.
Aside from menu changes, Adams County Head Start administrators are taking steps to incorporate more physical activity into the school day, educate staff and parents about healthy habits and involve them in conversations about new initiatives. Next year, Pruett hopes to offer parent cooking classes, increase the number of vegetarian meals and buy new kitchen equipment.
The goal is to reduce the rates of overweight and obesity by 10 percentage points by 2015. If all goes well, that means about 46 fewer Head Start children will fall into those categories two years from now.A statewide push
Pruett and her colleagues are not alone in their efforts to tackle the complicated problem of overweight and obese kids. In fact, many Head Start programs face even tougher odds than Adams County. In Colorado Springs, 23 percent of 1,034 students enrolled in Head Start through the Community Partnership for Child Development are overweight or obese.
“That number, that’s alarming,” said Chief Operating Officer Linda Meredith.Weight status of Colorado Head Start students
But it’s also the norm for low-income preschoolers across Colorado. In 2010, 23.2 percent of the state’s poor children, ages two to five, were overweight or obese, according to the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number fell slightly from a high of 24.7 percent in 2005. All told, there are 41 Head Start programs enrolling 10,400 children in Colorado.
Obesity among the early childhood set has been on the radar of Head Start leaders in Colorado and nationally for about a decade, said Andreas Molarius, executive director of the Colorado Head Start Association. But it was really after the Head Start Act was reauthorized in late 2007 with new language about obesity that many program directors began to take a more aggressive and comprehensive approach to the problem.
Now, efforts to address obesity are often woven throughout entire Head Start programs, and touch children through curriculum, on-site meals and body mass index monitoring. In addition, parent outreach may include referrals to dieticians or other specialized staff, cooking and health classes at Head Start centers and in-home health education by Head Start staff.
Molarius said a handful of programs, including the Community Partnership for Child Development, Boulder County Head Start and Clayton Early Learning in Denver, are particular stand-outs when it comes to tackling obesity. For example, she said that the Boulder Head Start matches master gardeners with Head Start families to help them start and sustain their own home vegetable gardens.
“It’s definitely innovative and food security is just a huge issue for our families,” she said.
Despite these kinds of efforts, Head Start leaders face a raft of challenges when it comes to reducing obesity and overweight rates. Societal factors like the availability of cheap processed food, the ease of entertaining kids with television, and the difficulty of outdoor play for low-income children living in apartments or unsafe neighborhoods are part the problem.
Plus, Head Start programs housed in elementary schools may rely on school district menus, which vary widely in their emphasis on whole foods and scratch cooking. Some Head Start centers have high staff turn-over, lack access to specialists like dieticians or scrap to find funding for nutrition and movement programming or intensive parent outreach.
Other programs struggle to get buy-in from parents or staff members, some of whom may struggle with weight problems themselves. Pruett said while about 60 percent of the staff at Adams County Head Start support the recent changes, some don’t.
“It’s been a little scary for a lot of my staff,” said Pruett.
Some don’t want to give up indulgences like donuts and soda that were once acceptable in the classroom. In other cases, new menu items like hummus are unappealing to teachers, who eat family style with their students.Boosting healthy habits
One of the key offensives in the obesity fight is getting kids and families to like, and ultimately choose healthy foods over salty, sugary and high-fat fare. That’s one reason that many Head Start centers use the Food Friends program developed by Colorado State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.
In addition to a physical activity component called “Mighty Moves,” the program introduces preschoolers to a variety of new foods, from daikon radishes to gouda cheese.
Terri Hulsey, director of health and nutrition at the Community Partnership for Child Development, said, “They end up having a tasting party at the end and they’ll eat everything.”
A second widely-used program, which focuses more on physical activity, is called “I Am Moving, I Am Learning.” Developed by Head Start in 2005, the program aims to increase the number of minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise that children get each day.
Amber Arens, health/nutrition specialist at the Colorado Early Education Network in Weld County, said the curriculum ensures that her program’s full-day Head Start kids children get an hour of exercise during the school day and that half-day children get 30 minutes. One-third of the program’s 562 children are overweight or obese.
For parents, Cooking Matters classes are a popular offering at many Head Start centers. The Community Partnership for Child Development offers these cooking classes featuring healthy meals made by the chef from the local food bank. At the end of each class, parents are given a bag of groceries containing everything they need to recreate the meal.
“They’re crazy for it,” said Meredith, adding that more parents show up than there are slots available.Encountering resistance
Not surprisingly, weight can be a touchy subject, especially since perceptions about what constitutes a healthy weight don’t always jibe with clinical findings. It was a lesson Meredith learned the hard way last fall when program staff sent out letters to scores of parents informing them that their children were obese or on track to becoming obese according to body mass index measurements.
“Parents were livid,” she said. “We had a lot of families calling and saying, ‘How dare you?’”
Despite the push by some staff not to sugar-coat what they saw as an urgent health message, Meredith said future iterations were massaged so they didn’t upset parents so much.
Arens knows the feeling.
“Once you say ‘obese’ sometimes families shut down,” she said.
Lynne Clifft, a Head Start teacher at the Sunshine Center, said she tries to keep things positive when parents come to her for advice about dealing with overweight children. She focuses on physical activity because telling people what to eat makes her uncomfortable.
“That’s mostly my thing with them, if they can get outside and play,” Clifft said. “I don’t like to go the food route.”
Cultural norms can also impact the weight discussion.
Pruett said some Hispanic parents feel that having a chubby child is a good thing, demonstrating that they are well fed. Hulsey has noticed similar attitudes among some parents in her program, and one outcome has been a shifting focus from addressing a child’s weight problem to living a healthy lifestyle.
“You won’t get to everybody,” she said. “We just kind of plug along.”
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at email@example.com.
The school year is almost over. That means it’s time to start thinking about summer – and what you can do to keep your kiddo’s brain cells fired up (and I’m not talking video games).
So, once again, I tapped some EdNews Parent experts to provide some suggestions on summer learning opportunities. After all, some studies indicate that elementary, middle and high school teachers spend as much as four to six weeks of instructional time at the start of the new school year remediating students who have lost essential academic and social skills during summer vacation.
Before I tap the real experts, I’d like to suggest you check out one my personal summer favorites – CU Science Discovery. Courses are offered for all ages in both Boulder and Denver. Scholarships are available. From past experience, I can tell you teachers and resources available for use are incredible. In our household, we are picking between week-long day camps in astronomy, stop-motion animation, crime scene investigation or SciGirls. Tough choices.
Now, on to other tips.Getting your kids to read
Susan Ryder, an award-winning high school English teacher suggests being creative when encouraging kids to read. To do this:
Expert Ann Morrison, a professor at Metro State, suggests doing a bit of research about what content your child will be expected to learn next school year. Then, she suggests, talk to your child to find out what they’re most interested in.
“The point isn’t to pre-teach the content but to provide background information that will facilitate the student learning the new content,” she says.
For example, if the science curriculum for the following year includes the metamorphic rock cycle, make a visit to the geology museum at the Colorado School of Mines.
(Remember, EdNews Parent experts are always eagerly awaiting your questions about teaching and learning, so bring ‘em on by clicking here).
And now, for some EdNews Parent classics that are still relevant as we prepare for the long summer months ahead.Fun, educational stuff that’s free
This post, by the National PTA and Carson Dollosa Publishing, offers fun – and free – tips for things you can do with your kids over the summer, including identifying leaves in your neighoborhood, listening to music at a bookstore listening station – or even a record store (if any still exist), getting your child into a volunteer situation working with animals or the elderly or anything your child is into, or sletting up a mock Olympcis course in your backyard or staging a talent show.
Now, for the child who is absorbed in technology, check out recommended educational apps in this EdNews Parent post.
A timeless classic remains your local library. Read about Denver’s Summer of Reading program by clicking here. Libraries almost always stage reading programs and fun competitions for kids over the summer. Visit your local branch online or in person for information.
And read this EdNews Parent post for some other good ideas about how to stay occupied with your kids this summer and help them keep on learning. There are great ideas, including starting collections, plan menus and help buy food needed to pull of a culinary masterpiece.
Is your child crazy about getting wet? Then read this post with awesome water-based games you can pull off in your own yard.
Finally, read this post that specifically targets curbing summer brain drain without spending a fortune on tutors, camps or flashcards. It offers tangible ways to help little kids getting ready to head off to kindergarten. For older, kids, there are some cool suggestions about enlisting your kids to help plan trips, running lemonade stands, or calculating baseball batting averages.
So, that ought to get you started. Now please share your great ideas with the rest of us.
Matt Gianneschi is resigning as deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education to become vice president of policy and programs for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, an education policy think tank and information clearinghouse.
Gianneschi has had a high profile at DHE because his boss, department executive director and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, has to split his time between two jobs. Gianneschi previously worked as vice president of student services at the Community College of Aurora and as director of Colorado’s P-20 Council under Gov. Bill Ritter. Working with ideas developed by the council, Gianneschi was a key figure in drafting the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, the law that required new state academic content standards, new tests and tighter alignment between K-12 and higher education.
Gianneschi will begin his new job on June 3 and will lead the ECS Postsecondary Education and Workforce Development Institute, which is intended to advise state legislators and higher education leaders across the country on best practices for college readiness, college completion and improving remediation programs.
A roomful of teachers sat in a training room in September, surrounded by flip charts emblazoned with the titles of popular movies: Jaws; Tangled; Sleepless in Seattle; The Wizard of Oz.
Trainer Courtney Cabrera asked the group to stand next to the flip chart that most closely matched their feelings about the pending rollout of Senate Bill 10-191, Colorado’s groundbreaking teacher effectiveness law.
By the end of the training — one of 50 sessions designed to get teachers more comfortable with the tenets of the new evaluation system – teachers talked about whether they would pick a different movie title now, maybe one that wasn’t about unsuspecting swimmers having limbs ripped off by a great white shark. Most did modify their movie picks to ones with a gentler tone.
“The more practice [educators] get using our rubric, the more questions that are asked and answered, the more comfortable they feel with the system,” said Katy Anthes, the lead executive on teacher effectiveness for the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). “Honestly, we’re at the cusp of a huge change process.”
Next school year, the teacher effectiveness law will become part of every school district’s approach to teaching and learning in Colorado.
And by July 1, every district in Colorado must tell the state how it plans to evaluate teachers under the new law.
This is the first in a series EdNews Colorado plans to publish examining the impact of a policy shift that is proving pivotal in the national debate over how to improve teacher quality.
Observers may have to hold their collective breaths, however, to learn whether the new system is actually improving the quality of teaching. The first statewide teacher evaluation data won’t be available until December 2014.SB-191 backstory
The goal of the law, signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in May 2010, is to improve teacher and principal quality by providing meaningful evaluations and conversations throughout the academic year that help both grow as professionals by providing them with resources linked to whatever weaknesses emerge.
SB 10-191 timeline
Key provisions of the law
In the past, the quality and intensity of teacher evaluations varied by district, school and classroom. Concerns also arose about a lack of objectivity by principals who may have held personal grudges against certain employees and favored others based on subjective information.
The law also dramatically changes how a teacher gets tenure by no longer linking tenure status to longevity alone. Under the law, non-probationary status will be earned after three consecutive years of demonstrated effectiveness.
Meanwhile, teachers will lose non-probationary status — more commonly known as tenure and job protections – after two consecutive years of ineffective ratings. That doesn’t necessarily mean a teacher loses his or her job. The law states that a teacher can be assigned to a new post at another school – but only with the consent of the hiring principal and with input from at least two teachers employed at the school in a process known as “mutual consent.” A teacher who doesn’t get a job after two hiring cycles, however, will be placed on unpaid leave without benefits until rehired.
But, in an effort to calm the nerves of teachers who still think of Jaws when they think of the new system, the law states that negative ratings won’t count in the first year.
“If educators don’t have trust in the system it won’t work,” Anthes said. “We want to have that exploratory year.”
The years of work, collaboration and even tears that went into forging 191 represent a historical shift, said Linda Barker, Colorado Education Association (CEA) director of teaching and learning.
“People are seeing school board members sitting with teachers talking about practice,” Barker said. “This is all new for all of us. The doors are open. Everyone is being really collaborative.”
To be considered “effective” under the law, teachers must meet a set of quality standards, including how well a teacher knows the content; establishes classroom environment; facilitates learning; reflects on practice; and demonstrates leadership. This accounts for half the evaluation and is measured through a lengthy rubric, which is still being tweaked. That rubric is filled out by evaluators – normally principals.
The other half of the teacher’s evaluation focuses on student growth. For a teacher who teaches a subject tested by TCAP, those scores must be part of that teacher’s rating, but it’s up to districts to decide how much weight to give TCAP — or other standardized test scores. Barker estimated that TCAP scores will make up 5 to 15 percent of the student outcomes piece, with the rest drawn from other assessments and growth scores.
However, including student growth using TCAP or any standardized test in evaluations is controversial. Many teachers argue that test scores only capture one slice of a student’s academic and social growth. Even though the state makes clear that growth scores should be based on “multiple measures of student growth or student learning over time, not a single assessment,” teachers remain worried.
For teachers who don’t teach subjects tested in TCAP, such as social studies or art teachers, the state has collected — and is still collecting — an assortment of valid measures districts can use. This resource bank comes out of the so-called “content collaboratives,” a group of Colorado educators who are identifying and creating high-quality assessments that are aligned to the new Colorado Academic Standards.
The state is also in the process of working out what criteria to use for evaluating other licensed personnel, such as school audiologists, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, social workers, speech-language pathologists and counselors. Rubrics will be tested in 2013-2014.
The sheer number of variables involved in understanding a teachers’ influence on student outcomes has sparked anxiety in many teachers. Barker questioned how the state can accurately measure the impact a music teacher has on a student, for example.
“There is so much complexity around our jobs,” Barker said. “How do you ever have a system that takes all that data, puts it into two buckets and puts you into four ratings. We’re still concerned about what that looks like.”Lessons learned from pilot programs
Twenty-seven districts are piloting the state’s model evaluation system, which includes rubrics that are being continually updated based on feedback, user guides and training materials. Of the 27, the state picked 15 as the “official pilots” after they submitted applications. These are the districts whose data will be dissected and shared with the state.
School districts can use the state’s pre-packaged evaluation system, or create their own — as long as it meets criteria established by the state. Most districts are expected to use the state’s system with minor modifications. That means there will still be variance by district, but evaluations will be more standard across the state than there has been previously.
“I’m honestly optimistic,” Anthes said. ”Next year is a practice year. I am expecting some trepidation in using the system and complete understanding of the system. There is going to be a lot of work that continues.”
The Colorado Legacy Foundation is working with five so-called “integration districts” and one BOCES to implement both the evaluation system and the new Colorado Academic Standards, as a kind of double whammy pilot.
Gretchen Wilson is a veteran fifth grade teacher in Durango, which is part of the San Juan BOCES integration pilot, and spends a day week working on the pilot on behalf of the teachers union.
She described her job in part as “trying to change an entire way of doing business and trying not to have people freak out along the way.”
In Durango schools, in addition to lengthier official observations, principals and assistant principals also do 10-minute walkthroughs in classrooms four or six times a year with iPads in hand, taking notes. The feedback is sent to the teacher, who then responds to it. The sessions are considered more as coaching tools than evaluative measures.
“A lot of this is about getting used to people being in your classroom all the time,” Wilson said, noting that use of the actual rubric can be daunting as well. “Twenty-seven pages on a checklist is very intimidating for very many people.”
The tiny, 4,000-student district hired three new assistant principals this year to help do the work, in addition to three new “integration liaisons,” or classroom teachers who will have a two-year special assignment working and partnering with teachers on a daily basis, Wilson said.
“It’s been challenging, I admit, trying to make it meaningful and effective,” she said.
Wilson said it’s key that she is also on the receiving end of the observations.
“It’s been a bit uncomfortable because it’s new — and change creates a little anxiety,” Wilson said. “I think it’s made me a better teacher. The standards and goals are on the board and I reference them all the time. I never used to do that. Things are very specific. I work with my teammates to make sure we’re teaching math standards. Not just the textbook, but teaching to the standards and what you are doing when kids don’t get it.”
Wilson said teachers in her district have been told they’ll be lucky if they are ranked effective under the system. For teachers who have always gotten excellent evaluations that could be a blow, she said.
“It’s a whole different mindset,” she said. “It’s almost like you’ve failed something… But this is a different yardstick.”
In Denver, as part of LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice), the district’s own teacher evaluation pilot begun in spring 2011, 40 professional peer observers make regular rotations through Denver classrooms, using laptops and, of course, a rubric. They take high speed notes while watching a teacher in action, asking questions of students and providing that teacher a detailed consult before doing it all again a few months later.
The observation is always followed by deep conversations and a plan for improvement — ideally, one with adequate supports for the teacher.
While this all sounds good in theory, issues are bubbling up with LEAP in Denver, with some probationary teachers whose contracts were recently not renewed saying scores by LEAP observers in some cases differed from those given by principals, that the discrepancy was never explained to them and that they lost their jobs anyway.
But district staff say the non-renewal decisions were based on a “body of evidence,” not just LEAP scores.
CDE, meanwhile, is developing tools to promote common interpretations of teacher quality and help evaluators provide useful and actionable feedback to educators.
One such tool is an online training system that is being developed in partnership with My Learning Plan meant to ensure that two or more evaluators using the same observation tool give the same rating to an identical observable situation.
The state’s training system will allow evaluators to log onto a website, view a number of short videos of practicing teachers, rate those videos according to the Colorado State Model Evaluation System rubric and receive a score that shows how close they are to rating the videos in accordance with “master scorer” ratings.
Educators who receive scores within an approved range will know they are evaluating professionals within an acceptable, comparable and fair manner. The first set of videos will be available this August.Principal evals also underway
Meanwhile, under the pilots, principals are evaluated on seven quality standards.
Half of the principal’s evaluation is based on six professional practice quality standards: strategic leadership, instructional leadership, school cultural and equity leadership, human resource leadership, managerial leadership and external development leadership.
The other half of a principal’s evaluation is based on the seventh quality standard — academic growth of students.
Since principals are at-will employees, they don’t lose or gain probationary status under the law. But districts can use the evaluations to promote principals or provide them needed supports.
“This is the first time we’ve had a road map,” Barker said. “Teachers and principals actually know what standards to talk about because they’re the same.”
Rural Moffat County School District in northwestern Colorado was among the 15 pilots. Superintendent Joe Patrone said the new evaluation system is changing the way educators think about their jobs.
“We’re hearing this has been a wonderful opportunity for our principals to have engaging conversations with teachers about their growth and development in areas that have been outlined in the rubric,” Patrone said.
Patrone said the evaluation process has sparked enlightening conversations with principals and teachers about what really matters: student learning.
“It has elevated their appreciation for those opportunities that we believe are available but should be more available,” Patrone said. “We don’t have as much time as we d’ like to have to do what we should be doing — spending more time with teachers about professional growth and development.”
In fact, time remains one of the biggest hurdles to effective teacher evaluations. Many educators fear that there will never enough time to complete comprehensive evaluations and to allow teachers to take advantage of high-quality, targeted professional development so they can shore up areas of weakness.
“The challenge is to do [professional development] well and find delivery systems that allow teachers to stay in classrooms,” Patrone said.Supporting teachers to improve
To address that issue, Moffat is meeting with other regional districts to discuss the creation of a hybrid online and in-person teacher training module that could be shared.
Through LEAP, Denver Public Schools created an online portal with training videos and other materials to help teachers get the support they need.
Ultimately, the vision for the state’s content collaboratives is that they too become networks for creating and disseminating innovative teaching practices. CDE is also working to build a video library with examples of exemplary teaching practice tagged to each standard in the teacher rubric.
Barker envisions the equivalent of an “individualized learning plan” for each teacher, in which they get exactly the training and support they need while not wasting precious hours getting trained in an area they already have mastered.
Additionally, Barker said that teachers’ colleagues at their own schools will be an essential part of the new culture so all teachers feel supported. Not only can teachers watch videos of teachers demonstrating mastery of certain skills, but they could watch their own colleagues live, in person.
Finally, there are options for teachers who come out with a negative rating that they don’t believe is fair.
Beginning in 2014-2015, all school districts are required to have an appeals process for teachers who lose non-probationary status. The appeals process can be determined through collective bargaining in districts with union contracts.
So, does this mean that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed and all will be well as the new teacher evaluation system becomes reality? Definitely not. But, for now, some teachers are cautiously optimistic.
“This is a roadmap for teacher development,” said Adele Brado, a National Board Certified first grade teacher at Boulder Valley’s Kohl Elementary School in a CEA video on 191. “What we’ve wanted for so long is authentic professional development…The bar is high. The expectations are really high. But that’s what we really need. We need to improve our practice.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper this morning signed the proposed overhaul of the state’s school funding system, but it’s still unclear which billion-dollar proposal voters will face to fund the ambitious plan. That may not be decided until the end of May.
Hickenlooper said the bill “really positions Colorado to be the national leader in school reform and school effectiveness.”
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and primary author of the bill, called it “a tremendous step forward” and said the measure shows it’s possible to combine education reform with additional funding.
Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, reminded the crowd gathered at the Capitol ceremony that “the biggest challenge ahead of us will be convincing all of the people of Colorado to share this vision” and approve the tax increase necessary to pay for it.
SB 13-213 would increase funding for kindergarten and preschool, provide significantly more money for districts with the highest concentrations of at-risk students and English language learners, devote more money to special education and make extra payments to districts for the cost of implementing reform mandates.
The new system won’t go into effect unless voters approve an income-tax increase to pay for its costs, which range from $899 million in the first year for basic school funding to $1.12 billion to pay for all the bill’s elements, according to a legislative staff estimate.
If voters approve a tax increase in November the new funding formula wouldn’t kick in until the 2015-16 school year. If voters say no this year, the bill would remain on the shelf but “alive” for five years, allowing backers to go to the voters later if they choose.Lots of tax plans to choose from
Backers of a proposed tax increase, led by the civic group Colorado Forum, filed 16 variations of a tax increase on the March 22 deadline. The idea was to keep a number of options alive so that supporters could later choose one to submit to voters, based on the wishes of various interest groups in Colorado Forum’s coalition and on perceptions and polling about voter preferences. (The SB 13-213 price tag was set at about $1 billion because previous public opinion sampling indicated that was the upper limit of what a majority of voters might support.)Do your homework
“We’re very close” to selecting the ballot measure, Gail Klapper, director of Colorado Forum, told EdNews on Monday. Klapper said she hopes a decision will be made by the end of the month. Once that choice is made, backers will have until Aug. 5 to gather the 86,105 signatures necessary to put the measure on the Nov. 5 ballot.
“A modified flat tax is what we’re most likely to get to,” she said of the likely choice.
What Klapper means by that is a proposal that would include a two-step tax increase, with a .37 percent hike for individual taxpayers who earn $75,000 or less a year and a 1.27 percent increase for those earning more. Currently all taxpayers pay 4.63 percent of their federal taxable income to the state. The additional revenue derived from the .37 and 1.27 percent increases would be earmarked for additional K-12 spending.
The two-step tax hike would raise $950.1 million a year in revenue, according to estimates by legislative staff economists.
Up to now Hickenlooper has kept a fairly low public profile on the ballot measure. “I will certainly campaign for it when we decide what it is,” he said. But he declined to say whether he’s favoring any particular version. “I have several preferences, but I’ll keep those to myself.”
Most people involved in the effort believe a successful campaign will require high-visibility leadership from a figure like Hickenlooper. “The only [successful] path I see right now is the governor supporting and actively campaigning,” said one observer.
The two-step tax would raise the least amount of revenue. The across-the-board .72 percent increases would raise an estimated $927.7 million, while the variations of five-step increases would raise $1.07 billion and $1.16 billion.
There’s been a lively debate about the tax structure among segments of the business and education communities. Some business interests have argued for the flat .72 percent increase while other groups wanted to differentiate rates so that lower-income taxpayers wouldn’t see as large an increase.
Choice of the two-step plan is seen as a likely compromise, according to several sources.
In addition to the four different tax increases, the Colorado Forum proposals also include four variations of tax policy changes. Those include:
Various interest groups have different opinions about the need to change Amendment 23 and Gallagher, so those issues have been part of the behind-the-scenes debates about which ballot measure to go with.
Klapper indicated Monday that the final version might well include the Amendment 23 change but that “we’re really wrestling with the Gallagher piece.”
Her goal, she said, is to choose a version “that every constituency finds something in it to love.”Campaign could be costly
Once a measure makes the ballot, proponents will have to persuade voters to raise their taxes. Klapper joked that it will take “astronomical amounts” of money to fund a successful campaign.
Another observer, Chris Watney of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, estimated a campaign cost of $7 to $10 million.
Asked if a June start for petition gathering was risky, Klapper said, “The experts tell me that’s enough time.”
Colorado Forum is already getting some expert advice, from Mike Melanson of OnSight Public Affairs. He’s a Democratic strategist who has managed campaigns for Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall.
One potential complication for the campaign is the fact that voters also will face a $70 million proposal to set excise and sales taxes on recreational marijuana. Asked about the possible interplay of the two measures in voters’ minds, Klapper said, “That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”Signing key step in long journey
The signing of SB 13-213 was the culmination of an effort that started in 2011, when a group called the Colorado School Finance Partnership began studying the state’s funding system. Many of the themes in its final report are echoed in the bill.
The west foyer of the Capitol was filled with leaders of education groups, partnership members, some business leaders, lobbyists, a smattering of superintendents and legislators for the signing ceremony.
Both Hickenlooper and Johnston took care to mention lots of people by name and thank them for their work on the issue.
Conspicuously absent were any Republican officials. The bill gained no GOP votes in either the House or Senate, where Republicans hewed to the party’s anti-tax orthodoxy.
On Tuesday, while Democratic legislative staffers were tweeting every nuance of the event, @CoSenGOP tweeted, “SB 213 is a billion dollar tax increase disguised as school reform.”
Denver Public Schools is making it harder for kids to get lost in transit.
Beginning in October, DPS will fully implement its new +Pass program across its 26,000-student bus riders, which will allow administrators to track students as they board and disembark from district buses.
At a demonstration of the program on Tuesday morning, students at University Prep Academy proudly used their +Passes to board a district bus. Card readers in the buses flash from blue to green and beep audibly when the student’s card, which contains an RFID chip, has been read. The data goes to a central database accessible to school officials, and, beginning in October, to parents.
“It allows families an additional layer of information that we can capture with students getting on and off the bus,” said Nicole Portee, the director of transportation for the district.
The district has already rolled out the program in its far and northeast regions this month, according to a news release.
In addition to keeping track of students, Partee said, the program will provide the transportation department with valuable data like exactly how many students use the buses and how long their journeys are. District officials hope that information will help them evaluate efficiency, bus capacity and cost.
That’s because the Denver school board voted unanimously Monday to urge district staff to tweak a policy that board members described as unfair or egregious. The motion calls for staff to come back with a policy within 30 days that changes the “do not rehire” practice so it will no longer be permanent — except in the case of “serious limited circumstances” — and outlines reasons for placement on the list.
Staff will explore the amount of time the “do not rehire” recommendation would be in place, including a sliding scale depending on the employee’s professional history.
“I would never support a ban for life when it comes to this particular piece, unless there was a clear reason for having a ban for life on a rehire,” board member Landri Taylor said, citing examples such as criminal actions against children or adults, or embezzlement.
However, the board did not reconsider any of the specific teachers whose contracts were not renewed. In fact, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the list of 220 non-renewals. Board members Mary Seawell, Anne Rowe and Happy Haynes pointed out that — after reviewing the employee files in detail — they believe the district followed its policies and procedures in making the decisions.
Read related stories
“These are based on multiple observations,” board member Rowe said. “It’s not a single principal making a decision and I don’t think it should be…. Can we improve? You bet we can.”
Presently, probationary teachers whose contracts are not renewed for a variety of reasons can be placed on the list. One teacher who testified before the school board last week said he didn’t even know he was blacklisted until he was informed by a Denver principal who wanted to interview him but said he couldn’t. The teacher taught in Jeffco for a few years before seeking to return to Denver Public Schools.
District administrators base the decision of whether to renew probationary teacher contracts on a “body of evidence,” including observation through LEAP (Denver’s teacher evaluation program), student achievement data, and interactions with colleagues and other team members.
Last week, the annual rite became a public show and organized union protest resulting in a 10-hour board meeting filled with emotional stories from teachers who testified about losing their jobs or being placed on the “do not rehire” list.
The board last week voted to delay a decision on the non-renewals so they could look more closely at individual teacher employment files.
There was a kerfuffle at the beginning of the meeting Monday when board members Andrea Merida, Arturo Jimenez and Jeannie Kaplan wanted to go into closed session to discuss individual cases. The board majority kept the focus on policy and blocked the push for a closed meeting.
Merida also did her share of fist pounding (literally) over a lack of adequate time for the board to review the employee files. She said she got the official list from district staff on May 10, and the board was scheduled to vote six days later.
Merida also said she’d like to see an appeals process for teachers whose contracts are not renewed. Seawell, though, said she would not support that because she feared it would undo all the work DPS has done to prepare for the rollout of Senate Bill 10-191, the so-called teacher effectiveness law.
Merida also pushed her colleagues to give district administrators more direction on how much the LEAP teacher evaluation system should play into these decisions.
“There are cases here in which you have teachers with very strong student growth and performance, but for whom subjective reasons were used for making the non-renewal decision,” Merida said.
As Colorado school districts get ready to roll out new evaluation methods for principals and teachers next year, the Department of Education is starting to put the details on a system for evaluating nearly 5,000 other school professionals.
The state’s landmark 2010 educator effectiveness law requires annual evaluations for “all licensed personnel.” The State Board of Education adopted rules for the principal and teacher evaluation system in November 2011, but those regulations didn’t cover school counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and various kinds of therapists.
The council, an appointed body that has developed the recommendations for implementing the evaluation system, undertook a separate study of how to rate what it calls “specialized service professionals” (SSPs).Specialized service professionals
Numbers in parenthesis show how many professionals are working in schools. 4,803 total.
While the council’s recommendations mirror the system for principals and teachers in significant ways, there are three important differences.
• The council recommends that outside professionals be periodically involved in the evaluation of SSPs. The theory here is that a typical school principal may not have the expertise to know if, for instance, an audiologist is administering hearing tests properly. The council’s report also notes that many specialized professionals work in multiple schools and even in multiple districts, meaning they work with more than one principal.
Professional evaluators should be used in the first three years of practice, when loss of non-probationary status is possible, or at least every three years, the council recommends.
• While the evaluation law requires 50 percent of principal and teacher evaluations be based on student academic growth, the council is recommending that standard not be applied to all specialized professionals, given their distance from the classroom. Rather, those staff should be evaluated on what the council calls “student outcomes.” As an example, for counselors, student outcomes might include reduction in school absentee rates and increased graduation rates. (See and expanded list of possible outcomes below.)
• Finally, the council warned that such a system won’t work without appropriate funding. “Recruiting and training appropriate professional experts will require resources and funding,” the council’s report says. “The council recommends that sufficient funding be appropriated to CDE to ensure the quality implementation of this recommendation. This funding should include short-term funding to establish the required infrastructure and longer-term funding for sustainability.”Do your homework
Aime Baca-Oehlert, a counselor who serves on the council, was more succinct in her comments to the state board: “If it’s not funded, it’s not going to happen.”
The council’s recommendations for specialized professionals include the same four-step rating system as for principals and teachers – highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective. The proposal also follows the same format of using six quality standards to evaluate an educator’s “professional practices.”
The council also recommends that the state develop a model system that districts and boards of cooperative education services could use to evaluate specialized professionals. If districts chose to develop their own systems they would have to meet minimum state standards. (That same option exists with the overall evaluation system.)
The next step in the process is drafting of proposed regulations by Department of Education staff. Those will have to be approved by the state board. The council’s recommendations suggest pilot testing of evaluations in selected districts next year, followed by a statewide rollout in 2014-15. The first “real” year of the system would be 2015-16, when ratings of ineffective or partially effective could count against an educator’s non-probationary status.
Here are examples of student outcomes that could be attributed to SSPs, depending on their duties.
Orientation and mobility specialists
Speech and Language Pathologists
List taken from “Report & Recommendations for the Evaluation of Specialized Service Professionals” by the state councilProposed definition of effective practices for SSPs
“Effective specialized service professionals are vital members of the education team. They are properly credentialed and have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that diverse student populations have equitable access to academic instruction and participation in school-related activities. Effective specialized service professionals develop and/or implement evidence-based services or specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of their students. They support growth and development to close achievement gaps and prepare students for postsecondary and workforce success. They have a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of the home, school and community and collaborate with all members of the education team to strengthen those connections. Through reflection, advocacy, and leadership, they enhance the outcomes and development of their students.”
It’s always a nice day when an editor gets to brag about her reporters: over the weekend, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Colorado Pro chapter announced the winners of its “Top of the Rockies” contest, and I’m happy to report that EdNews Colorado took home three awards.
The team won first prize in the enterprise education reporting category (circulation 30,000-74,999) for the series, “Medical marijuana and K-12 schools.” (That series also recently won second prize in the National Awards for Education Reporting contest run by the Education Writers Association.)
And in the “Education: General Reporting” category, Nancy Mitchell, Rebecca Jones, Burt Hubbard (of the I-News Network) and Todd Engdahl won first prize for their report on cheating investigations at Beach Court Elementary School and Hallett Fundamental Academy, “State investigating two Denver schools.”
The site also won third prize for general website excellence.
Please join me in congratulating our reporters on a job well done!