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Updated: 44 min 29 sec ago

Jeffco closes Standley Lake, Conifer high schools due to teacher absences; students rally

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 13:14

[Updated] JEFFERSON COUNTY — School might have been canceled for students at Standley Lake High School, but that didn’t stop about 100 students from rallying this morning to voice their concerns over a proposed curriculum review panel.

Jeffco Public Schools canceled class at both Standley Lake and Conifer high schools this morning due to a large number of teacher absences.

About a third of the teaching staff at the each of the two schools called in, district staff said. Jeffco does not have an explicit policy on when to close down a school due to teacher absences. The decision to close a campus is made on a case-by-case basis.

The protests are the latest development in an escalating series of conflicts between vocal segments of the Jefferson County community and its school board. In recent weeks, conflict has centered around a new teacher compensation model the board adopted earlier this month that bases teacher raises on their evaluation ratings, as well as around a proposed new committee to review curriculum on criteria such as whether it promotes patriotism.

“While I respect the opportunity for free speech and expression, I think there are other ways to work through these differences without putting kids in the middle,” said Dan McMinimee, Jeffco’s superintendent, at a press conference today.

McMinimee stressed several times during the press conference that 153 of Jeffco’s 155 schools were still open.

On average, about 410 teachers call in sick or take a personal day each day in Jeffco, with an average of 480 calling in on Fridays. District officials said teacher absences were normal throughout the rest of the county.

District staff was monitoring its substitute teacher request phone line throughout the evening. As of 7 p.m. last night, Jeffco staff reported there was no sign of a mass call-out. But that changed at about midnight when Jeffco began contacting television news stations with the Standley Lake closure.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Superintendent Dan McMinimee apologized to parents for having to cancel school Friday at two county high schools. About one-third of the teaching staff of those schools were absent.

Meanwhile, the Standley Lake students had planned to walk out of class as a sign of protest at 8:20 a.m. But with the school closed, they met at the corner of 104th Avenue and Wadsworth Parkway instead. Students held posters they made yesterday after school and chanted “my school, my voice,” and “isn’t it great to have an education?”

Students said they were worried the board’s proposal aimed to censor their history classes.

“We can’t let this start with AP U.S. history,” said Ben Smith, a junior. “It will spread to the entire school.”

Board member Julie Williams — who has asked for a community panel to review the Advanced Placement U.S. history course, which has been a target of conservatives across the country — said critics have misinterpreted her request. Standley Lake is one of the schools in the district Williams represents.

“All I’m asking is that we look at it,” Williams said at last night’s board meeting.

While the student’s protest was clearly taking aim at the board’s debate over curriculum review, it was less clear why teachers called out sick.

The rumored “sick out,” which was discouraged in an email from district staff yesterday, was not organized by the suburban teacher’s union.

“District leadership has heard from several sources that a significant number of employees may be planning an organized ‘sick out’ on Friday, Sept. 19 and Monday, Sept. 22,” the email to teachers read. “While we hope this isn’t true, we also can’t disregard the impact on our students and schools if this were to happen.”

The email also cited a Colorado law that makes an organized “sick out” illegal. While the district is reviewing all options, leaders were not prepared to “pigeon hole” teachers at the two schools who called in on Friday.

But in a statement, board president Ken Witt blasted the teachers who called in sick, saying that he was disappointed in the teachers’ choice to force schools to close.

“These same teachers that yesterday were wearing ‘Stand Up 4 Kids’ buttons, today decided not to stand up for our students, only one day after the board chose to give them generous performance raises,” he said. “I am saddened to see Jeffco students being used as union pawns, and am heartened that only two schools out of over 140 in Jeffco chose to be a part of this abuse of our students.”

Rumors about the “sick out” swirled throughout Jeffco Public Schools yesterday, including at last night’s board meeting. Teachers familiar with the “sick out” plans, speaking privately, said teachers throughout the district feel their voices have been ignored.

Earlier month the union issued a vote of no confidence in board chairman Ken Witt’s leadership. Witt, in August, unilaterally proposed a new compensation model for teachers that link evaluation scores to pay increases. While all teachers will be see some form of pay increase this year, many kinks in Witt’s model still need to be worked out.

In a statement, Jefferson County Education Association spokesman Scott Kwasny said that while the union was not involved in organizing the protest, officials empathized with the feelings that motivated it.

“This was not organized by JCEA but we certainly understand the frustration teachers and the entire community are experiencing when their elected officials are making decisions in secret, wasting taxpayer dollars, and disrespecting the community’s goals for their students,” he said. “Last night’s discussion about censoring the AP history curriculum is yet another example of this board majority shortchanging our students.”

Students are expected to return to the corner of 104th Avenue and Wadsworth at about 4 p.m. to resume their rally.

Jeffco officials are monitoring teacher absences for Monday. McMinimee said he plans to continue having conversations with teachers one-on-one and in small groups.

“For me, it’s less about punishment, and more about understanding and picking up the pieces and moving forward,” he said. “We have to schools in session. Our kids deserve to have an opportunity to learn.”

One Standley Lake mom, Lindsay Woltz, said she was sorry tensions between teachers and the Jeffco board had come to this.

“Our teachers have their act together,” she said. “I know today was an act of rebellion, but I don’t think they had a choice.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco tables AP, curriculum review decision

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 09:26

Public Face

In their first year, Denver's new school board has adopted a quieter approach to resolving conflicts, with board members working behind the scenes to come to a vote. But their actions have raised questions of transparency. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

rumble in jeffco

A proposed (and controversial) committee in Jeffco would review curriculum at the behest of the board, starting with the new AP history curriculum. It prompted fears of censorship from some parents. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, 9News )

The district's PTA denounced the proposal. ( Denver Post )

But the board tabled a vote on the subject after a high-drama school board meeting, in which audience members loudly signaled their displeasure. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

In other news, the board approved a base salary for high performing teachers of $81,000 but questions still remain about the district's compensation plan. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The Fallout

Two Jeffco schools are closed today due to a large number of teacher absences. It may be tied to a planned walk-out. ( 9News )

Land of the Free

Longmont students celebrate Constitution Day with a lesson on the First Amendment in schools, taught by CU-Boulder law students. ( Times-Call )

By the numbers

Colorado's child poverty rate dropped for the first time since the 2008 recession. ( CPR )

Dollars for schools

Hayden's school board is asking voters to approve an extension on a 2010 bond measure they say has been essential to improving student achievement. ( Steamboat Today )

Tips of the trade

You have ten minutes with your child's teacher. What do you ask? ( nprED via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board tables vote on curriculum review, AP history

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 01:25

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County Board of Education tabled plans to develop a new curriculum review committee after a spirited conversation that included a debate about the purpose of studying history.

The board skipped action on the plan, at the advice of legal counsel, after board member Jill Fellman asked if the conversation about the Advanced Placement U.S. history course fell under the scope of the posted agenda topic.

The board’s discussion, which in part included questions about whether the advanced U.S. history course should promote respecting authority and laws, was interrupted several times by a skeptical audience.

“What about Martin Luther King? What about Rosa Parks?” one audience member asked.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper called the plan, as worded, “too extreme for Jeffco.”

Board member Julie Williams, who authored the proposal for the “community committee,” said critics misinterpreted the criteria she outlined in a proposal to review the history course.

“I am not suggesting that we eliminate any of our factual American history,” she said.

The proposed committee came after repeated attempts by Williams to pass resolutions to curtail the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by Colorado, and their companion assessments.

Williams, in an interview with Chalkbeat, said she wanted the panel to first review the advanced history class because she felt the program was still new enough to curtail if there were questionable content, as she believes.

Williams concerns about the standards and AP U.S. history course echo the concerns of some conservatives throughout the country. Defenders of the history course in Jeffco and say those fears are baseless.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco teachers’ base salary to top out at $81,000

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 00:26

GOLDEN — Jefferson County’s best-paid teachers will earn a base salary of about $81,000 this year as part of the suburban district’s new teacher compensation model.

And those teachers already at the top of the salary range that would be eligible for additional compensation based on evaluations will earn a one-time stipend.

The issue over where to stop annually increasing a teacher’s base salary and begin issuing one-time bonuses has been one of the lingering questions over the new compensation model, which was introduced just weeks ago. And there are still more questions to answer, Jeffco staff told the board tonight, including how the board would like to pay veteran teachers that may join Jeffco in the future.

Teachers should see there raises by their November paycheck, district officials said. Jeffco staff must still resolve any evaluation disputes, align payroll systems, and determine retroactive pay.

In a separate action, the board’s also voted 4-1 to approve a laundry list of unresolved issue from negotiations. Board member Lesley Dahlkemper voted no.

The board’s discussion  on the compensation model tonight is the latest in a months-long process. Negotiations between the board and union began in public early this year. By April, the union declared an impasse. A resolution was near at hand as summer approached. But the board’s majority rejected a ratified tentative agreement. Ultimately, Witt proposed his own model, the current framework, in August.


Categories: Urban School News

In the first year for Denver board, no public spats and more behind-the-scenes work

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 17:32

This story was the result of Chalkbeat’s new project BoardTracker, which monitors how Denver School Board members voted. Take a look and tell us if there’s anything else we should look at by email or on Twitter @ChalkbeatCO.

It’s been much quieter in Denver Public Schools’ board room since the induction of a new board last November — and that might be thanks to the previous board’s high profile spats.

Every issue to come before Denver’s school board has passed in the ten months since a new slate of members was voted in, an examination of the board’s voting records reveal. What’s more, most of those votes have been unanimous.

That’s a distinct change from the workings of the district’s previous board, whose meetings were often marked by contentious debates and split votes. Last fall, Denver voters elected a slate of candidates largely supportive of the district’s agenda for transforming schools.

That came on the heels of several years of high-profile and heated debates between board members that culminated in a divisive process to replace a former board member, Nate Easley, who resigned. In previous years, the board split 4-3 on many issues with the minority votes – former board members Andrea Mérida and Jeannie Kaplan, current board member Arturo Jimenez — frequently opposing the district agenda backed by the majority.

These days, board meetings are far less likely to resemble the climax of a tense political drama. Instead of public spats, board members said they work to resolve disagreements before they ever reach the board table. But experts say that the quieting of those noisy disputes can come at a cost to public dialogue and may be a direct result of the previous years of tension.

“Parents hate it when school boards argue,” said Kris Amundsen, the executive director the National Association of State Boards of Education and a former member of a divided board. “When a number of us moved on, they elected a school board that was committed, most of all, to reaching harmony.”

Barbara O’Brien, one of the district’s at-large members elected last fall, said that’s the feedback she has gotten from constituents.

“What I’ve heard is we’re so glad there’s a board that’s doing its job,” said O’Brien.

Still, discontent over the board’s unified front has cropped up. During campaign season, O’Brien and other candidates were met with suspicion that they would simply rubber-stamp what the district brought before them.

Those criticisms still linger among opponents of the district’s approach to overhauling schools. At a recent community gathering in far northeast Denver, community members criticized the board for failing to listen to their concerns and for adopting a corporate-style reform agenda.

“Except Arturo [Jimenez], they do exactly what [Denver superintendentTom Boasberg] and his staff of mostly non-educators tell them to,” said Mary Sam, a former DPS teacher and community activist, afterwards.

But O’Brien says that she and other board members have been highly critical of the district, behind closed doors.

“Tom [Boasberg] has pushed back on me and I’ve pushed back on him,” she said. “All that’s very healthy when we’re sitting around a table.”

Doing it in public would mean that less gets done, says board member Landri Taylor.

“When I came on in 2013, we spent a lot of time on things that did not make a difference,” said Taylor. “We were stuck in the conversation of disagreement. We have to move forward.”

Board members said most conversation is conducted in one-on-one or two-on-one meetings, or by email, with district staff or between board members. That practice, while within the bounds of the law, may approach actions that have created trouble for other public boards.

The Denver school board, like other public boards, is subject to open meeting laws, which mandate that if a quorum of board members is present, the meeting must be made public. Denver board members said their conversations did not reach that threshold nor did they “daisychain” or meet successively until all had spoken.

The board’s actions are part of a larger nationwide trend towards school boards maintaining public unity, in spite of personal disagreements. Districts elsewhere have adopted policies that prevent individual board members from speaking to the press or to designate a spokesperson. That’s not the case in Denver and isn’t on the table but board members said that they preferred to maintain the collegial spirit.

But Amundsen says that impulse, while a good one, can lead to a loss of transparency and obscure public input.

“If you believe part of the role of the school board is to discuss the issue, not just decide the issue, especially if they’re going to lose the vote, [board members] need to have their say,” she said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean shouting matches in board meeting.

“It doesn’t have to be mean and contentious,” said Amundsen. “It does have to be visible.”

She suggests mentioning in public meetings disagreements that occur behind closed doors.

“It can be, “I want to thank the superintendent because he had originally proposed we make the start time at X time,” Amundsen said. “Thanks to our collaboration, it’s now at Y time.”

Jimenez, the only board member to have submitted a no vote since last fall, agreed with Amundsen’s counsel.

“I know they’re critical and I know they’re thoughtful but they’re unwilling to bring it out in public,” he said.

Jimenez attributes what he calls the “passivity” of the board to the business-style education reform he says pervades the district.

“We’re not the board of a private corporation that acts in unison in public and resolves our conflict in private so we protect our share of stock,” he said. “The board should be a check on the district and we should ensure that there is accountability.  I don’t think we’re doing it.”

Part of that, he says, is simply speaking up.

“There is this unspoken line where we aren’t supposed to criticize the superintendent and the district,” said Jimenez. “I hope that changes.”

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco parents fear censorship as board considers new curriculum panel, AP history

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:40

A proposed panel that would oversee Jeffco Public Schools’ standards, curriculum, and assessments is provoking anxiety among some parents who fear the panel could be a de facto tool for censorship.

That’s because the committee’s first task might be to ensure that revisions of an advanced American history class are patriotic and teach students to respect authority.

The Jefferson County Board of Education is expected to decide whether to establish the panel tonight at its evening work session.

The nine-member panel, as outlined by conservative board member Julie Williams, would be appointed by the board and report directly to them on an ongoing basis. The committee would most likely be comprised of lay citizens — not necessarily education and curriculum specialists.

The impetus for the panel is a number of new standards and curriculum questions that have lately proved to be political flash points, including the introduction of the Common Core State Standards and their related assessments.

But, if formed, the new committee is expected to first take up the revised Advanced Placement U.S. history course, which has become the target of conservative criticism across the country.

The new version of the course spends more time on early and recent American history and places greater focus on the role of women and minorities. Many conservative critics have complained that the changes are revisionist and present a negative view of the country. The Colorado State Board of Education has debated the topic but has taken no action. Meanwhile, the Texas State Board of Education just took a preliminary step to curtail the course.

As currently outlined, the proposed panel in Jeffco will be charged with ensuring the course is aligned to Jeffco Public Schools’ standards, and is factual and taught without bias. But the panel is also supposed to make sure materials do not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law,” and instructional materials “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

Those directions, which Williams said she replicated from another source, has sparked the most conversation among critics.

“Does that mean we’re going to eliminate slavery from class discussions, because that wasn’t a particular positive time of our history?” asked Jeffco PTA President Michele Patterson, rhetorically. “Hiroshima didn’t necessarily look great.”

Williams, in an interview with Chalkbeat, said she recognizes dark times in the nation’s history need to be taught, but she believes the coursework goes further than just pointing out blight spots on the nation’s record.

“There are things we may not be proud of as Americans,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place. When [the course questions] our American values and leaves out so many of our founding fathers, that’s concerning to me.”

Taught with fidelity, students should be able to identify and discuss broad themes that have helped create the nation’s identity, including happenings before the British colonies were formed, said Fred Anderson, a University of Colorado professor and one of the architects of the course redesign.

“American history doesn’t start in 1775,” Anderson said. “That’s actually the midpoint. Everything that happens in the national period goes back as equally far. That’s one of the great things [students] should come away with. We’re an amazing nation. It’s an outgrowth of specific historical circumstances. For example, there was a native population that inhabited the land before any European knew it was here.”

Wheat Ridge High School history teacher Stephanie Rossi said that despite the revised curriculum guide, her classes’ content remains the same.

“It’s America’s story,” she said. “But the new approach engages students in a more thoughtful way that does not make the test the only focus of the curriculum.”

Rossi would not directly comment on the proposed committee, but she did say she was disappointed by the approach.

“I’m saddened to think that anyone doesn’t believe Jeffco U.S. history teachers aren’t already engaging students in healthy discussions,” she said. “Do they not think we’re not talking about patriotism? They don’t even know us. They don’t know what we’re doing.”

Williams admitted she doesn’t know. And that’s the point of the committee.

“All I can say is that this has been brought to me by so many of my stakeholders,” she said. “There are certainly enough questions about this. All I’m asking is for a committee to review it. What does it hurt to look at it?”

Critics of the proposal note that Jeffco Public Schools already has two different curriculum committees that might be able to answer those questions.

One is a regular committee made up of administrators who review and make recommendations on new curriculum before its purchased. The second is an ad-hoc committee pulled together when a parent challenges a specific text.

Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students first and general supporter of the board’s majority, said parents should be more involved in curriculum selection in the first place.

“JCSF is very supportive of the move to increase transparency around curriculum and text book review,” she wrote in an email. “I absolutely agree the community should be involved in selections, but I am not certain of the manner and make up of the review committee. For years, the Jeffco board has talked about community involvement in the curriculum selection and text book review, but what that meant in reality was the books were placed in some libraries for a few weeks and no one really knew about it or even knew who was on any relevant committees.”

While the board has engaged in some conversation, including a lengthy study session with standards experts in August, it has failed to act, mostly because board chairman Ken Witt has asked for more information and time.

Because feelings on standards, curriculum, testing and local control can blur ideological lines, it’s not clear how the board will act — if at all. But some observers believe Witt likely be the swing vote on the matter. Fellow conservative board member John Newkirk is likely to follow William’s request.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pueblo 60 considers accreditation options

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 10:06

Voter pulse

Only a third of Colorado voters polled in a new survey support Amendment 68, the proposed expansion of casino gambling that would earmark some revenues for schools. A majority of those surveyed do support Proposition 104, the ballot measure that would require district contract negotiations to be held in public. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Plan B

Administrators in Pueblo School District 60 are in talks with an independent school accreditation organization to ensure high school graduates can go on to college even if the district loses its state accreditation in two years. ( KOAA )

No way home

It took two Aurora homeowners' associations a decade to agree on building a gate between them so kids could get to an elementary school. ( Your Hub )

Pot and kids

District 51 school board members in Grand Junction say they want to discourage underage use of marijuana but may need state funding to properly attack the issue. ( Daily Sentinel )

That pesky AP test

The Texas board of education on Wednesday moved to require its high school students to learn only state-mandated curriculum — not be taught to the controversial new Advanced Placement U.S. history test. The issue's also controversial in Colorado. ( AP via ABC news )

Teacher conferences

So you finally get the chance to meet one on one with your child's teacher — now what? Like a good Boy Scout, be prepared: Educators agree that doing your homework before a parent-teacher conference can make a big difference. ( NPR )

Kindergarten patchwork

Many educators are convinced about the academic importance of kindergarten, but states have widely varying commitments and requirements for that program. ( EdWeek )

Categories: Urban School News

Poll: Voters cool on A68; like open negotiations

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 17:35

Only a third of Colorado voters polled in a recent survey support Amendment 68, the proposed expansion of casino gambling that would earmark some revenues for school districts.

A majority of those surveyed do support Proposition 104, the ballot measure that would require school district contract negotiations to be held in public.

The results were released Wednesday by USA Today and Suffolk University in Massachusetts.

On Amendment 68, 33 percent of respondents support it, 44 percent oppose and 19 percent are undecided.

Asked about Proposition 104, 54 percent of respondents support it, 24 percent oppose and 19 percent are undecided.

Amendment 68 is a constitutional change that would allow location of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park racetrack and possibly at two other locations in the future. A portion of revenues would be funneled to school districts on a per-pupil basis.

Proponents estimate annual school revenues at more than $100 million a year, but critics argue passage would reduce tax revenues for other programs that now are generated by casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. The high-spending campaign pits Arapahoe Park’s corporate parent, a Rhode Island gaming company, against the companies that own the mountain casinos.

Colorado voters have been skeptical of expanding gambling beyond the mountain casinos and the state lottery. Ballot measures in 1984, 1992 and 1996 proposed allowing casinos in Pueblo, various eastern plains towns, Parachute and Trinidad, and all promised some revenue for schools. None of them passed. Voters also soundly defeated a 2003 initiative that would have allowed casino-style gambling at Arapahoe Park and devoted some revenue to tourism promotion. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado backgrounder for a history of sin taxes and education funding in Colorado.)

The two campaigns had predictable reactions to the poll.

Monica McCafferty of Coloradans for Better Schools said, “Once they [voters] learn that Amendment 68 will create a new K-12 Education Fund without a huge tax hike — they support our measure. Each and every day we speak to voters across the state; we are confident that this momentum will carry us into November. The feedback we’re hearing on-the-ground and based on real conversations with real voters is more important to us than a static poll, particularly this early into election season.”

Michelle Ames of the No on 68 committee said, “The more Coloradans learn about this terrible deal for Colorado, the more they find to dislike about it.”

Proposition 104, a proposed change to state law, has a much lower profile than A68, given that the two sides haven’t had the money for advertising campaigns. The prime proponent is the conservative Independence Institute, which bankrolled the petition-circulating effort needed to get the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Institute President Jon Caldara said, “I have seen polling that puts it even higher. Coloradans know that secrecy is the enemy of good government. This isn’t about unions. It’s about transparency.”

Opponents of the proposition, primarily education interest groups, argue that it’s unnecessary and vaguely written enough that it will lead to confusion and court fights.

The Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll surveyed 500 “likely” voters by phone between last Saturday and Tuesday. The margin of error is +/-4.4 percent. Get more details here.

The poll was one of several released in recent days. They surveys paint conflicting pictures of voter attitudes in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races. Get the details in this story from our partners at the Denver Business Journal.

Voter guide ready to read

The legislature’s non-partisan staff has finished work on the 2014 “blue book,” the analysis of all this year’s ballot measures. You can read it here, and copies will be mailed to the homes of registered voters.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Beauprez outlines education goals in new campaign ad

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 09:56

making plans

Denver Public Schools is drafting a plan to implement diversity quotas in its contracting if an upcoming report shows a disparity. ( Denver Post )

classroom safety

Investigators say that a Denver teacher had no training in methanol's danger of flash fires before he caused a lab accident that burned several students. ( 9News )

campaign season

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez outlined his ideas for education, which include greater local autonomy and more choice for parents, in a new campaign ad. ( Denver Post )

the money game

Democratic candidates in races that could determine the make-up of the Senate Education Committee have far out-fundraised their Republican opponents. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

looking backwards and forwards

Colorado Mountain College is trying to work more with local school districts to improve students' K-12 education so that they don't need remediation when they start higher ed. ( Aspen Public Radio )

going green

Students and staff at the Denver Green School told federal officials that their project-based approach leads to more learning and a healthier environment. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, 9News )

computers for learning, computers for testing

Teachers in the Weld RE-4 school district say they're excited about a pilot that will bring Chromebooks into their classrooms but say they fear the changes won't be permanent if the computers are used for standardized testing. ( Coloradoan )

fixing the breach

The ACT is working to resolve a breach of personal information that happened last week involving several Colorado Springs-area students. ( Gazette )

take no sides

The state's school executives association decided not to take a position on the proposal to allow casino gambling and use some of the revenues for education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


New guidance issued by the federal Department of Education would give schools that receive federal improvement grants more options for how to spend the money after a review reported the program had mixed results in boosting achievement. ( EdWeek )

have your say

The state's Department of Higher Education wants to hear public comment on how the state should fund its schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


The Lewis-Palmer School District 38 will review the way its crisis support system responded to the death of two students in a car crash. ( Gazette )

round of applause

Boulder Valley's sustainability coordinator won a national award for leadership. ( Daily Camera )


Some Southern Colorado school districts are adapting to new federal snack guidelines but others are opting out. ( Fox 21 )

Categories: Urban School News

At Denver Green School project-based learning leads to better test scores, sustainability

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 19:08

Five years ago, Sebastian Dibildox and his family threw scraps of wasted food away and left lights on carelessly around the house. He and his friends took separate cars to school.

Today, his family has a compost pile and prefers to use natural light. He also carpools with friend (since third grade) Steven.

“In third grade, we did some math projects around carpooling,” Dibilodx said, shortly after describing how worms turn his family’s waste into soil to U.S. Department of Education officials. “And we learned that using just one gallon of gasoline puts 20 pounds of CO-2 into the air.”

Dibildox was one of seven students who shared what he’s learned about environmental sustainability — and other more traditional school subjects — while attending the Denver Green School with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education, the state education department, and the media Tuesday.

The officials stopped by the southeast school as part of the Green Ribbon Schools tour.

The Green Ribbon Schools initiative, run by the federal education department, seeks to showcase schools that are environmentally conscious, academically high achieving, and embracing the social and emotional wellbeing of students.

The Green School was one of about a half-dozen stops in Colorado for the Washington officials, who kicked off their visit earlier Tuesday with a panel in downtown Denver. They were expected to stop by schools in Douglas County, Boulder and Fort Collins.

Students and officials at the Green School highlighted their garden, urban farm, and expeditionary learning, in which students research a topic both in the classroom and in practice. For example, fourth grade students recently jaunted to a grocery store to spend $5 on the food of their choice. They’re working on presentations now about why they chose certain foods.

“Students do better when they’re excited about relevant learning,” said Kartal Jaquette, the school’s sustainability coordinator.

Teachers and students who have embraced the school’s project-based model of “education for sustainability,” Jaquette said, are seeing better results on the state’s standardized tests, which are tied to both school accountability and teacher effectiveness policies.

With rare exception, the Green School either meets or beats both Denver Public Schools’ and the state’s average score in reading, writing, and math.

But one of the kindergarten through eighth grade school’s leaders, Frank Coyne, acknowledged there are some limits to the school’s emphasis on projects and expeditionary learning. The school’s math scores, especially at the middle school, have become stagnant. And administrators are considering a more basic approach to math.

Coyne said school administrators and teachers constantly wrestle with the desire to teach to the school’s model and the high stakes of accountability that accompany tests scores.

But Coyne said, “it’s more than just test scores. It’s more than just a farm and a garden. It’s about how do we teach the whole child.”

Dibildox’s mother, Aylane, who was on hand to watch him read his essay for officials, said the Green School has made her fifth grader a better student and citizen.

“The school has made him conscious of his actions and decisions,” she said. “Students his age can be very self-centered. But he’s learning a global perspective. His actions and thoughts impact the whole world. He’s inspired us — as a family — to make changes.”

Denver Green School student shares his sustainability lessons

Categories: Urban School News

Have your say on how the state pays for higher education

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 18:06

Colorado’s higher education system is in the middle of trying to figure out how to implement House Bill 14-1319, which sets up a new system for funding colleges based both on enrollment and performance measures like student graduation.

That new law gives the Colorado Commission on Higher Education considerable latitude in designing the details of the system. That body, the Department of Higher Education, outside contractors and several advisory panels are hard at work on all that, and the department also wants to know what the public thinks.

If you want to learn more about the project, see the links on this DHE page. (There’s also background in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.)

And if you interested in participating, here’s the list of currently scheduled public meetings:

  • Alamosa: Wednesday, Oct. 1, 6-8 p.m., Adams State University, Student Union, Room TBD
  • Boulder: Thursday, Oct. 2, 5-7 p.m., National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), The Learning Center
  • Colorado Springs: Thursday, Oct. 9, 5:30-7 p.m., Penrose House, 1661 Mesa Ave.
  • Craig: Thursday, Sept. 25, noon-1:30 p.m., Colorado Northwestern Community College – Craig Campus, Academic Building, Room 185
  • Denver: Wednesday, Oct. 8, 8-10 a.m., Auraria Campus, Tivoli Student Union, Baerrensen Ballroom
  • Durango: Wednesday. Sept. 17, 4-6 p.m., Fort Lewis College, Student Union, Colorado Room
  • Fort Morgan: Monday, Sept. 22, Morgan Community College, Time and Room TBD
  • Glenwood Springs: Thursday, Sept. 25, 6:30–8:30 p.m., Glenwood Springs Community Center, Sopris C
  • Grand Junction: Thursday, Sept. 18, 4-6 p.m., Colorado Mesa University, University Center, Room 213
  • Gunnison: Thursday, Sept. 18, 8-10 a.m., Western State Colorado University, Aspinall-Wilson Center, the South Room
  • Sterling: Monday, Sept. 22, 4-5:30 p.m, Northeastern Junior College, Hays Student Center, Tennant Art Gallery
  • Trinidad: Tuesday, Sept. 30, 4– 5:30 p.m., Trinidad State Junior College, Sullivan Center, Pioneer Room

Additional meetings are being planned in the metro area, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Pueblo and Greeley. Meetings will be listed here as they are added, and you can RSVP for any meeting here.

Categories: Urban School News

School executives association neutral on casino gambling; opposes open negotiations measure

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 18:04

The Colorado Association of School Executives, the advocacy group that represents school administrators statewide, has decided to take a neutral position on Amendment 68, the November ballot measure that would allow expansion of casino gambling and divert some of the additional tax revenues to school districts.

A CASE statement went to some length to explain the decision, saying, “This stance is consistent with previous positions questions related to ‘sin taxes’ for education, but it is more of a practical position than a moral one. It was determined that if CASE officially opposed this Amendment, it could be misconstrued that we think there is not a need for more education funding — which could not be further from the truth. What we do need though, is a steady, reliable source of funding for K-12 education that does not let the public or the legislature off the hook.”

CASE did oppose Proposition 103, the ballot measure that would require school district contract negotiations be open to the public. The group’s statement didn’t mince words: “Proposition 104 sets up a new, one-size-fits-all open-meeting mandate for school district administrators who enter into ‘discussions’ related to collective bargaining. … The lack of clarity will certainly land this in court and will result in litigation and attorneys’ fees. Oh, and districts can do this already, they don’t need a new law to open their negotiations—many already do just that. Proposition 104 is irresponsible and promoted by one interest group (the Independence Institute) who has refused to disclose their donors.”

The group also endorsed 25 legislative candidates, 24 Democrats and one Republican. (CASE only considered candidates that responded to its questionnaire.) See the full list here.

Categories: Urban School News

Dems raise $1 million in battleground Senate races

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 17:13

Democratic candidates have raised slightly more than $1 million in seven races considered key to control of the state Senate, including nearly $700,000 in five races of high interest to education.

And the Democrats continue to beat their GOP opponents in the fund-raising battle, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed Monday. The Democrats have raised more than twice as much money as the Republican contenders. (Get race-by-race details in the chart below.)

Given the Democrats’ bare 18-17 majority in the Senate, Republicans have been hoping they can take control.

The Senate races of most interest to education include two in Jefferson County, where two members of the Senate Education Committee are facing challengers. Democrat Andy Kerr, chair of the committee, faces Republican Tony Sanchez, and Democrat Rachel Zenzinger, also a member of Senate Education, is battling Laura Woods. Kerr and Zenzinger have raised more than $170,000 each, tens of thousands of dollars ahead of their opponents.

Two familiar education faces from past legislative sessions, Democrats Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Judy Solano of Adams County, are seeking Senate seats and have raised more than $100,000 each. In a central mountains Senate seat, Democratic rancher and educator Kerry Donovan has raised more than $110,000.

The other two high-spending Senate races involve Democratic Sen. Jeanne Nicholson in Jeffco and Leroy Garcia, currently a state representative in Pueblo.

Democrats also are raising more money in the two contested State Board of Education races. In the 3rd District, former Pueblo schools Superintendent Henry Roman has raised about 50 percent more money than GOP incumbent Marcia Neal of Grand Junction. In the 7th District Democratic, incumbent Jane Goff has huge fundraising lead on GOP candidate Laura Boggs.

In education-related races for the state House, Democrats have amassed bigger war chests in five of seven races.

Select a candidate or candidates to generate bar graphs at the top of the chart. Story continues after the chart.

Committees spend on ballot measures; fund candidates

By far the biggest spending on a education-related issue is in the battle over Amendment 68, which would allow construction of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park racetrack south of Aurora, with some of the tax revenues earmarked for K-12 schools.

The fight pits two groups of gambling companies against each other, with the two campaign committees raising more than $16 million each, most of it spent on endless TV ads.

Education-related legislative races always draw the attention of outside campaign committees, most of them affiliated with teachers unions and education reform groups. As usual, the biggest spender is the Public Education Committee, a small donor committee affiliated with the Colorado Education Association.

A separate set of committees, those formed to campaign for school district bond and tax override proposals, are just gearing up. Such committees have been created in 20 districts, but many have registered only in the last month so don’t have to file reports until Oct. 14.

A committee named IAM27J, which is backing the Brighton school district’s $148 million bond, reported raising $11,927 as of Monday. (Get the full story here on 2014’s district elections.)

Key to chart: SDC means small donor committee, usually funded by dues or small contributions from a large number of people. IE means independent expenditure committee, which can spend for or against candidates, but spending can’t be coordinated with campaigns. PAC means political action committee, which can contribute directly to candidates.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Chemistry classroom fire injures four students

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 09:42

Down to the details

The state's testing task force, which is reexamining Colorado's testing regimen, began to grapple with some of the big issues it faces, including local control of testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School safety

Four students were injured, one seriously, after a fire erupted in a chemistry classroom at STRIVE Prep's SMART campus. The teacher has been put on paid leave. ( Coloradoan, AP via Denver Post, The Denver Channel )

(Don't) call human resources

Poudre School District is facing a lengthy legal process over the firing of its HR director last winter. ( Coloradoan )

The Common Core campaign

Colorado gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez criticized the Common Core at a campaign stop yesterday. And at least one school is on board with his remarks. ( KRDO, Fox21 )

Spin class, then math class

Students at Boulder's Fairview High School can pick from a wide range of P.E. options, much like a fitness club. The choices range from spin classes to indoor soccer. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Building diversity

Denver could soon be the first school district in the state to set diversity quotas for contractors on projects, if the results of a study show disparities. ( Denver Post )

We are what we eat

Colorado Springs-area schools are adjusting to new food regulations, but it's a challenge. ( Gazette )

Teacher's pet (literally)

A parakeet found in a trashcan at a Longmont high school is up for adoption. ( Times-Call )

Who's in and who's out

A former Denver Public Schools law enforcement officer has taken up a new position in Tulsa. ( Tulsa World )

Caught by the (early) bell

A Colorado sleep researcher is campaigning for later school start times, based on sleep needs. She found homeschooled students get the most sleep they need. ( CPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing task force starts getting into the nitty-gritty

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 20:16

The task force studying the state’s K-12 testing system gathered for a third time Monday and finally started surfacing some of the tough issues facing them as the panel tries to develop recommendations for the 2015 legislative session.

The first two meetings of the 15-member Standards and Assessments Task Force, one in July and one in August, were taken up largely with informational briefings and organizational matters, producing little discussion of interest.

The clock is ticking for the group, which for now has four more full meetings scheduled before the Jan. 31, 2015, deadline for a report and recommendations on what’s probably the most contentious issue in Colorado education.

John Creighton, a task force member who sits on the St. Vrain Valley school board, suggested that the group needed to start discussing some key issues while it waits for a testing cost study and gathers public comment.

“We’re about halfway through our timeline,” Creighton said. “Given the amount of time we have together … do we think we want to have some of that conversation in parallel with public input and waiting for the studies?… I would suggest we need to move more rapidly.”

The task force kicked around a number of issues Monday but spent much of its time on the question of whether districts could be given greater flexibility in what tests they use.

(House Bill 14-1202, the law that created the task force, started out as a Republican bill to give districts significant testing flexibility. As a political compromise, the Democratic majority quickly amended into the task force study.)

Tony Lewis, a member of the Charter School Institute board, kicked off the discussion by raising the question of whether the state should be testing all students with standardized exams or if the state should use results of local tests for its purposes, primarily district and school accountability.

“I struggle with the state’s need for individual student assessment,” he said.

That prompted a dialog that hinted at the varying views of task force members.

“We don’t want 164 different versions of assessment,” cautioned Donna Lynne, chair of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. (Colorado actually has 178 school districts.)

Alana Spiegel, who represents the parent group SPEAK, said, “As a parent I do want 160-some different assessments. … As a parent I want less of a burden” of state tests.

Do your homework

Others were cautious about too much flexibility. State standardized testing has brought “significant value in highlighting achievement gaps,” said Bill Jaeger of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “We’ve had more significant discussions about gaps in the last 10 years than we had in the previous 50 years.”

Teacher Dane Stickney of Strive Prep Charter said, “I really do enjoy having that standardized testing data every year” for insights into his mostly low-income students. “I really worry about going to all-local testing.”

Dan Snowberger, Durango schools superintendent and task force chair, noted, “Rural districts don’t have the resources to devise a local system. There’s a lot of value to a state assessment system.”

Syna Morgan, chief academic officer for the Jeffco schools, said she wasn’t arguing for “all local” testing but that “There’s a feeling of overburden at every level” and that districts need some flexibility. “I’m for balance.” (Morgan previously was system performance officer for the Dougco schools. That district’s board last January passed a resolution urging districts be allowed to opt out of state testing requirements.)

Members also discussed what changes in testing could mean for the Colorado Growth Model, which tracks student academic growth based on multiple years of test results.

“To me growth is the true report card,” said Jay Cerney, principal of the Cherry Creek Academy charter in Englewood.

“Growth is very important,” said Stickney, and Jaeger said, “I’m still in a place where I feel the statewide assessment should measure growth.”

Monday’s comments could be taken as the opening statements in what will be a recurring debate as parent and some district representatives like Morgan urge more testing flexibility while education reform and business members urge caution. Other task force members seem to be somewhere in the middle.

“It’s a critical conversation, and I think it gave everybody a chance to learn a little bit about where we stand,” said Snowberger, summing up. “It’s only the beginning.”

“It is not that people want to radically change the assessments,” said Lisa Escarcega, chief accountability officer for the Aurora schools. “There is a perception that testing has grown and mushroomed to be unmanageable.” What the legislature wants the task force to do, she said, is offer ways “that will bring the system back into balance.”

Task force make-up politely questioned

Later in the meeting, the task force met with representatives from a group named COAT (Community Organizations Aligning Together).

In a letter to legislators last month, the group wrote, “We are concerned about the lack of representation of organizations, and/or individuals who represent the leadership, strengths and experiences in communities of color. We feel very strongly that the appointed individuals, who will be making decisions that will impact the future of a large portion of the students in our state, should include representation from individuals of organizations that have well established and trusted relationships within communities of color.” (Read the full letter here.)

Task force members were appointed by five people – the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate and the chair of the State Board of Education – and were supposed to represent various education interest groups. Fourteen task force members are white; one is Native American. Some 4.7 percent of Colorado students are black; 32.8 percent are Hispanic, based on 2013 state enrollment figures.

“How are those voices and that perspective to be brought” to the task force, asked Jennifer Bacon, a COAT representative who’s with Teach for America. She was among four people who spoke to the group.

Task force members were sympathetic to the group’s concerns while noting they didn’t appoint themselves. Snowberger said he would talk to legislators about the possibility of adding an ex-officio minority member to the group and having that person formally added to the task force after the legislature convenes in January.

That issue led into a broader discussion of whether the task force is set up to get a wide enough range of public comment about testing. (Morgan said she was concerned that parents of all kinds might not be able to express their views. “Numerous groups” want their voices heard, she said.)

The task force agreed to look into setting up additional roundtable-type meetings, perhaps outside the Denver area, as a way of getting more public views.

The group already has set up an email address for public comment – – and is working to set up an online survey. (Read the comments received to date here. Most are critical about the current testing system.)

The task force isn’t completely under the radar. Monday’s meeting at the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce attracted an audience of more than three dozen, including education lobbyists, CDE and legislative staff, parent activists and others.

Categories: Urban School News

PE that’s more like a health club and less like….well, PE

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 14:17

At Boulder’s Fairview High School, gym class feels a lot like a trip to the rec center.

On a recent Wednesday morning, as second hour physical education class began, some students snapped up colorful pinnies so they could join the indoor soccer game. Others hustled downstairs to the school’s weight room or to a converted racquetball court filled with spin bikes. Still others filed into the wrestling room where Zumba lessons were about to begin.

Students were free to choose where and how they would complete the day’s work-out. The class, called “PE by Choice,” represents Fairview’s attempt to remake its physical education program around fitness, personal effort and the idea that exercise readies the brain for learning. At the same time, it’s one example of how the state’s high school physical education standards, which emphasize lifelong fitness and individual goal-setting, translate into daily practice.

Aside from one dance-focused PE offering at Fairview, gone are the days where all students focused on one sport whether they loved it or hated it, excelled or struggled. The new approach, which requires fitness testing three times a semester and the use of heart rate monitors up to four days a week, still includes team sports but to a lesser degree.

In any given week, there is a choice of up to 10 different activities, ranging from sand volleyball to yoga. Despite the raft of options, some students were reluctant about the new version of PE program at first, said Rob Vandepol, a PE and health teacher who helped spearhead the effort.

Zumba was one of the choices during a recent PE class at Fairview High School.

“We had a bunch of kids who were like, ‘No, it’s going be too hard,’” he said. “They [were] just not really understanding what the program is about. It’s about individual improvement and doing things that you enjoy.”

Ninth-grader Odali Arvalo, one of the few girls who chose soccer during the recent second period class, said she likes the variety.

“Sometimes you do get bored of always having to do the same thing…Not every sport suits you. So you need to find something that does. I think it’s better instead of everybody choosing for you.”

Daily PE activity choices at Fairview High

  • Ball sport: tennis, volleyball, basketball, soccer, floor hockey, pickle ball, ultimate Frisbee, handball or dodge ball
  • Fitness class: Yoga, dance, pilates, interval training or jogging
  • Cardio room: Spin bikes, tread mill and elliptical machine
  • Weight room

For the PE staff, the new model entails some logistical challenges–at times requiring three teachers to supervise up to 120 students in four locations. During the recent second period PE class, Vandepol split his time between the soccer game and the cardio room, walking briskly down the hall from one to the other every five or 10 minutes. The other two teachers manned the weight room and wrestling room.

“We have supervision issues,” he admitted, describing how he and other teachers sometimes scramble to keep an eye on everybody.

“At some point, you have to decide what is really good for kids,” he said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen, but I guess what I’m saying is, this is good for kids.”

Inspiration in Illinois

Fairview’s new PE program was inspired by a similar effort launched a decade ago at Naperville Central High School in Illinois. That school, which VanDePol and other Fairview staff visited in 2012, was featured in the influential book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” by Harvard psychiatry professor John Ratey.

The details of the two programs vary somewhat, but both put a premium on student choice, continuous fitness assessment and effort-based grading. At Fairview, students are assigned a fitness level ranging from one to four at the beginning of the semester based on scores from standard tests of cardio, endurance, strength and flexibility.

Components of “PE by Choice” grade

  • 40 percent -At least 25 minutes of activity in the heart rate “zone,” at least 140 beats per minute
  • 25 percent -Improved fitness score after mid-semester and end-of-semester fitness testing
  • 25 percent -Participation, includes dressing for class and being involved
  • 10 percent-Written knowledge test

Students in Group 1 — anywhere from 17-33 percent of students after the first round of testing — are the fittest students, required to wear a heart rate monitor just once a week. Group 2 students wear the monitors twice a week, Group 3 students wear them three times a week and Group 4 students wear them on all four weekly PE days.

On the days students wear the monitors, the goal is get at least 25 minutes in “the zone,” which is a heart rate of at least 140 beats per minute. Achieving that goal on the number of days required by their fitness level accounts for 40 percent of students’ grades. If students fall short of the goal, they don’t get full credit.

For Kaelec Signorelli, a football player who’d landed in Group 4, the format seemed to provide a refreshing sense of autonomy.

“You actually get to decide who you want to be,” he said. “Are you going to be the big slacker who…doesn’t get your heart rate up? Or you can be the athletic person who tries to actually do this stuff.”

Broadening access

One hoped-for benefit of Fairview’s new approach to PE is that it will engage a wider swath of students, not just those who can score goals or slam dunk. As Vandepol watched the fast-paced indoor soccer game, he noted that not everyone finds ball sports a good fit.

Fairview PE teacher Rob VanDePol outlines the rules before a recent soccer game during PE.

“Most of the kids in the cardio room, they would be the typical group that would suck together and try not to get hit by the ball in here…so we’re trying to do a big social change.”

That’s not to say that he doesn’t want students to try new activities. In fact, PE by Choice encourages cross-training by awarding extra points if students try more than one activity category a week. In part, it’s because different activities promote different athletic skills, but building up a repertoire that lends itself to lifelong activity is also part of the equation.

As Vandepol pitched students on the long list of activities available as he wrapped up his recent class, he touched on the obstacles that plague many adults when it comes to exercise.

“We want you to get a jog on because sometime later in life you might not be able to get to the weight room and get to the gym and play with all your buddies… but you might be able to get home from work at 6 o’clock at night and just go for a jog and you’ll feel better.”

It’s a theme contained in the high school section of state’s physical education standards, adopted in 2009.

“Overall, our PE program is going toward lifetime physical activities,” said Sue Brittenham, a physical education consultant for the Colorado Department of Education. “It really tends to gravitate away from the team sports.”

She added, “It’s kind of hard to get a group of adults together to play flag football.”

Time and money

While PE by Choice seems to be catching on at Fairview, don’t expect to see it widely copied across Colorado just yet. Even Vandepol, an ardent proponent, knows it’s a hard sell.

“My hope is that it eventually will [spread]…but I know that change takes a really long time, especially in education.”

He said PE teachers at other district high school have expressed interest in the concept and some already offer a choice of activities, but they don’t use heart rate monitors to measure effort or hold students accountable.

These watches are part of the heart rate monitors that students wear during PE.

Meanwhile, at least one middle school in the Jeffco district uses pedometers much the same way Fairview uses heart rate monitors, but the choice component is absent. Whether it’s because of staffing limitations, space constraints or liability concerns, the idea of sending students to multiple locations during PE is an obvious sticking point for many schools.

“I know there’s some high schools there’s no way that could happen,” said Brittenham. “There’s no way you could have them not be directly supervised.”

The technology price tag is also formidable. Fairview, where all students must take three semesters of PE to graduate, spent about $12,000 on heart rate monitors as well as extra chest straps so students could have their own.

Money and other challenges aside, students like Mariano Kemp believe PE by Choice makes sense. The ninth-grader, a half back on the freshman football team, had a sheen of sweat on his face after a he spent the recent second-period class lifting weights.

“It’s really…how they should treat a PE class, to get the kids as fit as possible, to push you to the best [of your] ability.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colo.’s foster children less likely to graduate high school

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 09:49

Circle of life

A Denver Public Schools principal has the unusual — and surprising — task of building a school before she shuts it down in three years. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A new achievement gap

New data from the Colorado Department of Education and Department of Human Services illustrate a troubling trend among the state's foster children. Colorado students in the foster care system are far less likely to graduate high school than their peers — even those who are homeless. ( Denver Post )

Meet four Colorado students who grew up in foster care to beat the odds. ( Denver Post )

Corner office

Colorado's largest teachers union has a new boss. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Disinfecting news

Many Colorado schools and daycare centers are taking precautions to fight the spreading of a severe respiratory illness. ( Fox 31 )

Those who do not learn from history are ...

The new AP History framework gives teachers more flexibility about what to cover in depth by moving away from memorization of dates and figures, but critics are lining up to cry foul. ( Denver Post )

yo hablo english

The St. Vrain Valley School District has been changing the way it teaches English-language learners. And now, district officials say they're are on the right track, based on results of a statewide test. ( Boulder Daily Camera )

A queen by any other name

A transgender female student was crowed homecoming queen at a Colorado Springs high school. ( Gazette )

Happy anniversary

A Parker charter school, Douglas County's second, is celebrating its 20th year. ( Douglas County News-Press )


Initiatives like the Common Core State Standards and STEM curriculum are limiting school choice, writes a Cherry Creek High School teacher. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Newark students protest for local control of schools

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 18:38
  • One teacher has a suggestion for rating schools without standardized tests: classroom grades. (Washington Post)
  • More, not less, reliance on standardized tests would make college admissions more egalitarian. (New Republic)
  • Newark students are protesting against the district’s superintendent and demanding local control of their schools. (Politicker NJ)
  • A long-shot Washington, D.C. mayoral candidate is making a bid to become the “education mayor.” (Greater Greater Washington)
  • Two Philadelphia principals are trying to reinvent the high school experience. (The Notebook)
  • A teacher at a high-performing NYC charter discusses what makes his classroom work. (Huffington Post)
  • What exactly are the Common Core standards and what do they do? An explainer. (NJ Spotlight)
  • The standards have become Obama’s biggest domestic battleground since healthcare reform, with backlash from both sides. (Mother Jones)
  • A Finnish teacher says the lauded school system is failing two-thirds of its students. (Yle Uutiset)
  • Girls don’t need different tech instruction. They just need to feel that they belong. (Hechinger Report)
  • Principals aren’t using teacher effectiveness data in their decision-making. (Education Week)
  • In Israel’s school system, there are wide funding disparities and improvised fixes for low-income schools. (Times of Israel)
  • Washington, D.C.’s school district is hiring a “student advocate” to help families navigate the school system. (Washington Post)
  • That story about summer vacation coming from our farming past? It’s not true. (PBS Newshour)
  • In “Building a Better Teacher,” Elizabeth Green looks at what teachers do to make a classroom work, rather than talking points. (Jose Vilson)
Categories: Urban School News

For southwest Denver principal, three years to create and then close a school

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 17:00

When Elza Guajardo agreed to take control of Kepner Middle School, she knew part of her job would be to close the school.

What she did not know last spring when she accepted the job as principal is that she’d also have to build it.

When she arrived this year, Guajardo said, the school lacked many of the basic systems it takes to run a school, like fire-drill protocols and common lesson planning by teachers. “I had no foundation to build upon,” she said.

So now, as Guajardo and her team of administrators and teachers work toward creating a fully-functional school in the city’s impoverished southwest corner, they do so knowing that in a few years they’ll have to pack up everything and turn over the keys to two new programs.

That’s because the current program at Kepner, one of the city’s lowest-performing schools, is being phased-out. In 2017, a charter school and a new district-run program will open in its place.

The phase-in, phase-out plan — a key school improvement strategy for Denver Public Schools — has been in the works since February. Observers say the process has gone mostly according to plan, though it’s encountered a few hiccups.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Student advisor Steve Harvey, center, acts as a traffic medium as Kepner Middle School students pass between classes.

A parent committee, working with DPS officials, helped review possible models for the schools that will take the current programs’ place. But some of those parents and the community organizations that represent them felt slighted in the end when DPS officials announced another district-run program would co-locate at Kepner with a STRIVE charter school. Parents were upset they did not have a chance to help choose the district-run model as they did for the charter school applications.

Those parents and organizations last spring also called on DPS to act faster. Their children, they said, didn’t deserve to wait for a better school while their current program was in disarray.

Guajardo, who was hired last spring as the phase-out principal, is now working toward meeting the needs of those families, who claimed the school was rampant with bullying and mutual disrespect between teachers and students.

Guajardo’s first steps to create a stable school culture and operating system may be an indication of just how dysfunctional the city’s lowest-performing school had become.

DPS Assistant Superintendent Greta Martinez said she believed there were systems in place at Kepner — just not to Guajardo’s standards.

“I think it’s not so much building all new systems, but improving on the systems already in place,” Martinez said. “That’s why we hired Elza, to ensure all systems are improved at the school.”

Improving those systems is a complicated process that starts with “baby steps,” as she likes to call them.

The work to improve the current Kepner began during the summer. Guajardo and math teacher Loyeen Vigil-McKenna retooled the school’s sixth grade academy, where incoming middle schoolers meet to learn about the school and set their schedule.

“The kids learned the academic and cultural expectations,” said Vigil-McKenna, who has taught at Kepner for 21 years. “That made sure everyone was on the same page on day one.”

Returning seventh and eighth graders are a little less familiar with those expectations, given the lack of clear standards and rules in the past, Guajardo said. But new assistant principal Chris Denmark and student advisor Steve Harvey are working on that. Harvey, with arms stretched out, supervises passing time on the third floor and acts as a traffic medium for students scampering to their next class. Denmark parks himself in the school’s main hall during classes to keep an eye on the front door to both welcome parents and detour students from ditching. At the same time, he returns emails and meets with teachers.

The teaching faculty and staff — of which a quarter are new to Kepner — has its own learning curve. Guajardo is hoping to create a school-wide culture of classroom expectations. Teachers should have their classroom’s daily learning objective and work written out in the same place everyday for students. There should be word walls in every classroom. And soon teachers will soon be meeting to plan lessons based on student data.

The school is also getting support from DPS headquarters. Kepner has 20 math fellows to support classroom learning and remediation. The district is paying for a restorative justice facilitator to help with student behavioral needs. Guajardo and her team of administrators will soon be partnered with school consultant group Blue Print that observes campuses monthly for a laundry list of strengths and weaknesses. And being a zone school to support students with limited English language skills, its regularly has access to central support.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Kelle May-Garst, Kepner’s English-language acquisition coach, and Chris Denmark, one of the school’s assistant principals, work in the main hall of the school during classes. Denmark regularly works from the hall to keep an eye on the front door for parents and students.

Morgan Ortega, who is teaching English to Spanish-speakers only for the first time this year, works with some of those supports. She has a coach who meets with her weekly to help plan classes, she’ll be attending a special professional development seminar about multicultural learning later this month, and soon she’ll be sent to observe classrooms run by proven teachers.

“[Kepner] is more positive now,” said Ortega, who has taught at Kepner for four years.

While there is early evidence of a more stable school climate, there’s still work to be done — including in Ortega’s classroom. Some of her students with limited English skills have been placed in the wrong class. Class assignments for Spanish-speaking students are supposed to be determined by proficiency, but some students with advanced skills are in classes with students who are still struggling and vice versa.

And beyond Ortega’s four walls, Guajardo and her team still need to put students in much-needed tutoring programs. According to the most recent round of state testing, only two out of every 10 students are reading at grade level. And only 16 percent of students tested proficiently in math.

Since summer, Guajardo, who speaks Spanish fluently like most of her families, has met with parents and in some instances begged them for a chance to show improvement. Of the 600 students were were expected to enroll at Kepner, only about 40 are missing.

“Students are enrolling every day,” she said. Her team is busy contacting the families of missing students to encourage them see what they’ve done with place.

One parent, Lee Thach, said she’s beginning to see a noticeable change in the school.

“There are a lot of changes. It’s more strict — which is good,” she said.

But there appears to still be some confusion among parents and the forthcoming transition. Thach, who has two more children she’d like to enroll at Kepner, incorrectly believed that when the current program ends, the entire physical campus will be shut down as well.

“They say the eighth grade class is the last one,” she said. “I don’t like that. If they have a good leader now, why don’t they keep the school open?”

For now, Guajardo isn’t concerned with the ephemeral nature of her work  at Kepner. Planning for the 2015 school year, which will be the first for the STRIVE school and new district-run program hasn’t even started yet. That planning will likely begin in January.

“I can’t worry about tomorrow. That’s not my job,” Guajardo said. “My job is to make sure these kids get to high school. They deserve it.”

Categories: Urban School News

Salazar leaving CEA; Bartels new executive director

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 16:41

Tony Salazar, executive director of the Colorado Education Association, is leaving that post later this month for a senior management position with the National Education Association’s Member Benefits Corp.

Brad Bartels, a CEA lawyer and then general counsel for more than 20 years, will be the new executive director.

Salazar is well known in education and political circles. He joined CEA as a lobbyist in 2001 and became executive director in 2008, serving during a period when the union experienced some membership declines and such policy challenges as passage and implementation of Senate Bill 10-191, the educator effectiveness law.

Tonette Salazar, Tony’s wife, also is well known for years of lobbying for school districts and other clients at the Capitol. She now works for the Education Commission of the States.

Bartels has been deeply involved in CEA’s legal activities, including the pending lawsuit that challenges the teacher placement portion of SB 10-191.

CEA’s structure also includes an elected full-time president, who generally is the public face of the group. The current president is Kerrie Dallman, a social studies teacher who’s on leave from the Jeffco schools.

Categories: Urban School News

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