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Updated: 19 min 37 sec ago

Analysis: Students of color in Colorado suspended at higher rate

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 08:55
Standing in the gap

Students of color in the state's 20 largest school districts are suspended at a higher rate than their white peers. 9News

Walkout for a cause

Students at Denver's Summit Academy organized a walkout to show support for law enforcement officers. 7News

Pueblo's innovation

Pueblo City Schools is considering uniting six struggling schools into an innovation zone, freeing three more schools from some district and state red tape. Pueblo Chieftain

Karen Ortiz, principal of the Pueblo Arts Academy middle school in Pueblo, is more determined than ever to improve the school. Pueblo Chieftain

labor day

The Greeley-Evans School District Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the 2015-2016 master contract with the district’s teachers after months of unrest and disagreements. Greeley Tribune


President Obama’s recent call for less standardized testing spurred lots of national chatter, but many of his specific proposals involve steps Colorado already has taken. Chalkbeat Colorado, KRDO

Sen. Michael Bennet, echoing the White House, said school testing has gotten out of hand. Durango Herald

Human Resources

Basalt High School English language development teacher Leticia Ingram is Colorado's teacher of the year. Post-Independent

Election 2015

Big spending by both sides in the Jefferson County recall point to national interest in the outcomes. 9News

Both sides in the school board recall made their case to voters on 9News. 9News

Hands-on learning

A group of Loveland fourth graders learned about life, nature and natural disaster along the banks of a small-scale river. Reporter-Herald


A judge declared a mistrial in the case against a former Denver Public Schools employee who was hired by New Mexico's largest school district after he had been charged with sexually abusing two young boys. AP via Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado ahead of the game on Obama’s suggested test reforms

Mon, 10/26/2015 - 18:38

President Obama’s recent call for less standardized testing spurred lots of national chatter, but many of his specific proposals involve steps Colorado already has taken.

For example, the “testing action plan” released Saturday by the U.S. Department of Education recommends that states cap the percentage of instructional time students spend taking required statewide standardized assessments so children spend no more than 2 percent of their classroom time taking the tests.

In Colorado, 2 percent of classroom time is about 21 hours in a school year, said Department of Education spokeswoman Dana Smith.

But the statewide CMAS tests will consume only a low of 8.25 hours in third grade to a high of about 13 hours in seventh and eighth grades next spring, according to CDE. The time needed for college-readiness tests in 10th and 11th grades isn’t known because those exams haven’t been chosen. (See graphic at the bottom of this article for details.)

The federal action plan also says, “Low-quality test preparation strategies must be eliminated” and calls on districts to take concrete steps to "to discourage and limit the amount of test preparation activities.”

Colorado testing critics have complained about the overall burden of testing, including preparation for state tests and tests chosen and given locally. But the state has no requirements for control over test prep or local testing.

Similarly, the action plan’s recommendations for flexibility in use of test scores for educator evaluation mirror things Colorado already is doing, said Katy Anthes, the state education department's interim associate commissioner.

“The Administration has adjusted its policies to provide greater flexibility to states in determining how much weight to ascribe to statewide standardized test results in educator evaluation systems” and will work to help states use such flexibility, the plan states.

“There’s nothing in here that’s not already built into our system,” Anthes said.

Colorado law requires that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on students’ academic growth. But districts can – and do – use other measures in addition to growth based on multiple years of state test results.

During the 2014-15 school year, districts could choose to not use growth measures or to use less than 50 percent. And a testing law passed last spring bars the use of data from state tests for evaluation in the current 2015-16 school year.

The testing action plan acknowledges the role of the Obama administration in the growth of testing but says assessment problems are the “unintended effects of policies that have aimed to provide more useful information.”

Along with calling for such high-level goals as quality tests, assessments aligned to what students are learning in class and the linking of tests to improved learning, the document also promises federal financial support for states to improve and streamline testing programs.

And the action plan draws a bright line in calling for the continuation of annual statewide tests, a requirement some testing critics would like to eliminate.

Changes in Colorado’s testing system have been driven both by cutbacks required by a 2015 law and by time reductions made by PARCC, the consortium that provides the language arts and math tests currently used by the state.

But those changes aren’t likely to dampen legislative interest in testing, which was the top education issue during last spring’s legislative session.

"Until we have an assessment tool that parents trust, I'm confident that we will continue to see high opt-out ratios and annual legislation to withdraw from PARCC," said Parker Republican Sen. Chris Holbert, a member of the Senate Education Committee.

Learn more about the Colorado testing system in this archive of Chalkbeat Colorado stories.

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Categories: Urban School News

Pueblo 60 bets on innovation to turn schools around

Mon, 10/26/2015 - 08:48
Pueblo innovation

The Pueblo Chieftain takes an in-depth look at efforts to improve some Pueblo 60 schools using the state innovation law. Pueblo's plan, The innovation law, What it costs, Roncalli STEM Academy, Roncalli's leader, Risley Academy, Risley's leader, Beacon Grant Middle School

Testing reconsidered

Students across the nation are taking tests that are redundant, misaligned with college- and career-ready standards, and often don't address students' mastery of specific content, according to a long-awaited report. News of the study comes just after the Obama administration’s announcement that standardized testing should be trimmed. EdWeek, CNN

Would-be principals recently debated standardized testing at a Colorado Springs event. Gazette

Election 2015

Denver voters will decide whether to devote some city tax revenues to college scholarships. CPR

Leaders of Brighton-based District 27J hope voters will provide some breathing room for overcrowded schools. Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post

Backers of the proposed $122 million bond issue in the Roaring Fork district have raised more than $16,000 for their campaign. Post-Independent

The local teachers union is the largest contributor in Mesa Valley 51 school board races. Daily Sentinel


Parents are at odds with administrators over searches of student cell phones at University Schools, a Greeley charter. KRDO

Students versus robots

The Rocky Mountain B.E.S.T. robotics competition at Metropolitan State University featured 28 teams from around the region. Denver Post

What a diploma means

Debate continues as Colorado’s new graduation guidelines start to filter down to school districts. Durango Herald

Classroom tech

The most advanced woodworking lab in the country sits inside a classroom in the small Peyton district. Denver Post

Both Westview and Trail Ridge middle schools in the St. Vrain district recently were recognized as Apple Distinguished Schools for innovating with Apple products. Daily Camera

Preschool payoff?

A new Tennessee study raises questions about the last impact of early childhood education. Chalkbeat Colorado

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Why childhood disadvantages hurt young boys more than girls

Fri, 10/23/2015 - 19:55
  • A new poll suggests that a large majority of Americans think that the country should do more to expand access to early childhood and a plurality think we should invest more in early learning than in college. (The Atlantic)
  • A decade after the first state run school district was started in Louisiana, the track record for existing turnaround districts is mixed, but more may be on the way. (Hechinger Report)
  • New research suggests that childhood disadvantages such as poverty or an unstable family life hurt boys more than girls. (The Upshot)
  • The flap over language a McGraw Hill textbook used that described slaves as "workers" reveals larger problems with the way history is taught in American classrooms. (The Atlantic)
  • In their latest philanthropic effort in education, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, former teacher Priscilla Chan, are opening a private school aimed at counteracting the toll that poverty takes on children. (San Jose Mercury News)
  • For many first-year teachers, October and November are the hardest months, but some programs are working to get teachers through the fall rough patch. (NPR Ed)
  • Sesame Street's new puppet character with autism is unusual because she's a girl, a decision that the show's creators made intentionally to combat impressions that most kids with autism are boys. (L.A. Times)
  • If you didn't already know that education-only news outlets do amazing reporting, the story of how Catalyst Chicago broke open the story that eventually led to the former Chicago schools chief pleading guilty to fraud charges should give you an idea. (Columbia Journalism Review
Categories: Urban School News

Landmark study sparks question: Do preschool effects stick in Colorado but not in Tennessee?

Fri, 10/23/2015 - 11:11

A recent landmark study out of Tennessee upended the conventional wisdom about the power of preschool and raised questions nationwide, including in Colorado, about how to leverage early education to produce long-lasting impacts.

The Vanderbilt University study revealed that at-risk students who participated in Tennessee’s publicly-funded preschool program showed significant gains initially, but by third grade performed worse than non-participants on both academic and behavior measures.

Early childhood experts here say the study underscores the need for quality in both preschool and subsequent K-3 instruction, but that the findings don’t match Colorado data showing that academic benefits of preschool do stick.

“You don’t have the same story in Colorado,” said Charlotte Brantley, president and CEO of Denver’s Clayton Early Learning.

Like several early childhood advocates here, she cited longitudinal data showing that students in the state-funded Colorado Preschool Program consistently outperformed non-participating peers on all state tests from third to ninth grade.

But Dale Farran, one of the Vanderbilt study authors, said such data—part of an annual report to the Colorado legislature—doesn't rigorously match preschool children to comparison group children. Instead of matching them prior to the preschool year, they're matched after-the-fact in first grade—leaving many unknowns about parent motivation, poverty status and skill levels when the comparison children were 4.

Vanderbilt study highlights

  • Preschool participants had significantly higher achievement than non-participants at the end of the pre-K year.
  • At the beginning of kindergarten, teachers rated preschool participants as better prepared for kindergarten work and as having better work skills and more positive peer relations than non-participants.
  • By the end of kindergarten, non-participants had caught up to preschool participants on achievement measures.
  • By the end of first grade, teachers rated preschool participants as less well prepared for school, having poorer work skills and feeling more negative about school than non-participants.
  • By the end of second grade and into third grade, preschool participants were doing worse than non-participants on most achievement measures.

“You can’t claim your program is effective for poor children if you don’t know [the two groups] were the same at the beginning, before the children went to Pre-K,” she said.

Megan McDermott, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Education, said via email, "We acknowledge that it is not as rigorous as an experimental study. We are using extant data because that is what is available to us."

She went on to say that the 2012 legislative report included a more rigorous regression analysis study that found significant positive benefits of Colorado Preschool Program participation in third grade through sixth grade.

Early childhood advocates here and around the country say Vanderbilt's findings on the "fade-out" of preschool benefits isn't surprising given similar findings from an earlier Head Start Impact Study. What's sometimes missing from the discussion, they say, is that other studies have shown pre-school participants reap significant non-academic benefits later in life. These include things like increased earnings, better health and reduced criminal activity.

“It’s not like this is the first time that a large-scale study has found this,” said Brian Conly, deputy director of the state’s Office of Early Childhood in the Department of Human Services.

“Yes, there may be a fadeout...but there are many, many other benefits to providing pre-kindergarten services.”

The wheels on the bus

Amid the debate about the impact of preschool, a visit to Clayton's classrooms in northeast Denver offers both a glimpse of how a highly regarded program works and a reminder that it's not easy to achieve.

The program is part of the national Educare network of model centers serving at-risk children. It's been deemed a Center of Excellence by the federal Office of Head Start and holds a four out of five on the state’s quality rating system, Colorado Shines. (Currently, there are no programs with fives.)

Preschoolers at Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning go on an imaginary bus ride.

On a recent afternoon there, six preschoolers boarded an imaginary bus, sitting in two rows of wooden chairs near their classroom door. One girl created tickets for her classmates, writing in orange crayon on slips of paper. A little boy in the front row assumed the role of the driver.

Lead Teacher Christine Holpuch crouched near the three- and four-year olds as they chattered about where they’d stashed their tickets and what errands they would do.

She smoothly eased frustration about the seating arrangement and asked the kids questions about their trip—How do you start the bus? Who’s wearing a seatbelt? Could they go to the grocery store?

Clayton, located in a stately building in northeast Denver, is a warm, inviting place where kids get lots of personal attention from well-trained teachers. On the afternoon of the imaginary bus trip, Holpuch, who holds a masters degree in early childhood education, and her fellow teacher John Quinn were in charge of about eight children.

Both teachers got down on the students' level and let the youngsters guide the play—Holpuch’s group moved from riding the bus to playing school to building wooden ramps. Quinn sat nearby with two boys who were busy building robots and skyscrapers.

Brantley said Clayton just receiving funding to embark on its own study of longer-term preschool outcomes, following on work done by Educare centers in Chicago and Omaha

“In those programs so far, they’ve got one or two cohorts now of kids who’ve completed third grade. There’s not been a fadeout,” she said.

Fast and furious

So why do the Tennessee results look so different?

Responses to the Vanderbilt study

Some believe preschool quality suffered there because of a rushed statewide expansion. The 18,000-student program ramped up far faster than the similarly sized Colorado Preschool Program, launching statewide in 2005 compared to 1988 for Colorado.

Leaders here say several efforts to promote preschool quality have been going on in Colorado since the 1990s. These include the creation of the voluntary Qualistar rating program, which helped pave the way for the new mandatory Colorado Shines program. There also have been state grants to improve preschool quality, the creation of quality standards for Colorado Preschool Program classrooms and ongoing work by regional early childhood councils.

Kathryn Harris, executive director of Qualistar Colorado, said of Tennessee, “I don’t think they had the same vision around quality in early learning.”

Some early childhood leaders in Tennessee agree, saying practices varied wildly from classroom to classroom leading to spotty quality overall. But Farran has pushed back against that explanation. She rebutted such criticisms in a recent Brookings Institution report, writing that while the Tennessee program "has ample room for improvement, there is simply no convincing evidence that it is a program of distinctly lower overall quality than other statewide programs."

In fact, Tennessee does have several well-regarded policies in place.

It meets nine of 10 preschool quality benchmarks established by the National Institute for Early Education Research, or NIERR. These include requiring preschool teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, and having class sizes of 20 or lower and staff-child ratios of 1:10 or better.

In comparison, Colorado meets just six of the 10 benchmarks.

Although Colorado falls short on four benchmarks—including the one requiring teachers to have a bachelor’s degree—it exceeds benchmarks on class size and staff-child ratio. The maximum class size in the Colorado Preschool Program is 16 and the maximum staff-child ratio is 1:8.

The director of NIERR, W. Steven Barnett, addressed the disconnect between model policies and quality classrooms in a recent blog post about the Vanderbilt study.

He said the NIERR benchmarks “are not, in themselves, guarantees of quality…they are primarily indicators of the resources available to programs, not whether these resources are used well.”

Financial resources

Many states, including Tennessee and Colorado, face preschool funding restraints that hinder their ability to meet the 10 quality benchmarks, according to the annual NIERR report. Both also lack the funding to serve all eligible at-risk children.

Tennessee, which spends about $85 million on preschool, would need to spend an additional $3,200 per child to fully implement the benchmarks. Colorado, which spends about $75 million on preschool, would need to spend an additional $1,000 per child.

The average Colorado Preschool Program slot, which typically covers a half-day class, cost about $3,400 in 2013-14.

In contrast, consider an exemplary center like Clayton, which offers families a full complement of services along with child care and preschool. Each full-day, full-year seat costs $15,000-$18,000—typically paid for with money from various sources, including Head Start, Colorado Preschool Program, state child care subsidies, grants and private money. All told, there are nearly 200 preschoolers at Clayton's main site and a second location in far northeast Denver.

While there are a small number of tuition-based slots at Clayton, most families either pay nothing or a small fee determined by the state's child care subsidy program. Generally, children with the most risk factors receive priority in admission.

Conly said while every Colorado child doesn’t need a program as intensive as Clayton’s, adequate funding is a constant challenge.

“At the state level, there’s just so many competing priorities for the money,” he said.

No silver bullet

Aside from fresh discussions about what defines preschool quality, the Vanderbilt study has put new focus on the responsibility of the K-3 system to capitalize on preschool gains.

That’s because the Tennessee preschoolers studied did in fact show show up to kindergarten ahead of their peers in literacy and math, and were rated more highly by teachers on work skills and peer relations.

Some experts say that public schools tend to focus on the stragglers, leaving the more prepared preschool alums repeating lessons they already know until their non-preschool peers catch up.

In the same vein, Bill Jaeger, vice president of early childhood initiatives for the Colordo Children's Campaign, said that nine months of preschool can’t be expected to inoculate kids from the effects of attending underfunded, low-performing schools in kindergarten and beyond.

But in states like Colorado and Tennessee—where K-12 funding is far below the national average—what are the prospects for a robust K-3 experience for at-risk children?

Take class size, which is strictly regulated in CPP programs but not in most public schools,  Jaeger said.

“These kiddos walk into kindergarten," he said, "and we’re hearing stories about kindergartens with 27, 28, 32 in a classroom.”

The following is from the 2015 Legislative Report on the Colorado Preschool Program:

A co-author of the Vanderbilt study questions whether this data from the 2015 Colorado Preschool Program Legislative Report valid methodology.


Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Housing patterns drive segregation of DPS schools

Fri, 10/23/2015 - 08:08
Standing in the gap

Despite two decades of court-ordered busing and more recent, less coercive efforts to foster school integration, Denver Public Schools today is the most segregated school district in the metro area. Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Injunction Junction

The Colorado Court of Appeals changed course and decided to allow the Thompson School District to make policy changes regarding the Thompson Education Association while the court decides whether to lift a district court-ordered injunction. Reporter Herald

shining beacon

Grant Beacon Middle School in southeast Denver relies on blended learning, extended learning opportunities and other tools to serve a high-needs population. Education Week

counting time

School board president Allegra “Happy” Haynes has spent time on school business during hours she typically would be working her paid city parks and recreation job, according to records obtained under open records laws. Colorado

Election 2015

Spending on the Jeffco recall election campaign could blow past $1 million. Colorado Public Radio

A video created by the Independence Institute accuses recall supporters of bullying the autistic child of a school board member. An earlier investigation found no proof of the incident. 9News

A state judge has ruled that a Facebook post by Liberty Common School amounts to an illegal campaign contribution to a Thompson School District board candidate. Coloradoan

The Brighton school district, dealing with booming enrollment, is going back to voters with another bond issue request after barely falling short last year. Chalkbeat Colorado

The late withdrawal of a write-in candidate for Manitou Springs School District 14 means the remaining three candidates will win the three open seats if each receives at least one vote. Gazette

Three candidates are gunning for one two-year school board seat in Meeker. Herald Times

Candidates running for a contested seat on the Florence-Penrose School Board met at a candidate forum. Daily Record

stories matter

For the past nine years, hundreds of students have told their stories through the Greeley-Evans School District 6’s El Teatro program. Greeley Tribune

Categories: Urban School News

Brighton district crosses its fingers and hopes a few voters change their minds

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 13:01

The rapidly growing Brighton schools hope voters are more receptive this year to a $248 million bond issue than they were in 2014, when a $148 million plan failed by 90 votes.

“I feel really good about it – until I wake up at 3 in the morning,” said Chris Fiedler, superintendent of the Adams County School District 27J.

None of the state’s other 20 largest school districts are seeking tax increases this year, but 27J leaders felt they couldn’t wait.

The reason is simple – mushrooming enrollment growth.

The district grew from 9,256 students in 2004 to 17,103 in the 2014-15 school year. That 84 percent increase far exceeds the 18.3 percent growth for all metro-area districts over the decade. The district now is the state’s 16th largest, and Fiedler says 2030 enrollment is projected at 32,000.

The fields east of Brighton and north of Denver International Airport have filled with subdivisions in recent years, and growth continues.

“Houses here are more affordable,” Fiedler explains. He also said growth in Thornton in the western part of the district has exploded.

Growth has consequences

Without new schools, growth requires uncomfortable adjustments, including modified split schedules at the district’s two comprehensive high schools, Brighton and Prairie View. Freshmen and sophomores start school at 7 a.m., with older students coming in at about 9:30 a.m.

Asked about the current split schedule, Brighton High senior Lauren Rocha simply said, “It’s the worst.”

27J’s bond plan

  • High school in Thornton - $89.5M
  • Middle school, location to be determined - $55M
  • Elementary school in Commerce City - $22M
  • Elementary school in Brighton area - $25M
  • Expansions at renovations at five schools - $31.2M

Full details

She has classes from 8:45 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. but no lunch hour.

“It makes you not want to go to class because you want to eat so bad," she said. "… It’s definitely harder to focus.”

Sympathetic teachers often let students grab food to bring to class.

Some seniors don’t finish the day until 5 p.m., Rocha said, making it tough to juggle after-school activities and jobs. She works evenings at a Brighton pizza restaurant. Asked about homework, Rocha said, “If I’m lucky enough” she gets some done in class, but added, “Sometimes I’m up until 2 in the morning writing a paper.”

Fiedler said the high school schedules also put a strain on staff. “There’s a challenge with scheduling. It stretches our administrators.”

Brighton, then the district’s only high school, went on a split schedule in 2003. A 2004 bond issue allowed construction of Prairie View, easing schedule problems at Brighton. But Prairie View opened with modular classrooms, and most of the district’s other schools also have modulars.

Without a new high school, the district may have to face the possibility of full split schedules at the two high schools, with half the students attending from 6 a.m. to noon and the others in school from noon to 6:30 p.m., Fielder said.

The district also has contingency plans for year-round schedules at its elementary schools.

“That’s one of the possible options in the absence of new space,” he said.

Persuading the voters

Despite the wafer-thin margin of loss last year, bond-issue supporters are determined to succeed this time around.

“We immediately turned that loss into fuel. The disappointment immediately drove the determination,” said Chris Wahrle, a Brighton parent who is a co-founder of IAM27J, a community organization that is campaigning for passage of the bond.

“There is a lot more familiarity with the issues the district is facing” this year, Wahrle said. He added that supporters had to do a lot more explaining about the bond last year.

27Jat a glance

  • 17,103 students
  • 24 schools (five charter)
  • State rating - Accredited
  • 38.6 percent at-risk
  • 52 percent minority
  • District includes Brighton and parts of Broomfield, Commerce City, Thornton and unincorporated Adams and Weld counties

The IAM27J group so far has raised about $73,000 and spent more than $25,000, according to a recent campaign filing. Wahrle said campaign efforts include 10,000 hand-written postcards sent to voters, 3,000 yard signs, large banners at major intersections, phone banks and lots of neighborhood canvassing.

“We knew we had to more this year,” he said.

There are no organized opposition groups.

Fiedler notes there a lot of “noise” in 2014 – bond and tax override elections in neighboring districts plus legislative and other elections.

Among other things, elections last year brought out more Republican voters, who often are more averse to tax increases. Although registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Adams County, 63 percent of Republican turned out last year compared to 53 percent of Democrats. None of the nine tax increases proposed in five Adams districts passed last year.

Fiedler hopes district voters will be able to focus this year.

“We know that the campaign this year is about participation, not persuasion,” he said.

If passed, the bond issue would increase property taxes on the average home about $33 a year, Fielder said.

What happens next

“If we win there’s hope. If we lose we’re going to lose good staff, good administrators, good families. They’ll go other places,” Fiedler said.

But if the bond is passed, voters will face the issue again. The superintendent said that if current rates of enrollment growth continue the district should start thinking about a new bond issue in six years.

See the document below for a full list of district bond issues and tax overrides on the ballot this election.

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Categories: Urban School News

Why Denver Latino students are more segregated today than black students were before busing

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 09:03

Despite two decades of court-ordered busing and more recent, less coercive efforts to foster school integration, Denver Public Schools today is the most segregated school district in the metro area, an analysis of enrollment data conducted by I-News shows.

Busing from 1974 through 1995 in some ways accomplished what it set out to do — integrate black students, who had been deliberately isolated in separate schools by DPS for decades before a federal lawsuit put a stop to the practice.

But Latinos were largely left out of the equation in the Keyes vs. School District No. 1 desegregation case. And today, Latino students are arguably more segregated in predominantly Latino schools than black students were in the pre-Keyes days.

Reasons for today’s patterns of segregation are different from those that caused racial isolations in schools 40 years ago. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Denver school board deliberately segregated schools through a series of policies that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately found violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Today, the return to neighborhood schools in a city where many neighborhoods are racially and socioeconomically segregated is the major cause of segregated schools.

In some cases, schools that are integrated today are in gentrifying neighborhoods, where the population is becoming more white and affluent. Those schools are likely to become increasingly white over time, as lower-income, predominantly minority families are pushed out by rising housing costs.

“It's not that it's a silo that the district has intentionally created these segregated schools, but it is a reflection of the housing demographics and how we have isolated people by income, and race, and ethnicity,” said Theresa Peña, a former Denver school board member who attended DPS during the busing era.

“I think that's very challenging both from an academic perspective, as well as this is not the life lesson we want to teach children who live in a great city like Denver to go to such racially and ethnically isolated schools.”

The case for integration

The case for integration is about more than the belief that people of various colors and creeds should learn and live together in our increasingly diverse society. There’s also an academic argument to be made.

Although the academic results from busing were mixed, numerous studies over the past decade show that socioeconomically and racially mixed schools boost the achievement of low-income students of color. More affluent students do not suffer academically as a result, the studies show. When schools tip to over half low-income, which in most cases also means over half students of color, the benefits of integration begin to diminish.

Under any measure, Denver has a long way to go to achieve integrated schools. And given the racial composition of students in the school district, an ideal mix of students in all schools would be impossible to achieve.

Back in 1970, when the Keyes case was first decided in U.S. District Court, white students made up the majority of DPS students — 62 percent, while Latinos comprised just 23 percent. Today, white students account for 22 percent of DPS students, Latinos 57 percent.

Still, few DPS schools reflect the overall racial composition of the district’s student body. One way to look at the magnitude of racial isolation in DPS schools is to calculate how many students of each race would have to move to another school to achieve in every school the same racial composition as the district as a whole.

The result: More than 57 percent of white students would have to move, 51 percent of Latinos, and 44 percent of black students.

More than 80 percent of the district’s Latino students attend schools where at least half the student are Latino, with most of those student in schools where between 70 and 90 percent of the students are Latino. Fully one-quarter of Latino students attend schools where nine of every 10 students are Latino.

By contrast, more than three-quarter of DPS’ black students now attend schools where 30 percent or fewer of the students are black.

White students tend to remain clustered disproportionately in predominantly white schools, though the distribution of white students is more proportional than it was in pre-busing days. Today, 40 percent of the district’s white students attend schools where at least 60 percent of the students are white. Given that white students comprise under a quarter of all DPS students, this clustering by race is striking.

In 1970, 84 percent of white students attended schools that were at least 60 percent white. However, the proportion of white students in the district back then was nearly three times greater than it is today.

By comparison, the black student population as a percentage of the total has remained relatively flat — 15 percent in 1970, 14 percent today.

Charters aren't helping schools integrate

Some of Denver’s most racially isolated schools are charters. More than 96 percent of students are Latino at KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy and three campuses of STRIVE Preparatory schools. These schools, however, pride themselves on working with high-poverty, minority populations and producing significantly higher-achieving schools than their traditional neighborhood school counterparts.

STRIVE was founded “under the belief that students from all backgrounds deserve a college preparatory education regardless of race, economic circumstance or previous academic achievement,” the STRIVE website says.
DPS-run schools with similar populations typically have lower test scores and frequent leadership changes, leading to a greater sense of instability.

In all, six schools in Denver have student bodies that are more than 95 percent Latino. Only one of those has a white population of more than one percent — Sunshine Peak, at 1.1 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, six DPS neighborhood schools have white populations over 80 percent. Five of these schools are located in affluent, predominantly white neighborhood of southeast Denver. The sixth, Polaris, is a gifted and talented magnet school located just northeast of downtown.

Only one of those schools has a student body that is more than 10 percent Latino — Cory Elementary, at 11 percent.

Looking for solutions

DPS officials say they are aware of these trends and are working to combat them.

“We care deeply about integration, about economic integration, about racial integration in our schools and our classrooms,” Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg said in an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS. “Study after study has shown that all kids benefit when classrooms are integrated, that all kids learn more.”

In 2010 DPS began rolling out “enrollment zones,” under which families would be assigned to one of several schools within broader boundaries than those surrounding traditional neighborhood schools. Families could list their preferred school but wouldn’t be guaranteed a spot in that school. They would, however, get a seat in one of the schools within their zone. One of the motivating forces behind the zones, at least in the past two years, has been to create more diverse schools.

In a 2014 interview with this reporter, Boasberg said enrollment zones help break down neighborhood patterns of segregation by drawing from a larger, and therefore more diverse area.

“In Denver, in many neighborhoods if you put a compass point down on the map and draw a very small radius out from it a half mile, you will often find within that circle you draw, not a lot of racial and economic diversity,” he said.

“But if you take that compass and draw it out a little further, maybe a mile, mile and a half, so you have a three-mile diameter circle, there are many, many places that are very richly diverse.”

The main focus of enrollment zones is on middle and high schools. “Given the importance parents place on the school (for their elementary-aged children) being close to home, and the fact that elementary schools are traditionally much smaller than secondary schools, I think you've seen basically very little change there,” Boasberg said.

Bill de la Cruz, director of DPS’ office of equity and inclusion, said in some cases families need to overcome deeply ingrained fears to feel comfortable placing their kids in an integrated school.

“The crux of it is a pretty large misunderstanding about the impact of race in a student’s ability to get a good education, with the idea that if my white student is being educated with a group of students of color that they’re going to get less, or if my student is educated with a group of students that are not at grade level then the bar is going to be lower so that we can meet their needs,” de la Cruz said in an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS.

Ricardo Martinez, co-director of Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a community organizing group, said it’s easy for families in high-performing, segregated schools to forget that not everyone has it as good. “No one faults parents for looking for the best for the children. The problem is if we don't fight to improve the schools for all our children,” he said.

The struggle to integrate schools will be an ongoing one, but it’s a worthy fight, de la Cruz said. “We’re at a place now where racially, ethnically, we need to come together to realize that all students matter, and the success of all students is based on our ability to work together,” he said.

“This idea that we can educate students in isolation of other students, it’s not reality anymore.”

This is part of Rocky Mountain PBS’ ongoing coverage of Race in Colorado. Standing in the Gap examines race in public education in the state. To learn more, visit and watch the four-part documentary series on Rocky Mountain PBS at 9 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19.

Categories: Urban School News

Moffat County looks to calendar changes to drive achievement

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 08:43

The Moffat County School District is seeking alternatives to the traditional school calendar, including a four-day week, to improve student achievement and teacher development. But some parents are not convinced. Craig Daily Press

Class visitors

College students and robots visited fifth graders at a Durango elementary school to talk about science. Durango Herald

Election 2015 • Jeffco

What does a teacher exodus, the hiring of a lawyer and a new school share in common? All are fodder for the Jeffco school board election. Chalkbeat Colorado

The county’s teachers union and Americans for Prosperity donated big money to recall causes. Chalkbeat Colorado

Check our database of donations in the Jeffco recall election. Chalkbeat Colorado

Election 2015 • Denver

The city’s ethics committee gave an initial OK — with conditions — to Happy Haynes to serve both as president of the school board and head of the city’s parks and recreation department. Chalkbeat Colorado

Election 2015 • El Paso County edition

School districts around the state usually cancel races due to a lack of candidates. But there is no candidate shortage in rural El Paso County. Gazette

Election 2015 • Mesa county edition

An earlier Colorado Supreme Court decision on an Adams 12 school board election matter could carry implications for Mesa County. Grand Junction Sentinel

Election 2015 • Help wanted

The RE-1 Valley Board of Education has two open seats on its school board that need to be filled. Journal-Advocate

Election 2016 — yes, 2016

El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate seat in 2016, released a statement saying he opposes the Common Core. Gazette

Spread out

A new school in Aurora, which we’ve previously reported on, is helping with overcrowding.

Dried out

The water main break that closed Ponderosa High School on Wednesday has been repaired. 9News

Two cents

The Denver school board election is being bought by a small group of rich and powerful candidates who serve the narrow interests of the rich and powerful, argues education activist Angela Engel. Colorado Statesman

Categories: Urban School News

Nine claims made in the Jefferson County school board recall explained

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 21:52

There is no shortage of accusations or political posturing in Jefferson County these days.

Backers of the high-stakes Jefferson County school board recall made their beefs with the school board majority known in June when they began collecting signatures.

Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk and their supporters have fired back with their own claims.

In an effort to help you make an informed decision, we’ve laid out each side's claims and provided what we believe is important context.

What the recall supporters claim 1. The school board majority has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars.

Recall backers claim that the board wasted millions of dollars. On the ballot, they cite two examples of waste: resources put into hiring a new superintendent and a lawyer.

While it’s true Superintendent Dan McMinimee is paid more than predecessor Cindy Stevenson, he’s not making $80,000 more, as recall supporters claim. McMinimee’s base salary is $220,000 and he is eligible for up to $40,000 in merit bonuses. Stevenson’s base pay was $201,328 and she was eligible for up to $20,000 in merit bonuses. Both received comparable retirement benefits. The district covers McMinimee’s expenses, which it did not do for Stevenson.

The hiring of attorney Brad Miller for $90,000 a year by the board majority has been another sore spot. Previously, the board contracted as needed with the law firm of Caplan and Earnest and others.

Between 2009 and 2013, the board spent on average $41,241 on legal fees, according to data on the district’s financial transparency page. In 2014 and 2015, the average more than doubled to $95,756.

So where does the claim about millions of dollars come from? Critics point to other moves, as well, most notably the board majority’s increased financial support for charter schools. Critics believe the board redirected millions of dollars from a voter-approved tax increase intended for district-run schools to charters.

2. The school board majority’s policies are forcing highly skilled teachers to leave. PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Jefferson County teachers wait for an elevator outside the district's board chambers after the Board of Education approved a tentative compensation model that abandons the traditional structure based on time and education.

Like most of the state, Jefferson County has experienced an increase in teacher turnover.

While Colorado’s second largest school district’s rate is still lower than the state average, the district saw a dramatic spike — 5 percentage points — in the first calendar year the school board majority was elected, according to data provided by the district to the Colorado Department of Education. By comparison, the statewide average ticked up less than a percentage point between 2013 and 2014.

It’s to be expected that the lion’s share of teachers who left Jeffco were rated effective or highly-effective because nearly 98 percent of teachers in Jeffco were given that rating on their annual evaluation last year.

New data from the district shows 48.5 percent of teachers were rated highly effective during the 2014-15 school year. During the same time, 49.2 percent were rated effective, 2 percent were rated partly effective and 0.2 percent were rated ineffective.

Of the 734 teachers who left the district at the end of the 2014-15 school year with completed evaluations, about 31 percent were rated highly effective, 57 percent were rated effective, 11 percent were rated partly effective and 1 percent were rated ineffective.

That means the district retained more teachers rated highly effective and lost a larger proportion of more teachers rated effective, partly effective or ineffective.

While some teachers who left the district have shared their frustration about the board majority, there’s no way of knowing what is driving the increased turnover.

3. The school board majority has limited public comment.

The school board usually limits public comment to two one-hour blocks. The first hour is for comments related to agenda items. The second hour is for items not on the agenda.

Individuals are allowed to speak for up to three minutes. Groups have 10 minutes. If more than 20 people or groups are signed up, individuals get one or two minutes and groups have five.

Soon after the school board majority was elected, the first block of public comment stretched on for two or three hours. That pushed some meetings well passed midnight. So the board majority decided to follow a pre-existing board policy that limited public comment to one hour.

4. The school board majority attempted to censor an advanced U.S. history class. PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Standley Lake High School students rallied near their school Sept. 19 to raise awareness over a proposed curriculum panel that would report to the school district's Board of Education. The rally was the same day as a teacher "sick out."

Last fall, Julie Williams proposed the district establish a committee to ensure a high school advanced history course did not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law,” and that instructional materials “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

The Advanced Placement U.S. History class is part of a large offering of courses designed by the College Board that can lead to earning college credit.

As part of a trend to emphasize critical thinking over rote memorization, the College Board drastically reduced the number of learning objectives. It also focused more time on early and recent American history and placed greater focus on the role of women and minorities. Many conservative critics complained that the changes were revisionist and presented a negative view of the country.

After student protests in Jeffco drew national attention, the board voted on a scaled back proposal that dropped Williams’ review but did change the composition of the district’s curriculum review committee to include parents and students. Previously, the committee reported to the superintendent. Now, it reports to the board. That means those meetings must be opened to the public.

A postscript: the organization responsible for designing the advanced history class made further revisions to the framework this summer following the conservative backlash. In part, the College Board neutralized some of the language it uses in the learning objectives and added a section about American Exceptionalism. The changes fall short of Williams’ original proposal.

5. The school board majority repeatedly violated open meeting laws by making major decisions behind closed doors.

To violate the state’s open meeting laws, three of the five Jefferson County school board members would need to meet in person without posting public notice or correspond electronically either by email or text. The board could also potentially violate public meeting laws by holding “spoke” or “walking quorum” meetings. That’s when one school board member acts as a go-between several members to coordinate discussions or votes.

Recall supporters claim the decision to hire Miller was a done deal before the board voted in public. They point two key pieces of evidence. First, only board majority members spoke to Miller before the vote. Second, a board member of another school district said Miller had been hired by the Jeffco school board the day before the Jeffco board met.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Bob Kerrigan said he did his own research on Miller and did not talk to any Jeffco school board member about Miller.

The majority board members say any of the five board members could have talked to Miller, and that because none of the interviews took place with multiple board members, the law was not violated.

What the recall targets counter 6. The school board majority has given teachers $21 million dollars in raises.

This is true. But there are important pieces of context to keep mind.

First, this school board was the first in five years to be in a position to give teachers raises. After five years of deep budget cuts, funding only reached pre-Great Recession levels in 2014.

Second, the $21 million over two years in raises is far cry from the raises teachers were promised when they agreed to budget cuts and freezes during the recession. But given how the state funds school districts and a lack of local funding, the board and district have few options to fill a $28 million gap in teacher pay created during the recession.

Third, the $21 million equates to about a 1 to 2 percent raise per year for each of the district’s some 5,000 teachers. That, critics say, is less than the rate of cost of living increases in the Denver-metro area.

7. The school board majority has expanded school choice. PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Americans For Prosperity-Colorado volunteer Kim Gilmartin, left, and AFP field director Alex Bolton, knocked on doors in a Littleton neighborhood Sept. 19 asking voters for their opinion on the school board majority's policies including school choice.

Since the board majority took office in 2013, it has approved one of two new charter schools it has considered. That charter school, Golden View Classical Academy, enrolls 498 students, less than 1 percent of the district's 85,000 students.

The board has no control over how many organizations apply for a charter, so it has no direct control over how many new charters open.

But the board majority has signaled it wants more charter schools in Jeffco.

It set a local precedent to give charter schools equal funding to its district-run schools and has provided loans to charter schools in need of a lifeline. And at a Dec. 10 meeting, the board will consider moving its charter application window to the spring to give charter schools more time to plan prior to opening.

8. The school board built a new school without incurring debt.

One of the most heated debates the school board had this year was how to manage expected growth in northwest Arvada. District officials project 6,000 new students in Arvada during the next seven years.

Superintendent Dan McMinimee and his staff first pitched the district borrowing $30 million to build a new kindergarten through eighth grade school. However, the board majority rejected the proposal, saying it did not want to add any more debt to the district given an uncertain state funding forecast from the state.

As part of the district’s final 2015-2016 budget, the board majority instead directed $18 million to build a new school for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

A crucial fact about this claim: the school hasn’t been built yet. While school officials believe the school can be built for $18 million, there has been no bid or contract awarded.

9. Student achievement has increased since the board majority took office.

Recent student data is mixed.

Graduation rates between 2013 and 2014 increased by 2 percentage points. But the school board majority hadn't enacted any sort of policies changes by May 2014 to really drive that change.  Meanwhile, ACT scores between 2014 and 2015 remained flat.

Fifth-graders performed better on the state’s science tests last year, but eighth-graders performed worse. There was a modest uptick in fourth grade social studies tests in 2015. But seventh grade scores for the same year were flat.

Reading and math data on the state’s most recent tests won’t be available until after the election. The state is switching assessments, however, so it will be nearly impossible to make comparisons.

Categories: Urban School News

Who gave to organizations for and against the 2015 Jefferson County recall?

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 17:45

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are stacking up in Jefferson County to support or oppose the recall of three school board members: Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk.

The campaign to recall the board members added some $60,000 in donations mostly under $100 to its already sizable war chest, according to Oct. 20 campaign finance reports.

While the Independence Institute, which supports the board's policy decisions, made a public donation of $10,000 to a political committee to oppose the recall.

Another conservative nonprofit that is not required to file with secretary of state's office, Americans For Prosperity, announced last week it would spend "six-figures" on a campaign that supports the board majorities policies.

The next fundraising report for those involved in the recall is midnight, Oct. 30.

Total reported contributions, expenses for committees for, against recall Total reported contributions, expenses for recall targets and candidates Individual reported donations to committees and candidates

Use the filters below to customize your search results. Click on a column to resort the table

Categories: Urban School News

Candidates in Jeffco school board recall, with help from teachers union, outpace targeted incumbents

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 13:11

Supporters of the Jefferson County school board recall effort, with help from the county’s teachers union, easily raised and spent more than their three targets during the last two months, new campaign finance reports show.

But the conservative school board majority members, which barely raised $6,000 collectively since the beginning of August, received support from other deep-pocketed groups not donating directly to the incumbents.

Jeffco United for Action, the organization that launched the recall, raised $61,000 between Aug. 8 and Oct. 15. Counting previous donations, that brings the organization’s war chest to more than $252,000. The group spent about $76,000 during the last two months.

The bulk of that money was spent on signature gathering to put the recall on the ballot and on advertising costs.

Jeffco United Forward, the sister organization backing a five-member slate of candidates to reset the entire board, raised about $32,000. More than $13,000 came from $10 donations made by Jeffco residences in exchange for yard signs, a spokeswoman for the organization said.

The largest single donation to Forward was $15,000 from a small donor committee run by the Jefferson County Education Association, the teachers union.

That small donor committee also gave $9,000 apiece to three candidates seeking to replace the recall targets.

Those candidates — Ron Mitchell, Susan Harmon and Brad Rupert — each raised more than $33,000. Each spent more than $22,000, records show.

Nearly two-thirds of their combined expenses went to advertising, including more than $61,000 to Mad Dog Mail, a Florida-based advertising firm that works exclusively with Democrats.

Ali Lasell and Amanda Stevens, candidates for the two open seats on the Jefferson County school board who are also working with Mitchell, Harmon and Rupert, also contracted with Mad Dog Mail, earlier records show.

Among the recall targets, Jeffco school board president Ken Witt raised $5,740, Julie Williams raised $725 and John Newkirk did not file a report by the reporting deadline.

Those small donations don’t tell the whole story of the financial machine aligned with the school board majority.

The 501(c)(4) nonprofit Colorado Independent Action, which is run by the libertarian think-tank the Independence Institute, gave $10,000 to Kids Are First Jeffco, the political committee opposing the recall.

Kids are First Jeffco, an issue committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of funds with few exceptions, reported spending $1,084 on robocalls.

Americans For Prosperity, another nonprofit that is allowed under federal tax code to “educate voters” but not directly advocate for candidates, announced last week that it would spend “six-figures” on an advertising campaign — including two television commercials — that trumpets the board majority’s policies.

Paula Noonan, another candidate running to succeed Witt, raised $385. She didn’t spend a dime.

Matthew Dhieux, who is running to succeed John Newkirk, raised $268. He reported spending $95.

Regan Benson, who is running to replace Witt, reported $329 in donations and $12.78 in expenses.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver ethics board OK with Happy Haynes juggling city parks and rec job, school board role

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 10:49

Members of the Denver Board of Ethics said at a hearing Wednesday they are fine with Allegra “Happy” Haynes holding a volunteer school board seat while heading the city’s parks and recreation department as long as she follows precedent and takes steps to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Board staff indicated an informal opinion will be put in writing in the next three days.

Haynes, who is running for reelection for her at-large seat, sought the opinion after Mayor Michael Hancock appointed her six weeks ago as executive director of parks and recreation, which in rare but sometimes sensitive circumstances does business with Denver Public Schools.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Haynes assured ethics board members she would follow guidelines established in a 2001 opinion when James Mejia held the same two roles.

Those steps will include delegating a staff person in parks and recreation to deal with any matters involving DPS. Ethics board members wanted to make sure the person was a civil service employee and not appointed, as was the case with Mejia.

Ethics board member Roy Wood, former provost at the University of Denver, quizzed Haynes about her views on “public trust in government” given that Haynes may face criticism over city-DPS dealings. A controversial land swap between the two parties in southeast Denver, for instance, is the subject of an ongoing court battle.

“Both the city and school district have very strong ethics codes and I intend to follow those on either side ensuring there isn’t either the actual or the appearance of a conflict,” Haynes told the board.

The school board president also said she intends to “to fully commit to the job I was hired for with the city and not use time to conduct school business.”

Wood raised another question, wondering whether by recusing herself in some cases, “would we lose a valuable voice?”

Haynes’ school board race opponent, Robert Speth, has questioned whether Haynes can handle both demanding jobs. He argued for “absolute separation” between the two roles,and highlighted past controversies including the land-swap.

To see past coverage of this issue including a link to the agreement that governed Mejia's two roles, click here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Greeley teachers sign off on tentative contract

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 07:22
let's make a deal

Despite contentious negotiations, the Greeley teachers union gave overwhelming approval to a tentative agreement with the district. Greeley Tribune

sudden departure

Denver’s first new comprehensive high school in 35 years faces a stern test with the resignation of founding principal Avi Tropper after a district investigation found myriad problems with the disciplining of students. Chalkbeat Colorado, KDVR, 9News, The Denver Channel

Election 2015: Are We There Yet?

As reported last week, the “clean slate” candidates running in Jeffco were the early winners in campaign money race. Arvada Press

Candidates vie for four open seats in the Adams 12 district. Northglenn Thornton Sentinel

Candidates in the Douglas County school board race revisited familiar disagreements at a forum. Chalkbeat Colorado, Douglas County News Press

In a role reversal, candidates challenging the conservative status quo on the Dougco school board are bringing in more money than the incumbents. Douglas County News Press

The next Aurora school board will deal with fallout from a highly critical report of the district and its efforts to improve. Aurora Sentinel

narrowing the gap

Palmer Lake Elementary School in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 has been recognized by the Colorado Department of Education for closing achievement gaps. Gazette

beats a 'D'

Colorado’s high schools earned a ‘C’ in teaching personal finance, according to a new report. Gazette

train in vain

Elected officials and staff from the city of Longmont and the St. Vrain Valley School District met to talk enrollment projections, recreation and concerns over train horn blasts near Columbine Elementary. Times-Call

get on the bus

New buses donated to the Mapleton school district by an oil and gas company run on compressed natural gas. Arvada Press

educator focus

Meet Kerry Glenn, Northglenn High School’s STEM coordinator Northglenn Thornton Sentinel

credit where it's due

Citing Chalkbeat’s report from last week, The Denver Post editorial board writes that Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich plagiarized and that wouldn’t be acceptable for any student writing an essay in Denver Public Schools. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Northfield High School principal out after investigation into student discipline

Tue, 10/20/2015 - 19:19

The principal of Denver’s Northfield High School resigned Tuesday rather than face being fired after a school district investigation found "multiple" instances of inappropriate responses involving the discipline of students at the school that opened this fall, Denver Public Schools officials announced Tuesday night.

Avi Tropper was hired with great fanfare to lead a bold new experiment at DPS’s first new comprehensive high school in 35 years. The goal: to build an integrated school and show that all students, regardless of past academic history, can succeed under the demanding International Baccalaureate program usually reserved for the highest achievers.

The district's investigation found "multiple incidents" of problems with how students are disciplined, including inappropriate use of force, inappropriate escalation of relatively minor incidents, inappropriate supervision of security personnel, Tropper stating his intentions to use suspension as a tool to force at least one student out of the school and inappropriate behavior towards parents raising concerns, according to district staff and a letter to the Northfield community.

In an interview Tuesday with Chalkbeat, Tropper, who had been put on administrative leave during the investigation, said he did nothing wrong in the student discipline cases. He described the district’s investigation as “tremendously flawed,” featuring “falsehoods and lies." He said the district failed to talk to faculty who could refute some of the claims.

Tropper said he resigned because he does not believe the district buys into the Northfield vision. He suggested district officials are bowing to pressure from a vocal group of Stapleton neighborhood parents who dislike the inclusive nature of the school and want their children in higher-level classes separate from others.

“We need a district that abides by its publicly stated values instead of folding under pressure,” Tropper said.

Susana Cordova, DPS's chief of schools, said that was not true, and that the district stands by the investigation and its results.

"We remain 100 percent committed to the vision of Northfield High High School, which is a vision about an inclusive, high-performing school," Cordova said. "This is not an easy decision to make. However, we believe that it was in the best interest of the school community to make this change based on the result of the investigation.”

DPS did not provide details of the discipline cases, but in a letter to families earlier this month noted that two families raised concerns about how their children were disciplined by a campus security officer. Both the officer and Tropper were put on leave during the investigation.

9News has previously reported that one of the incidents was triggered by a dress code violation, quoting the student's mother as saying the school security guard "inappropriately handled" her daughter, holding her hands behind her back. She had been wearing a bandana.

Northfield opened in August with a freshman class and will add a grade every year.

Tropper refuted several of the findings of the district's investigation. For instance, he said the claim that he was using suspension to force a student out is a "blatant lie." He said the student was suspended for fighting, and his grandmother said she was planning to transfer him to another school. He said suspension is a last resort and the decision for a student to leave is up to the family, not the school.

Avi Tropper, the former Northfield High School principal (photo by Alan Gottlieb).

Cordova said principals must enforce clear, consistent and fair procedures around behavior and discipline with the goal of keeping kids safe. In the letter to the school community, the district said it found multiple instances of cases not being dealt with promptly or fairly in accordance with districtwide discipline expectations and in a way that de-escalates conflict as effectively as possible.

Cordova said Tropper resigned in lieu of being fired.

Tropper wrote in his three-sentence resignation, which he let Chalkbeat review: "Please be aware that this resignation does not waive any legal right that I may have.”

Staff defections have accompanied the turmoil. A full-time teacher, two part-time teachers and an office staff member have left Northfield recently, district officials said. One teacher sent an email to school families just before resigning, saying she is "concerned that the administration is not addressing incidences of violence or threats of violence, which is causing bullying to escalate in the classroom."

Tropper convened a staff meeting following the email, and a majority of staff did not believe that was an accurate depiction of the culture at Northfield, according to the earlier letter sent from district staff to families.

Tropper has plenty of support among remaining faculty who remain steadfastly loyal to him, and many parents.

Brent Stickrath, who left a job teaching in the IB program at George Washington High School in Denver to teach science at Northfield, said Tuesday he is disappointed Tropper is no longer leading the school.

Northfield stats
The school primarily draws from the following neighborhoods:

  • Green Valley Ranch
  • Montbello
  • East Park Hill
  • Stapleton

Student demographics

  • 29.4% Black
  • 30.7% Hispanic
  • 30% White
  • 8% multiple races
  • 2.8% Asian
  • .5% American Indian/Alaskan Native

Percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals

  • About 54%

“Northfield High is a safe place for our students to grow academically," Stickrath said. "It just is. I think there is a mischaracterization that the school had a lot of discipline problems and so forth.  Really, the focus has been on academics. The focus will continue to be on academic growth and the development of strong citizens. I just think Avi was central to the vision of this school. I am just saddened he is not able to be a part of it anymore."

Debra Jackson, who has a son at Northfield, also was disappointed to learn of Tropper's departure.

"I just feel Avi really believes in the school, believes in the kids, and didn't get a chance to follow through," she said. "There are troubled students there, and not all will make it. But they should be given the opportunity to succeed."

Other parents interviewed by Chalkbeat after school on Tuesday said the school has had a rough start, with too many students disrupting class and neither teachers nor administrators doing enough in response.

"It's been chaotic," said parent Carl Sakamaki, who described his daughter as a strong student who came up through Stapleton schools. "I don't think they were ready. I think they're trying, but a lot is falling short."

Students interviewed Tuesday before the announcement of Tropper's resignation painted a mixed picture of the school. A group of about half-dozen African-American freshmen said they felt stereotyped by staff, with one saying anyone male is perceived to be a gang member. But they also said the work at Northfield is challenging, teachers are mostly supportive and they're learning.

"It's been rough," said freshman Earl Watkins. "It doesn't feel like a real high school. They don't treat us like we're almost adults. Not all of us disrespect the adults."

DPS said a former DPS principal, Ed Salem, will continue as acting principal and a new interim principal is expected to be named shortly for the remainder of the school year.

The school security officer's status is not yet resolved, district officials said. He too was placed on administrative leave.

Chalkbeat deputy bureau chief Nic Garcia contributed information to this report.

Here is the text of DPS's letter to Northfield families:

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Categories: Urban School News

Dougco incumbents tout district success, challengers criticize board culture

Tue, 10/20/2015 - 13:39

Familiar divisions over teacher morale and pay, board openness and district spending were highlighted at a Douglas County school board candidate forum held just two weeks before election day.

Vouchers, the issue for which Dougco is best known outside the county, didn’t get mentioned once.

Three incumbents are facing three challengers in races that look similar to the three elections held since 2009, when a conservative majority took control of the board and started rolling out changes including the voucher program, breaking the district teachers union and new budgeting practices.

Incumbents Kevin Larson, Craig Richardson and Richard Robbins touted rising achievement rates, high school graduation rates, declining college remediation and the district’s top-level state rating as reasons to re-elect them.

“We had a very good school district in 2010, but it wasn’t great,” Richardson said.

“We have been successful … Continue the success we have in Douglas County,” Larsen urged.

But challengers Anne-Marie Lemieux, David Ray and Wendy Vogel argued the current board has gone too far in its initiatives and run roughshod over parents and teachers.

“They’ve turned our great district upside down,” argued Lemieux, calling board initiatives “poorly implemented.” Questioning the expertise of the board and Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, Lemieux said, “This board isn’t necessarily bad guys. They’re just not asking the right questions.”

Richardson said, “We are in the midst of change. It is always difficult [to move from] a culture of entitlement to a culture of performance.” He was referring to the district’s controversial performance pay system.

Vogel called the reference to entitlement “incredibly offensive to our staff.”

The challengers repeatedly warned about low staff morale, with Lemieux saying, “We’ve had thousands of teachers leave this district. … Good leadership should recognize that we are losing great teachers.” Challengers argued the district’s evaluation system in “punitive” and isn’t oriented toward helping teachers improve.

The challengers also called on the incumbents to reinstitute comprehensive surveys of parents and teachers.

“This school board has not given parents a voice in several years,” Lemieux said.

  • Read what the candidates have to say on the issues in Chalkbeat’s Election Center

The incumbents quickly said they’re planning to do that.

“It will be coming down in the next 12 months or maybe even the next six months,” Richardson said. He and other incumbents also said the board is considering using parent and student surveys as part of teacher evaluations.

Ray was skeptical. “Three years ago we asked for a parent survey, so I’m having a hard time believing it will come down in the next six months,” he said. “I wonder what you’re afraid of hearing from parents and community members.”

“We are experiencing a real lack of communication between school district leadership and the community. … It’s got to stop,” Vogel said.

Finance also was a point of contention.

Challengers argued the board spends too much on central administration, leading to larger class sizes, high school schedule changes and maintenance problems at schools.

Incumbents argued that they’ve pushed spending authority down to school principals and argued that the state funding system is the root of budget problems.

Richardson noted that Douglas County taxpayers in effect subsidize other districts to the tune of $40 million because of high property wealth and relatively low state support.

“The people of Douglas County are a generous people … but $40 million far exceeds that level of generosity,” he said.

Robbins said, “We’re not against helping people out, but there just has to be a limit to that.”

A lengthy discussion of charter schools revealed few differences among the candidates, prompting Richardson to note “remarkable consensus.”

The candidates sparred a bit about outside influences on the campaign. Groups unaffiliated with the candidates have been active for both sides, producing flyers and ads.

Lemieux complained about ads “being paid for by people who don’t even live in our district.” Richardson said, “Ye shall know them by their donors.”

Some candidates also were quick to verify their conservative credentials in response to a question about teacher union support of some candidates.

“I’ve never been labeled a liberal before,” Lemieux said.

“I thought I was a conservative until I saw the commercial saying that I was a liberal,” Ray joked.

Only Vogel volunteered, “I am a liberal. It doesn’t make me a bad person.”

While most of the forum focused on local issues, Richardson tried to strike a grander note, saying, “Nothing is more important than getting [education] right. The future of civilization depends on getting this right, and I believe Douglas County will play a prominent role.”

The forum, held Monday evening at SkyView Academy in Highlands Ranch, drew about 150 people. Judging from the applause, the crowd leaned slightly toward the challengers. The candidates responded to a dozen questions, six drafted by each of them and six selected from questions audience members submitted on cards.

Dougco residents will vote on all candidates, but the winners will be selected by district. Richardson and Vogel are running in District A, Larsen and Lemieux in District G and Ray and Robbins in District F. Because the board has seven members, even a sweep by the challengers wouldn’t change the board majority.

Categories: Urban School News

Plenty at stake in Denver school board election

Tue, 10/20/2015 - 08:26
ELECTION 2015 • Denver Edition

This year’s Denver school board election isn’t garnering as much media attention or money. . But that doesn’t mean the outcome won’t impact DPS policy. Denver Post

Denver school board president Happy Haynes will have her day in front of an ethics panel that will provide guidance on how she should manage her dual role on the board and as the recently-appointed director of the city’s parks and recreation department. Denver Post

Supporters of a Denver tax increase to create college scholarships believe the program will create a stronger workforce. 9News

ELECTION 2015 • Jeffco edition

If you haven’t been paying attention, there is a highly-charged school board election and recall effort in Jefferson County. CPR explains the state of play. CPR

Regan Benson, one of the candidates running to replace board President Ken Witt in the recall election, said she’s in the race because “too many kids are falling through the cracks.” Arvada Press

Election 2015 • Poudre edition

The case against Poudre School District board candidate Gavin Kaszynski for violating a confidentiality agreement with his former employer was dismissed. Coloradoan

ELECTION 2015 • Mesa Edition

Meet the three men running to represent District A on Mesa County school board, as told by the Grand Junction Sentinel. Arvan Jeffry Leany, Kelly Reed, Doug Levinson

Closing the gap

As we previously shared, Denver Public Schools has fewer black teachers than before a court ordered the district to integrate its schools. 9News

Here are three reasons why integrated schools work for white students, too. NPR via KUNC

TIme Management

A committee is looking at how Boulder Valley schools use time. The committee’s work so far has some parents worried about music programs being cut. Daily Camera


Palmer High School alumni returned to celebrate the school’s 140th anniversary. Gazette

safe schools

Jeffco’s Warren Tech was on a temporary lockdown. 9News

Two cents

Raising money for college scholarships and to help students pay off college debt isn’t the city’s business, argues The Denver Post. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

How to use Chalkbeat Colorado's election coverage to inform your vote

Mon, 10/19/2015 - 19:59

Too often in school board elections, voters lack the information they need to make the best decisions. In an effort to change that, Chalkbeat has launched two tools to help voters in Denver, Aurora, Jefferson and Douglas counties navigate this fall’s election.

First, voters can keep up with the latest from the campaign trail at our Election 2015 page.

Second, we asked the candidates — all 32 of them — in those four contests to respond to questions about state and local issues. We hope their answers will illuminate important differences and help guide your decisions.

Click here for candidate responses in Denver, Jeffco, Aurora and Douglas County.

A unique feature of our candidate guide, which we call the Election Engine, is that a unique URL is generated for every question and every candidate. If you want to share an individual candidate’s responses, you can click on the candidate’s photo to generate a new URL. If you want to share a roundup of responses to one question, click on the question for a unique URL.

We hope you find our election coverage helpful in coming weeks. If you have any questions, concerns or story tips, please let us know at

Thanks for reading Chalkbeat!

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pueblo school board prez ponders merger of districts

Mon, 10/19/2015 - 08:37
Better Together

The outgoing president of the Pueblo City Schools Board of Education said the district should consider merging with its rural counterpart, School District 70, in part to stave off state interventions. Pueblo Chieftain

Seat Time

Douglas County school officials knew some high school students weren’t meeting the state’s requirement for time spent in class, newly disclosed emails reveal. Douglas County News-Press

Outdoor learning

Some Colorado Springs fourth graders spend every Friday in a nearby field to observe the weather, bugs and plants, documenting their findings to answer a question of the day. Gazette

About 400 Boulder Valley fourth graders got hands-on learning at Boulder's Arapahoe Campus to study agriculture. Daily Camera

Election 2015

Greeley-Evans school board candidate Terri Pappas has spent double what all school board candidates in Weld County have spent combined. Greeley Tribune

Manitou Springs School District 14 wants voters to increase taxes by $1.8 million to increase salaries for teachers and staff and maintain and upgrade buildings, equipment and grounds. Gazette

One out of four Roaring Fork School school board seats is contested this year. Meet the candidates. Post-Independent

District 51 school board member Ann Tisue claims a candidate running to replace her lives outside of the district he hopes to represent. Grand Junction Sentinel

Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich used material created by others to fill out a candidate survey, a Chalkbeat review found. Chalkbeat Colorado

Education reform critic Diane Ravitch wrote in a blog post that it was OK for Butkovich to use her words — and encouraged others to do so. Diane Ravitch

A pro-education reform organization spent nearly $90,000 on Denver’s school board races. The organization has plenty of money left over and is eyeing other school districts. Chalkbeat Colorado

All seven of the candidates vying for three seats on Aurora’s school board told a crowd of immigrant and refugee parents at a forum that the struggling school district needs to do more to prepare students for life after high school. Chalkbeat Colorado

Meet Ali Lasell, a former Adams 12 school teacher who is running for an open seat on the Jefferson County school board. Arvada Press

meeting of the minds

The Longmont City Council on Tuesday will meet with the St. Vrain Valley School District to discuss the effect of train horns on children attending Columbine Elementary. Times-Call

Two cents

Are Denver Public Schools reform efforts working? Two former school board members face off in The Denver Post op-ed pages. Yes, No

Pot legalization is a disaster for Colorado children and schools, The Gazette says. Gazette

Paula Noonan got a few things wrong in her column about the Colorado Department of Education’s privacy policies, writes CDE’s interim communications chief. Colorado Statesman

The Post-Independent urges its readers to approve the Roaring Fork bond question. Post-Independent

The Pueblo City Schools’ longtime “us against them” attitude toward the news media is fading in favor of a “let’s tell our story” approach, writes the Pueblo Chieftain’s top editor. Pueblo Chieftain

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: A deep look at student achievement gains in Newark

Fri, 10/16/2015 - 18:14
  • A panel of judges in Texas dismissed a lawsuit brought by the family of black students who were harassed for being black, even as the opinion acknowledged that many severe incidents against the students occurred. (Slate)
  • Here is a cool collection of interviews with New York City teachers on everything from why they chose to teach to their feelings on standardized testing to their own experiences in school. (Gothamist)
  • The mother of one of the few white students in her neighborhood school questions why her white neighbors want to start a charter school that emphasized diversity rather than attend the neighborhood school where diversity already exists. (Huffington Post)
  • A critical look at the legacy of outgoing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan points to persistent gaps between rich and poor school districts and the backlash against the Common Core. (The Nation)
  • The school board in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., moved one step closer to adopting an enrollment plan that emphasizes choice and school diversity, but didn't discuss a proposal to use factors such as race and socioeconomic diversity as considerations when drawing school boundaries. (Charlotte Observer)
  • A group of national, state and local teachers unions is pressuring school districts to abandon the McDonald's-branded school fundraiser known as McTeacher's Night. (NPR)
  • Why did Intel end its relationship with the high school science competition the Science Talent Search? It may be because the company is now focusing more on the newer Maker Faire. (The Atlantic)
  • One of the founding teachers of a KIPP high school in Newark goes deep on what the dramatic shift from district to charter school enrollment there has meant for students. (The 74 Million)
  • Eva Moskowitz, the head of the high profile Success Academy charter school network, defends her schools' practice of suspending very young students. (NewsHour)
  • Jimmy Fallon paid homage to his upstate New York high school in a funny school announcements parody sketch with Gabrielle Union. (Daily Freeman)
Categories: Urban School News

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