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Updated: 29 min 40 sec ago

More Colorado teachers left their school districts last year

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 13:42

More teachers left the school districts where they work last year than at any point in the past 15 years, according to new data from the Colorado Department of Education.

And individual districts have seen significant fluctuations in how many teachers stay in their districts from year to year. This is especially true in rural districts and in areas where dramatic policy changes have gone into effect in recent years.

Chalkbeat took a look at trends in districts’ teacher turnover in recent years and compiled a database including every district in the state. Here are some of the findings.

Search for your district in Chalkbeat’s database of district-level teacher turnover rates.

  Data source: Colorado Department of Education. Data reported as of Dec. 1 of each year.

Credits: Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat

//

Districts can’t entirely control when and why teachers leave

The rate of statewide turnover has hovered between 12 and 16 percent over the the past 15 years. This is the first year it has crept above 17 percent, but rates close to 16 percent were common in the early 2000s.

The teacher workforce has grown from approximately 42,000 teachers to closer to 51,000 during that time.

Teacher attrition is often caused by conditions outside of districts’ control, said Robert Reichardt, a consultant with Augenblick, Palaich and Associates who has studied teacher workforce issues in Colorado. He said those factors include the average age of teachers (the youngest and oldest teachers are more likely to leave their jobs) and the state of the economy (harder economic times, such as the years following the Great Recession of 2008, mean less turnover because jobs are harder to find).

State cuts to education funding and local budget woes also show up in individual districts’ attrition numbers. In Westminster, for instance, a sudden spike in teacher turnover in 2007-08 is directly related to the district’s closing of five schools that year to address budget woes.

A number of new state education laws and initiatives have gone into effect over the past decade, including a new accountability system and new state standards. Statewide turnover has crept up each year since the 2010 passage of Senate Bill 191, which required more in-depth evaluations for the state’s teachers and principals and tied evaluations to measures of student growth.

Teacher Turnover Rates in Colorado's 20 Largest School Districts
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Closely-watched Front Range districts have higher turnover now — but they’re not alone

About the data The Colorado Department of Education collects information about personnel turnover each year. The data for the 2014-15 school year includes transitions made as of December 1. This set of data does not count teachers who moved between schools within a district as having “turned over.” It does include teachers who have retired, returned to school, or switched jobs within a district. A teacher who has become a principal, for instance, shows up as having “turned over.”

In Douglas County, Jefferson County, and the Thompson school district, where more conservative school boards riled some staff, students, and community members with new policies, more teachers are leaving the districts than in the past.

In Douglas County, the biggest jump was between 2012-13, when 13 percent of teachers left, and 2013-14, when 17 percent left.

In Jefferson County, teacher turnover increased from 10 percent to 15 percent between 2013-14 and 2014-15. And in the Thompson, the teacher turnover rate jumped from 13 percent to 20 percent in the same timeframe.

Those jumps in some of the state’s largest districts helped push up the state’s overall rate this year.

But districts with new boards aren’t alone in seeing upticks. The fast-growing Adams 12 and Adams 50 districts have also seen their turnover rates increase, while the Brighton and Falcon districts have seen major fluctuations over that same period.

And rates in all Jefferson and Douglas Counties are still lower than in more urban and less-affluent districts.

Data source: Colorado Department of Education. Data reported as of Dec. 1 of each year.
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Rural schools have the highest and the lowest rates of teacher turnover

School districts with the highest and the lowest rates of turnover were in rural Colorado.

The Agate district in the Eastern Plains, the only district with a zero percent turnover rate, also bears the distinction of being the smallest district in the state.

Meanwhile, the tiny Karval district had the highest rate in the state. More than 80 percent of its teachers left this academic year after the district closed an online school that had enrolled a significant portion of its students.

The small size of the districts means that each teacher’s departure registers larger than in a bigger district. And in districts with very few schools, teachers don’t have other options within the district.

But Paula Stephenson, the Executive Director of the Colorado Rural Caucus, said that teacher recruitment and retention are perennial problems for small rural districts. Many teachers who do come eventually leave for higher pay and larger communities.

She said that in rural districts with higher retention rates, superintendents have often recruited local talent and people who are interested in a more rural lifestyle.

The state’s rural caucus has named teacher retention and recruitment as a major priority this year.

Some districts are trying to address high turnover rates with new policies and pay scales

The highest turnover rate among the 20 largest school districts in the state is in the Harrison school district, near Colorado Springs, where close to a third of teachers have left the district in each of the past three school years. The district’s teachers’ salaries have been based on evaluations and academic progress, not time on the job, since 2010.

Now Harrison officials are considering adding longevity pay for teachers who have been with the district for five or more years. “We want our talent to stay with us,” said district spokeswoman Christine Lyle.

Lyle said that the district employs more Teach For America corps members than some neighboring districts, and that some, but not all, of those teachers stay on for longer than their two-year commitment. She said the district’s proximity to a military base also contributes to high teacher mobility.

Meanwhile, Denver Public Schools is focusing on reducing principal turnover, which officials say is tied to teacher turnover. The district has also started using “voluntary teacher turnover” — teachers who are leaving not because they were fired or promoted — as an indicator of schools’ quality. DPS is also planning to increase financial incentives for teachers who work in high-needs schools, which have the highest rates of turnover.

Officials say not all turnover is a bad thing and tie high departure rates to low scores on evaluations

DPS reported that last year, teachers with higher scores on its LEAP evaluation system were less likely to leave.

Douglas County school officials made a similar claim. “Higher turnover in the Ineffective and Partially Effective categories allows us the opportunity to get the best teachers in front of our students,” said Paula Hans, the district’s spokesperson, in an email. She said that more than 90 percent of teachers rated highly effective or effective have stayed with the district, while a third of teachers rated partially effective and all of those rated ineffective have left.

These evaluation systems have been greeted with mixed reviews by the state’s teachers. The teacher TELL survey found that teachers were skeptical of new evaluation systems, though attitudes varied in different districts.

And from an economic perspective, turnover isn’t all bad for districts. While pension plans incentivize teachers to stay in their posts for longer periods of time, “the reality is that new teachers are cheaper than old teachers,” said Reichardt.

Data source: Colorado Department of Education. Data reported as of Dec. 1 of each year.
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Districts with high poverty rates have higher rates of teacher turnover

School districts with the highest rates of students eligible for subsidized school lunches had higher rates of turnover than districts with the lowest poverty rates.

“The teachers with the least experience are often put into the toughest settings,” said Bruce Caughey, the executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives. He said that new teachers are not prepared by their training for the challenges that face them in schools with the neediest students. Schools with higher poverty rates are also more likely to be the targets of turnaround efforts that involve replacing teachers.

The Charter School Institute had a higher rate of turnover than most school districts, but it includes only a fraction of the state’s charter schools

The new state data does not separate out charter schools authorized by districts, which make up the bulk of the state’s charter schools. It does include the state’s Charter School Institute, which currently has 34 charter schools throughout the state. The CSI’s turnover rate was 36 percent in 2014-15 and 48 percent in 2013-14.

Institute Executive Director Ethan Hemming said that the rate has fluctuated as the Institute has added and removed schools.

Hemming said that the fact that charters do not have to follow district or union rules about hiring or firing teachers may be a factor in the high turnover rates, and that leaders should acknowledge and address high rates of attrition.

Notice anything interesting? Send us an email at co.tips@chalkbeat.org or let us know in the comments.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Find your district’s teacher turnover rate

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 13:42

Colorado teachers were slightly more likely to leave their school districts this year than at any point in the recent past. But turnover rates have varied significantly from district to district and from year to year.

Chalkbeat has compiled a database of district-level teacher turnover rates for each of the past three years.

Search for your Colorado school district’s rate below. For a closer look at turnover rates throughout the state, read this Chalkbeat story.

And check out our data center for more searchable databases about schools and districts in Colorado.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco board member makes controversial comparison

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 08:30

money matters

The majority of the Jefferson County school board signaled Tuesday it had no intention of steering more money into teacher pay in its next budget. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

apples to oranges

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk compared funding disparities between charter schools and district schools to racial discrimination in the South in the 1960s. ( 9News )

money matters

Boulder Valley School District officials Tuesday described next school year's budget as "disappointing" because of lower-than-expected funding from the state. ( Daily Camera )

poverty's early impact

Poverty, which affects a growing number of American students, begins its negative impact on learning as early as the beginning of kindergarten, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report released Thursday. ( Huffington Post )

good faith

Despite the last couple of years of tension in the Adams 12 Five Star School District, it appears that both sides of the negotiating table are finding a way to do what’s right by teachers and students. ( Complete Colorado )

life lessons

More and more people in education agree on the importance of learning stuff other than academics. But no one agrees on what to call that "stuff". ( KUNC/NPR )

fail first

PBS education correspondent John Merrow says students need to know that adults try and fail and fail and fail — and keep on trying. More than that, they need to experience failure. ( PBS News Hour )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board likely won’t add more money for teacher raises next year

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 16:31

GOLDEN — The majority of the Jefferson County school board signaled Tuesday it had no intention of steering more money into teacher pay in its next budget.

The increased amount earmarked for employee compensation, about $12 million, coupled with ongoing teacher contract negotiations has become the latest political hot potato in the suburban school district.

The Jefferson County Education Association said the district needs to put more money on the negotiating table, especially if it wants to lure new hires by paying teachers more early in their career and compensating for advanced degrees.

But both board chairman Ken Witt and secretary John Newkirk said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that the district could not afford more money for raises.

The standoff between the school district and its board and the teachers union potentially means school principals won’t be able to fill about 300 open teaching positions before school starts in August.

The budget as proposed, includes $5.2 million for raises, $5 million for health insurance and retirement benefits, $1.2 million to pay for master’s degrees and other factors, and $763,000 for substitute teacher raises.

“These problems weren’t created by this board, they were inherited by this board,” Newkirk said, referring to the approximately $27 million in pay freezes teachers have lived through since the Great Recession. “It’s going to take more time and money than we have in this budget cycle.”

He added, “I think [$12 million in compensation increases is] reasonable for what we have to work with.”

Jeffco is receiving about $19.3 million more dollars from the state this year than last. But that’s a small increase for a billion-dollar budget.

Next school year will be the first per pupil funding is greater than pre-recession levels in Jefferson County. In the 2009-2010 school year, Jeffco received $7,070 per pupil. In 2015-2016 the per pupil funding will be $7,109. Per pupil funding was at its lowest, $6,309, during the 2011-2012 school year.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper said teachers aren’t asking for all $27 million back. But she said the district should find another $3.5 million for compensation. That additional amount would allow the district to pay new hires and 1,600 veteran teachers a comparable salary, district officials said.

“This budget doesn’t cut it in terms of compensation,” Dahlkemper said.

About a dozen Jefferson County residents and teachers spoke during public comment. Most suggested the board find more money to increase pay for district veterans.

“We are not prioritizing the most important element of my children’s education — their teachers,” said Lisa Cook, a Jeffco parent.

The school board will hold another public hearing on the budget June 11. By law, the board must adopt a budget for next school year by June 30.

The next bargaining session between the district and JCEA is scheduled for June 10.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the district planned to spend an extra $12 million on teacher compensation. That amount is for all employees, not just licensed staff.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Sheridan wants every freshman to have a mentor

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 09:32

Church and state

A teacher in Florence is suing his school district claiming unconstitutional promotion of religion at the district’s high school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

"By using a public school to further their own personal religious beliefs, the school administration made us all fund their own personal religion. Not only is that illegal, it’s wrong," says Paul Maxon, an attorney for the plaintiff, Robert Basevitz ( CPR )

But the pastor at the center of the controversy said he will not apologize for being in Florence High School. ( Denver Post )

Mentors matter

The Sheridan School District wants every incoming freshman to have a mentor next school year. ( 9News )

dollars and sense

Boulder Valley School District officials Tuesday described next school year's budget as balanced but "disappointing" because of lower-than-expected funding from the state. ( Daily Camera )

School safety

A recent stabbing at K-8 school in Broomfield has raised concerns and questions about how schools will improve safety features when students return to class in the fall. ( Times-Call )

healthy weekends

Despite a program's growth, there are still hundreds in the Thompson School District who still need the food bags to make it through the weekend. ( Reporter Herald )

Categories: Urban School News

Teacher sues Florence district for alleged promotion of religion

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 17:52

Updated May 27 – A teacher filed suit against the Florence school district Tuesday, claiming unconstitutional promotion of religion at the district’s high school.

Robert Basevitz, a teacher at Penrose Elementary School in the 1,373-student Fremont RE-2 School District, filed his complaint in U.S. District Court in Denver.

“This is not one or two isolated incidents but pervasive entanglement with religion” at Florence High School, said Boulder lawyer Paul Maxon, who is representing Basevitz.

Named as defendants are the district, Superintendent Rhonda Roberts (listed by her previous surname of Vendetti in the suit) and Florence High Principal Brian Schipper.

According to the suit, Basevitz started working at Florence High last fall but was transferred to Penrose in January at the same time administrators decided to take no action on an administrative complaint he filed last December. The suit describes Basevitz as “to his knowledge, the district’s only Jewish employee.” (Read the full complaint at the bottom of this article.)

Maxon said Basevitz chose to file a suit “because we weren’t able to resolve it informally.”

The suit alleges a “pattern and practice of the defendants’ endorsement and promotion of religion in a public school setting” and argues that Florence High “operates largely to promote the evangelical Christian ideals of The Cowboy Church at Crossroads.”

That non-denominational church holds Sunday worship in the school cafeteria. The suit claims that a student group named the Fellowship of Christian Huskies is “a front designed to allow Pastor [Randy] Pfaff and the church to use the school as a platform for his ‘mission work’ of preaching to students and staff.”

As examples of improper religions activities, the suit cites:

  • Daily prayer around the flagpole outside the school’s main entrance. The suit claims crowds sometime are so large that they block the main entrance, and that administrators suggested Basevitz use side entrances if the front door was blocked.
  • Distribution of religious flyers in school.
  • Use of the school’s public address system for church announcements.
  • Placement of a prayer request box in the faculty lounge.
  • Use of classrooms for weekly “Jesus Pizza” sessions for students.
  • Annual presentation of bibles to graduating seniors during a ceremony in the school.

Superintendent Roberts said Tuesday that administrators hadn’t yet seen a copy of the complaint, but on Wednesday she issued this response:

“The district and our legal team have been working diligently to settle this matter informally, but regretfully, we were unable to do so. … I also want to reassure our community that Florence High School has been, and continues to be, an educational institution that does not promote religion, as contended in the complaint. The majority of the information in the complaint is inaccurate, or at best, taken out of context. Any concerns raised by Mr. Basevitz were immediately addressed.

“Additionally, it is important to understand that there has been no retaliation against Mr. Basevitz. All of the district’s staffing decisions are based on the needs of our students and consistent with the terms of our negotiated agreement.

“Fremont RE-2 School District is in compliance with the guidance in law regarding the separation of church and state. The district is committed to following the letter of the law, while still allowing students the right to have student-led clubs that reflect their interests.”

The lawsuit concludes, “The defendants’ actions are designed to, and have the effect of showing favoritism toward religions, and in particular Christianity, in violation of the establishment clause of the 1st and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution.”

The suit requests an injunction banning the flagpole prayer, using the school for church events and other alleged practices.

The lawyer said he wasn’t aware of any recent similar cases in Colorado but referred to “a larger movement nationwide by evangelical organizations to bring religion back into the schools.” He cited a recent article in The Nation magazine as evidence of that trend.

A national group named See You at the Pole promotes an annual prayer session around school flagpoles. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 23.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Tracing Colorado schools’ transition to Common Core

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 09:52

New Way of Walking

A look at what teaching to the Common Core looks like in action at Ashley Elementary in Denver. (Part one of a Denver Post series on the Common Core) ( Denver Post )

New Way of Walking

At Boston K-8, a school in Aurora, transitioning to the Common Core has involved a steep learning curve for students and staff. (Part two of a Denver Post series on the Common Core) ( Denver Post )

Opt Out Repercussions

A Boulder teacher was stripped of his teaching assignment for teaching Advanced Placement courses during standardized testing time to his students - all of whom had opted out of the standardized tests. ( Daily Camera, 9News )

Common Core

For high schoolers, the switch to Common Core brings a change in expectations. (Part three) ( Denver Post )

Evaluations

The Denver school board approved the district's plan to not tie teacher evaluations to test scores for the 2014-15 school year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Transitions

Frank DeAngelis, the former principal of Columbine High School, is adjusting to retirement. ( Denver Post )

Tightropes

In college admissions, the goal is creating a "balanced class" as much as it is being fair to any individual student. ( KUNC )

Buildings

Douglas County parents are pushing the school board to put a bond for unmet capitol and building needs on the ballot this fall. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Survey

Douglas County board members have not administered a survey of staff and community to gauge the popularity of reforms since 2012. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Filmmaking

A former Colorado Springs teacher made a documentary that aims to "bring trust back to teachers." ( The Gazette )

Transitions

A new superintendent in Colorado Springs said his focus will be on building relationships with the community. ( The Gazette )

Contagion

Are Tennessee teachers unwittingly contributing to testing anxiety? ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Two cents

A Denver educator writes that technology can help close achievement gaps. ( Denver Post )

Jeffco Public Schools

A Jeffco parent and former teacher is planning to run for school board and says she hopes to bring a neutral voice to the table. ( Arvada Press )

Security?

Jefferson County Schools' decision to not host a Gov. Hickenlooper for a bill signing has drawn criticism. ( Arvada Press )

Student data

State legislators are struggling to address concerns about student data privacy. ( Education Week )

test scores

Selective high schools ponder increasing diversity. ( Education Week )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Why kindergarteners might need more play and less work

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 17:41
  • A growing number of researchers and educators say that the current trend of less play and more academic work in the early grades could be slowing emotional and cognitive development. (New York Times)
  • One-room schoolhouses continue to thrive in Michigan, even close to much larger school districts, in part because parents from larger districts are choosing to send their students there. (Bridge)
  • A focus group of Iowa Republican likely caucus-goers admitted that they aren’t judging Jeb Bush’s support for the Common Core because they don’t understand what it is. (Vox)
  • A British study found that schools with complete bans on cell phones posted higher test scores. (EdWeek)
  • Families at an elite New York private elementary school are divided over a new program to combat racism by discussing the racial awareness with third-graders in and out of racial “affinity groups.” (New York Magazine)
  • At Vox, Jenée Desmond-Harris argues the program is a good idea because it teaches that ignoring racism doesn’t work and it increases white students’ awareness of their own role in ending racism. (Vox)
  • The epidemic of male loneliness and suicide begins with the odd societal expectations around boy friendships. (The Good Men Project)
  • A columnist argues that myths of manhood are harmful to boyhood, but a Colorado high school seminar is trying to change that. (Denver Post)
  • Are tests biased against kids who just don’t give a, um, hoot? (The Onion)
  • Today’s the last day of school in lots of places. Here’s a history of the making of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” (Deadspin)
  • And in honor of David Letterman’s last Late Show, here’s one advocate’s top ten ways to have a better conversation about education. (Education Post)
Categories: Urban School News

Denver school board OKs not using student data for teacher evaluations

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 14:20

The Denver Public Schools board voted Thursday to approve the district’s plan to not use students’ results on state or local tests as a part of teacher evaluations this year.

But principals will be able to consider available information about students’ growth compared to academic peers when making decisions about teachers whose scores place them on a cusp between ratings.

By state law, school districts are required to use measures of student growth, a calculation based on scores on state or local tests, as 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations. The other half is based on measures of professional practice, which include ratings from observations by supervisors and student surveys.

But since the state is using a new standardized test this year, local school districts are permitted to use growth as a smaller portion of evaluations or not at all.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole vote against approving the resolution. He said LEAP, the district’s teacher evaluation and performance management system, is more accurate than previous evaluation systems but is still a subjective measure of teachers’ performance.

Check out our Board Tracker for a full list of all Denver Public Schools board votes.

The board also approved a slate of personnel decisions that included teacher non-renewals for teachers on probationary status. Denver teachers are on probationary status until they have demonstrated three years of effectiveness under LEAP. (This presentation describes changes to LEAP and district non-renewal policies)

About 5 percent of district teachers, and 10 percent of teachers who are still on probationary status, were not renewed this year, said Denver’s Chief Human Resources Officer Shayne Spalten. That is consistent with past years’ rates, she said.

This year, 2 percent of teachers are not immediately eligible to be rehired and must show three years of success in a different district before reapplying for jobs in Denver. Fewer than 1 percent of teachers are permanently ineligible to be rehired. The remainder of non-renewed teachers are eligible to be rehired immediately in other schools.

More than a dozen teachers appeared before the board to contest their non-renewals. Several contested the district’s policy of requiring some teachers who are non-renewed to wait for three years before reapplying to work in the district, while others made pleas for the board to consider personal or professional circumstances.

Board member Jimenez also voted against the personnel transactions.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Fears raised about Lincoln High campus sharing

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 09:26

Jeffco Interrupted

The Jefferson County school district and its teachers union failed Thursday evening to reach an agreement about how much to pay teachers new to the district in the fall. That means the district potentially won’t be able to fill hundreds of teaching positions at the peak of its hiring season. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Out of the box

DPS is investing significant time and money in hopes that the non-traditional program will improve principals’ and instructional superintendents’ skills, job satisfaction and retention. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing relief

Colorado families Thursday got good news on shorter state testing times, just a day after a new law was signed that will reduce the number of tests students have to take during their school careers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

BEST grants

Annual grants recommended by the state’s school construction board include a $14.9 million project to renovate and expand a 93-year-old junior/senior high school for the Edison district in rural El Paso County. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

First person

Students need to learn about healthy relationships between governments and citizens, writes Aswad Allen of the CU Denver school of education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Nervous

Representatives from the Abraham Lincoln High School community came to the DPS board Thursday to express their concern over the possibility of a middle school being added to the campus. ( Your Hub )

Human Resources

The Englewood school board has chosen Chatfield High School Principal Wendy Rubin as the district’s next superintendent. ( Englewood Herald )

Contract troubles

A second effort at a teachers' contract failed when the Thompson school board rejected the negotiated contract by a 4-3 vote — the second failure in as many meetings. ( Reporter-Herald )

Jeffco Interrupted II

An information sheet sent to members of the Jeffco teachers union hints at the possibility of a strike, but a union spokesman said efforts are still focused on collaborating with the school district. ( High Timber Times )

Campaign notebook

Incumbent Denise Montagu has announced that she will run for reelection to the Thompson School District Board of Education. ( Reporter-Herald )

Gavin Kaszynski, director of finance at a medical practice, is running for one of five seats up for election on the Poudre School District’s Board of Education. ( Coloradoan )

Historic first

For the first time in its history, the prestigious Boettcher Scholarship has been given to a student who entered the United States illegally. ( 9News )

Door is closed

Overcrowding has forced the Aspen school district to end a policy that offered automatic high school enrollment to students from the K-8 Aspen Community School charter in Woody Creek. ( Aspen Times )

Balancing act

The Durango school district, like many others, is doing a lot of juggling to come up with a budget for the 2015-16 school year. ( Durango Herald )

Top students

Young entrepreneurs compete for cash at Denver’s first “Guppy Tank” competition for students, a modern twist on science fair projects. ( Denver Post )

Five eighth-graders in the gifted and talented program at Challenger Middle School in El Paso County who won the state Optimist Brain Bowl championship left Friday for the national contest in New Orleans. ( Gazette )

Soggy

The wet weather has forced Greeley high school graduations indoors. ( Greeley Tribune )

Community concern

Recent youth suicides at a Colorado Springs middle school represent a “terrifying situation” that must be addressed, an El Paso County official says. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Jefferson County teacher contract talks stall

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 22:35

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County school district and its teachers union failed Thursday evening to reach an agreement about how much to pay teachers new to the district in the fall. That means the district potentially won’t be able to fill hundreds of teaching positions at the peak of its hiring season.

Representatives from the school district and union took a detour from bargaining over a new contract to discuss the matter, after a judge put on hold a portion of a compensation system that paid experienced teachers new to Jeffco more than district veterans.

District officials said a new proposal that increases compensation for new hires and gives raises to only about 25 percent of district veterans would make Jeffco Public Schools competitive for the first time in years, especially when vying for teachers early in their careers.

Representatives from the Jefferson County Education Association said it was a slap in the face to veterans who weathered the Great Recession with the suburban Denver school district.

“You’re gonna lose us. You’re gonna lose me. That’s not what is best for kids,” North Arvada Middle School teacher Barb Aswege said during Thursday’s bargaining session. “I will leave if you pay new hires more than me.”

Jeffco’s chief human resource officer Amy Weber told the bargaining team that the district has in the past hired some new teachers with comparable credentials and paid them more than district veterans.

“This is not a new problem that was created with the plan to hire new teachers,” Weber said. “That existed with the old approach.”

JCEA members stressed that the district had to find more money to pay veteran teachers.

Jeffco’s proposed budget for next year allocates about $3 million for raises. That money would be spent quickly by providing raises to district veterans who began their careers after 2010, when the district froze its salary schedule, and for those teachers who earned a master’s degree after 2012, when the district stopped compensating for advanced degrees.

District officials had proposed spending about $5 million left over from the current school year on raises for teachers next year. But the Jeffco school board’s majority decided that all savings from this school year should go toward construction needs.

Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson said the district’s budget is under more than usual pressure from mandates, including $3 million going to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“If I could find more money, I’d be thrilled,” she said during an interview.

The district’s lawyer, Jim Branum, asked union representatives repeatedly to first negotiate a salary schedule to determine how much new hires would make before moving on to how much teachers returning to the district would be paid.

“We do not have the authority to spend the money to address that bigger, broader question,” Branum said.

JCEA said it would meet with district officials after the school board holds a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the budget. The next regularly scheduled negotiating meeting is June 10.

Thursday’s meeting had the largest audience — about 100 teachers and parents — since the school district and union began negotiations in March. The current agreement expires on Aug. 31.

New outlets recently reported that the union has circulated information about what a strike might mean for teachers. A spokesman said the union is focused on negotiating in good faith with the district.

Categories: Urban School News

State construction grant will upgrade 93-year-old school

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 19:33

Annual grants recommended by the state’s school construction board include a $14.9 million project to renovate and expand a 93-year-old junior/senior high school for the Edison district in rural El Paso County.

The state Capital Construction Assistance Board this week recommended approval of 26 projects totaling $90.2 million, including $47.5 million in state funds and $42.6 million in local matches. The State Board of Education and a legislative committee have to review the recommendations next.

Edison’s school was built in 1922, with a major addition constructed 47 years ago. The district’s application to the Building Excellent Schools Today program includes a long list of structural, safety, utility, and instructional deficiencies that will be remedied by the project. The district has 194 students, 39 percent classified as at-risk.

The BEST program, created by the legislature in 2008, was designed especially to help small districts like Edison that have aging buildings but insufficient financial resources to build on their own. Edison, for instance, was required to provide matching funds of only $274,202.

The state portion of BEST is funded primarily by annual revenues from state school lands. In past years the program has been able to award more grants because sales of bond-like instruments were used to fund construction, with the debt paid off over time. For instance, $273 million in projects was recommended in 2012.

But BEST has reached its legal ceiling of $40 million in annual bond repayments so now can make only cash grants, mostly for smaller renovation projects.

Two projects on the priority list recommended this week are larger than Edison’s, including a $27.5 million project in the Roaring Fork district and $16.7 million school addition in DeBeque. But in both those cases the districts are putting up the majority of the money.

State officials estimate Colorado has an $18 billion backlog of school replacement and renovation needs.

Get the full list of recommended 2015-16 BEST grants and learn more about this year’s applications here.

Categories: Urban School News

DPS leaning on non-traditional leadership training program

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:56

By the end of this summer, more than a third of Denver’s principals and all of its instructional superintendents will have participated in a training run by the nonprofit Relay Graduate School of Education, a nontraditional education leadership program that grew out of a teacher training program started by leaders of several well-known charter school networks.

The district is investing significant time and money in hopes that the program will improve principals’ and instructional superintendents’ skills, job satisfaction, and retention. That, the thinking goes, will improve the quality of and caliber of academics at the schools.

Chief Schools Officer Susana Cordova said that the district wants to tailor the program to Denver Public Schools, which has a more diverse population and set of schools than the charter networks for which it was originally designed.

But Cordova said the program’s building blocks, which include using video recordings to analyze specific practices, strategies for working with data, and giving specific feedback, are useful for most school leaders. She said the program is voluntary and drew more interest than the district had reserved spots for this summer.

“Relay has really given us some common language and common approaches for school leaders, especially in approaching data-driven instruction, thinking about observation and feedback, and looking at school culture,” Cordova said.

Leadership ecosystem

Relay has campuses in Chicago, Philadelphia, Memphis, New York, Houston, Delaware, New Orleans, and New York. It was founded by leaders of three urban charter school networks, KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First. The initial focus was on training teachers who went on to work in charter schools that worked with low-income students and used the highly structured model sometimes referred to as “No Excuses.”

But DPS’ main focus has been on Relay’s newer leadership program, which Norman Atkins, the organization’s president, said was created to fill a gap in practical offerings aimed at improving principals’ effectiveness.

Last summer, Denver sent 19 instructional superintendents, who manage principals, and 23 principals to New York for training sessions. This year, as many as 85 Denver school leaders will attend a two-week training in Denver. That’s the largest group of principals and instructional superintendents to participate in Relay training from any one district.

DPS has budgeted approximately $400,000 for Relay training this year. The district is using funds from the Wallace Foundation, the Colorado Department of Education, and school budgets to cover the training costs.

The introduction of Relay’s teacher training program in several cities triggered concerns about its content and fears that the program might replace existing, more traditional university-based programs.

Denver is already home to a variety of district and nonprofit leadership programs. Jane Shirley, a vice president at Catapult Leadership, said the programs need not conflict. “I think that they can really effectively build on one another,” she said.

Principals and instructional leaders do not receive course credits or degrees at the end of this program. Relay does offer a separate masters degree.

How it works

The Relay National Principals Leadership Academy includes a two-week session in the summer and four in-person follow-up sessions over the course of the year.

The program focuses on concrete skills and strategies rather than on theories of leadership. Its website describes the vision: “We believe that becoming a great teacher or principal is much like becoming a great musician or surgeon: It takes relentless practice, feedback and dedication.”

The summer session focuses on a set of topics that include data-driven instruction, school culture, and giving feedback. Over the course of the year, participants practice and receive feedback on specific skills or ideas.

Many of the components a principal might introduce to teachers are very specific, such as starting the day by greeting each student; creating routines to transition between classes; or standing still while teaching to help focus students’ attention.

An instructional superintendent focused on giving feedback might film herself having a conference with a principal and then analyze whether she and her employee had really landed on the same page at the end of a conversation.

There’s also a focus for both principals working with teachers and instructional superintendents working with principals on using “bite-sized” feedback and tackling and improving one skill at a time.

Mixed response

Relay has drawn praise from many participants, who say it offers practical strategies for honing in on the details that matter for improving schools. “It’s difficult to find professional development that’s relevant once you’ve been a principal for a while,” said Ginger Conroy, the principal at DCIS Ford. “But this was.”

“They weren’t things I was unfamiliar with — data-driven culture, focusing on adult culture — but it was very efficient and effective,” Conroy said. She said the Relay training had introduced her to a group of principals from around the country who shared her passion for education and were experiencing many of the same challenges as her.

Tanya Carter, an instructional superintendent in the Denver Summit Schools Network, of which DCIS Ford is a part, said the Relay training had helped focus her conversations with principals. “It helps us not get into some of the other noise.”

Carter said it had been helpful to go to the same trainings as the principals she works with. “We’re talking the same language and have the same goals,” she said, adding that the program has value even for more experienced school leaders.

Conroy said her school had introduced a few new routines due to the training, but that there had not been pressure to change any specific parts of her school.

But in some corners, the program’s approach to school culture and climate and that same attention to detail have drawn some concerns.

Tonda Potts, the principal at Park Hill Elementary School, has not gone through the training, but said she is concerned that the rituals and strategies would disrupt established school cultures at successful schools.

A group of parents in Park Hill Elementary’s Collaborative School Council watched videos based on the Relay training. Some said they were unnerved by the practices they observed, which one parent described as regimented and contrary to the spirit of free inquiry.

Cordova said that the training is voluntary for leaders and that each principal can choose how to tailor the strategies to their schools. “We’re figuring out how we make this make sense for each or our schools given our wide range of schools. We’re not Uncommon,” she said. “We have learned a lot from the trainings, but we don’t feel it has everything we have to learn.”

“But we want to be able to have conversations where all of our leaders have an opportunity to say, this is what I need to work on, as well as to say, this is what I’m seeing in practice,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

Healthy relationship between governments, citizens is a must for our students to learn

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 15:40

In April, the University of Colorado Denver hosted the second annual Colorado Black Education Impact (BE!) Conference on the Auraria campus.

The conference brought together 300mlocal high school students, parents, educators, and community leaders to explore solutions regarding Colorado’s educational culture gap and to encourage group and individual ownership of our youth’s education and development.

The ongoing goal of the conference is to promote student engagement, elevate promising practices associated with enhancing the educational experience for our African American/black students, and contextually support academic success.

Community health and safety are inexorably linked to education, especially in a time when communities are questioning the social equity of our society. It’s critical that citizens and institutions take a close look at the role and responsibility we all play in creating a safe place to live, work, and learn.

At the core, creating a safe community for our students does not have anything to do with race, ethnicity or social status. It has everything to do with the basic human right to life. This year’s BE! Conference magnified the importance of a healthy relationship between governments and their citizens to create a safe place for our students to live and to learn.

The focus of BE! is to facilitate the interaction between students and adults, while providing the opportunity for student voices to be heard. Student-led workshops for other students focused on topics including college readiness, public safety and youth, combating racial profiling in the classroom, academic justice, and multicultural identity and communication.

At the adult sessions, Denver Police Chief Robert White and clinical psychologist Dr. Peggy Mitchell Clark discussed how improving relations between citizens and police and how raising awareness of mental health issues can have a positive impact on education; a community that feels safe can better support and educate its youth.

Student facilitated sessions at BE! demonstrated the willingness of youth to become involved with their education through community change. Students led and participated in discussions centering on racial identity and racialized experiences that highlighted the importance of understanding differences and the power of forgiveness as central in resolving race oriented strife.

A session about racial profiling in the classroom revealed empirical data regarding standardized testing, and the impact on college access for people from ethnically diverse communities. Participants learned how the limitations of language and monolithic values can negatively affect diverse test takers and produce unfavorable test outcomes. These findings raised awareness around standard test preparation and reform.

Throughout the student and adult sessions, relationship building emerged as a common theme vital to student success. Public safety officials need to have positive relationships with youth, with parents, and with educators so that our students feel safe.

In the adult sessions, it was apparent that Chief White and the City of Denver genuinely care about the state of affairs in education and want to understand the social context of the city they are policing.

While it was reassuring to hear Chief White’s commitment to the Denver youth in the adult session, it was the panel discussions with high school students that underscored the importance of brining youth together to discuss education and social justice. Throughout the day students indicated the value that education plays in solving social justice challenges. As students discussed high profile cases of racial violence and discussed their own, often negative interactions with police, it was clear they understand that they too, play a role in advancing social equality.

As an educator, it was uplifting for me to hear that students recognize that they need to be educated to make a difference. At the end it was clear, it is this kind of positive, knowledge based orientation towards social change that empowers our youth.

Overall, spending a day surrounded by the engagement and power at BE! highlighted the importance of listening and community dialogue. Listening to youth is a way to generate positive relationships, mutual understanding, and recognize the shared ownership in our students’ educational success. It is our goal to empower our students to take charge of their education and personal development by seeking help and resources, sharing their insights about their learning experiences, and establishing trusting relationships with adults and educators.

The BE! Conference was created as a way for CU Denver to facilitate connections with our surrounding community, and bridge relationships between the campus, community leaders, parents, and youth.

As we continue to build capacity for critical community dialogue, our goal is to establish a national platform for promoting sustainable student support networks.

In the end it is paramount that young people everywhere know that they have the right to life and education in a safe place.

Categories: Urban School News

PARCC board decides to make tests shorter

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 13:21

Colorado families Thursday got good news on shorter state testing times, just a day after a new law was signed that will reduce the number of tests students have to take during their school careers.

The governing board of PARCC, the multi-state group that provides state language arts and math tests, has voted to reduce total testing time by about 90 minutes in each grade. This means the testing time for high school students will be reduced by about 12 percent, and the time for 3rd graders by about 15 percent.

Math tests will be about an hour shorter and language arts tests will be reduced by 30 minutes. The shorter exams will launch in 2015-16.

The testing group also made changes in the timing of the online exams and reduced the number of sessions for each test.

Timing – The two testing “windows” used this spring will be combined into one next year. This year districts gave the performance-based PARCC tests between March 2 and April 3. Districts started giving end-of-year tests on April 20, and those tests have to be finished by Friday.

The new single testing window will start after 75 percent of the school year has been completed in mid to late March and run for about four weeks. Districts can choose when to give tests within the window. Exams for individual schools don’t last for the entire window. (See this Department of Education chart for more information on currently testing windows.)

Source: Colorado Department of Education

The performance-based portion includes writing exercises and other questions that require students to perform tasks, not just answer multiple-choice questions. The end-of-year exams are more oriented toward multiple-choice. Both types of questions will be combined in the new system.

Sessions – The language arts and math tests are broken into sessions, or what PARCC calls “units.” These also are being reduced. The total number of units given for both tests will be cut from eight to seven in grades 3-8 and from nine to six in high school.

But combination of the two testing windows will mean students will spend more time testing in March than they did this spring during the first window. Spokeswoman Dana Smith of CDE said, “Educators told us that it would make administration easier if they only had to gear up once for the tests.”

The testing group indicated previously that it was working to shorten the tests. “This is a move in the right direction,” said education Commissioner Robert Hammond, who serves on the PARCC board. “As long as we have the PARCC tests in Colorado, we need to listen to our educators, parents and students and adapt as necessary to ensure that the tests are as easy as possible to administer while protecting accuracy and reliability.”

About 540,000 Colorado students in grades three through 11 took the PARCC this spring. Overall, five million students in 11 states and the District of Columbia participated in the exams.

Earlier this month the legislature passed a bill that reduces high school testing and streamlines the non-PARCC assessments given in grades K-3, among other changes. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed that bill Wednesday. (Get more details in the new testing law in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.)

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: History curriculum remains national education battleground

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 09:24

details, details

Negotiations on a new contract between the Jefferson County school district and its teachers union are taking a detour Thursday to hammer out how the district will pay new teachers this fall. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

lovey-dovey

With the nail-biting legislative session safely behind them, Gov. John Hickenlooper and key lawmakers were brimming with good cheer Wednesday as Hickenlooper signed two testing bills into law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

history hissy fit

Ongoing disputes across the country, which first ignited last year in Jeffco, center on the new American History AP course offered in public high schools, which critics argue paints the American legacy in an unduly harsh light. The new AP course was launched last year. ( Deseret News )

concussion controversy

A high school student student is suing the Illinois High School Association over its head-injury policies, making it the first state association that could face class-action scrutiny and the latest football governing body to be sued over concussions, joining the likes of the N.F.L., the N.C.A.A. and Pop Warner. ( New York Times )

What is this thing you call an envelope?

A group of Cherry Creek third-graders have gone old school and learned life lessons by becoming pen-and-ink, snail-mail pen pals with a class of their contemporaries from inner-city Philadelphia. ( 9News )

Better them than me

It felt more like the Polar Plunge than a spring day at the Boulder Reservoir, but Centaurus High students risked the chilly water Wednesday in the name of engineering. ( Daily Camera )

Your papers, please

No doubt about it: The Air Force Academy is an awe-inspiring place to hold a high school graduation ceremony. But that awe comes with a price: delays caused by security checks. ( Gazette )

Two cents on testing

A Poudre school board member says new legislation eased the standardized testing burden on schools a bit, but it's still onerous. ( Coloradoan )

Two cents: PERA-lous times

A free-market think-tanker says recently defeated legislation aimed at shoring up the state pension system would have "violated the spirit and purpose of constitutional provisions designed to prevent the legislature from indebting citizens into a long-term fiscal bind." ( Greeley Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco, union to talk new teacher pay Thursday

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 17:04

GOLDEN — Negotiations on a new contract between the Jefferson County school district and its teachers union are taking a detour Thursday to hammer out how the district will pay new teachers this fall.

The shift in focus is in response to a district court judge’s order to put on hold a portion of the school district’s compensation plan created last fall. The judge said the district could not — at least for the moment — implement a system that pays new teachers more money than veterans with similar credentials.

The heart of the compensation plan, which was not challenged in court, was designed by Jeffco Public Schools board chairman Ken Witt after the board rejected a fact finder’s report that suggested the district give raises to teachers rated partly effective by a supervisor.

As part of the plan, the district eliminated a salary schedule that gave teachers more money for each year they served in the classroom and as they earned advanced degrees. Raises are now awarded to teachers based solely on annual evaluations.

But the plan approved by the board’s conservative majority left out details about how the district should determine what to pay teachers hired in subsequent years.

District officials attempted to answer that question this spring when they proposed a plan to the board that made Jeffco more competitive with nearby school districts. The plan called for the district to pay educators for their master’s degrees, something Jeffco hasn’t done since 2012. It also would give teachers an additional stipend at schools that serve primarily low-income students of color.

While the entire board approved the portion of the plan that would create wide disparities between some new hires and the district’s veteran teachers, Jefferson County District Court Judge Christopher Zenisek said the plan would be put on hold until a full trial on its legality takes place.

That puts the school district in a holding pattern on hiring new teachers. To be able to move forward with its hiring, the district is seeking a compromise with the Jefferson County Education Association Thursday.

Jeffco’s chief human resource officer Amy Weber made the district’s opening pitch at a bargaining session Monday. There are three main points to her proposal.

First, the new proposal would keep higher salaries for non-classroom based positions that have been hard to fill, including nurses and language pathologists. Another $222,000 would be earmarked to give 38 current employees in those positions raises.

Second, the new proposal creates a salary schedule, which will be used only to determine a teacher’s pay during his or her first year in Jeffco schools, that increases at a rate of 2 percent per year of experience, not 3 percent as originally proposed. The district is still proposing to pay for some advanced degrees.

Finally, Weber’s new proposal recommends that $3 million dollars be used to give raises to some teachers, including those in the early stages of their career and those who earned an advanced degree after the district stopped giving raises for those credentials.

That final point means that some teachers above a certain salary, regardless of his or her rating, would not see a raise this year.

“What we’re trying to do is pump all the available compensation dollars into the front end — for newer teachers — where we’ve known for multiple years that’ we’ve been behind the market,” Weber said during an interview Wednesday.

Jeffco’s proposed budget next year has $5 million earmarked for pay increases.

JCEA officials Monday said they could “work with” Weber’s proposal. However, they had some concerns.

First, the union would prefer that there be a definition of what a hard-to-fill position is rather than a list of positions. That’s because different positions could be hard to fill depending on the year.

Second, they want the district to pay for all advanced degrees, not just those that the district says it believes will improve classroom instruction. The union is also concerned that the district’s human resource department is underestimating the number of teachers who have earned a master’s degree since 2012.

Third, the union said it wants to survey its members on compensation changes before agreeing to any changes.

“It’s important to us that existing employees — at least to a certain level — and incoming employees are treated the same,” JCEA Executive Director Lisa Elliott said Monday.

Weber said closing that gap was the aim of her proposed changes.

“By making this adjustment we’ll see less of the disparity,” she said.

The school board will have to approve any terms agreed upon by district and union teams.

“We have to ensure that we have an effective teacher in every classroom and that we are recognizing and rewarding our best teachers,” said Witt, the board’s chair. “And we have to efficiently apply our limited resources to maximize our student’s achievement. I expect the district and JCEA will work through those issues.”

If a deal can be reached Thursday, negotiations will likely pivot to how all teachers will be compensated in the future.

At an earlier bargaining session the union said it had developed a system that combined evaluations, years of service, advanced degrees, and other factors.

“We’re trying to imagine something different,” said teacher Athena Samuels.

Weber has reiterated many times throughout negotiations that the school board majority’s position is that raises will be based exclusively on evaluations.

The current contract between Jeffco schools and the association ends Aug. 31.

Categories: Urban School News

All smiles as Hick signs testing bills

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 13:43

With the nail-biting legislative session safely behind them, Gov. John Hickenlooper and key lawmakers were brimming with good cheer Wednesday as Hickenlooper signed two testing bills into law.

The governor called the two bills “a significant improvement” to the state’s assessment system that will reduce testing while maintaining “high standards and accurate assessment.”

The two measures are law are House Bill 15-1323, which primarily reduces testing in high school and the early grades, and Senate Bill 15-056, which reduces the frequency of statewide social studies testing. (Get the details on the two bills in this Chalkbeat story. And see this chart for a grade-level breakdown on how the bills will affect testing times.)

Lawmakers attending the signing noted how tough it was to reach compromise.

“None of us were 100 percent sure this day actually would happen,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “The path to victory was littered with the skeletons of other bills that fell by the wayside.”

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, noted “all these friendly faces [in the audience] that weren’t so friendly with we were working on this.” The good-sized crowd including education lobbyists, interest group and union leaders, legislative staff and Jefferson County politicians and activists.

The bills jelled in the session’s final days after “A lot of us came together and started talking,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. Hickenlooper said, “Once again Colorado did this in a different way” than other states and “tried to address it in a bipartisan bill.”

While acknowledging that testing debates are “not over,” Wilson urged, “Let this play out.”

Hickenlooper also brought up the mini-flap over the location of the signing ceremony. “We were disappointed we couldn’t be at Lakewood High School,” he said. Jefferson County Schools officials declined to host the event, citing security and disruption concerns. But others see politics behind the district’s decision, even though the testing bills passed with broad bipartisan support.

“It’s a reflection that education has become more polarized and political,” Hickenlooper said. He noted that his last visit to Lakewood High was for the widely covered 2013 visit by entertainer Katy Perry and quipped that security didn’t seem to be a concern then.

The signing was held in a 19th century restored schoolhouse that’s now on the grounds of the Lakewood Heritage Center museum.

Other education bills set for signing

Hickenlooper on Wednesday also traveled to a Westminster early childhood center to sign House Bill 15-1317, which will allow the state to create “pay for success” programs under which investors and foundations can fund social services like early childhood education.

On Friday Hickenlooper will be in Canon City to sign House Bill 15-1321, which gives small rural districts flexibility in meeting state regulations about parent involvement committees and more importantly provides $10 million in extra funding for such districts.

Read our 2015 legislative review for background on those bills and on what lawmakers did – and didn’t – do on education issues.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Hick signs workforce bill

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 09:50

Parent pushback

Bucking a trend, some Denver families are saying they’re not interested in Denver Public Schools’ less-traditional offerings for middle schoolers and want access to their neighborhood schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

But the leader of one charter school in the mix of the controversy says his schools can offer families what they want. ( 9News )

College and career

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill Monday that allows a workforce development program to come to Colorado. The model was developed in Brooklyn as a partnership of IBM, two New York colleges and the New York City Department of Education. ( Gazette )

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education has been working to make it easier for students in the state to transfer both Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate scores to colleges across the state. ( USA Today - College )

Learning to lead

A program run by the state health department helps parents navigate the inner workings of government so they can be advocates for their families. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

After experiencing open negotiations for the first time, Adams County School District 50 and the Westminster Education Association came to an agreement in early May for the 2015-16 school year. ( Thornton Sentinel )

Comic Core curriculum

A Denver teacher is using comic books to teacher literacy. Here's how. ( CPR )

Healthy schools

A group of students at Poudre High School are trying to get in on the booming food truck industry. ( 9News )

learning lessons

As Boulder graduating seniors look back on their high school experiences, they have a slew of suggestions to help incoming freshmen get the most out of their four years. ( Daily Camera )

reading is fundamental

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said he believes the READ Act, which aims to identify literacy needs in Colorado's youngest students, is working. ( KUNC )

Two cents

Both political parties could do better at focusing on schools and not political ideology, suggests political consultant Eric Sondermann. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver parents push for more space in neighborhood middle schools

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 20:40

As participating in school choice becomes less of an option for many Denver families, some parents are saying they’re not interested in Denver Public Schools’ less-traditional offerings for middle schoolers. 

In northwest Denver, the district is planning to redraw boundary lines for middle school students after closing a middle school program at Trevista at Horace Mann, which had been a pre-K-8 school, at the end of this year.

One of the options on the table includes automatically assigning some students to STRIVE Prep — Sunnyside, a charter school, instead of Skinner, the local district-run middle school, which district officials say is likely to become overcrowded.

DPS has also proposed creating a shared enrollment zone for middle schoolers in the area. That means students would be guaranteed a spot at one of the two schools but are not directly assigned to either. (See documents related to DPS’s plans for Northwest Denver here.) 

But at a community meeting at the Horace Mann building Monday night, parents raised concerns about any plan that would directly assign students to a charter school. Others said they do not like the uncertainty of not having an assigned school. Still others suggested creating a new middle school.

Meanwhile, in northeast Denver, where a similar enrollment zone already exists, the district is proposing to expand McAuliffe International Middle School or create a new school to share a building with McAuliffe. McAuliffe, a district-run innovation school, was listed as a first choice by more than three times as many families as any other school in the zone.

But some families say those plans won’t fully meet the demand for a high-quality traditional middle school program, especially among families in Park Hill, where McAuliffe is located. The parents say none of the other options in their area, which include K-8 and charter schools, have the same offerings as a traditional neighborhood school. (See DPS’s presentation to Park Hill residents about plans for McAuliffe here.)

In both areas, “parents clearly want to have access to schools they feel are high quality, that are close to where they live, and that have a design that appeals to them,” said Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer. She said no final recommendations have been made for either region.

The debate in these neighborhoods bucks a trend in some other parts of Denver. In several areas with shared enrollment zones, including southwest and west Denver, charter middle schools were the top choice for families. But in these northeast and northwest neighborhoods, vocal parents have raised concerns about the lack of guaranteed spots in more traditional neighborhood schools and the possibility of students who are not interested in or suited to a specialized school program being assigned to a charter school.

“The charter model has a role to play,” said Michael Edwards, a parent of students at Edison Elementary in northwest Denver. “But what this proposes is making STRIVE the default. It becomes the neighborhood school.”

Northeast concerns Principals from Skinner Middle School, right, and STRIVE Sunnyside, left, describe their schools at a community meeting in Northwest Denver.

After far more students listed McAuliffe as a first choice than were able to attend in 2015 SchoolChoice applications, DPS officials informed parents that the district plans to add spots to the school in the 2016-17 school year. But that still doesn’t create enough space for all of the interested students.

At a community meeting last week, some parents proposed creating a new building. Others asked if DSST: Conservatory Green, a middle school in the region, might be removed from its facility and replaced by a traditional middle school, or if Isabella Bird, which currently serves elementary schoolers, might expand.

Still others suggested that families in Park Hill, who live close to McAuliffe, should receive a preference to attend the school in their neighborhood.

McAuliffe’s current enrollment zone includes both Park Hill and Stapleton, a fast-growing area of the city. Many parents said they had moved to the leafy Park Hill neighborhood partly in order to send their children to a neighborhood school. But now, they said, they feel they don’t have that option, as many of the spaces in the school are filled by students from Stapleton.

At the meeting, there was not a clear consensus among community members about the best plan for the area. One person decried “neighborhood-ism” among Park Hill parents who were frustrated that Stapleton students had an equal shot at attending McAuliffe, which was originally located in Stapleton. Others advocated that parents who live within a block of the school should be given a preference in the lottery.

Veronica Figoli, the district’s director of Family and Community Engagement, said the district plans to travel to other schools in the area to understand the opinions of parents and community members unable to attend the meeting.

Northwest concerns

A community meeting in northwest Denver on Monday was more heated.

Brian Eschbacher, the district’s Director of Planning & Enrollment Services, outlined the demographic trends behind several plans for the region’s middle school students and concerns with each. For instance, he said, one proposal was more likely to separate students from a lower-income, higher-minority region of northwest Denver from students in the rest of the area.

Eschbacher said shared enrollment zones in other parts of the district had helped increase participation in school choice, especially among “harder-to-engage” families.  The district has promoted the enrollment zones as part of an effort to promote diversity.

The district used an enrollment zone approach this year for students who were zoned to the closing Trevista middle school. Of those students, 71 chose Skinner Middle School and 37 opted to attend STRIVE Sunnyside. The remaining 50 opted into Bryant-Webster, West Leadership, or DCIS.

A list of pros and cons about the various approaches compiled by a working group of parents and community members was distributed to audience members. The group, convened by the school board to examine the middle school zoning along with facility placement plans for a Montessori school in the area, questioned the legality of assigning students to a charter school.

Cordova, the district’s chief of schools, said that the district had checked with the state and confirmed that while it is illegal for charter schools to have zones in the first two years of their existence, after a third year, they can have zones. STRIVE Sunnyside opened in 2010.

But parents still raised concerns.

“We want a diverse, creative learning environment, not a military compound-type school,” said one mother.

Another asked STRIVE principal Betsy Peterson whether teachers at her school were required by law to be certified. Charter school teachers in the state may be highly qualified, which means they’ve passed certain exams and taken certain coursework, rather than fully licensed. The exception is special education teachers, who must be certified.

Others raised concerns about the amount of turmoil for students in the area.

“Let’s back up,” said parent Edwards. “They want to put an elementary school in a middle school building. They want to put a middle and high school in an elementary school building. They want to use a charter school, which is choice-based, for a neighborhood school. And they want to jack everybody around for the umpteenth time in a minority community.”

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, said he supports the creation of a new middle school similar to Skinner in the Horace Mann building that currently houses Trevista.

That plan was not one of the options laid out by district officials on Monday. The working group is also debating whether to keep the Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High school and the Denver Online High School in the nearby Smedley Elementary building, where they will both reside next year, or whether to relocate the Montessori and online schools into the Horace Mann building while moving the Trevista elementary program to the nearby Smedley campus.

The DPS board will vote on plans for the area at a meeting in June.

Categories: Urban School News

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