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Updated: 44 min 1 sec ago

Big bucks raised in campaign for Denver preschool tax

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 22:17

Well over a quarter of a million dollars has been raised by the campaign to pass an increase in the sales tax that supports Denver Preschool Program scholarships.

The $277,900 dwarfs the amounts raised by even the largest-contribution campaigns for school district tax increases – see this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on those efforts.

The Denver campaign war chest also is reminiscent of the hefty amounts donated in recent elections to pro-administration Denver Public Schools board candidates and to the effort to pass a DPS bond issue in 2010.

The list of donors to Preschool Matters also includes a lot of familiar names – corporate, philanthropic and individual – from those prior donation lists and from a variety of education reform initiatives.

For instance, the Gary Community Investment Co. kicked in $100,000 to pass the proposal, which is measure 2A on Denver ballots. (See the chart to the right and below for a full list of donors who’ve given $5,000 or more to the effort.)

The campaign’s income is expected to grow. A fundraiser was held Wednesday evening at Denver’s latest hot public space, the Great Hall at Union Station. Suggested contributions ran from $100 for a “guest” to $5,000 for a “host.”

The amount raised by Preschool Matters is a fraction of the $1 million raised – and $992,355 spent – in 2006, when the tax was approved on the third try. For all that campaign effort, the measure passed with only 50.6 percent of the vote.

The campaign so far has spent $136,822, primarily on mailers and online ads, according to Lynea Hansen of Strategies 360, the political consulting firm that has handling the campaign and that has received the bulk of committee spending.

This year’s 2A proposes to increase and extend the sales tax that funds tuition credits for families participating in the program. The measure would increase the tax from .12 to .15 percent and extend it until 2026.

Since 2007, the program has provided about $55 million in tuition credits to 31,816 four-year-olds. The credit is determined by family need and the quality of the preschool provider. The average tuition credit during the 2013-14 school year was $290. The program also conducts quality reviews and professional development for its partnered-preschool providers.

Curious about who else has contributed – and who hasn’t – to Preschool Matters? Peruse the September, August and July lists of contributors.

Categories: Urban School News

Developers, contractors, teachers union big donors in district tax campaigns

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 17:18

Campaign committees supporting proposed school district tax increases around the state have raised nearly $340,000, according to reports filed with the secretary of state this week.

The biggest donors were construction companies, bond advisors, real estate developers and education unions, who contributed more than half the $338,888 given to campaign committees in 20 districts.

Some two-dozen districts are seeking about $1.5 billion in property tax increases for construction projects and increased operating funds. (Get full details in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.)

The biggest war chests have been raised by committees supporting multi-million bond issues in two rapidly growing districts, Falcon in El Paso County and Brighton in Adams County.

Significant sums also have been raised by committees backing tax proposals in the Adams 12-Five Star, Boulder Valley and Mapleton districts.

In Falcon, Citizens for District 49 has raised $85,000 and spent $62,130. About half the contributions – $40,000 – has come from an independent expenditure committee named the Committee for Colorado Education Reform. That group, in turn, has been funded by MREC Oakwood CO Ranch LLC, a partnership that is developing the Banning Lewis Ranch, a large development in the district.

The committee also has received $25,000 from Falcon Community Builders for Classrooms, a construction-industry related group, and $20,000 from Stifel Nicholaus, an investment banking company that works with school districts.

Falcon is seeking voter approval for a $107.4 million bond issue to build new schools.

In Brighton, the IAM27J committee has raised $66,668 and spent $50,173. Large contributions include $3,500 from the Brighton Education Association, $4,000 from JHL Constructors and $10,000 from Oakwood Homes. (Oakwood is a partner in the Banning Lewis Ranch development referenced above.)

The district is proposing a $148 million bond issue for new schools and other projects.

Residential development in the two districts has sparked significant enrollment growth. Falcon grew from 8,660 students in 2003 to 18,880 in 2013, rising from 19th to 14th on the list of districts as ranked by enrollment. Brighton ballooned from 8,265 to 16,698 students in the same period, rising from 21st to 16th.

Both districts have a mixed history of persuading voters to pay for new buildings to hold all those students. A $125 million Falcon bond issue failed in 2010, and the last bond to pass was $28 million in 2001.

Over the last 14 years Brighton has passed three bond issues totaling $167.4 million but lost three others totaling $241.5 million.

Fundraising in other districts

The third largest amount of money, $58,020, has been raised by Citizens for Adams 12 Schools, which is backing the district’s $220 million bond and $15 million override. The largest contributions include $20,000 from real estate company WS-ACB Development, $17,000 from Stifel Nicolaus, $10,000 from Adophson & Petersen construction company, $5,000 from the district classified employees association and $4,000 from the Colorado Education Association.

In addition to Adams 12 and Brighton, three other districts in western Adams County have tax measures on the ballot. (Get details on those and all district tax proposals in the spreadsheet at the bottom on this story.)

In Adams 14 the We Believe committee has raised $10,259 and spent $5,451. RBC Capital Markets gave $2,500.

In Mapleton the Yes for Mapleton group has raised $17,415 and spent $14,279. Major contributions include $10,000 from Mountain States Toyota, which is in the district, and a combined $4,500 from construction firm Neenan Co. and three executives.

There’s no campaign committee in Westminster, where the district is requesting a $20 million bond. (State laws bars districts from spending public money in support of ballot issues, so independent campaign committees are formed in some, but not all, districts.)

The Boulder Valley school district is proposing this year’s largest tax measure, a $576.4 million bond issue. District enrollment — 30,546 in 2013 — has grown only about 10 percent in the last decade. But district leaders say years of budget cuts and deferred maintenance require the large bond issue.

The Yes on 3A committee has raised $33,623, including donations of $4,000 from CEA, $2,000 each from two executives of Adolphson & Peterson and $1,500 from the Boulder Valley Education Association, along with a large number of smaller individual donations. The committee has spent $24,021.

Cheyenne Mountain is the only other district where a campaign committee has raised more than $10,000. All of that money has come from relatively small individual and business contributions.

Overall contributions to district campaigns fluctuate election-to-election depending mostly on how many big districts have measures on the ballot. In 2012, the most recent election with a large number of districts on the ballot, nearly $1 million had been raised by mid-October. Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver and Jefferson County all had proposals before voters. There also were a large number of district ballot issues in 2011, but the only big district was Douglas County, and mid-October fundraising totaled only about $263,000.

The next reporting deadline is Oct. 31.

This spreadsheet includes information gathered by the Colorado School Finance Project as of Oct. 6.

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Categories: Urban School News

Northfield’s “IB for All” a dramatically new model for Denver high schools

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 16:58

On the surface, the new Northfield High School slated to open in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood next year might seem as traditional as can be — a large, comprehensive high school drawing students from the surrounding neighborhood.

But the school’s new principal, Avi Tropper, also has an audacious and unusual ambition for the school: to prove that all students — no matter their prior academic history — can thrive under the demanding International Baccalaureate course of study that’s typically targeted only to high-achievers.

Many other high schools have “de-tracked,” meaning they’ve placed all students in higher-level courses instead of tracking them into classes of varying difficulty based on their past academic performance. A few have implemented “IB for all,” in which every student spends ninth and tenth grades in rigorous preparatory classes and then transitions into the IB Diploma Program as a junior.

But Northfield may be the first school in the country to try “IB for all” with so high a proportion of low-income students.

Tropper, 34, plans to recruit at least a third of his student body from the lower-income neighborhoods of Far Northeast Denver, and an estimated 40 to 50 percent of the school’s students will likely be from low-income families, as measured by eligibility for federally subsidized school lunches.

“What Avi is trying to do will be challenging, and to be blunt it should be,” said Kevin Welner, a professor of education policy at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who has studied de-tracking efforts nationwide. “It should be hard.”

But, said Welner, there may be a moral imperative to try.

“The reason we have so much tracking is that people say, ‘de-tracking looks too hard. I am not going de-track,’” Welner said. “But when you put kids in low track classes you give up on them.”

LEARN MORE:
Northfield High School Principal Avi Tropper will be holding a series of informational meetings for parents over the next several weeks, including one Thursday Oct. 16 in Stapleton. Here are the dates, times and locations.Visit Northfield High’s Facebook page

Denver has already seen its share of resistance to the idea of making selective academic programs more inclusive. Last year, the district signaled its intention to open its well-known, 30-year-old IB program at George Washington High School, to students in its general-track program who have historically been barred from taking the more demanding courses. The move drew fierce protests from some parents, who fear that opening the program to a broader pool of students will dilute its rigor. Changes take effect next school year.

But Tropper is confident that his model will work, and he bristles at the suggestion that a student body with more low-income kids will be tougher to get over a high bar.

“I don’t believe that free- and reduced-lunch status determines whether a student can learn,” Tropper said during a recent interview. “At some level I just don’t accept the question. Underlying the question is a question I have thought a lot about, which is when you implement a program that is rigorous and challenging school-wide, how do you support every single student through it?”

PHOTO: Alan GottliebAvi Tropper

The answer, Tropper said, is relatively straightforward. Design a system where teams of teachers work closely with the same small group of students over four years. Use proven, engaging curriculum at ninth and tenth grades that ties seamlessly into the 11th and 12th IB Diploma Program. Provide a variety of extra supports for struggling students. And, perhaps most important, focus as much on the psychological well-being of students as on academics.

“Developing the ‘whole person’ is “an important part of high school, of working with adolescents,” Tropper said. “It is a time of exploration, a time of self-definition, a time to figure out who am I, what do I want to do with my life, what do I value, what’s important? Sometimes schools don’t do a good job of working with students as they explore these questions. We are focused on that.”

Will all that be enough to make Northfield work for all students?

Perhaps, but if the school truly intends to work with students at widely varying levels of academic preparation, then Tropper is taking on a huge challenge, said Frederick M. Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank.

“If your reality is some kids doing math at a fifth- or sixth-grade level, and you are trying to run an IB program, it will take an enormous amount of energy to get those kids up to grade level, much less to an IB level,” Hess said. “That time and energy will come at expense of other kids, most likely the more prepared kids.”

Northfield will launch with some advantages, Hess said. First, the fact that the school will open with only ninth-graders makes it possible to establish a strong school culture with the founding class. Also, hiring Tropper a year before the school opens gives the principal a chance to plan, build a program, and recruit an aligned and fired-up teaching staff.

Given those advantages, Hess said, It seems likely Northfield will get off to a strong start.

Then, “as you add grades, add teachers, add kids, it just gets harder to keep the web as tightly wound,” he said. “It’s easy to imagine a story of one to two years of great success but then to see things starting to get more challenging.”

Despite Hess’ cautions, Tropper and his plans have fans among educators who have implemented “IB for all” in their schools.

“Avi’s is a wonderful experiment,”  said Carol Burris, who has gradually rolled out an “IB for all” program at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y. over the past several years.

Although her school has a much lower proportion of low-income students than Northfield — about 14 percent — Burris said the way Denver Public Schools and Tropper are thinking about the school’s student composition gives it a real shot at succeeding.

“His school has a nice natural alignment of an attendance area that is predominantly upper-middle income, with lower-income kids choicing in because they have bought into the challenge and want the challenge,” Burris said. “I am so excited for him. He can count on me and the few other pioneers of ‘IB for all’ to give him support.”

Eric Hieser, who has run the Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis, Mass. for 10 years, said one key to Northfield’s success will be in carefully defining what the principal, staff, and district consider success to be.

Hieser said his school (where fewer than 10 percent of students qualify for subsidized lunches) does not measure itself based on how many students pass IB exams or earn the prestigious IB diploma. Rather, he said, staff focuses on helping each student achieve at his or her highest potential. Passing IB exams and getting college credit is not nearly as important as challenging oneself and putting forth maximum effort, he said.

“You take IB (classes) so you can move on and be successful, develop analytical skills that prompt you to question everything,” he said. “If you hustle, you will be better served for having been in IB, whether you pass exams or not, than going through a 11th or 12th grade history class that has no accountability to it.”

Tropper plans to help develop these critical and analytical thinking skills in part by giving students a major say in how their school operates. Students will play key roles in designing many aspects of the school’s culture, including its dress code and discipline policies. He has enlisted the services of Project VOYCE, a Denver nonprofit, to train students in advocating for their own empowerment.

Empowering students comes with risks, but Tropper said the payoffs are potentially huge.

“Sometimes I get questions about this: ‘well, students might make mistakes.’ I like to point out that adult government makes plenty of mistakes as well,” he said. “What  happens in high school is there is a space and environment of support where yes, we might make some mistakes, but we can support each other and move beyond that. That  is critical to success for a high school.”

 

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco interrupted: Who’s writing what you’re reading?

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 14:57

The first post on JeffCoSchoolBoardWatch.org, a website created to track the efforts of a new school board majority who many fear will lead to radical change in their school district, was uploaded nearly a year ago on a January evening.

It reads, in part, “Specifically, we are worried about the ideological direction that they may try to take the district.”

Since then, hundreds of blog updates, links, videos, and comments have been posted on that website and several others that have sprung up. These websites, mostly critical of the Jefferson County Board of Education and its new majority, have served as part watchdog, part organizing tool, and part rumor mill.

While the motives driving the websites and their creators are clear, the identities of the individuals behind the sites and their financial backers are often not.

What’s happening in Jeffco is a smaller example of the phenomenon that’s happened all over the world of on-the-ground activism being spread and aided by online tools like WordPress and Twitter.

During a week’s worth of protests last month, students and adults panned a controversial proposal that would review an advanced history class. At the height of the protests, a hashtag “#JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory” was trending nationwide.

CHALKBEAT EXPLAINS: Jeffco interrupted 

“Social media has definitely become a player in how news is reported, but in some cases it also has a role in how news happens,” said Gil Asakawa, manager of student media at the University of Colorado-Boulder and an expert on social media. “Social media, because it gathers together all these voices of like mind, it can actually facilitate an event, like a protest. It happened in Iran during the elections there four years ago, and it has happened pretty much anywhere there’s a big policy protest.”

Both journalists and consumers of online media need to be wary.

“The accuracy of stuff that is out there in social media, well, you have to take it with a little bit of a grain of salt because of how easy it is to say whatever you want,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the consumer, public to question everything and decide what sources you can trust.”

With promise of more websites and advocacy organizations to come, Chalkbeat Colorado decided to take a look at the who’s who of the online players in the debate as it’s unfolding.

Support Jeffco Kids

Position: Anti-board majority
Founded: February 2014
Founded by: Jeffco parents Shawna Fritzler and Jonna Levine. Fritzler has held many voluntary positions in the district, including serving as chair of the Strategic Planning and Advisory Council. Levine previously served on the district’s budget development committee.
Claim to fame: Support Jeffco Kids has a large library of videos, produced by another organization called Transparency Jeffco, from previous board meetings. The videos capture on film some of the board’s most controversial movements, giving viewers a sense of the tense atmosphere at board meetings. But, viewers should be aware, the videos are edited and are sometimes accompanied by commentary.
FYI: Support Jeffco Kids is a social welfare nonprofit that claims tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the federal tax code. Unlike other nonprofits, these organizations are allowed to endorse candidates and donate to candidates.
Social media: The group has a Twitter handle, @supportJeffkids, and is on Facebook.

JeffcoTruth.org

Position: Anti-teachers union
Founded: September 2014
Founded by: Unknown
Claim to fame: JeffcoTruth launched during a week of student walkouts with two videos. The videos intend to blame the Jefferson County Education Association for the student walkouts. In one video, a compilation of student interviews, the organization tries to reclaim the narrative of the curriculum review committee by attempting to discredit the students’ motives and highlighting the school board’s duty to review curriculum. Like some of the Support Jeffco Kids videos, the JeffcoTruth reels have a clear agenda. Unlike the Support Jeffco Kids video, they have a killer soundtrack featuring the ominous attack-ad themed music.
FYI: Rumors have circled across Jefferson County about who exactly is behind the website. Some point to local conservatives. Others suggest out-of-state money is behind the effort.
Social media: The group has a Twitter handle, @JeffcoTruths, and is on Facebook.

Stand Up For All Students

Position: Anti-board majority
Founded: Spring 2014
Founded by: Jefferson County Education Association
Claim to fame: More than anything, Stand Up has been more of a social movement and brand than a just website. The organization has launched and maintained a successful hashtag on Twitter, #standup4kids,” and “IRL” will begin to sell T-shirts. Other organizations have adopted similar branding. Stand Up has also led the organizing behind three countywide protests, including two along Wadsworth Boulevard that stretches 30 miles.
FYI: Critics of the union claim that rather than basing their arguments on fact, they’re using their outsized might and “field-tested” talking points of secrecy, waste, and disrespect to win emotional support. A union spokesman told Chalkbeat the union hasn’t polled on any language.
Social media: No official Twitter of Facebook presence. Advocates are encouraged to tweet with the hashtag “#standup4kids.”

JeffCo School Board Watch

Position: Anti-board majority
Founded: January 2014
Founded by: Unknown
Claim to fame: No other website spooks supporters of the board majority like JCSBW, short for JeffCo School Board Watch. Some believe it’s backed by local Democrats. But sources close to the organization and those who claim to have interacted with the organization say that’s not true. Perhaps JCSBW’s signature post is this breakdown of all the elements of a recall effort.
FYI: If you’re looking for shortcuts to specific pages on the actual Jeffco Public Schools website, JSBW is a great place to start. It has links to meeting agendas, school ratings, and email addresses for board members.
Social media: The group has a Twitter handle, @JCSBW.

Other organizations and resources

Before there was a new board majority, there was already an active online ecosystem surrounding Jeffco Public Schools. Here is a look at a couple of additional players who have continued to play an active role as the politics have intensified.

Jeffco Students First

Founded in 2011, Jeffco Students First has been leading the charge for education reform ever since. In 2013, the nonprofit’s political arm Jeffco Students First Action supported the candidates who now make up the board majority and has continued to do so. Its website features talking points and blog posts that generally back up — and sometimes elaborates — the reasons board majority’s thinking. Jeffco Students First also distributes the Jeffco Observer, an education only publication. The organization has a Facebook page and Twitter handle, @JCStudentsFirst.

Jeffco PTA

This isn’t your mother’s PTA bake sale. One of the organizations most critical of the board majority has been the Jeffco Parents and Teachers Assocation. Led by Michele Patterson, the Jeffco PTA is a regular at board meetings and played a role in several of the countywide protests. When not acting like a watchdog, the organizations help recruit parents to volunteer on a number of school committees. It has a Facebook page and Twitter handle, @JeffcoPTA.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Father of Arapahoe High shooter breaks his silence

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 06:32

Decision time

One year after a proposed billion dollar tax hike to fund public schools was spiked at the ballot box, there are plenty of education related issues and races for voters to decide this Election Day. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Arapahoe High School shooting

The father of Arapahoe High School shooter Karl Pierson said he's trying to rationalize how his son, a former Boy Scout, could be a killer. ( Denver Post )

Road show

Have opinions about the state's testing diet? The appointed task force that is studying K-12 testing in Colorado is going on the road to gather public opinions about the issue. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

For the second time since 2009, the Greeley school board has approved a contract its teachers union didn't. Teachers told the board morale is at an all time low. ( Greeley Tribune )

Some Douglas County parents are upset over a teacher's abrupt departure. They believe the exit has something to do with a larger problem. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Cleveland's chief communications officer is taking a job at Denver Public Schools. ( Cleveland.com )

Student enrollment is down in the Brush school district. If voters don't approve a local tax increase, the district will have to cut more than a half million dollars from its budget. ( Brush News Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing task force wants to hear what you think

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 13:23

The appointed task force that is studying K-12 testing in Colorado is going on the road to gather public opinions about the issue.

The series of roundtable discussions kicks off at 5:30 p.m. next Monday in the library of Denver’s North High School, 2690 N. Speer Blvd. It’s the only meeting scheduled in the metro area.

Some members of the task force will attend all the roundtables, and they’re interested in hearing comments on the elements of a statewide testing system, how to improve Colorado testing and about local district testing.

The 15-member Standards and Assessments Task Force was established by a 2014 law and is assigned to study the state’s testing system and develop recommendations for the 2015 legislative session. It has met three times, and the clock is ticking for the group, which for now has four more full meetings scheduled before the Jan. 31, 2015, deadline for a report and recommendations on what’s probably the most contentious issue in Colorado education today.

Seven other meetings are scheduled throughout the state from Oct. 22 to Nov. 13. Locations include Edwards, Colorado Springs, Loveland, Monte Vista, Grand Junction and Fort Collins. See the detailed list of times and locations here. The task force also is accepting public comment by email at 1202taskforcefeedback@gmail.com.

Learn more about the group in this recent Chalkbeat Colorado story, and get more information on the task force webpage.

Categories: Urban School News

An education voter’s guide to the 2014 election

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 12:32
The political scene for education

The results of Colorado’s 2014 elections could have important implications for education policy, even if education hasn’t necessarily been a high visibility issue in many campaigns.

At the state level, a shift in partisan control of the governor’s office or the legislature could mean changes in academic standards (including use of the Common Core State Standards), testing and more flexibility for local school districts. But how such changes might play out is difficult to predict, given the possibility of split partisan control of the governorship and the two houses of the General Assembly.

Education groups with money – campaign committees affiliated with the Colorado Education Association and Democrats for Education Reform – are putting their campaign contribution bets on Democrats. And the reform-oriented group Climb Higher Colorado recently announced availability of a “truth squad” – executives of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and Stand for Children – for comment on issues like Common Core and PARCC tests.

Voters statewide will decide if school districts will receive a modest amount of additional funding from expansion of casino gambling and if district-union negotiation sessions will be conducted in public. Schools districts around the state have proposed a record total amount of bond issues and property tax overrides, and Denver voters will decide on a tax increase for the Denver Preschool Program.

And several seats are up for election on Colorado’s only two elected statewide education bodies, the State Board of Education and the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

Top of the ticket

Education has not been a high-profile issue in the race between Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and GOP challenger Bob Beauprez.

Hickenlooper campaign materials don’t promote any new education initiatives but tout education measures he supported in recent legislative sessions, including early literacy, district financial transparency, increased funding for higher education and college scholarships, improved K-12 funding and streamlining of state early childhood programs. (See the campaign statement on education policy here.)

For the most part Beauprez’ education platform is short on details, supporting “high educational standards,” promising teachers “more flexibility” and less time spent on tests and support for school choice. Beauprez does criticize “one-size-fits-all federal approaches to education” and promises to take Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards – all standard GOP talking points these days. (See his full education statement here.)

Beauprez repeatedly has talked about the importance of early literacy, supporting many provisions already required by the READ Act, and promising his wife will launch a privately funded foundation to provide a new book every month to all Colorado children under age 5.

Education takes an even lower profile in Senate and congressional races.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s website makes a brief reference to legislation on refinancing college debt, while GOP challenger Cory Gardner’s site mentions saving for college and his support of “efforts to entrust parents and educators with improving curriculum in their communities.”

In the hot 6th Congressional District race, Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff’s site says, “Schools aren’t factories, and students aren’t widgets. We will continue to lose effective teachers if we force them simply to teach to a test.” GOP Rep. Mike Coffman’s site makes no mention of education.

The legislature

The fight for legislative control is focused on the Senate, where Democrats currently have only an 18-17 majority. Ground zero is Jefferson County, where three Democratic incumbents are spending big to hold their seats. Among them are Andy Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and committee member Rachel Zenzinger.

Other Senate races feature two high-profile former Democratic House members, Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Judy Solano in Adams County.

Democrats are expected to have an easier time retaining House control.

See the charts below for information about legislative races of particular interest to education. Hover over the name of a district to see a breakdown of registered voters by political party or over a candidate name to see more information about them.

State Senate

State House

State Board of Education

There are two contested races this year. In the 3rd District Republican incumbent Marcia Neal Neal is being challenged by Democrat Henry Roman, former Pueblo 60 superintendent. Democratic incumbent Jane Goff faces Republican Laura Boggs, a former Jeffco school board member, in the 7th District.

Democratic newcomer Valentina Flores is unopposed in the 1st District. In the 5th District GOP incumbent Paul Lundeen is running unopposed for the state House so will be replaced by a Republican appointee after the election.

» Learn more

Statewide ballot measures

Two of this year’s four statewide ballot measure involve education.

The most visible is Amendment 68, the constitutional amendment that would allow creation of a casino in Arapahoe County, with some of the revenues earmarked for per-pupil grants to school districts statewide. Voters have been barraged with a heavy schedule of TV ads both for and against the measure. Education groups are neutral or opposed to the measure, as is traditional with proposed “sin taxes” to fund schools.

» Learn more

Proposition 104 has had a much lower profile. Backed by the conservative Independence Institute, the measure would require collective bargaining sessions between school district and employee unions be held in public. It also would require that school board strategy sessions be open. Education unions and interest groups are opposed.

» Learn more

Local district ballot measures

It’s a record year for school district tax proposals – some two dozen districts are proposing a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides just a year after voters statewide rejected a $1 billion income tax increase for K-12 funding.

Most of the money – about $1.1 billion – is being requested from voters in just two counties, Adams and Boulder. Five districts in western Adams all are on the Nov. 4 ballot, an apparently unprecedented event.

Despite a modest bump in school funding provided by the 2014 legislature, district leaders say that additional money is far from enough and that they have to ask voters for additional local revenues to cover building and program needs that can’t be put off.

» Learn more

Denver Preschool Program tax

In Denver voters will decide whether to increase and extend a sales tax that funds tuition credits for families participating in the Denver Preschool Program. The measure would increase the tax from .12 to .15 percent and extend it until 2026.

» Learn more

CU Board of Regents

Three seats on the nine-member board are being contested, and some observers think Democrats have a shot at gaining the majority on the board.

In the 6th District Democrat Naquetta Ricks and Republican John Carson are seeking the seat vacated by Republican Jim Geddes, who’s now on the Douglas County school board, where Carson formerly served. Ricks is outspending Carson, and Romanoff is given a chance at unseating Coffman in the same district.

In the 7th District, incumbent Democrat Irene Griego faces Libertarian Steve Golter in the 7th Congressional District. Both the 6th and 7th districts registration is evenly split among Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.

In the traditionally Democratic 2nd District Democrat Linda Shoemaker, Republican Kim McGahey and Libertarian Daniel Ong are running.

» Learn more (Boulder Daily Camera)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Last of Boulder’s education excise tax awarded

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 09:36

role model

A math teacher at Monument's Lewis Palmer High School was named Colorado's Teacher of the Year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Gazette )

the more you know

Here's a guide to all of the education issues you might encounter on the ballot when it arrives this week. ( CPR )

And advocates and critics lay out the pros and cons of a proposal to open Colorado's teacher contract negotiations. ( Steamboat Today )

new faces

Metro State, currently home to the state's largest teacher training program, named a dean of its new School of Education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

all gone

Boulder has depleted its education excise tax fund, distributing the last of the money to three schools and four community groups for projects that advance school readiness, close the achievement gap for school-age children or provide interventions that reduce youth risk factors.. ( Daily Camera )

aggrieved

The Aspen Education Association filed a grievance with Aspen High School administrators over a lack of teacher evaluations completed in the past year; it follows the union's vote of no confidence in the school's principal. ( Aspen Daily News )

following through

A three-year, $600,000 grant will help the state's school districts track students who are applying for college financial aid, continuing a project that had run out of funding earlier this year. ( Denver Post )

School safety

The Denver Post editorial board asks why Littleton Public Schools officials ignored warning signs in the behavior of Arapahoe High School shooter Karl Pierson. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Metropolitan State University of Denver names founding dean of new ed school

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 16:27

The former director of one of the largest teacher-preparation colleges in the country has been hired to lead the new School of Education at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Elizabeth Hinde, who previously was a faculty member at Arizona State University since 2004 and served as director of the Division of Teacher Preparation at the university’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College since 2011, will be the founding dean of the new school at Metro.

The school has previously offered education degree programs through the College of Professional Studies; those existing programs will now be offered by the School of Education. Metro’s current teacher program is the second largest in the state. Last year it enrolled nearly 2,000 students in various programs.

The new school was formed based on recommendations of a $1.88 million Title III federal grant Metro received in 2010. The new school is expected to focus on teachers’ educational effectiveness within multi-cultural, bilingual, and historically underserved populations.

“I became a teacher to make a positive difference in the lives of students and that continues to be my anchor today,” said Hinde in a statement. “With MSU Denver’s strong reputation for teacher preparation, I saw the potential to be able to do some remarkable things in how we shape and deliver education, with an institution that really values the role of teachers.”

Before joining Arizona State, Hinde was also an elementary social studies teacher for more than 20 years in Arizona, serving at-risk students.

Disclosure: Chalkbeat reporter Nic Garcia is an adjunct journalism instructor at Metro.

Categories: Urban School News

Lewis Palmer math instructor named teacher of year

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 16:17

Kathy Thirkell, a math teacher at Lewis Palmer High School in Monument, has been selected as the 2015 Colorado teacher of the year.

As is traditional, Thirkell learned of the honor during a surprise ceremony at a school assembly.

The teacher of the year is the state’s nominee for national teacher of the year and serves as something of a teacher ambassador to communities and organizations.

Thirkell has spent her entire career as Lewis-Palmer and was selected based on experience, passion and expertise from her 33 years as a math teacher, according to a Department of Education news release.

“If I need to find Kathy before school, it’s easy,” said Principal Sandi Brandl. “She’s in her classroom helping kids. Outside of school she is constantly working to improve her craft, from learning how to incorporate technology in the classroom to updating curriculum to meet the needs of her students.”

Learn more about the teacher of the year program here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Arapahoe High School shooter left detailed diary where he plotted “revenge”

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 08:50

out of the mouths of babes

Jefferson County students flirted with an effort to recall three members of the county's school board. But their rally lacked the hundreds of students that previous walkouts had. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The students said their effort is due in part to a lack of respect from the board's majority. Meanwhile, Jeffco school board President Ken Witt said the county needs to focus on boosting ACT scores. ( Denver Post, Fox 31, ABC 7 )

Arapahoe High School shooting

Littleton authorities closed their case on the Arapahoe High School shooting. The shooter's diary painted a picture of a "psychopath." ( Denver Post, ABC 7 )

Read portions of the shooter's diary here. ( Denver Post )

Several students who got away recounted the shooting for The Denver Post. ( Denver Post. )

Parental involvement in assessing threats — especially at school — has been crucial since the Columbine High School shooting of 1999. ( Denver Post )

Lunch time

With 211 charter schools in Colorado, including 13 new this year, there's a wide variety of meal models and menus in place. We took a look at some of the offerings. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

It's National School Lunch Week. Meet some of the ladies behind the school lunches St. Vrain Valley School District. ( Longmont Times-Call )

it seemed like a good idea at the time

Colorado Spring's largest school district will continue to proctor state tests. District 11 had wanted to opt-out. But the district's school board isn't conceding defeat. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

investing early

Some Colorado Springs business and civic leaders are pushing for a greater focus on early education. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

A helping hand

Fort Collins geometry students have helped design and construct a Habitat For Humanity home. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Election 2014

School districts across the state this fall are asking voters for more tax dollars. But the funds that could be raised might just be a drop in the bucket. ( Denver Post )

Claiming a proposed state constitutional amendment would hurt public education and put an a burden on taxpayers, an Aurora Public Schools board member urges you to vote no on Amendment 68. ( Denver Post )

The Denver Post has endorsed Jane Goff and Henry Roman in their respective races for Colorado's school board. ( Denver Post )

12 years later ...

It's 2014 and all public education students are supposed to be proficient in English and math. But they aren't. So, what went wrong and where do we go from here? ( NPRed via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco students, at rally, flirt with recall effort

Sat, 10/11/2014 - 17:25

LITTLETON — Students, incensed over what they call disrespect from their elected officials, told their suburban community today they’re prepared to lead the charge in a recall election of three school board members.

Making their public debut at a park near Columbine High School, Jeffco Students for Change told a crowd they’re ready for a change on the Jefferson County Board of Education. Board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk can make the change themselves, they said, or the students will do it for them.

“Like pawns, students are on the front lines of this issue,” said Mali Holmes, an Evergreen High School student, referring to a statements made by Witt, who called students who organized earlier walkouts pawns of the union. “But the difference is, we will not back down. We will stand together and fight until we win this battle. We will be the ones to call check mate.”

The three board members, elected nearly a year ago, have found themselves embroiled in controversy after controversy with vocal members of the Jeffco Public Schools community.

Several of the students’ speeches either called for the board to resign, improve their relationships with the community, or face a recall.

CHALKBEAT EXPLAINS: Jeffco interrupted

But student organizers said they’re still determining whether a recall is feasible. They’ll gauge how many individuals who attended the rally provided the students with contact information.

In an earlier interview, board chairman Witt said he was focused on improving student achievement, not the politics of a recall. He also encouraged students to continue to share their opinions at board meetings.

Despite months of acrid debates between some community members and the board’s majority, today’s rally is the first time any organization has hosted a public conversation regarding a recall election.

Rumors of a recall raised to a fevered pitch last spring but puttered out during the summer. In fact, some parents and board observers privately discouraged a recall because they rarely work and are extremely expensive for both organizers and the school districts. Under Colorado law, Jeffco Public Schools would have to pay for the election’s costs.

Today, it’s unclear what sort of political wherewithal a student-led recall would have, or whether reluctant parents and adult organizers would stand with them. The students organized this rally in about a week. And a parent donated the $1,000 for the park permit, organizers said.

Jeffco Students for Change, is the newest kid on a crowded block of anti-board majority organizations. It loosely formed during a week’s worth of earlier protests over a proposed board-appointed curriculum review committee.

Some students, teachers, and parents believed that committee, which would have been tasked with reviewing an advanced history course, would lead to censorship. Those students left their classrooms for the streets by the hundreds.

Jeffco board member Williams, who proposed the review committee, said critics were misinterpreting her proposal.

Ultimately, the school board, on a 3-2 vote, amended Jeffco’s curriculum review process and put it under the board’s purview.

Students behind the new organization and Saturday’s rally rejected the board majority’s claim of a compromise. There are still many details to be worked out, which the district is handling.

About 250 people, mostly parents, attended the rally. The audience waived signs while students spoke and local bands, Red Fox Run and From Thin Air, provided musical entertainment.

Some local political campaigns took advantage of the rally including State Board of Education member Jane Goff, who is running for re-election. Goff had volunteers there. Her opponent, Laura Boggs, a former Jefferson County Board of Education member herself, stopped by. Some parents vocally shooed her away.

“We don’t want you here,” one parent yelled.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who was out campaigning himself, also made an unannounced stop at the rally.

Meanwhile, other rally attendees played hacky sack, ate ice cream, and updated their voter registration.

“If you are of legal age to vote, then make your voice heard at all levels,” said Kyle Ferris, a Columbine High School student. “Many people didn’t vote in the school board election because they didn’t feel like it was important — and look where that got us.”

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reading: West Virginia’s wide-open school-to-prison pipeline

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 13:17
  • West Virginia’s growing juvenile incarceration rate starts in its heavily policed schools. (Marshall Project)
  • An advocate of statewide teacher evaluation reform outlines a host of downsides to the approach. (TNTP)
  • Chicago’s teachers union president — also a possible mayoral candidate — is seriously ill. (Sun-Times)
  • A teachers union test score analysis underscores an achievement gap among poor students. (Edwize)
  • To boost student learning, a North Carolina school replaced desks with stationary bikes. (Fast Company)
  • Students are pressing Harvard University to stop sending graduates to Teach for America. (The Crimson)
  • A Common Core challenge: balancing grade-level reading with “frustration-level” texts. (Curriculum Matters)
  • Teachers unions are in a tight spot when deciding how to handle members who opt out of testing. (Teacher Beat)
  • Philadelphians are angry that the city canceled their teachers’ union contract amid budget woes. (Notebook)
  • A federal report reveals that states were moving away from NCLB even before getting waivers. (Politics K-12)
  • A mother says her young son’s frequent punishments ended when he found the right school. (Motherlode)
  • Des Moines is increasingly poor and nonwhite — and also seeing its schools improve. (National Journal)
  • More schools are hiring specialists to help teachers get comfortable with Common Core math. (Atlantic)
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver’s top boss defends standards, tests, reforms

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 08:58

getting to know you

Candidates in the generally quiet state board of education races discuss their views on testing, standards, and finance — oh, and Jeffco controversies. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

back to the drawing board

Denver Public Schools will not pursue a merger between two of its most historic neighborhood high schools. Meanwhile, the hunt is on for a new principal at one of those high schools, Manual. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, 9News )

Top boss

In a broad interview with The Denver Post, Denver's top boss Tom Boasberg defends the Common Core State Standards, PARCC assessments, and his reforms. ( Denver Post )

Job hunt

A new citywide job shadowing program aims to help Denver students understand the fields of healthcare, engineering, manufacturing, information technology, and energy. ( 9News )

Breaking the fever

Thousands of Poudre School District parents told the school district they want to see universal air conditioner and a later start date in order to beat the heat during the start of the school year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Fort Collins Coloradoan )

In his own words

A southwest Denver middle school principal shares how he improved student achievement by including one extra hour a day. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Election 2014

Some Westminster voters will be asked to approve a mill and bond tax issue this fall. ( Westminster Window )

A former state Representative is campaigning against a constitutional amendment that would allow for casino gambling to expand. Supporters claim the expansion will increase funding for education, but so far not a single school board has endorsed the proposal. ( Denver Post )

The Pueblo Chieftain has endorsed a native for the state school board. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

New Heights

A Monarch High School senior has been appointed to a national program for her poem writing. ( Daily Camera )

Meanwhile, students at Centaurus High School experimented with a weather balloon. ( Daily Camera )

College matters

It's College Application Month. And to spread awareness, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia made a visit to Westminster High School. ( Arvada Press )

Human Resources

Douglas County School District's top spin master has left to pursue new opportunities. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Categories: Urban School News

September start date and universal AC among top options in Poudre survey

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 23:37

The top three suggestions from Poudre School District residents asked how the district should handle start-of-school heat include giving 48-hour notice for heat-related early release days, starting school in September and installing cooling systems in all buildings.

The results, posted on the district’s web site Thursday night, included nearly 6,000 responses from district staff and community members. The survey comes after a pilot “heat days” program in which the district’s elementary and middle school students were released two hours early for the first two weeks of school. Unlike in 2013, when there were several scorching days, the first two weeks this year weren’t particularly hot.

While some parents were frustrated with the two weeks of early release days because it was inconvenient, district officials noted that in previous surveys parents had clearly stated that last-minute school cancellations or early release days were unpopular because they wanted more time to plan.

Poudre isn’t the only district in the state to struggle with high temperatures at the start of school. Pueblo City Schools pushed back its start date to after Labor Day this year to help deal with sweltering temperatures. Many other districts, including Aurora and Adams 12, have air-conditioning in all schools. In Poudre, just nine of 50 buildings have cooling systems.

Danielle Clark, the district’s director of communications, said in an August interview that it would cost several hundred thousand dollars just to determine the cost of installing cooling systems in all district buildings.

”Air conditioning in northern Colorado is just not the norm,” she said.

The district will hold community meetings on Oct. 23 and 24 to discuss the top options.

Categories: Urban School News

Citing ‘feedback,’ Denver schools officials drop East-Manual merger plan

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 17:04

Denver Public Schools officials are no longer considering a plan that would merge its lowest performing school, Manual High School, with its flagship campus, East High School.

But they are taking applications for yet another new principal for Manual, according to a pair of letters district officials sent to parents at both schools.

Last spring, the district and school officials contemplated creating a ninth grade academy at Manual High to serve incoming freshman for both schools. There’s plenty of room at Manual High, due to shrinking enrollment numbers. And East High, one of the city’s most popular schools, is overcrowded.

But vocal communities from both campuses protested the idea. The plan could have been implemented as early as this year, but because of the backlash, district officials put the plan on ice as last school year came to a close. Now, according to the Denver school leaders, the plan in permanently postponed.

CHALKBEAT SPECIAL REPORT: Manual High, a promise unfulfilled 

“We heard considerable feedback from both the Manual and East communities on this proposal, and we’re no longer considering this option,” said Susana Cordova, DPS’s chief of schools, in a letter to Manual parents. “We do believe there are still opportunities for a future partnership between the Manual and East communities and will continue to explore those through the Manual Thought Partner Group.”

East High School principal Andy Mendelsberg was more blunt in his letter to parents.

“Entering freshman will begin their high school career at East, and that will not change,” he said in his letter.

Mendelsberg went on to promise support for the Manual community.

Had the ninth grade academy come to fruition, it wouldn’t have been the first time the schools worked together. During the 1970s and 1980s, the two schools shared resources. Student who enrolled in the East-Manual Compact, as it was known, could take classes at either campus.

The compact ended around the same time a court lifted Denver’s mandated busing plan. Since then, academic achievement has plummeted at Manual. Despite several attempts at boosting the school’s performance — including some short-lived successes — Manual students continue to lag behind their district peers in most subject matters. In 2013, Manual also has the district’s lowest graduation rate.

Manual’s lackluster test scores, declining enrollment, and the mismanagement of funds led district officials to name Don Roy as principal in January. He replaced Brian Dale.

But Roy’s tenure at the school is coming to an end, according to Cordova’s letter.

“This fall we will also launch a local and nationwide search for a long-term leader for Manual, with the goal of having that individual in place by the start of the 2015-16 school year,” Cordova said.

District letter to Manual High School parents DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1311710-manual-letter-_-no-merger-10-8-14.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1311710-manual-letter-_-no-merger-10-8-14' }); District letter to East High School parents DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1311709-east-hs-letter-_-no-merger10-8-14.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1311709-east-hs-letter-_-no-merger10-8-14' });
Categories: Urban School News

How I transformed my school with just five new hours a week

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 15:18

It’s a midweek afternoon and all 450 of the students at our Denver middle school are staying an hour later. They’re not in detention. The buses aren’t late. Instead, students are participating in a range of activities, from a rocket-building class to one-on-one tutoring in math, and they’re excited to be here.

I’m the principal at Grant Beacon Middle School, an urban public school in southwest Denver. We have a diverse set of student needs and a student population comprised of 85 percent on free and reduced lunch, 20 percent receiving special education services and 30 percent are English language learners.

Just a few years ago, Grant Beacon looked very different than it does today. Our enrollment numbers were declining, our students weren’t reaching required academic levels and our school was “on watch” by the Denver Public Schools district. In short, we were facing possible closure.

We have since turned our school around by implementing an innovation plan based on expanded learning opportunities — practices intended to expand and deepen learning opportunities for all students. After only a few years, we have successfully improved our status from “on watch” to “meets expectations.” We’ve seen our attendance rates rise by 2 percent, and suspensions are down by 110 percent. We’re also seeing substantive gains in proficiency and growth. We even have an enrollment wait list.

Changing our approach wasn’t easy, but it was well worth the impact we’re having on all of our students today and toward helping close a district-wide achievement gap.

Grant Beacon hopes to serve as a model for other schools interested in implementing similar innovative strategies and we’ve opened our doors to numerous leaders, educators and teachers to observe and experience our approach in action.

To help others around the country learn from our experience, I’ll share some of the key changes made at our school as well as lessons learned.

At the heart of our new approach is an extended school day that added five hours each week. We are using that time to offer enrichment programming, advanced classes, student leadership development and interventions. We also increased time in some of our core subjects.

Enrichment for all students was a big driver for extending our day. In a predominantly low-income school like Grant Beacon, students aren’t often exposed to enrichment activities like their more affluent peers. We know for a fact when kids are engaged in activities such as clubs, after-school programs, music, and sports, they’re more likely to succeed, do well in high school and go to college. Before, only 10 percent of our students were taking part in such activities. Now it’s 100 percent.

Our students are thrilled as they line up for enrichment classes like hip-hop dance, athletics, cooking, resume-building and leadership development — extracurricular activities that these students might not otherwise be exposed to. The experiences are giving our kids incentive to want to come to school. They’re focused, they’re finding new passions, and they don’t want to miss a minute of it.

As for the teachers, the extended day has allowed for additional collaborative planning and professional time thanks to more than 20 community partners who teach many of the enrichment programs. They’re also now able to devote more time to students who are struggling and can spend one-on one time providing real interventions that are having a noticeable impact.

Our extended day model is further supported by a new blended-learning approach that utilizes technology to create learning environments with more individual and small-group activities, and a system of online interim assessments that teachers can use to measure real-time feedback on a student’s progress.

While implementing these new approaches wasn’t easy, I believe several elements played a key role in our success:

The first is buy-in. It’s important that everyone buys into it 100 percent — teachers, students and parents. By developing our innovation plan together with the community, we were able to get everyone on board from the beginning.

Our students have also helped us craft a catalog of enrichment programming that they want. And, extended day and enrichment programming are now part of the hiring process. We look for teachers who want to work in an extended day environment and who have unique enrichment ideas to offer to students.

The second is structure. We put clear structures in place from the beginning. Teachers know exactly what their schedule is and so do students. Students understand they can choose from the enrichment classes, but they also understand they need to be doing well in school to have those options.

It’s also important to have someone who’s committed to the program. Our dean of students has been committed to making sure the systems are in place and to reaching out to and training quality community providers of the enrichment programming.

Finally, it’s critical to support the funding. This approach is really good for kids and it’s making an impact. We need to figure out how to sustain and provide funding to schools that have found great success.

The question most often asked about our new approach is ‘what are the costs?’ Of course, with teachers working more hours, students staying longer, and added programming, our expenses have indeed gone up. Luckily we have been able to fund the added costs over the past two years with special grant funds available through Denver Public Schools specifically for Expanded Learning Opportunities.

We recognize those funds won’t be around forever and it’s a top priority to determine how to make this new approach sustainable – not just for us, but for schools around the country interested in this model. That’s why we’re working with a local funder, Rose Community Foundation, to create a long-term plan for sustainability of the extended day model. The organization is a leader in expanded learning opportunities in our community and provided us with a grant to plan for the future. The grant will also support efforts to incorporate Colorado academic standards into our extended day curriculum, and integrate the enrichment programming into our academic departments.

We as a school and community are confident in our approach. As I look around, our students are beaming, parent support is huge and teachers are energized. Our scores tell an equally encouraging story – our 2014 numbers show high gains in all subject areas. Our approach is allowing us not only to provide enriching opportunities to our students but also close the opportunity gap for them, and we’re committed to ensuring this impactful programming continues for years to come.

This piece originally appeared at the Hechinger Report.

Categories: Urban School News

Testing issue follows candidates on campaign trail

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 14:29

Ask candidates running for the State Board of Education this year what voters want to talk about and you generally get a quick answer – testing.

The four candidates for two contested seats all expect that the question of how much and what kind of standardized tests should be given will be a major issue for the new board and legislature that take office in 2015. The candidates have differing but nuanced views on the issue, but most of them are open to considering changes in the state’s assessment system.

Chalkbeat Colorado interviewed each of the four about testing and other key education issues. See summaries of their responses below, but first here’s a brief look at who’s running.

The candidates

District 3 – Republican incumbent Marcia Neal of Grand Junction faces Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo in this sprawling district that covers most of western Colorado and stretches east to Pueblo.

Neal is a former social studies teacher and Mesa 51 school board member who sometimes is a swing vote on the state board. She’s been a strong advocate of increasing the size of the school trust lands permanent fund, which earns revenues from state lands. Roman is a former Pueblo 60 superintendent, has worked recently as a charter school consultant and is making his first run for elected office.

District 7 – Democratic incumbent Jane Goff of Arvada is a former Jefferson County foreign language teacher and administrator who also served as president of the Jefferson County Education Association. She’s being challenged by Republican Laura Boggs of Lakewood, a former Jeffco school board member who was a one-woman conservative minority before the board changed hands in the 2013 election.

Issues in District 3

Testing

Marcia Neal

“I think there are a lot of concerns around the PARCC tests,” Neal said. “It’s sort of this gigantic issue.” She says Colorado faces “a real dilemma” in what to do about its testing system.

“So far I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of balancing” testing and classroom instruction, she said She hopes the task force that’s studying the issue can suggest and good balance on testing changes.

Roman said, “Right now I think we need to stay with” current plans for full PARCC testing next spring. He likes online testing because it promises quicker results for teachers to use. And he said he’s open to considering changes such as sampling, where every student is not tested every year, and reducing state tests to federal minimums. “We’ve burdened our teachers with too much testing.”

Academic standards

Neal voted against Colorado adoption of the Common Core State Standards in 2010 but said, “I’m very supportive of high academic standards.”

Roman said the state should stick with the current Colorado Academic Standards, which include the Common Core for language arts and math. “These happen to be the ones that are in place, and I support them” but is open to changes in the future.

School finance

Henry Roman

“I know we need more money,” Neal said, but she believes there isn’t a direct relationship between funding levels and student achievement. She’s opposed to raising school funding without detailed plans for how more money would be used.

“I think we need to address the negative factor,” Roman said, referring to the formula used by the legislature to set total district funding every year. “We need to find a way to get back the funding schools should have been receiving.”

School choice

“I’m very much in favor of choice,” Neal said, but she doubts tuition tax credits or vouchers are in the state’s future, saying, “I don’t think that’s something the courts are ready to do.”

“I’m not in support of vouchers,” Roman said. “I think our current school choice options are excellent,” adding that he feel’s it’s important that charters “accept all students and that their performance is as good or better” than traditional schools.

What voters are saying

Neal said, “90 percent of the time it’s, ‘Where do you stand on Common Core?’ It dominates the conversation.”

Roman said, “What I’m hearing a lot of is there’s too much testing, and for the most part there’s too much emphasis on the core academic subjects to the exclusion of other subjects.” He added, “I’m also hearing about lack of equitable funding.”

The State Board’s role

Asked about the board’s role relative to the governor and the legislature, Neal said, “It does have a role to play, but it doesn’t make policy decisions, and it probably shouldn’t. … People tend to ignore us and then when something happens they want us to fix it, and we can’t.”

Roman said, “I see it as a body that takes what the legislature has passed and puts it into policy and procedure.”

Both candidates are concerned about the volume of education legislation – “There’s no limit to what the state legislature passes,” Roman said. “I’ve gotten to that I sort of dread the legislative session,” Neal commented.

The Jeffco controversy

Neal said the situation has “gotten pretty muddled” with the combination of two issues, curriculum review and teacher-board differences over salaries. She said, “I understand the history concern” about AP U.S. History and said that as a teacher “I always tried to go down the middle.”

“A class should reflect history as objectively as possible,” Roman said, adding that he supports the new AP class.

Issues in District 7

Testing

Jane Goff

“I think it’s a dilemma for everybody,” Goff says of K-12 testing. “I’m not hearing very much at all of let’s throw the whole thing out,” and said she’s willing to look at changes in the system, including reducing state tests back to federal minimums. But, she added, “Accountability is the hard part, the sticky wicket.” She supports current plans to use the PARCC tests.

Boggs discusses testing in the context of her strong support for local control, criticizing what she calls “a one-size-fits-all system” and saying “districts need to have flexibility” in testing – “while absolutely still holding the system accountable.”

Academic standards

Goff said she “absolutely” supports the current Colorado Academic Standards, thinks changing them now would be disruptive for districts. “The challenge is getting people to understand what it’s all about.”

Boggs thinks “We need a robust conversation about what the actual standards need to be. … Parents and community members need confidence in our standards, and there’s clearly not that now.”

School finance

Laura Boggs

Goff said, “I’m not a tax fan” and that voters need better explanation of how new revenues would be spent. Referring to Amendment 66, the defeated 2013 K-12 tax increase, she said, “I don’t think people really understood how that could benefit their school district and the state as a whole.” While she supports reduction of the negative factor, she added, “I can’t see any great benefit in restoring more money to schools is that hurts, say, health programs.”

Boggs faults legislators for not spending more money on K-12 during the 2014 session, given a large balance in the State Education Fund. She sees general voter support for local school tax measures (as opposed to defeat on A66) as evidence that citizens “want local control back.”

School choice

Goff said she’s comfortable with the quality of state charter school law and feels progress has been made with online schools but that continued work is needed to improve student achievement at online schools and some charters. She said she generally opposes vouchers and tuition tax credits but would be willing to consider such mechanisms for some special education students.

Boggs calls herself “a huge supporter” of choice and charter schools but has concerns about vouchers and tax credits. “A great public education system is a great equalizer, so I’m not really wild about proposals that take money out of the public school system.” She also said a statewide tax credit law could be “a little dicey because you are infringing on local control.”

What the voters are saying

“Number 1 right now is testing. That’s hot, it’s very hot,” Goff said. “It’s probably right up there with what’s going on in Jeffco.”

Boggs said, “The voters are telling me that our child are over-tested … the teachers are telling me that they don’t have the flexibility. … a one-size-fits-all education system is not something they’re interested in.”

The State Board’s role

Goff acknowledges that the board often is subordinate to the governor and legislature but thinks SBE members should take a more visible role on education issues and should show “more leadership.”

Boggs said the board should “get more energized in the conversation” about largely flat student achievement levels but stressed again “my passion is for the local control piece” of education.

The Jeffco controversy

Jefferson County is a big part of the 7th District, and both Goff and Boggs have close personal tied to the district.

Chalkbeat asked the candidates how controversies over the board could affect their race.

“Right now education is so hot and people are so passionate about it,” Goff said, adding that it’s hard to tell how that might translate into the state board race. “I think it’s still early to tell.”

Boggs was critical of the new AP U.S. history program but also of the original wording of the Jeffco board’s curriculum review resolution. She said the impact in the broader electorate is hard judge. “I’m probably not the best person to ask about that,” she added, given that primarily talks to people who are involved with education.

Board campaigns are quiet

State Board candidates usually campaign in the shadow of statewide and congressional candidates, with their big television ad budgets, and of the better-funded legislative hopefuls, who can blanket their districts with yard signs, literature drops and phone calls.

The 3rd District has 29 counties – many mountainous and thinly populated – and is especially challenging for SBE candidates.

“It’s very difficult,” said Neal. “I have not traveled as much as I’d like to.” She sends literature and yard signs to county GOP offices for distribution, and she’s planning newspaper and maybe radio ads in Pueblo and Durango, two population centers where she’s not as well known as in the Grand Valley. “I do what I have with the money I have and the time I’ve got.”

Roman said he’s been traveling extensively on the Western Slope in order to raise his profile there, attending candidate forums, coffees, Democratic events and “a lot of parades.”

Neal has raised about $11,500, while Roman’s campaign war chest was nearly $17,000 at the end of September.

In the 7th District Goff has been attending candidate forums and Democratic events, getting yard signs placed and literature distributed and is sending postcards to targeted Adams and Jefferson county neighborhoods. She’s also advertising in weekly community newspapers.

Boggs said, “I’m going to everything I’m invited to,” but that mailings aren’t planned “unless there’s a whole lot of money coming in that I don’t know about.”

Goff has a wide fund-raising edge with about $23,000 compared to Boggs’ $3,800.

Other districts, other members Valentina Flores

The board’s 1st District seat, which primarily covers Denver, is also on the ballot this election. Retired educator Valentina Flores, who defeated a reform candidate in the June Democratic primary, is the only candidate on the ballot. (Learn more about her background and views in this earlier Chalkbeat Colorado story.) Flores will replace Democrat Elaine Gantz Berman, who chose not to run again.

Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, is running unopposed for a seat in the state House. Once he’s elected a GOP vacancy committee will choose a replacement for his District 5 board seat.

Three board members are in the middle of terms and not on the ballot: Republican Pam Mazanec of Larkspur (4th District), Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker (6th) and Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder (2nd).

About the State Board of Education

Here are key facts about the board:

  • Seven members elected on a partisan basis
  • Board districts are the same as congressional districts
  • Term limits: Two six-year terms
  • Current board is four Republicans, three Democrats
  • Members are unpaid
  • Board generally meets monthly
  • Constitutional duty: “General supervision of the public schools”
  • Specific duties: Hiring education commissioner, issuing regulations to implement state education laws; revoking teacher licenses; granting waivers to education laws; approving teacher prep programs; adjudicating district-charter disputes; certifying multi-district online programs; overseeing reports, task forces and various other groups; adoption of state content standards and tests; deciding conversion plans for failed schools and districts; distribution of grants, among others
  • Board website
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Dems leverage Jeffco board controversy

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 09:10

Testing flex

Colorado has few options if policymakers want to create a more flexible state testing system, or one that lets districts make their own testing choices, according to a new federal memo. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Vox populi

Citizens who spoke at the State Board of Education’s monthly public comment session Wednesday gave members a taste of the passions that have roiled the Jefferson County Schools in recent weeks. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco Interrupted

In a new television ad, Colorado Democrats attempt to draw a line between three conservative Jefferson County school board members and four Republican state Senate candidates looking to oust Democratic incumbents. ( KDVR )

Michelle Patterson, president of the Jeffco PTA, explains why her group "waded right into the muck" of that district's controversies. ( NY Times Motherlode blog )

Teacher qualifications

The firing of a charter school science teachers after a lab fire prompts a reporter to ask why charter teachers aren't licensed. ( 9News )

Simulated school

Parents and kids got an early look at Loveland's newest school - thanks to a 3-D computer tour. Ground hasn't even been broken for the planned High Plains school. ( Reporter-Herld )

Hit the track

About 1,000 younger students in the St. Vrain district are part of program to run a total of 100 miles by the end of the school year. ( Times-Call )

Slots for schools

Former state Rep. Ed Casso explains why he's supporting Amendment 68, an issue many of his former colleagues aren't touching. ( Denver Post )

Promoting college

The Department of Higher Education is tackling low go-to-college rates with a pair of campaigns meant to improve degree attainment. ( Denver Business Journal )

Endorsement

Henry Roman, Democratic candidate for the 3rd District State Board of Education seat, has received the endorsement of his home town newspaper. ( Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

State has limited flexibility on testing, feds say

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 20:34

Colorado has few options if policymakers want to create a more flexible state testing system, or one that lets districts make their own assessment choices, the State Board of Education learned Wednesday.

The board has been paying a lot of attention to testing ever since 2014 TCAP results were released in August, trying to make its voice heard in the growing state debate over the issue. (See this story for background on board member views.)

Among the key questions in that debate is whether Colorado should reduce testing to only what’s required by the federal government, if it’s possible to test just sample groups of students and if districts can have flexibility to choose their own tests.

A growing number of districts have raised questions about their testing options, Department of Education officials say.

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond formally posed some key questions to the U.S. Department of Education, and the board was briefed on the answers at its monthly meeting. It wasn’t what some members wanted to hear.

Here’s a summary of the questions and answers. Read the full DOE letter here – warning, the language is pretty dense. Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen called it “a weighty document and somewhat difficult to work through.”

What are the federal requirements for frequency, grade levels and content?

The department and the board basically learned what they already know: that all children must be tested in language arts and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Science tests are required once at each level of K-12 education. Colorado tests considerably more than those requirements – get more details in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.

Do states have to give the same tests to all students?

Yes. A state “may not assess only a sample of students, even if that sample is representative of students in each LEA (local education agency – jargon for ‘district’) or the state as a whole,” read the letter. (The exception to this is that a separate test can be used for students “with the most significant cognitive disabilities.”)

“That’s a big issue that we get a lot of questions about. Sampling is not allowed,” Owen said.

Can a state use a combination of state and local tests?

The DOE letter says there’s “some flexibility” on this issue, but it goes on to detail a long list of difficult regulatory hurdles that would to be jumped for this to happen.

What happens if a state doesn’t meet federal requirements?

It could lose a lot of federal money, particularly Title I funds for low-income students and IDEA money for special education students. Prompted by a question from SBE chair Paul Lundeen, Owen said the worst-case estimate “easily” could be $500 million for Colorado. (The DOE letter outlines a long list of “progressive discipline” steps that would be used before the cash would be cut off.)

Can the secretary of education waive testing requirements?

No and yes – sort of. Testing requirements cannot be waived for individual districts. At the state level, “the secretary would likely not lightly waive such core requirements absent compelling reasons that their waiver would benefit students,” read the letter.

“We’ve reached far and wide to find any loophole.” Owen said.

“Wow,” said Lundeen, thanking CDE staff for pushing the DOE for answers. “This is an issue present in the minds of every educator in Colorado today.”

Hammond indicated he thinks CDE didn’t find any loopholes and that current federal law doesn’t give states many options. “The key to this is reauthorization of ESEA,” the main body of federal education law that a divided Congress hasn’t been able to act on. He also said changing the testing system might draw scrutiny from DOE’s civil rights office.

“With the legislation we have we’re stuck. … We basically ran out of options for next year,” Hammond said, referring to the full rollout of the new online PARCC tests in the spring of 2015.

Lundeen, who’s leaving the board because he’s running unopposed for a seat in the state House, urged the board and the department to keep researching alternatives to PARCC. Lundeen is not a fan of the current system.

He also noted that earlier this year the board passed a resolution urging the state withdraw from PARCC (see story). Denver member Elaine Gantz Berman reminded him that the vote was 4-3. The legislature paid no mind to that resolution.

Testing is expected to be a key education issue for the 2015 legislature. The 2014 legislative session more or less evaded the issue by creating a task force to study testing. (See this Chalkbeat story for the latest on what that group is doing.)

Categories: Urban School News

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