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Updated: 13 min 15 sec ago

More kids to get free school breakfast under law, but some districts feel financial squeeze

Wed, 08/19/2015 - 18:27

As the second phase of Colorado’s “Breakfast After the Bell” law takes effect this fall, thousands more low-income students will have access to free breakfast served during school hours.

It’s a development lauded by advocates who say the program improves attendance and achievement, but not always by administrators in the districts required to provide the universal free meals.

“We are taking money out of the classroom to pay for the Breakfast after the Bell program,” said Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer in Colorado Springs District 11.

The law, passed in 2013, made Colorado one of the first states to require free breakfast after the start of the school day for all students in high-poverty schools. Now, about six states and Washington, D.C. have such mandates and several others have laws that recommend or subsidize breakfast after the bell programs.

This year, about 176,000 Colorado students attend schools that must offer breakfast after the bell.

Last year, the law affected 245 schools in about two-dozen districts and food service programs associated with charter schools. Those schools enrolled nearly 104,000 students. This year, there is more consternation from some quarters because more than 100 additional schools in 14 additional districts and an online charter school must meet the meal mandate if they haven’t already.

These new adopters have lower poverty rates than last year’s adopters.

That’s because the law initially applied only to schools where at least 80 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals. This year, that threshold drops to 70 percent.

That 10-percentage-point span, some food service directors say, is where the program becomes financially untenable because of the way federal meal reimbursements work and the added labor costs of providing more breakfasts.

Such concerns were the impetus for a failed push in the legislature last year to keep the threshold at 80 percent. District 11, which created a video about the issue, was one of the most vocal supporters of the defeated bill.

“It is taking resources from the general fund … It is a challenge for us,” said Gustafson.

Some districts break even

Not every district adding new schools under the law this year expects to face financial difficulties. It depends on a variety of factors, ranging from how the meals are served to the poverty levels in district schools.

In Jefferson County, two additional schools added Breakfast After the Bell this year, joining 19 from last year.

Linda Stoll, the district’s executive director of food services, said those two schools will lose money but the overall program won’t because there are so many schools above the 80 percent threshold.

“Two schools at 70 percent aren’t going to break the bank,” she said.

Still, she said, the new phase of the program is a hardship for districts because more students with the means to pay for breakfast are given the meal for free.

In District 11, Gustafson said one of the biggest financial factors is that more employees are qualifying for health insurance as their hours increase because of added breakfast prep duties. Administrators there calculated the program would lose around $54,000 this year.

Cate Blackford, child nutrition manager at Hunger Free Colorado, noted that some districts make breakfast after the bell programs work in schools that have far fewer than 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced meals.

“Every school district is different. They have different populations, different equipment … different staffing needs, so it’s really hard to compare one to another,” she said.  “Our priority is to make sure we’re maximizing participation”

For each free or reduced-price meal, districts get reimbursed either $1.66 or $1.99, depending on poverty levels. They get reimbursed only 29 cents for the children who would normally pay full price for their meals.

In Mesa County Valley District 51, four new schools are providing Breakfast After the Bell this year, up from one last year.

Dan Sharp, the district’s director of food and nutrition services, said it’s financially viable because of the delivery model the district chose.

Under the law, districts have flexibility in how they get the meals to students. Common options include breakfast in the classroom, in the cafeteria or at mobile grab-and-go stations. The classroom version, which usually requires crates or coolers of food to be delivered all over a school, tends to be the most complicated and labor-intensive.

Here’s how Breakfast After the Bell works in District 51: A hot breakfast is offered in the cafeteria before school starts. It includes traditional breakfast foods like scrambled eggs, pancakes or breakfast burritos.

About 15 minutes into the school day, students who missed the cafeteria meal have the option of taking a bagged breakfast from a grab-and-go station near the main entrance. That breakfast typically includes a granola cookie that meets federal nutrition standards, milk and juice or fruit.

Sharp said with hot choices and more variety before school, students are incentivized to come early for breakfast. Indeed, most kids who ate through Breakfast After the Bell last year —about 45 percent of the student body—ate early in the cafeteria.

“To us, this is definitely a more cost effective model,” he said.

Why breakfast for more kids?

The idea behind Breakfast After the Bell is that students do better in class if they’re not hungry and that more students will eat school breakfast if its offered to all students for free during school hours, instead of just to the “poor kids” before school.

In fact, some food service administrators say they have seen big increases in participation since they switched from before-school breakfast to after-the-bell meals.

In Adams 12, the district began serving an additional 1,340 breakfasts a day last year after adding about a half-dozen schools to its breakfast-after-the-bell roster for a total of 12.

While Naomi Steenson, the district’s director of nutrition services, said some teachers have complained about the tedious job of counting and recording breakfast items taken in the classroom, they also see the benefits.

She said, “In the same breath, the teacher will say [students are] better behaved and…They are more apt to learn than if they’re hungry.”

But others say the breakfast increases aren’t dramatic.

Stoll, of Jeffco, believes it’s partly because of the false assumption that children from poor families don’t get breakfast at home. Some do, she said.

There’s also the fact that school breakfast choices, which must comply with federal nutrition standards, don’t always appeal to kids. For example, Stoll said many Hispanic students don’t like the whole grain tortillas used in school burritos because they are used to scratch-made white flour tortillas at home.

Coming to terms

After vigorous lobbying by some districts over the last two years to keep the Breakfast After the Bell eligibility threshold at 80 percent, there seems to be a growing acceptance that 70 percent is a fact of life.

Several administrators said this week that while they were unhappy with the lower percentage and the sense that they weren’t heard by law-makers, they are moving past the controversy.

Steenson, who testified before the legislature in favor of maintaining the 80 percent threshold, said, “I’ve said my piece….so now it’s just time to figure it out.”

She added, “I think it’s a great program. It resulted in some tension when the bill passed…but it is the right thing to do. It is good for kids.”

Blackford said Hunger Free Colorado is continuing conversations with the state’s School Nutrition Association to support districts in implementing Breakfast after the Bell.

“We want to make sure school nutrition service directors are set up for success.”

Gustafson said District 11, where eight schools must add the program this year, will abide by the law.

“We’re going to do it with all good intentions and due diligence,” he said. “…Whether I like it or not is moot.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New Littleton superintendent lays out his views

Wed, 08/19/2015 - 09:38
Jeffco Interrupted

Organizers of a recall campaign against three Jefferson County school board members cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when the county clerk announced they had easily collected enough valid signatures to put the issue to voters. -Chalkbeat Colorado

New supe in town

Brian Ewert, new superintendent of the Littleton schools, talks about his plans and philosophies, including keeping politics out of the board room. Ewert moved from the neighboring Englewood district. -Centennial Citizen

Survey says

A new poll finds slipping public support for the Common Core State Standards but little sympathy for the opt-out movement. -EdWeek/District Dossier blog

Support for charter schools and school voucher-like programs remains strong - but not overwhelming - among Americans, according to the new poll from Education Next and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. -EdWeek/K-12 Parents and the Public blog

Jeffco Interrupted II

If no petition signatures are contested, organizers expect the timeframe would allow for the three recalls to be placed on November's general election ballot to avoid costs to the district. -Denver Post, 9News

Finding teachers

Pueblo City Schools officials said Tuesday that as the start of the school year draws closer, only about nine classroom positions are left to be filled. -Chieftain

Charter debate

If Durango’s Mountain Middle School officials can’t reach a compromise with city planners, the charter school could go before the Colorado State Board of Education to make its case for expansion. -Durango Herald

Election season

Pueblo County District 70 school board president Ted Ortiviz said the district has accomplished a lot during the past four years and he’s ready to do more. He’s seeking a second four-year term on the board. -Chieftain

Greeley-Evans School Board of Education member Julia Richard recently announced her intention to seek re-election. -Greeley Tribune

New School on the block

Douglas County's newest charter school, World Compass Academy, celebrated the culmination of years of work with its grand opening recently in Castle Rock. -Castle Rock News-Press

All aboard

Colorado Springs District 11 has added 14 new school bus routes in an effort to shorten walking distances for students. -KKTV 11

Staying safe

Colorado Springs police are increasing the number of officers on patrol near school zones before and after school hours. -KRDO

Fresh start

Normandy Elementary School in Littleton held a rededication ceremony this week as the school community celebrated many changes made over the spring and the summer. -CBS4

Rematch on tap

Democratic former state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger plans to run next year against Republican Sen. Laura Woods, who beat Zenzinger by a wafer-thin margin in 2014. Partisan control of the Senate and the makeup of the Senate Education Committee could be at stake. -Denver Post

Two cents

An editorial argues that the stalled teacher contract negotiations in the Thompson school district are a failure of process, not of policy. -Reporter-Herald

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco clerk: School board recall organizers have enough signatures

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 18:46

Organizers of a recall campaign against three Jefferson County school board members cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when the county clerk announced they had easily collected enough valid signatures to put the issue to voters.

Questions remain, however, about potential challenges and the timing of the recall if it is to proceed — with hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer expense hanging the balance.

The group Jeffco United for Action collected more than 33,000 valid signatures per board member, the clerk’s office said. That’s more than double the amount they needed.

The clerk tossed about 4,000 signatures per board member from the petitions organizers turned in last month.

The recall campaign, which launched with much fanfare and hundreds of volunteers, paid $120,000 to canvassing firm Black Diamond Outreach to aid in collecting signatures.

Today’s announcement kicks off a 15-day window in which any Jefferson County resident can challenge the signatures validated by the clerk.

Supporters of the recall believe if there are no challenges, the recall election can be part of the November general election, which would mean only a nominal cost to Jeffco Public Schools. A special election would cost Jeffco schools about $500,000.

Because the laws governing general elections and recall elections differ on issues such as when ballots need to be finalized and mailed, it’s not certain when the recall election may take place.

That decision will rest with the county clerk’s office after the challenge period is complete.

The ambiguity around the election date isn’t slowing either side down.

Last week, recall organizers Jeffco United for Action posted large fundraising figures.

Both board president Ken Witt and fellow recall target Julie Williams have filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office that will allow them to raise money to fight the recall.

In a new development, former Jeffco school board member Paula Noonan filed paperwork to run for Witt’s seat, according to documents on the Secretary of State’s website. Under Colorado law, voters who choose to recall an elected official are asked on the same ballot to pick a replacement.

Noonan, who served one term between 2009 and 2013, did not immediately return requests for comment.

The Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank that formed a political committee last week to oppose the recall, followed up by launching a new website to support the school board majority. The website,, shares the same name as the committee.

Organizers behind the recall effort charge school board members Witt, Williams and John Newkirk with wasting taxpayer dollars, meeting in secret and disrespecting teachers and parents.

The board majority’s supporters claim the opposite is true: that the board is using existing dollars to fund a variety of needs without taking on more debt, increasing transparency by livestreaming board and committee meetings, and giving teachers raises.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver ranked 16th most educated city

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 08:39

As students sharpen their pencils and crack open their books, there is a tension in Jefferson County that hasn’t existed before — and raises plenty of questions. Here are the top five we’ll be asking this school year. -Chalkbeat Colorado

A turnaround poet

A Denver Public Schools student found her voice — and her way to a GED — through poetry. -KUNC

Report Roll Call

Two Colorado cities are among the most educated, according to a new study, and continues to highlight the "Colorado paradox." -Denver Business Journal

Denver was ranked 16th. -9News

While Colorado Springs was ranked fifth. -Gazette

learning to teach

Boulder Valley science teachers got to a play and learn at the University of Colorado Monday before school starts later this week. -Daily Camera

On Boarding 2015

A Pueblo City Schools board member said her frustration level with her board colleagues is so high she isn't running for re-election. -Pueblo Chieftain

Career training

A program at a Platte Valley correctional facility provides committed youth with vocational skills to help them land a variety of jobs in the food service industry. -Greeley Tribune

Fall into the gap

Academic gaps between white and black students were discussed at a regional conference of the NAACP. -Casper Star Tribune

Back to cool

Eagle County schools are expecting record-breaking enrollment. -Vail Daily

Meanwhile, it's back to school in Elizabeth. -Elbert County News

Healthy schools

Two students at Mountain Vista High School have been diagnosed with viral meningitis, according to a letter shared with parents by the principal. -Douglas County News-Press, 9News

Categories: Urban School News

Five questions we’re asking as Jeffco students head back to school

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 18:54

More than 85,000 students across Jefferson County returned to their classrooms today — the first day of school for the state’s second largest school district.

As students sharpen their pencils and crack open their books, there is a tension in the suburban Denver school district that hasn’t existed before — and raises plenty of questions. Here are the top five we’ll be asking this school year:

Will teachers have a new contract on Sept. 1?

Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association reached a tentative agreement for a new teacher contract earlier this month. While it’s big on decisions being made between teachers and principals at the school level, it’s short in duration. The contract only lasts 10 months. Nationally, the average contract length is three years.

The contract’s length may be a huge sticking point for teachers already wary of a school board they don’t trust.

Members of the teachers union will vote on the contract this weekend after a membership meeting Friday. A simple majority of the membership must ratify the contract’s terms. Then the school board must give it the OK.

If the union’s membership ratifies the contract, the school board will vote on it Aug. 27.

If neither the union nor the board sign off on the deal, it’s unclear what might happen after Aug. 31 when the contract expires.

How might the recall effort impact classrooms?

We’ll know Tuesday whether a group of parents calling itself Jeffco United for Action collected enough signatures to ask voters to recall school board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk this fall.

What won’t be immediately known is what — if any — effect the political unrest will have on classrooms.

Supporters of the recall claim they want politics out of the classroom and that Jeffco teachers will remain professional. But critics of the recall fear it will cause a rift between teachers who oppose the school board majority and parents who support the majority with students stuck in the middle.

Researchers who spoke to Chalkbeat in the past suggested student achievement is likely to stall until some sort of harmony is restored to the school district.

Will a plan to improve chronically underperforming schools be successful?

One of the school district’s most ambitious endeavours this school year is improving academic achievement at a cluster of schools that border Denver’s west side. The schools serve mostly Latino students from low-income homes. These students lag academically behind their more affluent and white peers throughout the rest of the county.

But Jeffco school officials are putting a renewed emphasis on these schools.

As part of the shakeup the district is combining a middle school and high school, asking teachers to boost the vocabulary skills of students and putting a greater emphasis on teacher collaboration.

All the pieces are in place. Now we wait to see if the plan works.

How will Jeffco manage its overcrowded classrooms?

A flashpoint in last school year’s budget debate was how to pay for a new school in rapidly growing northwest corner of Jefferson County.

Superintendent Dan McMinimee and his team wanted the school board to authorize a private loan for about $50 million to build a new school in Arvada that would serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Not wanting to increase the district’s debt, the school board majority approved $18 million to build an elementary school.

According to the district’s own projections, the elementary school will only be a short-term fix. It will be big enough for 1,000 students, not the 6,000 projected during the next seven years.

Other school districts struggling with overcrowding — like Aurora — are beginning conversations about asking residents for a tax increase on the 2016 ballot. Will Jeffco’s conservative board majority be interested in a similar conversation?

What lessons will Jeffco learn from student-based budgeting?

For decades, Jeffco principals were required to staff buildings based on a formula. A certain number of students meant a certain number of teachers, librarians, assistant principals and support staff.

But last school year, principals were asked to work with their teachers and parents to determine the unique needs of their school and hire accordingly. No more “one-size-fits-all” budget formulas.

The district did not turn school administrators loose, and this sort of budgeting approach is nothing new. But there’s bound to be lessons learned from the first year of budget flexibility. Let’s just hope no one loses $600,000.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Arbitrator recommends another vote in Thompson contract dispute

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 09:16
Jeffco Interrupted

The campaign to recall three Jefferson County school board members continues to pull in impressive sums, raking in nearly $150,000 in donations during the last 30 days. -Chalkbeat Colorado

Sleepy students

A call for later high school start times fell flat in the Denver Public Schools, but current administrators say the idea was a miscommunication by an administrator who since has left. -Chalkbeat Colorado

Catch up on your reading

Check out some links to interesting education stories from around the nation. -Chalkbeat Colorado

Try again

An arbitrator is recommending another vote on a teachers’ contract for the Thompson School District after the Thompson Education Association filed grievances accusing the district of failing to negotiate in good faith because the Board of Education refused to ratify the agreement. -Reporter-Herald


With just two weeks before school starts, the Pueblo 60 district still has more than 45 positions to fill. -Chieftain

End of an era

The ritual of students and families crowding around the front doors of the elementary school to see the class lists before school starts is on its way out in the Boulder Valley School District. Most, if not all, Boulder Valley principals are now notifying parents directly of teacher assignments — and making students wait until the first day to find out who's in their class. Principals said the change is about privacy and efficiency for parents. -Boulder Camera

Pay up

Some parents in Academy District 20 say they're facing an added burden when it comes to back to school shopping because of mandatory school supply fees. -KOAA 5

A good start

Both the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain schools are focusing on early childhood education as a way of reducing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students. -Boulder Camera

Going to the voters

The Manitou Springs school board will ask voters for a tax increase to raise revenue of $1.8 million a year to partially offset state K-12 funding cuts. -Gazette

Helping hand

The Denver City Council is considering a proposed ballot measure that would raise city taxes to pay for college scholarships. -Denver Post

Getting skills

A northern Colorado youth correctional facility teaches culinary and social skills to incarcerated kids. -Greeley Tribune

Two cents

The Denver Board of Education has failed to realize that traditional schools are what the community largely wants, writes a DPS high school senior. -Denver Post

Colorado historian Tom Noel provides some insight into the man who may have been Colorado’s first school teacher. -Denver Post

The whole community needs to be involved in supporting and improving our education system, writes columnist Deidre Sullivan. -Coloradoan

Categories: Urban School News

As Common Core-aligned tests arrived, high-needs students face the toughest road

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 18:09
  • As states upgrade their tests to meet Common Core standards, low-income students are struggling more. (U.S. News/Hechinger)
  • The practice of delaying a child’s entrance into kindergarten (known as “redshirting”) could have consequences far beyond a single child’s competitive advantage because affluent parents are more likely to choose to do it. (The Atlantic)
  • A teacher on learning how to talk to her students about race: “We have to do better than we have been doing.” (Mocha Momma)
  • When Pinellas County, Florida, abandoned integration, it quickly became the worst county in the state for black students. (Tampa Bay Times)
  • In Hartford, an integration plan to attract suburban students from the suburbs to magnet schools is helping lots of low-income black students but is leaving many others behind. (This American Life)
  • Practically speaking, Sesame Street’s move to HBO is a smart financial move to keep the show on the air. Symbolically, the move to pay cable of a show designed to help low-income kids catch up to their more affluent peers is very sad. (Slate)
  • A group of foundations is in the early stages of planning a major expansion of charter schools in Los Angeles. (L.A. Times)
  • A teacher and — self-proclaimed — helicopter mom learns to embrace her children’s failure. (Vox)
  • The architect of a Georgia plan to allow the state to take control of struggling schools is now becoming a consultant to help districts improve schools enough to ward off state intervention. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
  • Early findings from a multi-year study show that a teacher leadership program is having positive effects on student achievement and teachers skills and retention. (Leading Educators)
  • And Arne Duncan is stressing out over how he’ll do on the standardized Secretary of Education Test and wishes he could afford a high-priced tutor like Margaret Spellings. (The Onion)
Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco recall organizers triple war chest

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 18:01

The campaign to recall three Jefferson County school board members continues to pull in impressive sums, raking in nearly $150,000 in donations during the last 30 days, records show.

Jeffco United for Action’s total fundraising since its mid-June launch stands at $190,899, according to campaign finance reports with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

That’s almost double the stated fundraising goal of the political 527 group, a committee that can raise and spend an unlimited amount on ballot questions. It’s nearly 10 times the amount spent by a committee two years ago that helped elect the three reform-minded Republican board members now targeted for recall.

Another 527 group opposing the recall effort, Kids are First Jeffco, registered with the state on Aug. 10 and has yet to report any donation information.

The recall organizers’ burgeoning war chest doesn’t mean fundraising will slow anytime soon, said spokeswoman Lynea Hansen.

“We expect to continue to raise money,” Hansen. “And we expect with students heading back to school, the word about how to support us will only grow.”

The majority of the money reported late Thursday evening — $90,000 — was donated from the organization’s nonprofit arm, Jeffco United.

Because Jeffco United is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, it is able to raise an unlimited amount of money then funnel that money to the 527 group without disclosing the donors’ identities.

While recall organizers accuse board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk of a lack of transparency, Hansen portrayed the campaign donor issue in different terms.

“It’s the field of play with how campaigns are run today,” Hansen said. “You don’t know who is donating to Jeffco Student First or American for Prosperity.”

Those organizations, both registered as nonprofits with the government, broadly support the three school board members subject to the recall.

Jeffco United for Action’s single largest donor during the reporting period of July 7 through Aug. 8 was businessman Robert Pew.

Pew, who is chairman of the Michigan-based office furniture manufacturer Steelcase, inked a check for $25,000.

Pew owns a home near Aspen and has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and issues since 2010, according to a review of state and federal campaign finance reports. He’s given to Jefferson County lawmakers including state Sen. Andy Kerr and Rep. Max Tyler. Most recently he gave $5,000 to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s re-election campaign.

Pew did not immediately return a request for comment.

An analysis of Jeffco United for Action’s most recent campaign finance report found an extension of earlier patterns. Most donations were small — the average donation was $93 — and were from Coloradans. Fewer than a dozen of the donors listed an out of state address.

Categories: Urban School News

Call for later high school start times falls flat in Denver Public Schools

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 15:04

Last fall, a top Denver Public Schools administrator sent an email to 10 secondary principals asking that high schools and sixth-12th grade campuses push their start times later this year—to 8 a.m.

It would have meant changes at many of the city’s secondary schools, most of which start between 7:15 and 7:45 a.m.

But most students and parents shouldn’t expect to see any schedule shifts this fall. Only one of the schools that received the email—Denver Center for International Studies-Baker—changed its start time, moving from 7:25 to 7:55 a.m.

A handful of Denver high schools, including the new Northfield High, Manual High and DSST charter high schools, also have start times of 8 a.m. or later this year, but such schedules were either already in place or planned prior to the email request.

While district administrators say there was never any mandate to push back start times at other schools, the email appears to be more than a casual suggestion.

Fred McDowell, the district’s former instructional superintendent for high schools, wrote in the email, “The data indicates a direct correlation to student levels of alertness and engagement. Therefore we are asking all high schools and 6-12 campuses to institute a start time of 8am beginning in the 2015-16 school year.”

Towards the end of the email, he wrote, “There will be ongoing discussion in order to work out the logistics and support needed to operationalize this across DPS (Food Services, Transportation, Athletics, After school Activities, and etc).”

The email went to principals at most of the district’s traditional high schools on Nov. 14. (See the full email at the end of this story.)

Nine months later, it appears miscommunication between top administrators and logistical obstacles stymied the late start proposal. McDowell resigned at the end of the school year and took a job in the School District of Philadelphia. He could not be reached for comment.

Greta Martinez, assistant superintendent for post-secondary readiness and McDowell’s supervisor, said the email miscommunicated the district’s intention, which was to launch conversations about later start times, not change to them this year.

Asked why McDowell sent the message, she said, “Fred’s not here so I can’t ask him. It’s all in interpretation. I can’t guess what he was intending with his message.”

Why are later start times better for teens?

  • Sleep-wake cycles shift during puberty, making it hard for kids to fall asleep as early as they did in elementary school.
  • Experts say it’s normal for teens to stay awake till 11 p.m.
  • It’s recommended that teens get 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night.
  • Research shows that students with early bell times get less sleep than they should, which is tied to lower achievement and higher rates of obesity, depression and car accidents.

Suzanne Morris-Sherer, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School, said she believes later start times are a great idea but aren’t currently feasible because of transportation constraints and sports schedules.

When she received McDowell’s email last fall, she forwarded it to her staff and asked for feedback to provide to central administrators. About a half-dozen staff members responded, most concerned about the issues she cited.

Morris-Sherer said she didn’t recall any follow-up from central administrators afterwards.

The debate about later start times in DPS and elsewhere is nothing new. But with recent calls for change from national health experts and some of DPS’s own leaders, the inertia is striking. It’s possible these kind of proposals may hold even less sway moving forward given the district’s embrace of decentralized decision-making, which gives principals’ significant autonomy for making building-level decisions.

Scott Mendelsberg, McDowell’s replacement, addressed the issue of decentralization, saying, “It wasn’t really about, ‘We don’t have to do what they’re asking.’ I think principals thought it would be an okay idea, but really did worry about the logistics of this.”

“It’s a little surprising that more didn’t go to this model, but I don’t think it’s a dead issue.”

Martinez agreed, saying there will be further conversations about moving start times with even more schools involved than the 10 targeted by McDowell’s email.

“I think we just needed a little better messaging about what this means and what this looks like,” said Mendelsberg.

The early side of late

While the 8 a.m start time McDowell requested last fall would have moved district high schools in the right direction according to research, it wouldn’t have gone as far as experts recommend.

A policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics last fall recommended start times of 8:30 a.m. for middle and high schools. And in 2002, the Colorado PTA passed a resolution urging state and federal legislation for 9 a.m. secondary start times.

Cindy Daisley, the group’s president and the mother of two North High School graduates, said even 13 years later, it’s still a big issue.

“I would love to see something happen districtwide, even statewide, because I think it’s important for our teenagers to perform better,” she said.

When her twin boys were in high school, she said, “getting them out of bed in the morning was so painful for all of us because they just required that much sleep.”

There’s science to back up her experience. It indicates that teens need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night and are hardwired to favor later bedtimes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on start times noted that teens who get enough sleep are at reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in car accidents, and have better grades and higher standardized test scores.

Generally speaking, no one disputes the research on teen sleep habits and later school start times. The sticking point is putting it into practice.

Navigating logistics

So what makes it so hard to change high school start and end times?

One of the biggest issues is the transportation jigsaw puzzle. Because middle and elementary school bus routes usually follow early-morning and early-afternoon high school routes, changes to the high school schedule can impact schools all down the line.

Even in DPS, where few high schoolers use district buses, transportation still matters. In part, it’s because special education students do rely on yellow buses to get to high school, so moving their start times could mean fewer district buses available to transport younger children.

Morris-Sherer said even with the current 2:50 p.m. dismissal at Thomas Jefferson, her special education students often have to leave their last class early to make it to the school bus in time. She worried that with a later dismissal time, they’d miss even more of their last class.

“It would just impact my instructional day,” she said.

Later start and end times could also cause transportation woes for general education students. For example, city buses currently make stops on Thomas Jefferson’s campus twice after school lets out. If the dismissal time were delayed, Morris-Sherrer said those students could miss the two on-campus buses and be forced to walk across the bridge over Interstate 25 for a later and more inconvenient off-campus pick-up.

Scott Mendelsberg said such issues, which might involve negotiating different on-campus pick-up times with the city bus system, must be addressed at the district level, not left up to schools to handle.

“There are solutions to…some of these concerns,” he said.

The other major challenge in changing start and end times revolves around after-school obligations including school sports, after-school jobs or family responsibilities like caring for younger siblings.

At the 2,500-student East High School, student athletes sometimes miss half of their last class to get to games on time even with the current 7:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. schedule. Principal Andy Mendelsberg, who is Scott Mendelsberg’s brother, said a later dismissal would mean an even bigger dent in class time.

At Northfield High, where the school day runs from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Principal Avi Tropper said most games will be scheduled for 6 p.m. on weeknights or on Saturdays. For sports like cross-country, in which multi-school meets are often scheduled around 2 p.m., students may have to leave early, he said.

Andy Mendelsberg said with East fielding four teams in almost every sport and limited daylight in late fall, it would be impossible to eliminate weekday afternoon games.

“There’s no way for us to work around that…We can’t play everybody on Friday and Saturday and get through the season.”

The schools that make it work

While late high school start times are hardly the norm in Denver or Colorado as a whole, they do have a small presence.

Manual’s 8:10 a.m. start time has been in place for years, said secretary Carol Grant, who’s worked at three high schools during her 20-year career in DPS.

She believes the later start makes it easier for students to get to school on time and that they’re more awake once there.

When she worked at West High School, she said, “I’d write a thousand passes in the morning” for the long line of kids arriving late.

But Thomas Jefferson Principal Morris-Sherer said the school’s 7:30 a.m. start time is not a problem for most kids.

“I don’t have kids falling asleep habitually in class,” she said. “It is what it is. You just adjust your life.”

Andy Mendelsberg said East allowed students to opt for an 8:20 a.m. start several years ago as part of an experiment that added a ninth period to the school day. Only 31 students took advantage of the option.

At the four high school locations of the Denver School for Science and Technology, or DSST, start times range from 7:55 a.m to 8:15 a.m.

The later-than-average start times were intentional, said Andrew Mendrop, manager of communications and development for the charter school network.

The physiology of teenagers was a key consideration, but there were competing priorities, he said. Network leaders didn’t want to push start times back so much that it would inconvenience parents dropping their children off before work or students with after-school activities or jobs.

Last year, the Harrison School District near Colorado Springs pushed back start times at all 20 of its schools after a committee studied the issue for two years. High schools now start at 7:45 a.m. instead of 7:20 a.m, and elementary and middle schools now start at 8:35 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m. (On Mondays only, middle schools start at 10:05 a.m. and high schools start at 9:15 a.m.)

Northfield has the latest start time among comprehensive high schools in Denver, but at least one Colorado district has even later starts.

Middle-schoolers in the Cortez-Montezuma district start their day at 8:50 a.m. and high-schoolers at 9 a.m.

Some Denver students may dream about reporting to school so late, but for now they’ll have to keep setting their alarms.


Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder Valley district tracks, trumpets time spent on testing

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 09:31
Jeffco Interrupted Explained

An array of issues is driving the high-profile effort to recall three reform-minded Jefferson County school board members. -Chalkbeat Colorado

testing testing

Officials with the Boulder Valley School District — where opposition to state-mandated testing runs high — tallied the time spend on test prep and administration to bolster their cause. -Daily Camera

Grim Lessons

A fenced-in field at Colorado Mesa University is filled with decaying human bodies — and opportunities for students studying how bodies at crime scenes decompose. -Colorado Public Radio

Super Super

The superintendent of Woodland Park School District RE-1 wins recognition from the Colorado Association of School Executives. -Gazette

Serve, Protect ... and Discipline

The presence of police in schools — which accelerated after the shootings at Columbine and other school campuses — raises questions about the roles officers should play. -Christian Science Monitor

Putting out fires

A Cherry Creek School District bus driver is credited for quick thinking after the engine caught fire on a full bus bound for an Aurora high school. -9News

Feeling presidential

A Smoky Hill High School physics teacher is one of two Colorado teachers to win a prestigious presidential award that was two years in the making. -9News

Something's brewing

Drawing inspiration from a similar project, a Colorado Springs commercial real estate broker wants to convert the former Abraham Lincoln Elementary School — purchased from District 11 for $875,000 — into a destination that includes a brewery and restaurant. -The Gazette

Homework Blues

Students voicing the timeless lament of being asked to bring too much work home with them may be onto something, according to a new study. -9News

Two cents

The Denver Post editorial board says common sense prevailed in the tentative agreement struck by the Jeffco school district and the teachers union. -Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: U.S. Dept. of Ed wants more low-income students taking AP tests

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 08:50
words of wonder At a cluster of academically lower-performing schools getting renewed attention in Jefferson County, teachers are expanding efforts to boost the academic vocabulary of their students. (Chalkbeat Colorado)

Getting the band back together Returning from its July break, the State Board of Education Wednesday elected a new chair, welcomed a new member, paid tribute to an old one and held its smoothest meeting in several months. (Chalkbeat Colorado)

The board also resurrected the idea of granting districts relief from state graduation guidelines approved in 2013. But no action was taken. (Denver Post)

Please, take this test Colorado was given more than $600,000 by the U.S. Department of Education to boost the number of low income to high school students who to take college-credit earning tests. (9News)

Back to cool Cherry Creek schools opened Thursday. (KDVR)

New Beginnings A new preschool is set to open in Fountain. (Gazette)

An Eaton mom, frustrated with the Common Core standards and lack of God in education is starting her own school. (Greeley Tribune)

Healthy schools The number of teen suicides in Colorado increased from 59 in 2013 to 64 in 2014. (9News)

Heading back to school? Make sure you understand the school's policies about food allergies. (9News)

dollars and sense The Thompson school district might ask voters for a tax hike in 2016. (Reporter-Herald)

What's the big idea? A leading education researcher says these are the five policies that need to be rolled back. Right now. (KUNC)

Thanks, but no thanks About one in five New York students — or roughly 200,000 students out of 1.1 million eligible test takers — refused to take the exams this April, state education officials said. (Chalkbeat New York)

Two cents The Common Core standards gives us the chance to turn the page on an era of expecting less from certain students, writes Crystal Gallegos, principal and director of operations at Chavez/Huerta K-12 Preparatory Academy in Pueblo. (Denver Post)

Categories: Urban School News

Retooled State Board starts off in businesslike fashion

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 21:23

Returning from its July break, the State Board of Education Wednesday elected a new chair, welcomed a new member, paid tribute to an old one and held its smoothest meeting in several months.

No major policy decisions were made, but members had a couple of thoughtful discussions on two complicated policy issues — the state’s draft application for flexibility in meeting some federal education mandates and high school graduation guidelines.

Both issues will be back on the board’s agenda for its Sept. 9-10 meeting.

The day started with the swearing-in ceremony for new 3rd District member Joyce Rankin, selected last weekend to replace chair Marcia Neal, who resigned earlier this summer.

That was quickly followed by a 7-0 vote to elect Steve Durham of the 5th District as chair through 2016. Tensions between Durham and Neal, both Republicans, were part of her decision to resign. Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder, who represents the 2nd District, remains as vice chair.

Neal made a cameo appearance later in the meeting after the board unanimously passed a resolution honoring her past service. Neal congratulated Durham and said, “‘It’s been a great time, and I thank you very much for recognizing me. … Best of luck to you all as you move ahead … I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

Learn more

The two most substantive issues on the board’s agenda were the federal flexibility application and the graduation guidelines.

Much of the flexibility discussion centered on test refusal. The board passed a resolution in February stating districts and schools shouldn’t be penalized if parental opt-outs cause testing participation to drop below the federally required 95 percent.

Department officials said the U.S. Department of Education has stressed its commitment to high test participation but isn’t giving direct answers on what it might do with policies like Colorado’s.

“Frankly, what we’ve heard from them [is] they’re trying to figure out for themselves what they’re going to do,” said Interim Education Commissioner Elliott Asp. “It’s almost like they’re not sure what they’re going to do.”

Significant percentages of students opted out of tests last spring; see this Chalkbeat story for details.

There are other loose ends with the flexibility application, so the board voted 7-0 to delay any action on the application until September.

The board wasn’t scheduled to act on graduation guidelines Wednesday, but Durham noted the board probably needs to vote in September so school districts will have time to develop their own graduation requirements that conform to the state’s guidelines.

The guidelines are required by a 2008 law but won’t go fully into effect until the 2020-21 school year.

The board approved a “menu” of guidelines — primarily scores on various tests — in 2013. But panels of educators studied the guidelines after that decision and recommended a larger menu of options and, in some cases, lower test scores.

Some board members are concerned about the lower scores, while others share district worries that the guidelines don’t provide enough flexibility, especially for small districts. The board declined to vote on the revised menu earlier this year.

“This is an important issue, and we’ve put it off,” Durham said. “The controversy has been around small school districts concerned that they couldn’t meet the requirements.”

Members discussed the idea of allowing individual districts to seek waivers from the guidelines.

Debora Scheffel, a Republican member from the 6th District, suggested the guidelines could be merely advisory.

“The legislature gave use a task … but not the discretion to not do the task,” Durham said. “Just allowing the districts to submit plans probably doesn’t meet the requirements of the statute.”

Durham said individual board members should come up with suggestions for what items should be on the guidelines menu.

Categories: Urban School News

At academically-challenged schools in Jeffco, a push for stronger vocabulary skills

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 19:12

EDGEWATER — Along with standard worksheets with equations to solve, Ali Goecks’s math students this fall will be given a list of terms like “integer” and “product” to master.

Her students at Jefferson Junior-Senior High School, most of whom are Latino and come from low-income homes, will be required to use those sophisticated terms to explain their work in class discussions and homework. Lesser synonyms like “number” and “answer” won’t work.

At a cluster of academically lower-performing schools getting renewed attention in Jefferson County, teachers are expanding efforts to boost the academic vocabulary of their students.

The goal: to improve their chances to perform well on new standardized tests that emphasize critical thinking and prepare them for tougher courses to come.

“By focusing on the language behind math and the meaning of these words, students can focus on the purpose of math,” Goecks said. “They can understand the ‘why.’ It’s not just memorization. It’s something more.”

The challenge of incorporating higher-level language skills is a new test for a historically middle-class suburban school district adapting to a changing student population.

The predominantly Latino and low-income students who attend the schools just west of the Denver city limits, are likely to begin their educations knowing fewer words than their more affluent and white peers in the school district. The fear is that without consistent learning and reinforcement from teachers, the vocabulary gap will only widen by graduation.

“In general, students in this area don’t come from language-rich environments,” said Robin Techmanski, a Jeffco Public Schools achievement director who oversees schools in Edgewater, home to three of the four schools.

Why ‘academic language’ is important

Too often students with limited vocabulary underperform on classroom assignments and critical standardized tests, said Moker Klaus-Quinlan, a senior director of education at the Public Education and Business Coalition, a Denver-based teacher training nonprofit.

“They won’t realize what they’re being asked to do,” Klaus-Quinlan said. “So what it looks like they can do on an assessment is not actually reflective of their ability.”

The results can provide teachers, principals and state officials with inaccurate information that can compromise the entire system. Students may be placed in the wrong classrooms or may act out, frustrated with communication barriers.

“When anxiety goes up, the learning goes down,” said John Ramo, CEO of the Colorado-based Digital Directions International, a software firm that has created math curriculum for English language learners.

On the other hand, Ramo said, if students get a handle on more complex language, not only will it be an ego boost, they’ll be able to use that knowledge regardless of what class they’re in.

“Having the ability to understand a concept improves self-efficacy as well,” Ramo said. “This language will help transfer learning skills to other domains.”

More than one classroom

Providing students with an elevated vocabulary is one of several efforts to boost student learning at the cluster of four Jefferson County schools. Teachers from the schools, which have bounced on and off the state’s accountability watch list for poor academic performance, met last week to network and brainstorm teaching strategies for the year.

Ideas included covering walls with a wide range of higher-level words to daily vocabulary lessons in every subject.

“It can’t just be in one classroom,” one teacher said during the meeting.

That won’t be the case, district officials said.

A committee of parents, teachers, and administrators from all four schools will meet to develop one set of goals for the area.

Teams of teachers will use student testing data to refine strategies throughout the year.

Teachers will spend more time monitoring other teachers with proven track records of boosting student achievement.

And teachers will also receive more training days than their district peers.

“We can do this better if we do it together,” said Goecks, the math teacher. “It’s a little less daunting when you know you have a community to support you in this.”

Assumptions and turnover

On paper, 43 percent of students who attend a school in Edgewater are learning English as a second language. But the number of students who need more help in developing their vocabulary is probably much greater, which teachers must be aware of, said Klaus-Quinlan.

“We want to be conscious of the language we expect students to use and teach that explicitly,” Klaus-Quinlan.

She said it’s appropriate for teachers to use common language with students at first to establish understanding. But then they never move students forward with more sophisticated terms.

“That’s robbing the students of the ability to have academic conversations,” she said.

Higher teacher turnover at the four Jeffco schools is another obstacle to the effort. Crucial training, like the week’s worth in August, must be replicated each year.

“We need to explicitly identify the mindset and key characteristics of teachers who want to be here,” said Karen Quanbeck, a Jeffco achievement director who oversees the schools in Edgewater.

Update: This article has been updated to clarify the name of the Public Education and Business Coalition. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Thompson board president won’t seek reelection

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 09:18
First Day New State Board of Education member Joyce Rankin promises she’ll have an “open mind” in her approach to serving on a body that’s had its share of bumps over the last several months. She attends her first meeting today. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

ICYMI, also on the State Board’s agenda Wednesday is the state’s proposed application for waivers from certain federal requirements. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Board politics Thompson school board president Bob Kerrigan says he won’t run for reelection. Another member of the current reform majority also isn’t running again. The board has twice failed to renew the contract with the district teachers union. ( Reporter-Herald )

Moving ahead Greeley-Evans School District 6 and the Greeley Education Association on Tuesday came one step closer to a contract agreement for the 2015-16 school year. ( Greeley Tribune )

Happy you're here More than 200 new teachers joining Poudre School District were welcomed with a red-carpet entrance into their orientation session at Fossil Ridge High School. ( Coloradoan )

Building Plans The Emily Griffith Foundation and Zocalo Community Development will build a mixed-use development at 1811 Lincoln St., across the street from Emily Griffith Campus. The project will provide financial support for Emily Griffith and a retail space for students to receive hands-on experience. ( Denver Business Journal )

The Steamboat Springs school board is talking through some changes to a $92 million bond issue it’s expected to propose to voters in November. ( Steamboat Today )

Completion of the new $41.5 million Cortez High School will move the school district “into the future,” writes the Cortez Journal editorial board. ( Cortez Journal )

Healthy Kids Students at Roaring Fork High School will soon be just down the hall from a doctor with the opening of a school health clinic. ( Aspen Public Radio )

Categories: Urban School News

Rankin joining State Board “without preconceptions”

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 16:21

New State Board of Education member Joyce Rankin promises she’ll have an “open mind” in her approach to serving on a body that’s had its share of bumps over the last several months.

“I need to just get in there and listen and make my way from the beginning without preconceptions,” she said in an interview with Chalkbeat Colorado, signaling a diplomatic approach to a board that has been split on issues such as testing.

A Republican from Carbondale, Rankin was selected Saturday to succeed board chair Marcia Neal of Grand Junction, who resigned earlier this summer citing board “dysfunction” and health issues.

Rankin, a former educator who’s married to a state representative, also said her understanding of the legislature will be useful in her new, unpaid position.

Although the board has a 4-3 Republican majority, its divisions usually have been philosophical, with Democrat Val Flores of Denver sometimes voting with Republicans and Neal voting with Democrats. In recent months the board sometimes has spent a lot of time on issues it didn’t have power to see through, including giving testing waivers to school districts.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Rankin wrote, “First meeting and swearing in ceremony….. Wednesday. Who better to put the ‘fun’ back into dysfunctional?”

Neal said, “I think Joyce is a lot like me. I think she’ll do a good job; she’ll be just fine.” Neal said she and Rankin talked on Sunday about the board.

Rankin was similarly diplomatic when asked about touchy issues such as the Common Core State Standards, PARCC and the overall burden of testing.

“The more local control in school districts the better. … Bring it closer to the kids and the parents,” Rankin said, adding that she’d like a reduced federal role in education. Local control also has been an emphasis of GOP board member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs, who is expected to be chosen as chairman when the board meets Wednesday.

On testing, Rankin said, “I’m glad the legislature did something at the end – at least something was done. But she doesn’t think the debates over testing and other issues are finished. “We’re doing to be revisiting a lot of this stuff in the upcoming year.”

In January, the board voted 5-2 to endorse a Republican-sponsored bill that would have pulled Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing group, reduced state assessments and given districts more testing flexibility. That measure, House Bill 15-1125, later died in a legislative committee. The legislature ultimately passed a different testing reform bill.

Joyce Rankin

Commenting on the board’s role in state government, Rankin said, “My job is take what the legislature does and work with that, and with the school districts.”

“Communication between the board and the legislature is a real important skill for a board member,” she said.

Rankin has a direct line to one legislator — her husband Bob, a House member who represents District 57 in northwestern Colorado. Rep. Rankin is a member of the Joint Budget Committee and has taken an interest in school finance issues.

Rankin has worked as her husband’s legislative aide and indicated that she plans to continue in that role. “I don’t see that’s going to be a problem at all,” she said, adding that her exposure to the legislative process should be an advantage in her board work.

She said she has “a real interest is rural Colorado. I think it’s really important to be a voice for rural Colorado and bring some of their concerns to the state board.” Rankin’s 3rd District includes 54 of the state’s 178 school districts, many of them small. The 3rd District representative traditionally has been the board’s strongest voice on rural issues.

Rankin said she’s concerned about funding inequities for rural districts, given that many of them don’t have the same ability to increase local revenues as some larger districts do.

“I think in the next couple of years we’re going to see the pinch” on school funding, she said.

Inspired by a teacher, Rankin said she decided when she was in 5th grade to go into education. She holds education degrees from Michigan State University and San Jose State University and worked as a teacher and principal in California. She hasn’t worked in education since moving to Colorado in 1981.

A 13-member Republican Party vacancy committee met for about five hours Saturday in Gunnison before selecting Rankin on the fifth ballot. The committee interviewed each of the eight applicants before voting.

“We had a very difficult choice because we had a number of highly qualified candidates,” said panel chair Frieda Wallison of Snowmass. She declined to provide the final vote count or the name of the second-place candidate.

Other applicants for the seat included two current members of local school boards, one former board member, a retired teacher, a parochial school principal and two anti-Common Core activists.

Rankin said she plans to run for her seat in the 2016 election.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Embattled Denver principal speaks out

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 08:41
No Waiver Left Behind Colorado’s plan to ease the testing burden for 10th graders may well get federal approval, but the state still has to jump through some hoops before the change is a done deal. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

hear my out An embattled elementary school principal in west Denver wrote a letter to the community on Friday in response to the ongoing efforts by some parents to have the district remove her from the school. ( Colorado Independent )

Back to cool Along with blue and gold balloons, an array of district dignitaries and the usual first-day-of-school jitters, there was a sense of excitement among the 220 ninth-graders who gathered Monday morning outside Denver’s Northfield High School. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

For the class of 2019 at Northfield, the first bell rang at 8:45 a.m. That's about an hour after most Denver high school students start. ( 9News )

A Douglas County school uses a student organization, Link Crew, to help incoming freshmen transition to high school. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Human Resources Greeley businessman Bob Tointon will accept an award from the Colorado Association of School Executives this week for his work around principal training. ( Greeley Tribune )

ready to roll Here's a behind-the-scenes look at Douglas County School District transportation system, which 11,000 students use per day. ( Douglas County News-Press )

on boarding Susan Femmer, a retired Boulder Valley paraprofessional and current school volunteer, recently announced her intent to run for a seat on the Boulder Valley school board. ( Daily Camera )

Matthew Clawson, a family law attorney, has been selected to fill the District 5 seat on the Lewis-Palmer School District 38 board of education. ( Gazette )

Two cents It will take a village to improve Pueblo City Schools, and this is the school year to do it, writes The Chieftain's editorial board. ( Chieftain )

In the great debate about history in Jefferson County, the questions is who censoring whom, suggests Ross Izard. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

State inches closer to federal approval of new testing system

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 18:12

Colorado’s plan to ease the testing burden for 10th graders may well get federal approval, but the state still has to jump through some hoops before the change is a done deal.

The testing reform law passed by lawmakers last spring made several changes to the state’s assessment and accountability system, including a shift in high school standardized testing and a one-year timeout in the rating system for districts and schools.

But lawmakers didn’t necessarily have the last word, given that some changes require U.S. Department of Education approval as part of Colorado’s request for flexibility on requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s main education law.

State Department of Education officials have been discussing the changes with the U.S. Department of Education all summer and will present the proposed request to the State Board of Education for its approval on Wednesday.

“We’ve been going back and forth to make sure we know their issues” before going to the State Board, said Alyssa Pearson, the state education department’s interim associate commissioner of accountability, performance and support. After the board takes action the request will be submitted to Washington, but state education officials still will have work to do.

Here’s a rundown of the status of key issues, based on the draft flexibility application and on explanations provided by Pearson.

High school testing

There’s a little bad news and some good news here.

Learn more

Legislative backers of the testing reform law, House Bill 15-1323, hoped that the results of PARCC language arts and math tests given in 9th grade could be use to fulfill federal requirements for giving those tests once in the high school years.

Pearson said that after talking to federal officials, the state concluded such use of 9th grade tests to meet federal requirements “wasn’t an option for us.” (Colorado has tested 9th graders for years, but the federal government defines high school as grades 10-12.)

The good news is that federal education officials are open to use of a different 10th grade test. “They said that should work,” Pearson said. But here’s where the hoops come in. The feds want assurances that a new test would be aligned to state academic content standards and want to see a detailed implementation plan. She said the state has 30-45 days to come up with that plan.

The goal of the testing law was to reduce the testing burden on 10th graders by allowing them to take a college readiness test that takes less time than PARCC tests. The law requires the state education department to seek competitive bids for both that test and an 11th grade test. (The ACT test has been given to all high school juniors for several years.)

Timeout for school and district ratings

The testing law requires that the upcoming school year will be a time-out year for accreditation ratings. No new ratings will be announced this fall, meaning schools and districts will retain the ratings they were assigned at the end of 2014. Test scores and student growth data derived from scare are a major part of the ratings.

“They’ve allowed that for other states, so that should not be an issue for them,” Pearson said.

Alternative tests and accountability

A much-debated section of the testing law allows districts or groups of districts to create pilot programs to try out new tests and accountability systems, the hope being to eventually find something to replace the current systems.

The state’s draft application doesn’t include any requests on this issue, but the federal education department has made it clear that students participating in pilot programs also would have to take current state tests for two years, Pearson said.

That could be a disincentive for districts to propose pilots. One group of rural school districts, the Rural Innovation Alliance, has expressed interest in launching a pilot, but that work is in its very early stages.

Opting out of tests

The draft application doesn’t include any request related to penalties for schools and districts that fail to meet federal requirements that 95 percent of students participate in tests.

Test refusal became a hot issue in Colorado starting last fall, when the statewide participation rate on 12th grade science and social studies tests was about 82 percent.

In February, the state board passed a resolution stating districts shouldn’t be penalized for low participation, and test refusal was debated in the legislature last spring. A separate out-out bill died, and HB 15-1323 contains language that clarifies how districts should handle parents who want to opt out.

And spring test participation in major districts generally fell below 95 percent, a recent Chalkbeat investigation found (see story).

Whether districts or the state ultimately will be penalized for lower participation rates is unclear. State law penalizes districts for low participation by lowering their accreditation ratings. But because the accreditation rating system is on hold for a year, there isn’t expected to be any immediate impact from last spring’s widespread test refusals.

Teacher evaluations

Federal officials have raised questions about recent state board approval of an innovation application from the small Holyoke school district in northeastern Colorado. That innovation plan gives the district wide flexibility in meeting the state requirement that 50 percent of teacher’s evaluation be based on student academic growth data. (See details on the Holyoke plan in this document.)

“We have to give them more information” about the Holyoke plan and whether it meets the intent of state evaluation law, said Katy Anthes, the CDE interim associate commissioner.

English language learners

Various changes in testing of some English language learners are included in HB 15-1323. The U.S. Department of Education wants Colorado to do further work on a couple of those, Pearson said.

What’s next

The state board has gained a reputation for unpredictability since two new members joined in January. (A third new member was appointed over the weekend to fill a vacancy.) A majority of the board has been critical of PARCC tests and the Common Core State Standards. So Wednesday’s discussion of the waiver application bears watching.

Once the state files its waiver application – and answers other questions from the federal education department – it’s hard to say when Washington will make a final, formal decision on the application. The timeline is unclear, Pearson said.

Theoretically, federal rejection of Colorado’s flexibility application could threaten federal education funds for the state. But there’s a long bureaucratic process that would have to happen. And the rules for state-federal education relations could change if the U.S. Senate and House reach agreement on a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Talks on how to reconcile competing bills are expected to resume when Congress returns from its summer recess.

Categories: Urban School News

Amid pomp and circumstance, Northfield High School opens its doors to first freshman class

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 17:11

Along with blue and gold balloons, an array of district dignitaries and the usual first-day-of-school jitters, there was a sense of excitement among the 220 ninth-graders who gathered Monday morning outside Denver’s Northfield High School.

Before entering the gymnasium building for a welcome assembly, Larry Esteen and his friends Elijah and Earl Watkins said they felt good about starting at Denver Public Schools’ newest high school.

“This is good because I’ve been getting bored in the summer,” Esteen said.

Northfield High ninth-graders head out of the gymnasium for their first day of classes.

“I see familiar faces,” said Earl Watkins, scanning the crowd for friends from middle school.

All three boys, who plan to play football for the Northfield Nighthawks, said they think the school is going to be cooler than other district high schools they could have attended.

“Better opportunities,” Esteen said.

Northfield, the district’s first new comprehensive high school in 35 years, is located on the corner of Central Park Boulevard and 56th Avenue in fast-growing northeast Denver.

Its approach to education will be a bit different than that of its counterparts around the city. First, it will offer the International Baccalaureate program to all students—addressing concerns raised at other schools that minority students have been shut out of the prestigious diploma program.

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 also requires daily physical education classes, starts two weeks earlier than most district schools, and has a later daily start time than most other high schools, running from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

On Monday, before students dispersed to search for their first-period classes, they listened to welcome remarks from Principal Avi Tropper, Superintendent Tom Boasberg, School Board President Happy Haynes and School Board Member Landri Taylor.

“You’re the founding class of Northfield High School,” said Boasberg, standing in front of the shiny gold and navy nighthawk logo emblazoned in the middle of the gym floor.

“Every year that you’re here, every day that you’re here, you’re the leaders of this school,” he said to applause from students, parents and staff.

Students were encouraged to ring the bell under the red archway as they entered Northfield High School for their first day on Monday.

At around 9:15 a.m., Tropper asked students to pull out their schedules and report to class in the academic building, at the front of the Paul Sandoval campus.

Friends Ben Chew and Adam Snowden, sitting near the top of the bleachers, scrutinized the white forms while waiting to be officially dismissed.

Chew said he anticipated an interesting year.

“I think it’s going to be cool to be part of a new school and establish a culture,” he said.

Snowden, wearing a navy Northfield T-shirt, admitted that he wasn’t too excited about the year. He complained about having to read five school-assigned books and do corresponding assignments during the summer.

“I felt like it was a little over the top,” he said, listing off other district high schools where there was little or no summer work.

After the assembly, Tropper chuckled about the comment as he hurried along the sidewalk to the academic building. If summer reading was the biggest complaint so far, “I’ll take it,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Some parents want school to start later

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 09:34
SBE at full strength Joyce Rankin, a former teacher and principal from Carbondale, was selected Saturday to fill the vacant 3rd District seat on the State Board of Education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

summer slide Some educators and parents believe English learners have a deeper learning loss during the summer than their native-English speaking peers, partially due to less practice when they’re on break. But there’s no national, statewide or district data that proves this, which can raise several problems for students and schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

school supplies With many teachers spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to outfit their classrooms, a retired Jeffco teacher aims to ease their burden with a teacher-to-teacher consignment sale. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

back to school A group of parents and teachers have put together an online petition to ask the Cherry Creek School Board to start school no earlier than Aug. 21. This year school starts Thursday for the district. ( 9News )

New classrooms, a refurbished school building, a new director and principals and even a new mascot are just a few things that will greet local students when they return for the 2015-16 school year. ( Chieftain )

The Greeley school district offered a chance to start the school year off with some fun Saturday during its second-annual School Kick-off Community Celebration. ( Greeley Tribune )

Board politics The El Paso County Republican Party is campaigning to recruit candidates to run for school board positions in November. ( Colorado Springs Independent )

Six candidates now have announced their intentions to run for four seats on the Thompson school board. Substitute teacher and nurse Tomi Grundvig is the latest candidate to announce. ( Reporter-Herald )

Susan Femmer, a retired paraprofessional, has announced that she’s running for the Boulder Valley school board. ( Camera )

Getting Ready A group of first-generation college students is getting prepared for the next step in their education thanks to an orientation program created by the 2015 class of Leadership Denver. ( 9News )

Citizen ed The Thompson school district is rolling out a nine-month program called "Explore Thompson" that will take participants into the schools, give them a look at the programs offered, the facilities and even finances. ( Reporter-Herald )

Brand new The first new DPS comprehensive high school to be built in 35 years is not just a new state-of-the-art building. In many ways Northfield High School is a new approach to education that reflects current thinking and research. ( Front Porch Stapleton )

No tests for me The opt-out movement has helped spark a lively debate about broader issues related to standardized assessments. ( 5280 )

Summer slide II Summer fun at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver includes video games, but these games come with math problems and literacy lessons. ( CBC Denver )

Two cents A retired teacher doesn’t think much of Sen. Michael Bennet’s record on education. ( Denver Post )

Radio host Michael Rosen defends Douglas County’s voucher plan. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Republican Joyce Rankin named to State Board of Education

Sat, 08/08/2015 - 21:09

Joyce Rankin, a former teacher and principal from Carbondale, was selected Saturday to fill the vacant 3rd District seat on the State Board of Education.

She won the appointment after a 13-member Republican Party vacancy committee made the choice from among eight candidates.

Rankin will take the seat vacated by SBE chair Marcia Neal of Grand Junction, who resigned earlier this summer, citing board dysfunction and personal health issues (see story).

She has served recently as an aide to her husband, Republican Rep. Bob Rankin, who’s a member of the Joint Budget Committee. Last session Rep. Rankin was among backers of an unsuccessful attempt to launch a legislative study of the school finance system.

Two other board members have close legislative ties. Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker is the sister of Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel. Republican member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs is a lobbyist and a former member of both the House and Senate.

The board, which gained two new members at the start of the year, has had some tense discussions over the last several months on issues such as testing, parent exam opt outs, a state student health survey and student data privacy. Some board members feel that the body’s previous patterns of decorum and procedure have frayed this year. (Learn more about the State Board’s tumultuous spring in this archive of Chalkbeat stories.)

Rep. Bob Rankin and Joyce Rankin

The board will meet Wednesday and will elect a new chair. Most observers expect Durham to be elected chair. The body has a 4-3 GOP majority.

A key job for the board will be selection of a new education commissioner to replace Robert Hammond, who retired earlier this year. The board selected a search firm just last week to find candidates (see story).

State law requires that a vacant elected office be filled by a committee made up of members of the same political party as the person who resigned. Rankin will have to run for the seat in the November 2016 general election and has indicated she will do so.

The vacant seat drew wide interest from candidates across the sprawling, 29-county district, which covers much of the Western Slope plus Pueblo and the San Luis Valley.

The other candidates included:

  • Jake Aubert, principal of Holy Family Catholic High School in Grand Junction
  • Andy Burns of Durango, director of admissions at Fort Lewis College and a member of the Durango school board
  • Roger Good, a businessman who serves on the Steamboat Springs school board
  • Debbie Rose, a Beulah businesswoman who formerly served on the Pueblo 70 school board
  • Barbara Ann Smith, a retired teacher from Grand Junction who lost to Neal in the 2014 primary for the State Board seat
  • Anita Stapleton, an anti-Common Core activist from Pueblo
  • Bryan Whiting of Garfield County, a recently retired high school teacher who worked for 33 years at Glenwood Springs High School

Michael Lobato, a San Luis Valley rancher and member of the Center School board, applied for the post but withdrew before the vacancy committee met.

Categories: Urban School News

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