PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hosted the first in a planned series of conversations about race this afternoon at the History Colorado Center.
After Denver students across the city organized protests focusing on police brutality and race earlier this month, both the mayor and the Denver Public Schools announced plans to host conversations about the issues students raised. Students at more than 30 schools across the city walked out of class to contest two separate grand jury decisions that chose not to indict police officers who killed African-American citizens.
Today’s event touched on topics ranging from bias among police to the role of the media to how the city can improve race relations.
The mayor directed several questions at the panelists and audience and then invited the audience to make comments and ask questions. “Why has the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ protests turned into a movement? Has it turned into a movement?” “What’s the role of the media in conversations about race?” “What one lesson would you share with the academy class [of new police officers]?”
Police chief Robert White said that a lack of positive relationships between communities and the police underlies some of the current issues. “We have to come together and figure out, how do we do this together…and come through these healing processes together?”
DPS board president Happy Haynes said that during the protests, media too often focused on adults rather than what was on students’ minds and what prompted the protests.Part of the mayor’s panel on race, held at History Colorado.
One panelist, a student at Denver School of the Arts who is a member of the mayor’s initiative on youth, said that she is now organizing a club focused on social injustices.
Another student panelist said that students want change, and that they would like more opportunities to interact with police.
Students wearing hoodies from KIPP, a charter school, asked the mayor what the intended goal and next steps would be.
“I hope the clarion call after today is that the entire community must lead,” Hancock said. “Denver has made a lot of progress but there is a long way to go.”
Hancock said there will be two more events in January and others later in the year, leading up to a citywide summit.
C.J. Cain is a physical education teacher, not an architect or interior designer. Still, he has big plans for a classroom makeover at Denver’s Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment.
He wants to create the state’s first “kinesthetic classroom” there. The term may be a mouthful, but it’s really just another way of saying that the room would feature desks and tables with built-in bicycles, elliptical machines and other exercise equipment. The idea, which has been piloted at a handful of schools around the country, draws on neuroscience research showing how exercise facilitates learning and memory.
It’s the same research that’s behind trends such as brain breaks and school-wide movement sessions. The biggest difference is that students would be doing academic work in the kinesthetic classroom—reading while they pedal or taking notes while they swivel at a “kneel and spin” desk.
“[It’s] a creative way we can look at closing the achievement gap and overall greater achievement for all students,” said Cain.
Besides helping students stay focused in class and better retain what they learn, he believes a kinesthetic approach can improve mood and help kids get along better. While that remains to be seen at Montclair, students have shown lots of interest in the blue pedal desk on loan from the South Carolina company KidsFit.
“The feedback has been great,” said Cain. “They love it.”
As is often the case, lofty ambitions come with hefty price tags. It will take about $27,000 to outfit a classroom with enough equipment for 32 students. So far, Cain’s raised just $25 through a ColoradoGives donation page. He said there’s no specific time frame for raising the full amount.
“We’re reaching out certainly to the community and asking for their help in this,” he said. “I’m very patient.”
While Cain hopes to eventually raise enough money to buy a full classroom set of kinesthetic equipment, he said a stripped-down version of the model could make it cheaper and easier to scale down the road. For example, instead of a full kinesthetic classroom, several classrooms could have a two or three kinesthetic stations.
Parent Kelly Dwyer, a member of Montclair’s school wellness team, expects fund-raising to be the toughest part of implementing the kinesthetic classroom, but likes the concept.
“We’ve seen so much research about how movement stimulates the brain and focus…I think this could really help in that regard,” she said.
“Our biggest challenge as a health team is to really help our school get to a point where we look at the research and say more time in the seat is not necessarily translating to performance.”
Montclair, an innovation school, enrolls about 480 students. Two-thirds of them are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
Along with academic benefits, Dwyer believes the kinesthetic classroom may provide fitness benefits too.
“Today, we have so much that teachers need to cover…that specials of all sorts, from art and music to PE, have gotten squeezed…and I’m very concerned most students are lacking in exercise.”
Dwyer, who has two sons at Montclair, believes the kinesthetic classroom could be especially helpful for her energetic second-grader “because he is one of those guys who is constantly moving his body.”
Eric Larson, physical education coordinator for Denver Public Schools, said Cain’s kinesthetic classroom vision could eventually serve as a model for other district schools if it has an effect on things like behavior and attendance.
“I think everything is data-driven,” he said. “I think it would be something the district would look at if there’s data there.”
//Post by Princeton University.
looking ahead to the capitol 2015
The debate over whether to refund revenue collected above the limits set by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights or change the law and use it for things like education is heating up. ( AP via Durango Herald )
A new nonprofit group aims to help improve outcomes for students in some of Jefferson County's lowest-performing schools by supplementing the work that the schools are doing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Denver Public Schools board approved a plan to temporarily place two charter schools in Kepner Middle School and signed off on Superintendent Tom Boasberg's evaluation. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )
a day to learn
Veterans Day will no longer be a school holiday for Denver students under a new calendar approved by the DPS school board. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
lizards and hamsters and birds, oh my
Classroom pets, which used to be commonly kept in schools across the country but now are much more rare, are still a tradition in one Colorado Springs school. ( Gazette )
A former high school counselor and coach was appointed to the Woodland Park School District RE-2 board of education. ( Gazette )
At its last meeting of 2014, held at South High School, the Denver school board voted to finalize placement for several new schools and to approve its evaluation of superintendent Tom Boasberg.
The district confirmed its enrollment for the 2014-15 school year and laid out projections for the future. The district enrolls just over 90,000 preK-12 students, 83,938 in K-12.
District officials also presented this year’s “call for quality schools,” in which DPS lays out where it anticipates placing new charter or district schools.
According to the presentation, DPS will likely need additional elementary and middle school seats in Stapleton; elementary schools to replace Pioneer Charter School, in Near Northeast, which recently announced plans to close; a new elementary school and more middle school seats in the northwest section of Near Northeast; and a replacement elementary school in southwest Denver.
Board member Arturo Jimenez contested the goals of the district’s call for quality schools and several otherwise-unanimous votes, including a change to the district’s calendar.
[Check out our board tracker for a rundown of how board members voted on each item on tonight’s agenda.]
Chief academic officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust told the board that the district is increasing opportunities for communities to weigh in about what new schools in their areas should look like.
Board member Jimenez asked how the district was ensuring that its charter schools were actually improving education for students and whether it was sacrificing resources better allotted to district schools. “Are we becoming more of an authorizer for outside entities rather than running our own schools?”
Whitehead-Bust said the district is focusing on improving its existing schools, and has a series of evaluators monitoring charter schools.
District chief schools officer Susana Cordova also rushed up to the mic to respond. She said that the district has specifically reached out to charter schools that have had successes with bilingual education, English learners and school turnaround.
Jimenez was also the sole vote against the board’s evaluation of superintendent Tom Boasberg. The evaluation commends the superintendent for, among other things, improving communications in the district, leadership, and for a number of academic and managerial achievements. It includes concerns about continued turnover in parts of the district and Common Core roll-out.
Jimenez said he is particularly concerned that the district has not yet adopted Common Core-aligned resources.
“We really should be having discussions about conditions of employment when we have such an important piece of district work that has gone unfulfilled at this time,” Jimenez said. “I’m going to take public issue with our evaluation process.”
“There’s a significant work we have to do,” Boasberg said. “This is a struggle all schools and school districts are working on.” He said the district is continuing its search for resources, and that a district task force chose deliberately not to adopt some resources that it deemed to be not worth the investment.
“We’re continuing to supply materials to bridge the gap,” he said.
Board president Haynes said the board would be setting new goals for the superintendent, aligned with Denver Plan.Placing Schools
The board voted to approve plans to place Rocky Mountain Prep and Compass Academy in the Kepner Middle School building temporarily. Those plans had been put on hold in November so the district could determine how they fit with its obligations to English learners in southwest Denver. The district plans to ultimately place a new district-run school and a school run by charter operator Strive in 2015-16. The current program in the school is being phased out.
Still, Jimenez reiterated a concern that placing Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep in the school, even temporarily, represented the district skirting the requirements of a consent decree that governs how Denver Public Schools educates its English learners.
Board president Happy Haynes clarified that the two charter schools are not intended to fulfill the district’s requirement to offer a native language program for English learners in the Kepner building.
“It is our intent to work with [Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep] to find a permanent home,” said superintendent Boasberg. “It is not our intent that they would replace the district school.”
The board also voted to approve placing a new competency-based high school in the Byers building next year. The competency-based school will share a building with DSST:Byers for two years. In a competency-based school students move through grades based not on seat time but on their ability to demonstrate mastery of academic skills.
Two schools, High Tech Elementary and Denver Discovery Middle, had their innovation plans approved. The board heard lengthy presentations from school leaders, teachers, parents, and students at a work session earlier this week.
Board member Jimenez again raised concerns, saying that he was concerned that the innovation status removed work protections for teachers.
Board members Barbara O’Brien, Landri Taylor, and Mike Johnson all spoke in favor of the innovation schools. Johnson singled out the schools’ focus on finding time in the school day for teachers to work together.
Earlier in the meeting, the district singled out schools that were recognized by the Colorado Department of Education for outstanding results. More Denver schools were singled out by the department than schools from any other district.
Haynes said that the district will co-host a conversation about the issues raised by students in a series of protests against police brutality and discrimination, in conjunction with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, tomorrow, and that the district will host student-led conversations and a conference early in the new year.
PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
The Denver school board voted tonight to approve a new school calendar that means Veterans Day will be a day in school rather than a holiday for students.
Board president Happy Haynes said that having school on Veterans Day will allow schools to acknowledge the country’s veterans more actively, potentially by partnering with veterans’ organization or having in-school events acknowledging and celebrating veterans.
“In the past it’s been a day off, and I think it was a day that was lost,” she said. “Many of our students and families had no idea why we had a day off in the middle of November…now it’s a day on.”
The district will provide guidance to schools about how to mark the holiday and has reached out to veterans’ groups in the city, Haynes said.
Board member Arturo Jimenez cast the lone vote against the calendar, saying that having the day in school does not guarantee that schools would mark or celebrate the holiday sufficiently. He suggested that the district have a day off on Monday to mark the holiday.
The calendar was developed by a district task force. The task force was aiming to attach days off to weekends rather than have having days floating in the middle of the week and to ensure that students are not in school during the hottest parts of the year, among other concerns.
The first day of school for students will be August 24 and the last day will be June 3. Students have full weeks off at Thanksgiving, Winter Holidays, and Spring Break.
For Joel Newton, the work to improve some of Jefferson County’s lowest-performing schools is personal.
His two daughters attend Lumberg Elementary, where only four out of every 10 third graders are reading at grade level.
But he doesn’t blame the teachers or Jeffco Public Schools.
“The irony of our schools is that we have great programming during the school day,” he said. “But those kids who are growing up in poverty, they need extra support on top of what our schools offer if they’re going to catch up and stay ahead.”
That’s the theory behind Newton’s organization, the Edgewater Collective, and the nonprofit’s first public project, the Jefferson Success Pathway.
Formed in 2013, but just now going public, the Edgewater Collective’s mission is to foster relationships between six schools in and around the city of Edgewater and nonprofit organizations that can offer services to the schools leaders, teachers, students and their families.Schools in the Edgewater Collective
Those schools, run by Jeffco Public Schools, are not like most in the suburban — mostly white and middle class — county. Most of the students — at least 70 percent at each school — come from households that earn little enough to qualify for either free or reduced-lunch prices, a proxy of poverty, and are Latino. There is also a concentrated population of English language learners.
The students who attend those schools are also usually behind grade level in reading, writing, and math, and are less likely to go to college, let alone graduate.
Newton believes the adults inside the schools and the district leaders who support them are doing all they can to enrich those students lives — but they need help to overcome what many call the “opportunity gap.” The opportunity gap is the barriers some students, usually poor students of color, face to access quality resources that support them before, during, and after school. Those barriers could include a lack of breakfast, after school programs, or a quiet place to study and use technology.
To close those gaps, Newton has partnered with more than two dozen organizations from the health, nonprofit, faith-based, and government sector.
It’s his role to connect those organizations to the schools.
Part of the reason why they haven’t already connected, Newton said, is because most confuse Edgewater, the tiniest community in Jefferson County, with Denver.
“I think people still feel Edgewater is Denver because the demographics align better with the students who attend Denver Public Schools,” he said. “And the test scores look more like the schools across the street in Denver.”PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Joel Newton, left, chats with Edgewater City Councilman Kristian Adam Teegardin earlier this month after the Edgewater Collective announced its first public program the Jefferson Success Pathway.
As part of his work, Newton and a community board have put together a list of goals he hopes his organization can influence while working with Jeffco Public Schools. Those goals include increasing the number of families that are safe, healthy, and supported; preparing more students for kindergarten; increasing the number of students able to read and write at grade level by the third grade; and growing the graduation rate.
The Edgewater Collective, which published its ambitions earlier this month, will spend the early part of 2015 gathering baseline data around those goals and then set targets.
“We don’t want to be another initiative that just looks good on paper,” Newton said at the public unveiling of the Jefferson Success Pathway project.
Newton already has the support of Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee.
“We all know what the challenges are,” McMinimee said at that meeting. “And we can spend a lot of time talking about past mistakes. Or we can rally around this shining light.”
The nonprofit’s announcement of the Jefferson Success Pathway program took place the same week as Jeffco officials announced their own intentions to speed up improvements at some of the schools the nonprofit works with.
Newton doesn’t see his work as a duplicated effort. Instead he wants to run alongside the field as a sort of water boy or cheerleader for the teachers inside the schools.
“We don’t want to lay blame, but say as a community, “how do we work together?” Jeffco schools can’t do this alone,” he said.
Newton hopes to share his organization’s work with the district’s fractured school board in the spring of 2015 and create an official partnership between the nonprofit and the school district via a board resolution. He’ll only do so if he knows he can get a rare 5-0 vote.
“We’re staying away from the big issues, the divisive debates, we’re going to keep asking how do we help all kids in this area to succeed,” Newton said. “The children and family in our area can’t sit by and watch a three year battle with the school board — they need help right now. They need the support right now. They need investment right now.”
During Colorado’s legislative session, it’s not uncommon to find Chalkbeat’s Capitol Editor Todd Engdahl tapping away on his laptop in one committee hearing, while keeping tabs on another by audio-streaming it through headphones. Some might say he’s a glutton for punishment, but his multitasking ability helps him deliver the best legislative education coverage in the state.
Starting in January, readers will have a chance to get more of Engdahl’s exclusive legislative coverage than ever before. It’s simple: Sign up for Chalkbeat’s new Capitol Membership. It includes a legislative preview on Jan. 5, Sunday e-newsletters previewing each week’s developments, breaking news e-mail alerts throughout the session and a comprehensive legislative wrap-up in May.
The Capitol Membership is perfect for readers who need to stay informed about state education policy, but don’t have time to wade through dense legislative documents and navigate the grueling law-making process. This new service will augment the comprehensive legislative coverage that Engdahl has always provided and will continue to provide to Chalkbeat readers daily.
The Capitol Membership is available for just $120, with discounts available to those who work for schools, school districts, or state or federal government. To sign up or learn more, click here.
third time's a charm?
After two attempts at either finding suitable Common Core-aligned curriculum and trying to write their own, Denver Public Schools officials now say they're headed "back to the drawing board" to find appropriate classroom materials. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Aurora Public Schools board took a half-step towards allowing a cash-strapped charter school to stay open. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
negotiating the negotiations
Two weeks before Denver Public Schools' current teacher compensation program, ProComp, expires, district and union officials haven't come to an agreement on changes. ( Denver Post )
oil for schools
The mayor of Windsor is fighting to use a portion of the town's oil and gas revenue to fund schools. ( Coloradoan )
creating safer spaces
A new survey reports that Colorado's gay, lesbian and bisexual students face significant physical and mental health challenges in school. ( Summit Daily )
no more bullies
A Jefferson County mother is encouraging other parents to take a proactive approach to talk to their children about bullying. ( 9News )
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall announced that he's nominated 54 Colorado students for admission to military academies. ( Daily Camera )
climb the bus
An after-school program is using a school bus outfitted with a climbing wall to teach about science. ( Denver Post )
Denver Public Schools officials say they are starting their search for curricular materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts all over again.
It’s been four years since Colorado adopted the Common Core in language arts and math as part of the Colorado Academic Standards. Starting next spring, the state’s standardized test in the subjects will be tied to the new standards.
But DPS has yet to adopt or purchase a new set of curricular resources aligned to the Common Core.
District officials say that the textbooks and other academic resources that are on the market right now aren’t up to snuff, especially for Denver’s large population of English learners.
“It’s a real struggle right now,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer. “Finding a curriculum that’s that’s been redesigned for the Common Core is difficult enough—and finding one that’s aligned for English learners is a different challenge.”
The district reviewed the Common Core-aligned textbooks and curriculum on the market last year, Whitehead-Bust said, but decided that none was worth the millions of dollars the district would have to invest.
The district then decided to create a new curriculum in-house. “That was Plan B. And that turned out to be equally challenging,” Whitehead-Bust said. “Now we’re back to the drawing board.”
Whitehead-Bust said there was no clear date by which the district was guaranteed to have new resources. “We’re continuing to move forward with research and investigation,” she said.
In the meantime, DPS teachers are in limbo, adapting resources that were created with the previous state standards in mind to create lessons that are aligned the Common Core.Redesigned, not realigned
The Common Core standards for English language arts and math have been adopted in 43 states and the District of Columbia (Minnesota adopted only the standards in English language arts). Though the standards have stirred political and educational controversy, Denver officials say they are more rigorous and will encourage better teaching and learning.PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiThird graders at Ellis Elementary study English with ESL teacher Bree Roon. Each of the students in this group has a different native language, including Karen, Spanish, Russian/Turkish, Arabic, and Bosnian.
But Denver is not alone in having not found new Common Core-aligned curriculum and textbooks, said Carrie Heath Phillips, program director for Common Core State Standards at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which helped develop the standards. “Many places didn’t want to rush to buy new materials until there were more quality resources out there.”
She said that’s starting to change: Some states, including Tennessee, Louisiana, and Hawaii, have recommended lists of textbooks that are aligned to the standards.
In Colorado, each district chooses which curriculum and resources it will use. Some districts, including Boulder, have adopted new curricular resources tied to the Common Core.
Whitehead-Bust said that DPS is searching for something that’s not simply old textbooks with a new label. “There are a lot of companies that have remapped their material to the standards. But they haven’t redone their material. We’re looking for materials that are really redesigned, not just realigned.”
In the meantime, she said, teachers haven’t been totally without updates and support. “What we’re trying to do is take the resources that were in place last year, many of which were really strong and solid resources, and deepen the rigor of the content, infuse more informational text, and deepen expectations around text-dependent questions, so we can really guide teachers through.” Elementary English language arts teachers have gotten new guided reading books for their students. A literacy newsletter has suggestions about how to tie lessons to the new standards.
“Great resources in the hands of less-than-well-trained teachers don’t have anywhere close to the same impact as well-trained teachers using resources you’d hoped to replace and upgrade over time,” she said.
But weaving old materials together with new additions aimed at making lessons more rigorous or aligned with the new standards isn’t always easy.
“They do provide us with a lot of resources,” said Margaux Rowley, a second grade teacher at Ellis Elementary, in southeast Denver. “But sometimes you’re getting so much—it’s, ‘do this with the scope and sequence,’ ‘do this with the standards.’ It’s a lot of information.”
Rowley said that making sure the lesson plans and instructional materials she uses in class line up with the standards, and with how other grades in the school are interpreting the standards, is a challenge.
Theresa Winslow, a fifth grade teacher at Ellis, said that math materials are more up-to-date than language arts. “In literacy, we’re still tied to the lesson guides from ten years ago.”Frustrated board
At a meeting of the district’s board in November focused on academic programs and teacher and leader training initiatives, board member Arturo Jimenez said he was concerned about the delay. “If we don’t have the curricular materials chosen and implemented and ready to go, it’s difficult to see the logic that we’re focusing on teacher leadership development, evaluation and incentives,” he said. He compared it to sending paratroopers into battle without parachutes.PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiThe Denver school board discusses academics, including curriculum, at a meeting in November.
“How do we focus teachers without planning and practice guides, without curriculum that’s focused on the Common Core? It seems like we’re doing it backwards,” he said.
Superintendent Tom Boasberg said while he understood the concern, “we have kids on the ground who desperately need our teachers. Are not going to say we’re not going to coach or develop them?”
Whitehead-Bust described the district’s efforts to “bridge” between old materials and new. “Many districts are in our position,” she said. “It’s frustrating for teachers.” She said there would likely be an update to the timeline for finding resources as the district develops its new strategic plan this winter.
Board president Happy Haynes said she was surprised to hear that materials appropriate for English learners were hard to come by. “I don’t know why it took [publishers] so long to figure out that that’s an extraordinary need—but we need to keep the pressure there in order to get the materials we need.”Challenges for English learners PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiEllis Elementary enrolls students who speak more than 20 different native languages.
States and districts have been developing ways to make sure the standards are accessible to English learners, according to the CCSSO’s Phillips. The state of New Jersey, for one, has developed scaffolding guides for English learners. The school district in San Diego has translated all of the standards into Spanish. The Council of the Great City Schools released a “user’s guide” for districts looking to find instructional materials tailored to English learners’ needs this August.
In 2013-14, 35 percent of Denver’s public school students were English learners.
District chief schools officer Susana Cordova said the new standards highlight an already-existing challenge: “It’s difficult to find material in Spanish in general–and even more difficult to find material that’s been revised and aligned to the rigor of the Common Core.” The district offers several Transitional Native Language Instruction, or TNLI, in programs, in which Spanish speaking students spend some time learning in their native language.
She said there also aren’t enough materials with features that make it easier for students who are learning English to process text (such as on-page definitions for tricky words). She said the Common Core standards’ emphasis on informational text and problem solving in math means that English learners are confronted with more technical language and, in math, just more language than ever before.
And even resources that are advertised as aligned don’t always live up to the hype, she said. When the district reviewed one publisher’s Common Core-aligned materials, Cordova said, eight of the ten lessons built for English learners focused on idioms. “That’s not the bulk of what English learners need to learn,” Cordova said.
The district adopted a new program called E.L. Achieve, intended to be a more effective literacy program for English learners, earlier this fall.
At Ellis Elementary, where more than 24 languages are spoken and fewer than a third of students speak English as a first language, “we didn’t get the new standards and think, oh my goodness, how will we teach our English learners,” said Linda Miller, the dean of instruction at Ellis. “It was, how will we get STUDENTS to show that they have mastered or are where they should be with the standards? So now it’s this aftermath—so now we’re going to use E.L. Achieve. How will that support teaching the standards as well?”
“We’re working as hard as we possibly can to teach all our students,” Miller said. “A large majority happen to be English learners. But that hasn’t changed.”
Teachers were most concerned about how students, especially English learners, would fare on PARCC, the state’s new computer-based, Common Core-tied assessment, which, they said, is very text heavy. Even the instructions for how to navigate the online exam—drag and drop, or figuring out which box is an answer box—can trip up students, especially those who are still translating in their heads.
“A lot of our English learners are brilliant,” Winslow said. “But the test isn’t really going to show you what they’re capable of. And then it looks like we’re not doing our jobs.”
AURORA — A charter school teetering on the edge of bankruptcy was given a tentative lifeline Tuesday night by the city’s school board. But the Aurora Public Schools board stopped short of approving a one-year charter extension for AXL Academy.
While several board members aired their skepticism about granting a one-year extension to the school – its charter contract expires June 30 – the board unanimously agreed to allow the district and AXL more time to develop a plan that would close a $632,000 shortfall and set the charter school on a path toward fiscal and academic stability.
The board, which has been considered chilly to charter schools in the past, will review the plan and vote on a one-year charter contract extension as early as its Jan. 6 meeting.
The vote can’t come soon enough for the AXL community. Thanks to some budget crunching, it has just enough cash now to get through March 2.
The extra time is also a welcomed symbolic gesture of Aurora’s warming to charter schools, said Nora Flood, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
“This board is interested in what’s in the best interest of children and their families,” Flood said after the meeting, pointing out that APS has also renewed two of its charters schools — Global Village and the Aurora Academy — this month. “They’re taking a broader view. They’re looking across their portfolio to make sure there are high quality options for their students.”
While AXL had originally asked for the district to establish a credit line for about $300,000, the school presented a new plan Tuesday asking the district to allow the school to run a deficit of about $175,000 this school year. That deficit would be wiped out by a projected surplus next year. The surplus would come from one-time funds promised by the legislature to all public schools, and an anticipated increase in per-pupil funding.
The new plan also relies on raising $150,000 from philanthropic foundations. And in keeping with the original plan, AXL would like APS to defer about $300,000 in service fees this school year, allowing the school to pay those over three years.
“We strongly believe that this process will create an AXL Academy that is strong, more effective, and most importantly, more responsible than ever before,” said Brent Reckman, a co-principal at AXL.PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Financial consultant Jason Gurrero from G and G Consulting, left, and AXL co-principal Brent Reckman answered questions from the APS Board of Education Tuesday night.
More than 100 AXL supporters squeezed into the modest APS board chambers. Six individuals — two parents, two teachers, and two students — spoke in favor of providing a contract extension to AXL.
“It isn’t a perfect school, but it is our school,” said Amber Malin, an AXL teacher whose child also attend the school.
Parents and teachers who spoke at the board meeting shared their renewed faith in AXL, which has experienced financial hardship before and has seen a dip in academic performance, according to state test score data.
“I feel more secure in the planning of AXL’s future than ever before,” said Heather Rivers, an AXL teacher.
Student Vance Manzanares said his teachers have inspired him to go to college since he was young.
“They want us to be great people — not just now, but especially when we grow up,” he said. “They always tell me to go for my dreams. I want to be an inventor. Not one of my teachers has told me that’s a bad idea. That’s why you’ll all be able to fly in 2025 with awesome rocket-propelled shoes.”
Board members and Superintendent Rico Munn, weighing the financial ramifications of its options, fired a series of questions at AXL’s leadership, financial consultant, and Lisa Flores from the Gates Family Foundation.
(Disclosure: Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Gates Family Foundation.)
One of the most intense exchanges was between Munn and Flores.
Munn attempted to gauge the foundation’s willingness to support AXL and what the district and school would need to do to ensure for the foundation’s contribution. Flores said her foundation is interested in continuing its support of AXL, which it has done for many years, but explained she didn’t have the authority to pledge any dollar amount without approval from the foundation’s board of directors.
“What we’re looking for is everyone making a good faith effort to long-term planning,” Flores said.
Flores said she was impressed by how the school’s new leadership team was grappling with a number of challenges including food service, renegotiating the school’s lease, and student recruitment, but that several details still needed to be finalized, including how much time AXL would have to repay the $300,000 in fees that would be deferred this year.
Munn and his board of education agreed.
“I have to be honest, this is making me a little nervous,” said APS board member Amber Drevon. “Are you looking for donations in other places?”
AXL’s leaders said they were.
Board member Dan Jorgensen appeared pleased with the path Aurora and AXL were on.
“There’s nothing I can see as another approach,” said board member Dan Jorgensen.
But board member Eric Nelson wasn’t so optimistic.
“I’m really praying that you have a contingency plan,” he said.
The Five Star school board is trying to figure out how to address school crowding after a $220 million bond failed this November. ( Westminster Window )
ColoradoSchoolGrades.com has ranked Colorado schools on a scale from A to F. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Most of the schools that earned strong grades are in the Pikes Peak region. ( The Gazette )
Open or Close
The Aurora school board is deciding whether to close or renew the contract of AXL Academy, a charter school that's struggling financially. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Researchers at the Baylor School of Medicine are using code written by Colorado students to help improve outcomes for cancer patients. ( 9 News )
Three charter schools in Colorado Springs are purchasing new buildings. ( The Gazette )
Oil and Gas
The mayor of Windsor plans to use oil and gas money to support schools via a foundation—but not everyone supports his plans. ( Coloradoan )
Jeffco teachers got their first compensation updates in years in November. ( Arvada Press )
A group of elementary students have created a "buddy bench" to help make sure none of their classmates are lonely. ( Westminster Window )
A school in Oakland, Calif. is beginning to use a restorative justice aproach. ( KUNC )
The state of New York is planning to track chronically absent students, taking a page from New York City schools. ( Chalkbeat New York )
Even once kids get laptops as parts of one-on-one initiatives, many don't have the internet online. ( Hechinger Report )
A new housing project in Tacoma, Wash. aims to help homeless K-12 students. ( Education Week )
A challenge to the Affordable Care Act could have big implications for school system workers—especially support staff at schools. ( Education Week )
A Denver parent argues against school vouchers in a letter to the Denver Post. ( Denver Post )
Colorado parents looking for more user-friendly information about their school’s academic performance last year can now search an updated online database that ranks schools on a familiar A-F grading scale.
ColoradoSchoolGrades.com, developed by a coalition of 18 nonprofits organizations with that generally support accountability-reform efforts, uses data from the Colorado Department of Education and a formula developed by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver to compute the grades.
The site was updated this week with the most recent test data from the 2013-14 school year.
The aim is to give every parent an easy-to-understand letter-grade ranking for their school to inform decisions about where to send their students.
Colorado is one of a few states that ranks schools and districts on a variety of metrics that provides quality information to parents, but a report by the Education Commission of the States found that information is not easily accessible to most parents.
From the organization’s press release:
“Parents need clear, concise information to make good school choices for their child,” said Bob Deibel, President and Owner of OfficeScapes and board member at Colorado Succeeds. “Colorado School Grades is a critical tool to provide a first step for any parent making a choice or improving a school.”
For four years, Colorado School Grades has represented an alternative to other school rating systems, which are difficult to navigate or offer watered-down information. For example, the Colorado Department of Education indicates that more than 70 percent of public schools are “top performers,” making it difficult for parents to understand how their school measures up. Colorado School Grades rates schools on a more rigorous curve, so the community can understand which schools are performing at the highest levels.
The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education tonight will decide the fate of one of its charter schools that has just enough cash to operate until the end January.
The school board will decide whether to shutter the AXL Academy charter school at the end of the month, close it at the end of the school year, or extend its charter for 18 months so the school can possibly regain its financial footing.
At stake is what’s best for the 500 students of AXL — about 90 percent of whom live inside the APS attendance boundaries — and the suburban school system’s own finances.
AXL officials, who met with the APS school board earlier this month, told board members that the financial shortfall was caused entirely by the school enrolling 100 fewer students than originally budgeted for.
According to the officials’ remarks at the APS school board meeting and in subsequent interviews with Chalkbeat Colorado, it appears most of the school’s staff, its board, and district officials were kept in the dark about the shortfall until after the state’s official count day in October.
Count day is one of the most important days of the school year. On this day, schools and districts report how many students are at their desks. Those numbers determine how much money school systems receive from the state for the entire school year. While AXL’s enrollment did increase this year, it still fell short of its growth projection of 600 students.
As a result of the enrollment shortfall. AXL received about $700,000 less than officials had projected.
AXL officials claim they have a plan to establish a solid fiscal foundation. They believe the kindergarten through eighth grade school should stay open because the school has growth potential. District-run expeditionary learning schools are popular in Aurora and have waiting lists.
AXL also meets or beats the district’s average student achievement results on state reading and writing tests, although those scores have slipped by double digit percentage points in the last three years and still lag behind the state’s average.
While the school, which has similar demographics to the district’s, has underperformed the district’s and state’s average in math, overall the school has earned the state’s highest rating a school can earn for the last three years.PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Donny Wright, left, and his son, Trenton Wright, 12, were among the 200 AXL Academy charter school supporters who packed an Aurora Public Schools Board of Education meeting earlier this month. AXL Academy has enough money to operate through January. It’s requesting an 18-month charter extension and loan from the APS.
AXL officials hope an extension to the school’s charter will provide the campus a chance to move past its financial mistakes and refocus on teaching and learning.
“We don’t want to dwell on the past,”said Matt Wasserman, the school’s new board president, at the Dec. 2 APS board meeting. “We’ve made a clean break from the past. We want the ability to have a fresh star. This is a financial crisis. But it is not an academic crisis. … AXL is asking for what amounts to a second chance.”
Since late October, AXL’s school director, Audra Philippon has left. The school has restructured its administration team and board of directors, and also cut about $90,000 from its budget.
Philippon did not respond to a request for comment.
As part of its restructuring, the school has hired a charter school consulting firm for about $30,000.
“We’ve tried to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” said Brent Reckman, AXL’s co-principal, at the APS board meeting. “Cutting the Spanish team was the most difficult.”
It’s still unclear how only a select few of the school’s administrators knew about under enrollment problems and what specific systems will be in place by the end of the school year to prevent a similar budgeting problem going forward.
AXL is asking the district to defer about $315,000 in fees for district services and establish a credit line for about the same amount.
Part of the conversation tonight between AXL and the APS board will be to discuss what the financial trade-offs are for either keeping the school open or closing it.
“I need to have a real good idea about what it would cost the district for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school year,” said Mary Lewis, an APS board member.
If the board agrees to float AXL a lifeline there is no guarantee the district will see the hundreds of thousands of dollars again. The school could ultimately close if it can’t boost its enrollment. Some families have already left since news about the financial hardship spread.
If AXL does shut down, any assets such as computers the school purchased with state tax dollars would become the property of APS, according to a spokeswoman with the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
This isn’t the first time AXL has had money woes. In the fall of 2013, APS sent a letter to the school claiming AXL was not in compliance with its charter contract due to concerns about its financial status and governance structure. But the school corrected course, APS officials pointed out to their board this month.
“We were here last year, but for different reasons,” said Rico Munn, APS’s superintendent. “As of June, we all felt good.”
While there have been signs the Aurora school board is becoming more friendly to charters, over the years it has earned a reputation of being anti-charter. While neighboring school districts like Denver Public Schools and Douglas County have been steadily opening charter schools, APS hasn’t authorized another charter school since AXL opened in 2008.
The APS board’s decision tonight could signal a greater openness to working with charter school or a closing of the ranks.
Aurora officials and board members earlier this month said they were happy the district and charter school officials were communicating through the entire process. And many board members praised the school for rallying parent support. More than 200 parents, teachers, and students packed the modest APS board room earlier this month to show support for the school.
If the board decides to shut down the school at the end of the month, all AXL students — regardless of what school district they live in — would be able to choose an APS school to attend so long as a seat was available.
AXL’s parent Max Garcia’s three students would likely finish the school year at their neighborhood school, Jewel Elementary. But he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“I believe in the expeditionary learning model,” he said. “If they close the school, it’d break my heart. I volunteer there. I teach the cooking club. I know a lot of the kids on a first name basis.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that 90 percent of AXL students live inside the Aurora Public Schools boundary.
The state's testing task force finally got down to voting on tentative recommendations yesterday. But the process was messy, and the results were mostly inconclusive. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
gone to pot
turn it around
The DPS school board heard recommendations on how to improve student learning at two of its most struggling campuses: Manual High School and Kepner Middle School. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Wake up sleepy head!
Later school start times for middle and high schools are slowly gaining traction in Colorado. The newest school to have a late start will be Denver's new high school in the Stapleton neighborhood. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Denver families who want to choose new schools next year may now do so. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
House Republican leaders on Monday made their committee assignments for the 2015 legislative session, including five members for the House Education Committee. Many are familiar faces. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
If you want to be the first to know about happenings at the Colorado General Assembly next January, you need to sign up to be a Capitol Member today! ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
New hires at both Cherry Creek and Littleton schools this year most recently taught at Douglas County schools, new reports show. But one Dougco school board member isn't surprised. ( Douglas County News-Press )
First things first
Some families in southwestern Colorado will get a little help paying for early childhood education thanks to a $300,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation. ( Durango Herald )
Paying it foward
A Denver East High School family has raised more than $5,000 for the officer who was critically injured after a car hit him as he was escorting students back to campus after a rally. ( 9News )
brick and mortar
The Boulder Valley School District is moving forward with new construction projects after successfully passing the state's largest bond measure in history this fall. ( Daily Camera )
A charter high school in Colorado Springs and two others affiliated with Colorado Early Colleges are purchasing their buildings with a $17.3 million loan from a Longmont bank. ( Gazette )
The state’s Standards and Assessments Task Force, which has been meeting since July, finally got down to voting on tentative recommendations Monday. The process was messy, and the results were mostly inconclusive.
Straw votes taken over nearly eight hours by the 15-member advisory group generally supported reducing the amount of state-required testing in high school, but the members couldn’t reach agreement on a long list of other issues, including reducing the overall amount of testing, what to do about the new social studies tests and about readiness and literacy evaluations for young students.
And those recommendations the group did agree to “are not set in stone,” said chair Dan Snowberger.
As the daylong session dragged to its end, he said, “We are going to need much more time to come to agreement on recommendations.” Snowberger is superintendent of the Durango School District.
The group had a hard time getting to those preliminary decisions, having to redo votes on several issues and consuming time as members tried to explain the nuances of why they voted the way they did.
The discussion was civil and polite but clearly indicated the philosophical divisions among task force members, particularly between representatives of education reform groups on one side and parent activists and district administrators on the other.
The divisions on the task force likely prefigure disagreements during the 2015 legislative session, where testing is expected to be a top education issue. Some lawmakers say they are waiting to see what the task force proposes. But the task force’s inability so far to speak with one voice could well diminish its influence on Capitol deliberations.
Lawmakers already are chomping at the bit on testing; at least half a dozen legislators reportedly have reserved bill titles on the issue.The tentative recommendations The testing task force’s work product.
The task force did reach preliminary agreement on some testing issues, including:
Some members of the group appeared to support – kind of by default and perhaps temporarily – continued language arts and math tests in third through eighth grades.
In short, the group for now is leaning toward reducing state testing to what’s known as “the federal minimum,” the testing sequence that’s currently required by the federal government.
Members differed on what those straw votes meant.
“From grades three through eight we’ve affirmed the status quo. … We spent today essentially affirming the status quo. In all our discussions we haven’t reduced anything,” said panel member John Creighton, who serves on the St. Vrain school board.
“We have made progress. … Let’s not kick ourselves too hard just yet,” responded Jay Cerney of Cherry Creek Academy charter school in Englewood.A tortured process
The discussion went slowly for a number of reasons, including:
Comments by Snowberger, Lefkowits and others through the day illustrate the slow pace of discussion.
The meeting broke up shortly after 5 p.m.What’s next
A rump group of the task force was planning to meet Tuesday to see if it could come up with more specific proposals for the full group to discuss later.
Snowberger also is trying to organize small groups of members to discuss issues before the next full meeting on Jan. 9. “If we wait until the 9th to do this again we’re going to be very disappointed,” he said.
The Jan. 9 meeting wasn’t scheduled originally, but the group agreed to it Monday. The panel also is scheduled to meet Jan. 12.
Snowberger’s comments also indicated he’s backing away from the goal of consensus the task force had at the start. “We’re going to have to start putting stakes in the ground, and if 10 of us agree, then report that 10 of us agree.”Interest groups make their pitches
The task force’s day started with presentations by three interest groups with vocal positions on testing. Task force members split up for simultaneous presentations by the three groups, then discussed the information as a full group.
A parent group known as the Denver Alliance for Public Education presented the results of an online survey it conducted that found strong respondent opposition to the current testing system. The group has complained that a survey done for the task force by the consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates didn’t sample parent opinion.
Representatives of the Colorado Education Association presented a teacher survey that showed respondents split on the Common Core State Standards and skeptical of the value of current assessments.
Members of the Social Studies Policy Group have been following the task force closely and are lobbying to avoid changes in or reduction of the state’s new social studies tests.
Learn more about the groups’ positions in these documents:
The task force was created by the 2014 legislature as a political compromise because lawmakers weren’t ready tackle more substantive changes to the testing system. As is typical with such study commissions, the task force membership was designed to include representatives of various education interest groups.
After a year of adjustment and debate, Denver Public Schools has finalized its plans for Manual High School and Kepner Middle School, two of the schools it has identified as most in need of improvement.
Those plans and an update to the district’s overall turnaround strategy will be up for discussion at the district’s school board meeting tonight.
Several possibilities for Manual’s future, including a partnership with East High, one of the district’s highest-performing high schools, have been considered since last year. The school was the district’s lowest-scoring high school.
The newest plan for Manual would bring in a group of eight City Year volunteers into the school to focus on both academic achievement and school culture.
The district has also selected Manual to receive a grant to bring a bio-medical program, part of a Career and Technical Education pathway, to the school. A new assistant principal will lead that program.
Candidates to be the school’s new principal are already being recruited and interviews will happen in January.
At Kepner, the district has plans to place two new charter schools in the building next year while the current school program is phased out. The plan to house Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep in the building raised concerns about the fate of the district’s program for English learners in the building.
The board will vote Thursday on a plan to place both Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep in the building temporarily, while also moving forward with plans to place Strive and district school Kepner Beacon in the building in 2016. The district’s agreement with Compass specifies that the school will come to an agreement with DPS about services for English language learners.
The district delayed plans to place Strive and the Kepner Beacon program, an expansion of a current school at Grant Beacon, to open next fall.
District officials will also discuss updates to its plans for all turnaround schools and schools it has identified as otherwise in need of support.
The district plans to expand support and funding for turnaround schools to five years instead of three years. As part of its Whole Child initiative, turnaround schools will receive mental health-focused staff and supports for the community. The district also plans to add an instructional expert at each of its turnaround schools.
Turnaround schools will also get an additional planning year, and the district said it would plan to find leaders and teachers for turnaround schools early on in the planning process.
Denver Public Montessori, Harrington Elementary School, Schmitt Elementary, Beach Court Elementary, Goldrick Elementary, Morey Middle, Abraham Lincoln High, Henry Middle, and Amesse Elementary were all flagged as being in need of some improvement (not necessarily for turnaround). The district will analyze each school to decide which are eligible for which services in the coming months.
When Denver’s new Northfield High School opens next August, its students will report to their first class more than an hour later than students at most other district high schools.
The school’s planned 8:45 a.m. start time is a nod to the growing body of evidence that suggest teens are hard-wired to favor later bedtimes and do better academically when school schedules accommodate their natural sleep cycles.
Northfield Principal Avi Tropper said the decision to go with some version of a later start was based on abundant research, with community focus groups helping pinpoint the exact time.
“It’s pretty clear to me starting a school from the ground up…it’s just an opportunity from the beginning to do what works for students,” he said.
While later secondary start times are relatively uncommon, the concept is slowly gaining traction among educators in Colorado and across the country. In August, the topic got a burst of attention when the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, published a policy statement advocating for middle and high school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later.
It was news that grabbed the attention of Denver school board member Michael Johnson, prompting him to send the statement to fellow board members and district staff.
“This is something we ought to look at,” he said. “This might be something that we could do that would be relatively painless…and we might be able to bump up student achievement just by changing the schedule.”
Johnson said he doesn’t envision a districtwide mandate for later high school starts, but perhaps a recommendation with implementation supports for interested schools.Giving it a go
Among the small number of schools that have start times of 8:30 a.m. or after are Cortez Middle School and Montezuma-Cortez High School. An interim superintendent changed the previous 7:30 a.m. start to 8:50 a.m. in 2012 and at the same time changed the district’s four-day school week to a five-day week.
Jason Wayman, the high school principal, said adding Fridays back into the school week was the more controversial change, but the later start time drew some complaints too.
“I’ve gotten mixed feedback. You have a lot of kids who need the sleep and you have a bunch of kids who want out earlier because they have to go to work,” he said.
Other concerns, all fairly typical in the debate about later start times, include sports practices being pushed later, elementary schools starting earlier and tricky districtwide busing logistics. Wayman said because the district’s longer elementary bus routes are now completed before secondary bus routes, some of the high school buses arrive late.
Parent Sheri Noyes said her son, who graduated in 2013, liked the earlier start time better but her daughter, who is a junior, prefers the later start time. It gives the busy teen time before school to go to dance or track practice, and still make time for additional dance classes, or softball or soccer practice after school.
“I think all in all the late start time is good for the high school kids,” said Noyes. “I know it works for us.”
She said some families with elementary-aged children didn’t like the later start time at first because their older children were no longer dismissed in time to watch younger siblings after school.
“It wasn’t too friendly that way, but I think people have dealt with it,” she said.
Starting this year, the Harrison School District near Colorado Springs pushed back start times at all 20 of its schools, after a committee studied the issue for two years. High schools now start at 7:45 a.m. instead of 7:20 a.m, and elementary and middle schools now start at 8:35 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m. (On Mondays only, middle schools start at 10:05 a.m. and high schools start at 9:15 a.m.)
Christine Lyle, the district’s public information officer, said the late start discussion originated with concerns from school board members and parents about high school start times, but the committee concluded last spring that later starts would be good for all students.
While the new middle school start times align with the AAP’s recommendation, the high school start times are well shy of the 8:30-or-after goal.
Lyle said “We didn’t quite hit that with our high schools…I think we will continue to look at the data and study it. Obviously, we made the change before that recommendation came out.”
Anecdotally, the later start times are making a difference, though she said it’s hard to untangle the impact of the new schedule from the simultaneous districtwide implementation of “Breakfast After the Bell.”
“Our teachers feel like attendance is better, tardies are down, students are more engaged during instructional time,” she said.Reviewing the research
Early secondary start times have long been the norm at many schools. But research shows that students with such schedules get less sleep than they should, and both health and achievement suffer.
The August policy statement from the AAP noted that adolescents who get enough sleep—8.5-9.5 hours a night is recommended—are at reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in car accidents, and have better grades and higher standardized test scores.
So why don’t teenagers just go to bed earlier? The short answer is that biology doesn’t let them. That’s because sleep-wake cycles shift when kids hit puberty, making it harder for them to fall asleep as early as they did in elementary school. Experts say it’s normal for teens to be awake till about 11 p.m.
“Everybody who has kids knows that teenagers don’t get up in the morning very easily,” said Johnson, who currently has two children in high school.
Only about 15 percent of the nation’s high schools have start times of 8:30 a.m. or after, and 40 percent start before 8 a.m. In Denver, most high schools start between 7:15 a.m. and 7:45 a.m, and none start after 8 a.m.Change is hard
No matter how much scientific evidence there is to support later school start times, changing school schedules can be a hard process for families and schools. Aside from transportation, child care and extracurricular activity logistics, there’s plain old habit.
“My reaction is it’s probably inertia as much as anything,” said Johnson.
Even among the Northfield High community, which had no status quo to fall back on, there was some resistance to later start times. Tropper said some focus group participants said at first, “That’s impossible. It can’t work.”
After he presented findings from various studies, most people changed their minds. The school, which will have an extended day schedule will run from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. with mandatory daily physical education. For student athletes, that PE time may count for some of their daily sports practice.
Northfield’s scheduling experiment could be closely watched in Denver.
“If they have a later start time maybe that’ll get other schools looking at it,” said Johnson.
House Republican leaders on Monday made their committee assignments for the 2015 legislative session, including five members for the House Education Committee.
Returning to the panel are Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, the ranking minority member, and Reps. Justin Everett of Lakewood and Kevin Priola of Henderson.
Wilson has become a prominent GOP figure on education issues and has made priorities of increased funding for full day kindergarten and reduction of regulatory burdens for rural districts. Priola has pushed unsuccessfully for providing additional pay to highly effective teachers who work in low-performing schools. Everett has not been particularly active on education issues.
Newly elected GOP members who will join the committee are Paul Lundeen of Monument, who’s been chair of the State Board of Education, and JoAnn Windholz of Brighton, a businesswoman who won an upset victory over Democratic Rep. Jenise May in November.
Windholz’ campaign website says, “Education standards are the responsibility of local districts and states, not the federal government. JoAnn supports high education standards without federal interference.”