Updated Feb. 13 - The House gave final approval to the bill on a 34-31 vote Thursday.
A spirited Republican attack on Wednesday failed to stop preliminary floor approval of a bill that would require school boards to fully record their closed-door meetings, including conversations with attorneys about legal matters.
While supporters of the bill, House Bill 14-1110, have been circumspect about its origins, it’s widely assumed that it was at least partly inspired by the Douglas County school board’s extensive use of executive sessions.
Current law allows school boards to stop recording executive sessions when legal issues are discussed with lawyers. In addition to requiring continuous recording, HB 14-1110 would require boards to maintain a log of topics discussed during closed meetings, including the approximate amount of time spent on each issue.
The idea behind the bill is that individuals or groups who suspect a board is abusing the use of executive sessions could ask a judge to review recordings to determine if that had happened. In general, state law limits executive sessions to discussion of personnel matters, real estate deals and protected discussions between a board and its lawyer.
Republicans took several lines of attack. They criticized the bill as an assault on attorney-client privilege (a view shared by the Colorado Association of School Boards), tried to amend the bill to bar discussion of contract negotiations in executive session and suggested the requirement should apply to all levels of local government.
Those proposed amendments have been rebuffed by majority Democrats.
Wednesday’s debate stretched about 90 minutes, with nearly an hour of that consumed by Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Bob Gardner, a lawyer famous at the Capitol for long speeches.
Gardner alluded to the Douglas County situation, saying the bill “is about a fight between and education association and an education reform movement. That’s what it’s really about.”
Urging adoption of an amendment that would have opened collective bargaining discussions, Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, asked, “Will you stand with parents, students and teachers or will you stand with big labor and collective bargainers?”
Democrats, of course, were having none of it. They defeated McNulty’s amendment and passed the bill on a voice vote. A final, roll-call vote has to be taken, perhaps as early as Thursday, before the bill goes to the Senate. It’s sponsored by Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D- Westminster.
For more background, see this story about House Education Committee debate on the bill.
State Board of Education members Wednesday took a collegial approach to a bill that would allow school districts to opt out of state tests, a marked contrast to their vigorous disagreement over a previous standards-and-testing measure.
During their regular monthly meeting, board members had their first discussion of House Bill 14-1202, a measure that would allow school districts to opt out of state testing if they meet certain standards for their own assessments.
The bill would require the State Board of Education to grant a district a waiver from statewide testing requirements if the district submits its own testing system that meets certain standards. Waivers could be modified if the district failed to statewide academic performance targets for three consecutive years. Parents of students in waiver districts could choose to not participate in testing, and districts, teachers and students couldn’t be penalized for non-participation.
The measure has its origins with the Douglas County school board.
It was clear that individual board members disagreed about the bill, but in the end they voted 7-0 to “monitor” it, meaning the board neither endorses nor opposes the measure at this time.
Two weeks ago the board came to the same conclusion on Senate Bill 14-136, a measure that proposes a moratorium on implementation of state content standards and new state tests. But that vote wasn’t taken until after a lively debate that highlighted some of the board’s philosophical differences. (See this story on that meeting.)
Associate Commissioner Jill Hawley told the board Wednesday that allowing districts to opt out of state tests probably would violate the federal NCLB law.
Board member Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver said she opposed the bill, arguing, “It completely undermines the accountability system we’ve been working on for years.”
Education Commissioner Robert Hammond told the board that the Department of Education is working with WestEd, a research organization, to assess the impact of the new tests rolling out in Colorado this year and next.
Because of that, the bill “is premature,” said Berman. “We should wait for the results of the study.”
But she also noted “there’s major pushback on assessments. … I think we need to get a handle on that.”
On the other side of the fence, member Deb Scheffel of Parker noted, “There’s a lot of support for this from people I talk to. … I really like the idea of giving districts flexibility.” She also said she was happy CDE is doing a study.
Board chair Paul Lundeen of Monument said, “I would instinctively support this [the bill],” but added the state must not “completely give up on accountability efforts.”
After the vote to monitor, Berman said testing is “one of the most serious issues we are going to be grappling with over the next year.”
The growing nationwide public backlash against the implementation of the Common Core Standards has largely skipped over Colorado — but that’s about to change during the next 48 hours.
A bill that would delay the full implementation of the standards, establish a commission to study the issue and postpone the implementation of new tests aligned to the standards will be heard at 1:30 p.m., Thursday before the Colorado Senate Education Committee.
But even before lawmakers can get to work hearing official testimony on the bill, supporters and opponents will be out in full force Wednesday. Both sides of the debate are expected to lay out their position at the Capitol and Colorado Department of Education, where the State Board of Education will hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting for two days.
The bill is sponsored by Fort Collins Republican Vicki Marble.
While observers believe the bill is likely to be killed by the Democratic-controlled education committee, the debate adds Colorado to a list of more a dozen states that has re-evaluated the adoption of the Common Core Standards. Since last year, several states, mostly Republican-controlled, have either slowed or delayed the implementation of the standards, at the request of a groundswell of parents and educators. Last month, New York’s teachers union passed a vote of no confidence in the standards and how the Empire State has implemented them.
While there has been a consistent, albeit limited, opposition against the new standards present at the Colorado State Board of Education, which officially adopted the standards in 2009 and incorporated the Common Core in 2010, supporters of the bill have been working overtime in sharing their concerns and recruiting more parents to join their cause.
The spin, now in overdrive, begins at 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, when a coalition of advocacy groups supportive of the standards is holding an information session for lawmakers about the standards, known here as the Colorado Academic Standards. The panel discussion includes Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, teacher Jessica Cuthbertson, businessman Scott Fast, an educator from the San Luis Valley Gilbert Apodaca, and a former Department of Education and Colorado Legacy Foundation executive Nina Lopez.
The panel is sponsored by the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds, Stand for Children Colorado and the Rose Community Foundation.
At 10 a.m. supporters of the bill will gather outside the Capitol to protest the standards. They believe the standards are — among other things — a dumbed-down list of empty skills that also represent a top-down one-size-does-not-fit-all education reform effort robbing school boards of constitutionally-guaranteed local control.
Supporters of bill, from Fort Collins to Pueblo, and districts as disparate as Grand Junction and Cherry Creek, will then hold a press conference at 11 a.m. and take their concerns to the state board at 4 p.m.
“There are so many troubling aspects with Common Core, it’s hard to pick [just one],” said Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins mother who helped author Senate Bill 14-136.
Standards and testing supporters are also expected to testify during the state board’s monthly public comment period. Similarly, their opposition to the bill at Thursday afternoon’s committee hearing is expected to be a well-orchestrated affair.
Opponents of the bill have been coordinating witnesses, perhaps more than a dozen, to speak against the bill. The four organizations sponsoring Wednesday’s information meeting are also working together and coordinating with the Colorado Education Association and Colorado Association of School Executives.
Their message will be that Colorado students can’t wait and that the state’s schedule for implementation of standards, testing and other reforms must move ahead, said one organizer.
A similar organizing effort is underway to coordinate next Monday’s currently scheduled House Education Committee hearing on HB 14-1202, which would require the State Board of Education to grant a district a waiver from statewide testing requirements if the district submits its own testing system that meets certain standards.
Lobbyists for the four groups also have been meeting with individual lawmakers in an attempt to build opposition to the bills.
While there is no shortage of national organizations opposed to the Common Core Standards including the Heritage Organization and American Principles Project, supporters of SB 14-136, or what the authors are calling the “Colorado Mom’s Bill,” said their fight is entirely grassroots.
“We have nobody backing us, we’re just concerned moms,” Kiesecker said.
Sometimes the majority party’s plans to kill a bill don’t follow the script.
Take House Bill 14-1157, a Republican measure that proposed to let school boards and charter school boards to adopt policies that would allow school employees who already hold concealed weapons permits to carry their guns at school.
After more than five hours of predictable testimony, the bill was teed up to be killed by the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic majority. That sort of happened, but not as planned.
First, Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, proposed an amendment that would have deleted most of the bill except for a provision to allow charter schools to hire armed security guards. (School districts can do that under existing law but charters can’t.)
Some committee Democrats admitted they liked the amendment but still would vote against the bill if amended. Why? Because if the amended bill were passed to the floor, Republicans could try to add the deleted parts back onto the bill, forcing the Democrats into a lengthy – and televised – floor debate.
There was much wrangling among Gardner, Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, and chair Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Greenwood Village. All are skilled parliamentarians and sharp-tongued partisans when they choose to be. The back and forth was interrupted by a brief recess so Democrats could retreat the nearby office of Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, for consultation.
Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, said she was assured by Ferrandino that Republicans would be allowed to introduce a brand-new bill related narrowly to charter school hiring of security guards.
So the committee passed Gardner’s amendment unanimously, but the motion to pass the bill to the floor failed on a 4-7 vote. Kagan then proclaimed the meeting adjourned and banged his gavel.
Second later, he realized he’d forgotten to have the bill “postponed indefinitely,” a procedural move needed to make sure a bill is really dead. He tried to reconvene the meeting but was quickly reminded by Republicans that the rules don’t allow that once the gavel has fallen.
Kagan scurried back to the speaker’s office and emerged a couple of minutes later to acknowledge that the meeting was, in fact, adjourned. So Democrats will have to figure out later how to finally drive a stake through HB 14-1157’s heart.
The bill was one of several gun measures introduced in the legislature this year but was the only one with a direct connection to education. This year’s gun debates are largely a replay of those in 2013, when Democrats pushed through a controversial package of gun-control measures. This year GOP members have introduced several largely symbolic measures to repeal 2013 laws, plus other assorted gun bills.
Current law allows only school resource officers (usually local police assigned to a school) or trained security guards to carry weapons at elementary, middle and high schools.
Many school boards, administrators and teachers don’t like the idea of having more adults carrying guns at schools. But the optional nature of HB 14-1157 appealed to some districts, particularly small ones in remote areas distant from police or sheriff’s stations.
Because of that, the Colorado Association of School Boards endorsed the bill. (It didn’t take a position last year.) In contrast, a top officer of the Colorado Education Association opposed the bill.
Republican committee members emphasized the local-control nature of the bill as a reason to pass it. “Denver has one idea about this and Douglas County has another,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock.
The hearing was the first real marathon of 2014 involving an education-related bill. It drew scores of witnesses and stretched from 1:45 until 7:43 p.m.
Gun-control advocates flooded the zone, and witnesses opposing the bill far outnumbered supporters. The witnesses include a long parade of mothers, teachers, retired teachers and high school students testifying against the bill. Many were organized by advocacy groups such as Colorado Ceasefire.
A letter signed by 171 of the state’s 178 school superintendents calls for the legislature to more than double the proposed increase in next year’s state funding for K-12 education.
The superintendents are asking lawmakers to add $275 million to the $241 million that the proposed budget allocates for the 2014-15 school year.
The letter, sent Tuesday to Gov. John Hickenlooper and all 100 legislators, specifically asks that lawmakers “buy down” the negative factor by that amount. The negative factor is the device lawmakers use to reduce school funding from what otherwise would have been required by state funding formulas.
Districts, administrators and teacher groups have been pushing hard during this legislative session to reduce the negative factor and to oppose funding earmarked for specific education programs.
The superintendents’ letter represents a ramping up of that effort.
Hickenlooper’s proposed $5.7 billion K-12 budget for 2014-15 basically makes no dent in the negative factor, now estimated at $1 billion. And a large number of bills proposing earmarked spending already have been introduced in the legislative.
The superintendents’ letter doesn’t reference earmarked spending, but it does request a meeting with Hickenlooper and legislative leaders. The letter also suggests that an unspecified amount of the $275 million be devoted to increasing support for at-risk students.
Discussions among superintendents and other education groups have stepped up in the last couple of weeks. Superintendents met with a group of lawmakers late last week, and the negative factor was the top issue discussed during a meeting of the Colorado Association of School Executives last Friday.
“We understand that you can’t get a billion back in one year,” Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger told that group. Messinger said that the growing pressure for $275 million means that “both parties are paying attention to this conversation…I don’t think it’s impossible” to persuade the legislature. Messinger is one of the leaders of the superintendents’ group.
Lobbyists and others connected to the effort also say they feel lawmakers are paying more attention to the issue than they were earlier in the session, when legislative leaders reportedly were cool to the idea of buying down the negative factor.
But advocates still face challenges in making their case.
Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, was among lawmakers who met with superintendents last week. “We’re certainly going to look at doing something [about the negative factor], but certainly nothing anywhere near the amount the superintendents are proposing,” he told Chalkbeat Colorado.
Attempts to reduce the negative factor also conflict with Hickenlooper administration budgetary goals, including increasing the state reserves, paying back some cash funds the legislature “borrowed” from in prior years and maintaining a healthy balance in the State Education Fund, a dedicated account used to supplement basic school support and also fund special programs.
And Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver, a leading figure on education policy, also has designs on any extra education money that may be lying around, working with Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock. He’s been working on a bill that would increase funding for kindergarten and English language learners and well as provide money for changing the state’s enrollment counting method, school district financial reporting and implementation of education reform laws. (See this story for more details.)
It’s likely the school funding debate won’t play out until late March, after quarterly state revenue forecasts are issued and when the main state budget and annual school funding bills are being finalized.
Rising frustration about the negative factor also reporting has revived discussions among some superintendents and lawyers about a possible lawsuit challenging use of the device. A possible legal theory behind a suit is that the factor violates Amendment 23, the 2000 constitutional amendment that requires school funding to increase by inflation and enrollment every year.
Those involved in those discussions are reluctant to talk about them, as those pushing for reduction of the negative factor are primarily interested right now in reaching some agreement with Hickenlooper and legislative leaders.
Colorado ranked ninth in the country for the number of students scoring highly enough on Advanced Placement exams to be eligible for college credit, according to a new report released Tuesday.
The exam scores, which are administered by the College Board, are supposed to test mastery of college-level studies. The exams are scored on a scale of one to five –a score three of better can qualify a student for college credit.
Colorado’s students have ranked in the top 10 for performance on the exams for the past seven years. This year, almost 40 percent of Colorado students took at least one AP exam, higher than the national average of 33. Of those, 62.2 percent receive a three or better on at least one exam.
The number of students taking AP exams in Colorado increased this year as well, to 19,446. The state has seen a steady increase over the past decade in the number of students in all groups taking the exams.
Other highlights for Colorado include:
For more information, see the full report here.
The House Education Committee Monday passed yet another schools spending bill, this one intended to improve gifted and talented education at a cost of $5 million.
The discussion and vote on House Bill 14-1102 followed a now-familiar pattern. First there’s lengthy testimony highlighted by opposition from school district witnesses who argue the money would be better spent on restoring past K-12 budget cuts. Bill passes by relatively narrow margin. Then the bill is sent to an uncertain fate in the House Appropriations Committee.
Key elements of House Bill 14-1102 would require that districts (or “administrative units” such as boards of cooperative educational services) hire qualified gifted and talented coordinators and also evaluate all students to determine gifted and talented status before the third grade.
Over the last two weeks the committee has passed bills to support Advanced Placement classes in rural districts ($1 million) and to improve the quality of early childhood education programs ($12 million).
Six bills with a combined draw on the State Education Fund of about $40 million already have been introduced in the legislature. Another 10 bills without specific price tags also are in the mix.
Such bills are at ground zero in a battle over how to spend additional K-12 funding in 2014-15. School districts, administrators and the state’s largest teachers union have drawn a line in the sand this year, insisting that any extra money available for K-12 education be used to backfill at least some of the $1 billion in cuts schools have taken in recent years.
(Statehouse jargon for this proposal is “buying down the negative factor,” referring to the formula used by the legislature to trim K-12 funding from what it otherwise would have been.)
Lawmakers of both parties have proposed earmarked uses of extra education funding, such as the gifted and talented bill. And Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and a bipartisan group of allies are working on a bill to direct about $250 million into elements of Johnston’s 2013 shelved school-finance overhaul. (See this story for details on that.)
School district interest groups are hardening their position on this issue, and a majority of Colorado’s superintendents are expected to deliver a letter to lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper, perhaps as early as this week, insisting that $275 million be devoted to “buying down” the negative factor in 2014-15. (If there’s no significant buy down of the negative factor, there’s even quiet talk of a lawsuit challenging it, on the grounds that it violates Amendment 23, the 2000 constitutional provision that was approved by voters and which sets the rules for annual increases in K-12 spending.)
The negative factor was mentioned repeatedly in opposition testimony Monday on House Bill 14-1102.
“We do see it as a mandate” on school districts, said Don Anderson, executive director on the East Center BOCES, which provides services to districts on the eastern plains. “These funds would be far more beneficial in buying down the negative factor.”
That theme was repeated by other witnesses, including Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, and Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards. “If we truly want to serve our students we much reduce the negative factor,” she said.
Supporters of the bill stressed the need to identify gifted students early so that they can receive the kind of instruction that will engage them and keep them in school.
“I was sitting in the classroom bored out of my mind,” said Loveland High School junior Dylan McNally, who said he wasn’t identified as gifted and talented until he was in the third grade. “I think we need to get kids identified early.”
Linda Crane, executive director of the Colorado Association for the Gifted and Talented, said, “gifted students from lower income families will continue to fall through the cracks” unless universal evaluation of students is implemented.
The bill passed on a party-line vote, with all seven committee Democrats voting for it and all six Republicans voting no. The sponsor, Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, is committee vice chair and a longtime gifted-and-talented advocate who is serving her last term in the House. Passage of the bill in House Education reflected party solidarity among Democrats, something that may change when education spending bills are winnowed later.In other action
House Education also voted 7-6 to pass House Bill 14-1156, which would make all students in grades 3-12 who are now eligible for reduced-price lunches eligible for free lunches. (A state law passed a few years ago made free lunches universal for students in grades PRE-2, regardless of whether family income made them eligible only for reduced-price lunch.)
“The reality is that when families are hurting that doesn’t stop at the third grade,” said sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. He was sponsor of the earlier bill that applied to PRE-2 and also of last year’s breakfast-after-the-bell law.
The measure also goes to the House Appropriations Committee. Financing is less of an issue with this bill because its $2.4 million price tag would be offset by an estimated increase of $21.4 million in federal reimbursements to the school lunch program.
The committee was more bipartisan on Senate Bill 14-004, the measure that would allow community colleges of offer bachelor of applied sciences degrees in such vocational fields as dental hygiene, water quality management and culinary arts. The bill passed 11-2, with only two GOP members voting no.
Use the Education Bill Tracker to read bill texts and find additional information.
As districts across Colorado roll out new state-mandated educator evaluations systems, rural districts are discovering challenges that few of their larger counterparts face.
Even in the small number of rural districts that piloted the program two years ago, administrators are still grappling with everything from how to rate teachers who teach multiple grade levels in one classroom to glitchy computer systems in districts with little tech support.
And in some rural districts with fewer than 200 students, administrative staff and teachers often play more than one role, which leads to obstacles that rural officials say weren’t accounted for when the evaluation law was written.
“When legislation comes down the pipe, schools like this don’t get thought about,” said Corey Doss, superintendent of the San Luis Valley’s Mountain Valley School District, which was one of 27 districts that began piloting the new evaluation system two years ago.
Doss wanted a head start on the program and to make sure that rural districts had a voice in providing feedback on the challenges. ”I wanted to make sure this district was on the right track,” he said.Time burdens and technical glitches
Even in a district with two years’ practice under its belt, Doss found that the requirements of the law can overwhelm staff time.
“It’s great but it’s time-consuming,” said Doss, who oversees a staff that includes a single principal, a bookkeeper and a technology director in addition to teachers and facilities workers.
When the pilot first began, Doss split the work of evaluating teachers with his principal, Laura Kelso, but found that the load was too heavy with the rest of his responsibilities. So Kelso took on the task of evaluating the district’s teachers herself, a move that forced her last week to hire a substitute to oversee the school while she spent several days meeting with teachers.
In Mountain Valley, the evaluations have further sucked up staff time because of technical glitches in the system the district uses to manage all of the associated data and reports, BloomBoard.
For example, teachers are supposed to score themselves using the same rubric as the evaluator. Those scores should then appear side by side in BloomBoard. But that’s not what’s happening.
“It is currently taking me two hours per teacher to do mid-term evaluation reviews because scores from me aren’t showing up,” said Kelso. The teacher should be able to look at both his or her own self-evaluation and Kelso’s side by side; instead, Kelso has to sit down with each teacher and go through the rubric score by score.
Additionally, the trainer who taught them how to use BloomBoard taught them incorrectly, so Kelso spent several hours fixing her inadvertent errors.
And Kelso says it’s not surprising that the trainer made mistakes. “It changes all the time,” she said, so new problems in the software keep arising.
Since Mountain Valley began using BloomBoard, the state has moved away from it. But that’s of little comfort to Mountain Valley officials, who already have their data loaded into it and can’t change systems.Complexity pies
When the legislature passed the new educator effectiveness law in 2009, it laid out general requirements for what pieces must go into an evaluation, including classroom observations, proficiency and growth scores on both state and classroom tests.
Districts were then charged with working out exactly how much each element should factor in to a teacher’s evaluation. That process is happening for the first time this year, as the new system’s full rollout goes into effect.
The complex mandates of the new evaluation system are a particular challenge for small districts where the responsibility for designing and implementing the new system falls on a single person.
In Moffat Consolidated School District, like Mountain Valley, a single principal oversees a K-12 campus and doesn’t have any administrative support like she might in other districts. That means that many smaller tasks end up on her plate.
“There is no data person to pull the numbers,” said Kirk Banghart, Moffat’s superintendent.
Designing the breakdown of test scores–or “pies” as Kelso calls them — is especially difficult in places like Moffat or Mountain Valley, where a single teacher either teaches a single subject across as many six grade levels or a single grade level across a bunch of subject.
For example, Mountain Valley’s high school social studies teacher taught three grades but until this spring, none were tested. As a result, the test portion of that teacher’s evaluation came from math and literacy scores for those students.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, some teachers teach multiple grades, all of them tested. Balancing exactly how much of each category of testing should go into a teacher’s evaluation is a statistical challenge for principals like Kelso.
That means Kelso and Moffat’s principal, Michelle Hashbarger, must develop individual breakdowns for what goes into the testing portion of each teacher’s evaluation. Teachers have a say, as well, and Kelso plans to sit down with each teacher to discuss what their breakdown will look like, within the constraints of the law.
Banghart also said that with small classes, just a few students can skew the results for a teacher.
“It would take four or five years to get to enough students [for statistical power]“, he said.
For Kelso, the evaluation process is uncovering philosophical differences between her and her teaching staff about how they should be rated-questions that are being raised across the state.
“Teachers are feeling it’s really unfair,” Kelso said.
For example, her music teacher will see math and literacy scores from her students in her evaluations, despite the fact that she doesn’t teach those subjects. But Kelso believes the skills students learn in music do affect her students’ math scores.
“To me, the math in her content area could play an even bigger role for students,” Kelso said. “That’s a philosophical conversation we need to have.”
Kelso agrees with her teachers that elements of the law are unfair and she hopes to come up with breakdowns that remedy some of the problems. For her brand-new fourth grade math teacher, who will see state test scores from last year’s fourth graders in her evaluation, Kelso is planning to exclude internal growth scores from last year.
Instead, more emphasis will be put on how much the teacher is able to help her current students.The evolution of the principal
For Kelso, the experience of overseeing the entire process, from designing the pies to observing the teachers, has made her wish for a rethinking of the role of the principal.
“Honestly I think there’s going to have to be some kind of change how administrations look,” Kelso said.
Other San Luis Valley districts with more staff have parceled out the responsibility to more people.
“In one [San Luis Valley] district with a lot more resources, one person designed all the pies,” said Kelso. But here, she’s the one person responsible for coming up with a solution.
Kelso says she fears that the burden on small districts may ultimately prove to be too great.
“The only ones who are going to be successful are [districts] with assistant principals and other admins,” Kelso said. But she’s trying to figure out work arounds for her small district. One good first step, she said, was banding together with two other San Luis Valley districts to hire a consultant to train administrators on the evaluation process.
Officials in both Moffat and Mountain Valley agree that the evaluations have changed the principal’s role.
In Moffat, the law raised questions of whether the person designing how teachers are evaluated should be the one hiring and firing them as well. As a result, Banghart and Hashbarger divided responsibilities — she designs and implements the evaluations and he makes the final call on hiring and firing.
The responsibilities have also limited the time both principals are able to spend providing instructional support to teachers.
For Kelso, who only has a single elementary literacy coach, she’s had to rethink about what kind of help she can provide.
“What’s my responsibility as an administrator to get them the help they need?” Kelso said.
Right now, all she’s had the time to do is get some of her new teachers books to read and talk about.
“I’m either evaluator or coach,” said Kelso. “It’s really hard to do both.”
Jeffco Public Schools’ Superintendent Cindy Stevenson didn’t want her exit to happen this way.
“My plan would have been to make sense of all of this for the community,” she said.
Get through the state’s standardized tests in March. Meet with stakeholders. Bow out gracefully, albeit sooner than her scheduled June retirement.
Instead, she announced her Feb. 21 exit to the district’s board of education and a packed room of about 250 anxious supporters at an 8 a.m. Saturday meeting, originally scheduled to discuss the suburban district’s budget.
An executive session to discuss a personnel issue regarding Stevenson was added to Saturday’s agenda at the end of the board’s Thursday meeting. But details — even for some board members —were scarce. Rumors flew through the district Friday: Stevenson, who has led the district for 12 years, would be fired; The board is going to buy out her contract; She’ll be put on administrative leave.
In the end, it was Stevenson who engaged the board’s conservative majority, elected in November, about leaving earlier than expected, she said in her statement, which was interrupted by tears, several rounds of applause and standing ovations.
“I can’t lead, I can’t move the district forward,” Stevenson said. “They do not trust me.”
Leaving early would be best for the district, she said.
“My issue is serving you, the community, most importantly the children,” she said.
Despite an effort by board president Ken Witt to proceed to a discussion of the budget, the crowd reacted angrily.
The crowd chanted for respect and a recall of the board’s new majority.
A member of the board’s minority, Lesley Dahlkemper, had a few choice words herself.
“Let’s be clear, this is about the new board majority,” she said. “I want to ask the board: how this is good for the 85,000 kids of Jeffco.”PHOTO: Nicholas Garica A supporter of Cindy Stevenson stands during Stevenon’s speech announcing her sooner-than-expected exit.
The meeting, which was expected to run through the early afternoon, ended before 8:30 a.m.
Tensions have risen between the board and some members of Jefferson County since the board’s new conservative majority was elected in November. Observers point to the board hiring outside counsel and accuse the board of unpublicized closed door meetings.
“They’ve broken how many sunshine laws?” Barb Bares, principal of Manning School, asked rhetorically after the meeting adjourned.
After the meeting ended, parents, teacher and administrators stood around — shocked. Some gathered around Stevenson, Dahlkemper and board member Jill Fellman.
“I’m just sick at the loss,” said Jeffco parent Kelly Johnson, who co-chaired the district’s 2012 mill and bond campaign. “There’s a great deal of anxiety. I feel like we have no one guiding the ship. Our kids are in limbo. And the persons I most trust — the teachers, the principals, administrators — they’re in limbo too.”
Lakewood principal Ron Castagna likened the board’s majority to school yard bullies.
“This is about dismantling what we’ve spent years here developing,” he said. “This board is running around like a bunch of rats. The most unethical group. They’ve taking their gold and are selling out our kids.”
Jeffco is commonly revered as one of the state’s best school districts. Until this year, it was the state’s largest. Students routinely outperform state averages on standardized tests.
Teachers, administrators and board members agree Jeffco will continue to provide an “excellent” education, the question now is how.
“We have to be mindful we have 85,000 students and 12,000 employees,” Fellman said. “We need to keep the district going.”
Board member Julie Williams agreed.
“I think Jeffco is strong and it will carry on,” she said. But as a member of the majority, she was short on specifics of what’s next for the district. “We’ll continue to do our good work.”
According to board president Witt, no interim superintendent has been named. He said he’ll expect the Stevenson’s deputies, including the academic and financial officers, to report directly to the board.
A standing-room-only crowd is expected to gather Saturday at Jeffco Public Schools headquarters in Golden where the board of education will meet. The board has two agenda items — and it’s safe to say, most won’t be paying too much attention to a three hour discussion on the budget.
The meeting starts at 8 a.m. But the fireworks are scheduled for about 11 a.m. That’s when board president Ken Witt will likely ask the board to move into executive session to discuss a “personnel” matter regarding Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.
But no one except Witt, and perhaps the board’s new lawyer Brad Miller, know for sure.
Neither Witt nor Miller returned messages left by Chalkbeat Colorado Friday. The Denver Post reported Miller as saying the board has no intention of firing Stevenson.
There are several possible scenarios on how the board may proceed. In no particular order, here are a few possibilities:
Chalkbeat Colorado will be updating this post throughout the morning. You can also follow reporter Nicholas Garcia on Twitter.
UPDATE at 8:23 a.m.
Amid outcry from the audience, Board President Witt ended the meeting. The majority quickly exited, while Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman stayed to address the audience. The crowd, wearing black and stickers that read “We Support Cindy’ is still mingling discussing the news.
UPDATE at 8:10 a.m.
Superintendent Cindy Stevenson told a standing-room-only crowd she will leave the district, after being educated by it, teaching in it, and leading it.
She said, it was her decision and approached the board.
“I can’t lead, I can’t move the district forward,” she said, holding back tears. “[The board does] not trust me.”
The crowd, filled with teachers, parents, teachers and administrators was visibly angry. Shouting.
Stevenson asked the crowd to be graceful.
UPDATE at 8:03 a.m.
They’re starting with Stevenson issue first.
The conservative majority of Jeffco Public Schools’ board of education on Thursday revised a previous decision to halt the district’s use of an early childhood education assessment linked to millions of dollars in preschool funding.
But it wasn’t a full retreat.
Jeffco receives more than $5 million from the Colorado Preschool Program to cover tuition for the suburb’s most at-risk students. The money is conditioned, in part, on the district assessing toddlers and providing that data to the state to measure the effectiveness of the program. The district is also required, under federal law governing free preschool children with disabilities, to assess their students.
The assessment under contention in Jeffco, TS GOLD, is one of two approved assessments that districts may use to send the state the information it requests. It requires preschool teachers to assess more than 30 different indicators of education readiness, capture data through pictures, video and work samples, and provide parents with an individualized learning plan for their students.
Critics fear the assessment is taking too much time from classroom instruction and have raised concerns over student privacy policies. Additionally, they argue that the mandate of assessing children — at any level — for state and federal purposes irks those who believe that decision is best left to local school boards and school leaders.
At its Dec. 12 meeting, the board halted the use of TS GOLD at the preschool level, putting in jeopardy the preschool funding. The December decision also ended the phasing-in of the assessment in kindergarten classrooms. (By the fall of 2015, all Colorado kindergarten classrooms will be required to use either TS GOLD or another assessment pending state approval.)
But after last night’s 3-2 vote, the district will continue to narrowly use the assessment as mandated. And the free preschool program for about 1,500 toddlers is safe. The board’s action last night did not reinstate the use of the program in kindergarten. It also required the district tp seek a waiver from the assessment.
“We’re simply dealing with a compliance concern that was raised,” said board president Ken Witt after the vote. “We’re going to pursue a waiver with the state that would imply, ‘I do not want to do this, but [we] feel we’re required to at this time.’”
The board’s minority — Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman — opposed both the original decision to end the use of TS GOLD and Thursday’s decision to reinstate it on a limited basis.
“The bottom line,” Dahlkemper said, “[is] no strings attached.”
She fears the board’s action is a slippery policy slope.
“The devil is in the details,” she said. “Once you start going down the road of a waiver, it raises lots of red flags for me.”
Jefferson County parents were equally divided.
“Some families are worried about privacy,” said Darcy Wood, who attended the meeting flanked by a group of parents who support the district’s use of TS GOLD. “We respect their right to opt out of assessments as they see fit. But we’re in. We want our children’s learning, center stage. We want it accounted for — demonstrated, celebrated and used to move students forward.”
Wood said she believes the results of the assessments make classroom time more custom and informed.
“At another preschool, our children’s teachers feel it helps them plan activities and tells where children are developmentally,” she said. “They feel the work is worth the information they get fro their children.”
But Sunny Flynn, and another group of parents, fear data collection like TS GOLD could have dangerous repercussions.
“TS GOLD has a de facto monopoly,” Flynn said. “They’re creating a very powerful database. And before we move forward, our privacy policies need to catch up.”
Flynn was also concerned about classroom time being taken away while teachers “run around with an iPad” trying to collect a myriad of data.
“Our teachers need to be nurturing and teaching our kids,” she said. “Our children are not guinea pigs.”
Both sides of the argument did agree on one thing: regardless of the board’s decision, lawsuits are likely to follow.
The Jeffco Public Schools’ board president Thursday night requested an executive session to be held Saturday to discuss a personnel matter regarding Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.
The request caught some board members and Jeffco administrators by surprise. Rumors of the board president Ken Witt’s intent — to remove Stevenson from her post either by firing her outright or possibly buying out her contract — have swirled throughout the day.
“We feel like it has everything to do with firing her,” said one Jeffco central administration employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect her relationship with the board. “They keep saying ‘we’re not going to fire her,’ but they’re just mincing their words.”
Stevenson was tight lipped.
“There’s no reason for conflict,” she said, declining to comment further.
The Denver Post this morning reported the board’s lawyer, Brad Miller, denied the board planned to fire Stevenson, who in November said she’d retire at the end of the school year. It was announced this week that Stevenson will join the Colorado Association of School Executives as a consultant upon her retirement.
Neither Witt nor Miller immediately returned messages from Chalkbeat.
Witt was among a slate of three new board members elected in November. Together, Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk make a majority on the five member board. Since being sworn in, tension and suspicion have risen about the board majority’s agenda. The crowd at Thursday night’s meeting lined the walls, while several parents and observers sat on the floor in the back of the room.
The board will meet at 8 a.m. at Jeffco headquarters. However, the board might not be able to enter an executive session if neither member of the board’s minority agrees to go behind close doors.
Both told Chalkbeat this afternoon they’re not planning on going along with Witt’s request.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” said board member Lesley Dahlkemper. “I need more detail. I think we need to be transparent with our public.”
Dahlkemper was cautious not to speculate what Witt what might want to discuss in executive session. But she said even the possibility of a conversation in firing Stevenson, who has worked her entire career in Jeffco, “incredibly short sighted.”
Board member Jill Fellman praised Stevenson.
“She’s done an incredible job leading Jeffco to incredible heights,” she said. “I don’t know why [the majority] would want to buy out her contract.”
Jefferson County students have historically outperformed state averages on state standardized assessments. It is the state’s second largest school distric.
Stevenson’s tenure, however, has not been without controversy. Most recently, Jeffco parents raised concern over the district’s participation in piloting student data software inBloom. Stevenson was featured in a New York Times article examining the controversy. Jeffco, as well as the Colorado Department of Education, have ended their contract with inBloom.
Tucked away in cities like Denver and Loveland or rural communities like Las Animas and Haxtun, you will find schools where students get physical education daily. In a state that doesn’t require p.e. at all and where many students get it just a couple times a week, these schools are anomalies.
There’s Academy 360, a new charter school in Far Northeast Denver, that offers 45 minutes of p.e. a day as part its mission to educate the whole child. There’s B.F. Kitchen Elementary School in Loveland, which added 30 minutes of daily p.e. back in 2008 when declining enrollment prompted it to adopt a health and wellness focus. There’s Las Animas Middle School, located in southeast Colorado, which provides 55 minute of p.e. during all four days of its school week in part because most other electives have been cut.
While experts warn that not all daily p.e. is high quality, there is evidence that generally such offerings represent one of the highest-impact changes schools can make to help students move more. A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that instituting daily physical education classes for children boosts moderate to vigorous physical activity by 23 minutes a day, a higher number of minutes that any other policy evaluated.
Despite federal recommendations that children ages 6 to 17 get an hour of physical activity a day, only 49 percent of Colorado children ages 5 to 14 reached that threshold, according to 2011 data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Nationally, the numbers are similar, which is part of the reason the Chicago board of education voted last month to roll out daily p.e. for all students over the next three years. Although the Illinois School Code requires daily p.e., Chicago Public Schools has had a waiver exempting it from the requirement.
While the health advantages of physical education, and physical activity in general, are widely accepted, many educators say its purpose in schools goes much deeper. Citing brain research by John Ratey and John Medina, they say daily physical activity is a way to optimize student achievement.
“It’s really in the service of learning,” said Sally Sorte, principal of Academy 360, which also provides 15 minutes of morning movement and a 15-minute recess. “You see the benefits back in the classroom. Students are more calm. Their attention is better.”
Kristin Quere, the p.e. teacher at B.F. Kitchen, said, “If we want to provide our kids the optimal learning environment, and movement is a way to do that…we’re kind of missing the boat if we’re not providing that.”
At the Girls Athletic Leadership School, a charter middle school in central Denver, the dress code includes sneakers, exercise pants and t-shirts because movement is woven throughout the school day. Four mornings a week, the girls take 40-minute movement classes with modules ranging from circuit training to yoga.
“If you ask where the vision is — yeah, we’re working on health and wellness, but all that is for the outcome that people feel truly comfortable as physical beings, ” said the school’s founder Liz Wolfson. “I know I can teach them to love themselves at that point. If they love themselves anything’s possible: good relationships, passion in learning and career choices.”How many schools do it?
There’s no data that shows how many Colorado schools offer daily physical education, but most experts say the answer is not many. If anything, it appears to be more common in tiny rural districts where small student populations make it possible for one p.e. teacher to receive every class in the gymnasium each day.
Physical activity minutes related to policy changes
In some cases, few other “specials” or elective classes are available because of budget cuts or the scarcity of specialty teachers. In Las Animas, where kindergarteners through ninth-graders get between 25 and 55 minutes of daily p.e., the music program is gone, as are health classes, wood shop and other electives.
“We’ve hung on to two electives essentially,” said Carl Lindauer, the district’s athletic director and the p.e. teacher for grades 7-12. “When it boils right down to it…it’s easier to get p.e. teachers than music teachers in rural Colorado.”
Sue Brittenham, who manages a Colorado Health Foundation grant to improve physical education in 43 rural districts in the state, found that only about 11 elementary schools in the group offer daily p.e. for all grades, though several have school only four days a week. About two dozen middle and high schools in the group also offer daily p.e., but very few require it in more than one or two grades.
Nationally, the number of schools that offer daily p.e. appears similarly low. A 2006 study in the Journal of School Health found that 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools had daily p.e.
Aside from a lack of facility space or funding, Brittenham said another barrier to more p.e. is the push to raise student achievement.
“They think if kids are in their classrooms more their scores are going to go up and it’s just the opposite,” she said.
Like many advocates for school-based physical activity, Sorte doesn’t believe p.e. and traditional classroom instruction are competing interests.
“[I’m] not seeing it as a tradeoff but really seeing physical education as a way to continue academic growth.”The logistics of daily p.e
While some rural schools have offered daily p.e. for years, those that have added it more recently say it may take scheduling or funding tweaks, but it’s doable.
“You’ve got to have administrative support…They have to be willing to change the schedule. They have to be willing to say, ‘Yeah, we need this, so we need those extra funds,’” said Kristin Quere. “The entire school has to be bought into why it is important for these kids.”
Quere, who used to rotate between two schools before B.F. Kitchen added daily p.e., said part of her salary is now paid using Title 1 funds. In addition, to ensure all kids get p.e. on Wednesday, the district’s early release day, she takes two classes at a time with the help of a paraprofessional.Students at GALS in Denver participate in a 40-minute yoga class.
At some schools, particularly mission-based charter schools, p.e. is a foundational part of the program and administrators never imagined opening their schools without it. That’s the case at Academy 360 and GALS.
Not that it’s always easy. Academy 360 is currently leasing space in a church and has no gymnasium. The p.e. teacher there, who pairs the Spark curriculum with state p.e. standards, either runs the classes in an empty classroom or takes the children outside.
The school also doesn’t offer stand-alone art or music classes. Instead, teachers try to incorporate those subjects into classroom projects, or students have the option to join a low-cost after-school drum circle run by a local non-profit.
Brittenham said the wide disparity in how much physical education schools offer—from daily classes to one per week, can make it difficult for some p.e. teachers to cover the state’s physical education standards and the associated benchmarks.
According to data she’s collected on the 43 districts involved in her grant, elementary schools offer a range from 53 to 124 minutes of p.e. per week, while middle schools offer 82 to 194 minutes, and high schools offer between 81 and 205 minutes.
“How effective can I be compared to a teacher who sees their kids twice as much as I do?” she said.All daily p.e. not created equal
Experts caution that daily p.e. doesn’t automatically mean high-quality programming that builds students’ skills and self-esteem using an evidence-based curriculum.
“Sometimes, it’s a cover-up for sports practice,” said Elaine Belansky, associate director of the Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center at the University of Colorado.
In cases where p.e. is not well-executed and caters to only a select group of student athletes, it can have the unintended effect of making exercise a turn-off for some students, she said. If that happens on a daily basis, it can actually be more harmful than once- or twice-a-week p.e.
Daily p.e. can also be a disaster if it’s not properly staffed. Brittenham told of a Texas p.e. teacher who was responsible for 100 students during every class because her district had implemented daily p.e. without adding any new teachers.
“They said they really felt like it was glorified recess,” she said.
At Las Animas Middle, which has a p.e. class for kids in school sports and another for those not in sports, Lindhauer said the district is proud to offer the classes daily. He said while urban areas offer lots of community-based options for youth sports and fitness, Las Animas is “sort of like an island.”
“If we don’t provide it through the schools, they don’t get it,” he said.
Despite the below-zero temperature outside, Denver Public Schools officials were met with a warmer-than-expected reception from about two dozen parents at Kepner Middle School, where plans are underway to re-invent the struggling campus.
Citing “significantly below” average academic growth, DPS officials hope to introduce a new school model at Kepner by the fall of 2015. No immediate program or personnel changes are planned, Superintendent Tom Boasberg and other school officials told parents.
Officials also attempted to debunk rumors the school would be closing. There are no such plans, officials said nearly a half-dozen times throughout the evening.
Kepner serves about 1,000 students in southwest Denver, and the school will continue to enroll students. Nearly 100 percent of Kepner’s student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch. Similarly, 95 percent of the student body is either black or Latino. About 60 percent of students are English language learners.
One of the few teachers at the meeting, initially skeptical of the reforms, left with hope.
“I thought I was going to retire here,” said Carrie Olson, holding back tears before the meeting started. “I probably won’t be part of the new school. Where do I go?”
But her impression of the district’s intentions on a phase-in-phase-out plan of school models detailed Wednesday night — albeit with few details — changed after district officials stayed and answered every parent’s questions.
“I hadn’t seen people at that level in the district stay this long,” she said. “I believe there are going to be more supports for parents and teachers for a while.”
Since Denver’s modern reform movement began in the mid-2000s, transforming, re-booting and closing failing schools has often been met with skepticism and pushback from furiously protective parents and community leaders. But, as DPS launched its latest target effort to turnaround a failing school, Kepner parents who attended the meeting appeared prepared to work in lockstep.
One parent wondered why the reform effort hadn’t started earlier.
“I hope you make a big change,” she said in Spanish.
Others were confused about how their children would be immediately affected and what might happen to some of their favorite teachers.
“What should our teachers do?” a parent asked.
Teachers can submit school models or volunteer to be on the review committee, officials said.
Several parents raised concerns about school violence and culture, citing several instances of fights in and out of the hallways and the ramblings of profanity they hear when visiting the campus.
“I feel afraid to visit the cafeteria,” a parent who sometimes volunteers at the school said.
One parent raised concerns about academics.
“I’m worried about the responsibility of the teachers,” she said in Spanish. “Teachers don’t seem interested in students are learning.”
Kepner was among the city’s lowest-performing middle schools last year, according to DPS’ annual school review process known as the school performance framework. Among similar performing middle schools, Kepner was, until yesterday, the only building not undergoing some form of targeted intervention.
“We know the level of academics is not where we want it to be,” said DPS’ Chief Academic Officer and Kepner alum Susana Cordova.
Her office will be a part of reviewing possible new school models between now and June, when district officials hope to present a plan to the board of education. The new school model will have a one-year planning phase while Kepner continues to enroll students. The district is also beefing up a math tutoring program, reading support and professional development, Cordova said.
While the district believes immediate interventions will improve students’ academic growth and proficiency, it won’t be enough to sustain a positive experience for students, Cordova said.
“We’ve done different [turnaround] approaches,” Cordova said during an interview with Chalkbeat Colorado. “We’ve learned it’s a lot harder to transform a school’s culture. Starting over, one grade level at a time, phasing-in a program, while phasing-out another, has shown results for both programs.”
District officials point to the turnaround process in the city’s far northeast neighborhood as a model of success. While those network of schools have climbed from the bottom of the district’s performance framework and shown positive growth scores, critics point to still below district-average proficiency rates.
DPS plans to hold monthly meetings with the Kepner community as it accepts proposals for a new school model.
Board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver, said she’s determined to see a high-quality school in the neighborhood.
“I don’t want your children to have to leave their community for opportunity,” she said. “I want the opportunity to be here. I will fight for it.”