GOLDEN — Negotiations on a new contract between the Jefferson County school district and its teachers union are taking a detour Thursday to hammer out how the district will pay new teachers this fall.
The shift in focus is in response to a district court judge’s order to put on hold a portion of the school district’s compensation plan created last fall. The judge said the district could not — at least for the moment — implement a system that pays new teachers more money than veterans with similar credentials.
The heart of the compensation plan, which was not challenged in court, was designed by Jeffco Public Schools board chairman Ken Witt after the board rejected a fact finder’s report that suggested the district give raises to teachers rated partly effective by a supervisor.
As part of the plan, the district eliminated a salary schedule that gave teachers more money for each year they served in the classroom and as they earned advanced degrees. Raises are now awarded to teachers based solely on annual evaluations.
But the plan approved by the board’s conservative majority left out details about how the district should determine what to pay teachers hired in subsequent years.
District officials attempted to answer that question this spring when they proposed a plan to the board that made Jeffco more competitive with nearby school districts. The plan called for the district to pay educators for their master’s degrees, something Jeffco hasn’t done since 2012. It also would give teachers an additional stipend at schools that serve primarily low-income students of color.
While the entire board approved the portion of the plan that would create wide disparities between some new hires and the district’s veteran teachers, Jefferson County District Court Judge Christopher Zenisek said the plan would be put on hold until a full trial on its legality takes place.
That puts the school district in a holding pattern on hiring new teachers. To be able to move forward with its hiring, the district is seeking a compromise with the Jefferson County Education Association Thursday.
Jeffco’s chief human resource officer Amy Weber made the district’s opening pitch at a bargaining session Monday. There are three main points to her proposal.
First, the new proposal would keep higher salaries for non-classroom based positions that have been hard to fill, including nurses and language pathologists. Another $222,000 would be earmarked to give 38 current employees in those positions raises.
Second, the new proposal creates a salary schedule, which will be used only to determine a teacher’s pay during his or her first year in Jeffco schools, that increases at a rate of 2 percent per year of experience, not 3 percent as originally proposed. The district is still proposing to pay for some advanced degrees.
Finally, Weber’s new proposal recommends that $3 million dollars be used to give raises to some teachers, including those in the early stages of their career and those who earned an advanced degree after the district stopped giving raises for those credentials.
That final point means that some teachers above a certain salary, regardless of his or her rating, would not see a raise this year.
“What we’re trying to do is pump all the available compensation dollars into the front end — for newer teachers — where we’ve known for multiple years that’ we’ve been behind the market,” Weber said during an interview Wednesday.
Jeffco’s proposed budget next year has $5 million earmarked for pay increases.
JCEA officials Monday said they could “work with” Weber’s proposal. However, they had some concerns.
First, the union would prefer that there be a definition of what a hard-to-fill position is rather than a list of positions. That’s because different positions could be hard to fill depending on the year.
Second, they want the district to pay for all advanced degrees, not just those that the district says it believes will improve classroom instruction. The union is also concerned that the district’s human resource department is underestimating the number of teachers who have earned a master’s degree since 2012.
Third, the union said it wants to survey its members on compensation changes before agreeing to any changes.
“It’s important to us that existing employees — at least to a certain level — and incoming employees are treated the same,” JCEA Executive Director Lisa Elliott said Monday.
Weber said closing that gap was the aim of her proposed changes.
“By making this adjustment we’ll see less of the disparity,” she said.
The school board will have to approve any terms agreed upon by district and union teams.
“We have to ensure that we have an effective teacher in every classroom and that we are recognizing and rewarding our best teachers,” said Witt, the board’s chair. “And we have to efficiently apply our limited resources to maximize our student’s achievement. I expect the district and JCEA will work through those issues.”
If a deal can be reached Thursday, negotiations will likely pivot to how all teachers will be compensated in the future.
At an earlier bargaining session the union said it had developed a system that combined evaluations, years of service, advanced degrees, and other factors.
“We’re trying to imagine something different,” said teacher Athena Samuels.
Weber has reiterated many times throughout negotiations that the school board majority’s position is that raises will be based exclusively on evaluations.
The current contract between Jeffco schools and the association ends Aug. 31.
With the nail-biting legislative session safely behind them, Gov. John Hickenlooper and key lawmakers were brimming with good cheer Wednesday as Hickenlooper signed two testing bills into law.
The governor called the two bills “a significant improvement” to the state’s assessment system that will reduce testing while maintaining “high standards and accurate assessment.”
The two measures are law are House Bill 15-1323, which primarily reduces testing in high school and the early grades, and Senate Bill 15-056, which reduces the frequency of statewide social studies testing. (Get the details on the two bills in this Chalkbeat story. And see this chart for a grade-level breakdown on how the bills will affect testing times.)
Lawmakers attending the signing noted how tough it was to reach compromise.
“None of us were 100 percent sure this day actually would happen,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “The path to victory was littered with the skeletons of other bills that fell by the wayside.”
Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, noted “all these friendly faces [in the audience] that weren’t so friendly with we were working on this.” The good-sized crowd including education lobbyists, interest group and union leaders, legislative staff and Jefferson County politicians and activists.
The bills jelled in the session’s final days after “A lot of us came together and started talking,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. Hickenlooper said, “Once again Colorado did this in a different way” than other states and “tried to address it in a bipartisan bill.”
While acknowledging that testing debates are “not over,” Wilson urged, “Let this play out.”
Hickenlooper also brought up the mini-flap over the location of the signing ceremony. “We were disappointed we couldn’t be at Lakewood High School,” he said. Jefferson County Schools officials declined to host the event, citing security and disruption concerns. But others see politics behind the district’s decision, even though the testing bills passed with broad bipartisan support.
“It’s a reflection that education has become more polarized and political,” Hickenlooper said. He noted that his last visit to Lakewood High was for the widely covered 2013 visit by entertainer Katy Perry and quipped that security didn’t seem to be a concern then.
The signing was held in a 19th century restored schoolhouse that’s now on the grounds of the Lakewood Heritage Center museum.Other education bills set for signing
Hickenlooper on Wednesday also traveled to a Westminster early childhood center to sign House Bill 15-1317, which will allow the state to create “pay for success” programs under which investors and foundations can fund social services like early childhood education.
On Friday Hickenlooper will be in Canon City to sign House Bill 15-1321, which gives small rural districts flexibility in meeting state regulations about parent involvement committees and more importantly provides $10 million in extra funding for such districts.
Read our 2015 legislative review for background on those bills and on what lawmakers did – and didn’t – do on education issues.
Bucking a trend, some Denver families are saying they’re not interested in Denver Public Schools’ less-traditional offerings for middle schoolers and want access to their neighborhood schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
But the leader of one charter school in the mix of the controversy says his schools can offer families what they want. ( 9News )
College and career
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill Monday that allows a workforce development program to come to Colorado. The model was developed in Brooklyn as a partnership of IBM, two New York colleges and the New York City Department of Education. ( Gazette )
The Colorado Commission on Higher Education has been working to make it easier for students in the state to transfer both Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate scores to colleges across the state. ( USA Today - College )
Learning to lead
A program run by the state health department helps parents navigate the inner workings of government so they can be advocates for their families. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
After experiencing open negotiations for the first time, Adams County School District 50 and the Westminster Education Association came to an agreement in early May for the 2015-16 school year. ( Thornton Sentinel )
Comic Core curriculum
A Denver teacher is using comic books to teacher literacy. Here's how. ( CPR )
A group of students at Poudre High School are trying to get in on the booming food truck industry. ( 9News )
As Boulder graduating seniors look back on their high school experiences, they have a slew of suggestions to help incoming freshmen get the most out of their four years. ( Daily Camera )
reading is fundamental
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said he believes the READ Act, which aims to identify literacy needs in Colorado's youngest students, is working. ( KUNC )
Both political parties could do better at focusing on schools and not political ideology, suggests political consultant Eric Sondermann. ( Denver Post )
As participating in school choice becomes less of an option for many Denver families, some parents are saying they’re not interested in Denver Public Schools’ less-traditional offerings for middle schoolers.
In northwest Denver, the district is planning to redraw boundary lines for middle school students after closing a middle school program at Trevista at Horace Mann, which had been a pre-K-8 school, at the end of this year.
One of the options on the table includes automatically assigning some students to STRIVE Prep — Sunnyside, a charter school, instead of Skinner, the local district-run middle school, which district officials say is likely to become overcrowded.
DPS has also proposed creating a shared enrollment zone for middle schoolers in the area. That means students would be guaranteed a spot at one of the two schools but are not directly assigned to either. (See documents related to DPS’s plans for Northwest Denver here.)
But at a community meeting at the Horace Mann building Monday night, parents raised concerns about any plan that would directly assign students to a charter school. Others said they do not like the uncertainty of not having an assigned school. Still others suggested creating a new middle school.
Meanwhile, in northeast Denver, where a similar enrollment zone already exists, the district is proposing to expand McAuliffe International Middle School or create a new school to share a building with McAuliffe. McAuliffe, a district-run innovation school, was listed as a first choice by more than three times as many families as any other school in the zone.
But some families say those plans won’t fully meet the demand for a high-quality traditional middle school program, especially among families in Park Hill, where McAuliffe is located. The parents say none of the other options in their area, which include K-8 and charter schools, have the same offerings as a traditional neighborhood school. (See DPS’s presentation to Park Hill residents about plans for McAuliffe here.)
In both areas, “parents clearly want to have access to schools they feel are high quality, that are close to where they live, and that have a design that appeals to them,” said Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer. She said no final recommendations have been made for either region.
The debate in these neighborhoods bucks a trend in some other parts of Denver. In several areas with shared enrollment zones, including southwest and west Denver, charter middle schools were the top choice for families. But in these northeast and northwest neighborhoods, vocal parents have raised concerns about the lack of guaranteed spots in more traditional neighborhood schools and the possibility of students who are not interested in or suited to a specialized school program being assigned to a charter school.
“The charter model has a role to play,” said Michael Edwards, a parent of students at Edison Elementary in northwest Denver. “But what this proposes is making STRIVE the default. It becomes the neighborhood school.”Northeast concerns Principals from Skinner Middle School, right, and STRIVE Sunnyside, left, describe their schools at a community meeting in Northwest Denver.
After far more students listed McAuliffe as a first choice than were able to attend in 2015 SchoolChoice applications, DPS officials informed parents that the district plans to add spots to the school in the 2016-17 school year. But that still doesn’t create enough space for all of the interested students.
At a community meeting last week, some parents proposed creating a new building. Others asked if DSST: Conservatory Green, a middle school in the region, might be removed from its facility and replaced by a traditional middle school, or if Isabella Bird, which currently serves elementary schoolers, might expand.
Still others suggested that families in Park Hill, who live close to McAuliffe, should receive a preference to attend the school in their neighborhood.
McAuliffe’s current enrollment zone includes both Park Hill and Stapleton, a fast-growing area of the city. Many parents said they had moved to the leafy Park Hill neighborhood partly in order to send their children to a neighborhood school. But now, they said, they feel they don’t have that option, as many of the spaces in the school are filled by students from Stapleton.
At the meeting, there was not a clear consensus among community members about the best plan for the area. One person decried “neighborhood-ism” among Park Hill parents who were frustrated that Stapleton students had an equal shot at attending McAuliffe, which was originally located in Stapleton. Others advocated that parents who live within a block of the school should be given a preference in the lottery.
Veronica Figoli, the district’s director of Family and Community Engagement, said the district plans to travel to other schools in the area to understand the opinions of parents and community members unable to attend the meeting.Northwest concerns
A community meeting in northwest Denver on Monday was more heated.
Brian Eschbacher, the district’s Director of Planning & Enrollment Services, outlined the demographic trends behind several plans for the region’s middle school students and concerns with each. For instance, he said, one proposal was more likely to separate students from a lower-income, higher-minority region of northwest Denver from students in the rest of the area.
Eschbacher said shared enrollment zones in other parts of the district had helped increase participation in school choice, especially among “harder-to-engage” families. The district has promoted the enrollment zones as part of an effort to promote diversity.
The district used an enrollment zone approach this year for students who were zoned to the closing Trevista middle school. Of those students, 71 chose Skinner Middle School and 37 opted to attend STRIVE Sunnyside. The remaining 50 opted into Bryant-Webster, West Leadership, or DCIS.
A list of pros and cons about the various approaches compiled by a working group of parents and community members was distributed to audience members. The group, convened by the school board to examine the middle school zoning along with facility placement plans for a Montessori school in the area, questioned the legality of assigning students to a charter school.
Cordova, the district’s chief of schools, said that the district had checked with the state and confirmed that while it is illegal for charter schools to have zones in the first two years of their existence, after a third year, they can have zones. STRIVE Sunnyside opened in 2010.
But parents still raised concerns.
“We want a diverse, creative learning environment, not a military compound-type school,” said one mother.
Another asked STRIVE principal Betsy Peterson whether teachers at her school were required by law to be certified. Charter school teachers in the state may be highly qualified, which means they’ve passed certain exams and taken certain coursework, rather than fully licensed. The exception is special education teachers, who must be certified.
Others raised concerns about the amount of turmoil for students in the area.
“Let’s back up,” said parent Edwards. “They want to put an elementary school in a middle school building. They want to put a middle and high school in an elementary school building. They want to use a charter school, which is choice-based, for a neighborhood school. And they want to jack everybody around for the umpteenth time in a minority community.”
Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, said he supports the creation of a new middle school similar to Skinner in the Horace Mann building that currently houses Trevista.
That plan was not one of the options laid out by district officials on Monday. The working group is also debating whether to keep the Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High school and the Denver Online High School in the nearby Smedley Elementary building, where they will both reside next year, or whether to relocate the Montessori and online schools into the Horace Mann building while moving the Trevista elementary program to the nearby Smedley campus.
The DPS board will vote on plans for the area at a meeting in June.
Nate Donovan’s idea was simple: Teach school bus drivers and aides basic Spanish phrases to help them better communicate with Spanish-speaking students and families.
He called the project, “School Bus Drivers Habla Espanol.”
The Fort Collins resident, a school bus driver himself, presented the idea to three-dozen adults and teenagers gathered in a Loveland 4H meeting room one Thursday night last month. They were his classmates in a 20-week course called the Family Leadership Training Institute, or FLTI.
One by one, all of them would present their own community project proposals at a podium in front of the room. But that night Donovan had a special addendum to his three-minute speech. He announced that just a few days before he’d filed the preliminary paperwork needed to run for school board next fall.
“This is my calling and it starts right here, right now,” he said, to enthusiastic applause and cheers from his fellow students.
It may not have been the conventional backdrop for such an announcement, but it seemed fitting for a class that helps participants learn how to navigate the world of public policy.
While the class is non-partisan and focuses on no single policy issue, the point is to get parents and other community members engaged in bigger discussions about the issues that affect their lives.
In other words, “Teaching families how to go from the kitchen table to the policy table,” said Eileen Forlenza, a parent and community engagement specialist at the state health department. The department coordinates the program.Why train parents as leaders?
Parent leadership programs are partly borne out of research showing that engaged parents and strong family partnerships make a difference for kids. In an education context, they help children do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more. There are similarly positive results for family health outcomes.
In Colorado, FLTI is one component of the state’s broader efforts to foster family engagement. A two-year-old program, housed in the Colorado Department of Education, offers trainings to educators and parents about school and district accountability committees, both of which must include parent members. Since 2009, there has also been the State Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education, which provides feedback on topics ranging from the READ Act to the state’s Turnaround Network.Colorado FLTI locations
Darcy Hutchins, family partnership director at the education department, said FLTI’s work dovetails nicely with the efforts she leads.
“It’s really challenging for any parent regardless of their circumstances to step into a leadership role,” said Hutchins. “I think the training that FLTI does can really help to build parents’ capacity.”
The training institute, like similar programs in a dozen other states, is modeled on a Connecticut initiative founded in 1992 after leaders there discovered that parents had good ideas for improving child outcomes but felt no one would listen to them.
That discouraging news came out of a series of statewide focus groups aimed at improving school readiness, said Patti Keckeisen, national program implementer for the Connecticut-based National Parent Leadership Institute.
“It was a constant refrain…They had the best ideas, but they didn’t feel powerful,” she said.
Leaders there subsequently developed and piloted a 10-week civic leadership course for parents, later expanding it to 20 weeks. Forlenza discovered Connecticut’s curriculum in 2006 while searching for a proven family leadership program to implement in Colorado.Colorado beginnings
The first Colorado FLTI classes launched in Cortez, Westminster, and Littleton in 2009. Since then, it has grown to 10 sites, with Adams County launching the first monolingual Spanish FLTI course in 2012.
For the first time this spring, both the Loveland site and the Denver-Five Points site, which are run by the Colorado State University Extension, launched companion FLTI classes for youth. Like the adult course, the youth version focuses on leadership development and requires participants to plan a community project, but the curriculum is a bit different and aside from a few joint sessions, the youth meet separately.
Eighth-grader Edgardo Meza-Alba signed up for the youth class in Loveland at the suggestion of his mom Tonky Mathew, an adult participant.
During a break in the three-hour class last month, he said he enjoyed the weekly sessions, despite having to miss Thursday soccer practice to attend.
“You can make friends here,” he said. “You look at things differently…[You learn] how to be a better leader, how to be a more open person.”Piecing together the leadership puzzle
While civic leadership can seem a bit abstract, FLTI approaches the subject in a very hands-on way. With the help of trained facilitators, participants share their own histories, work on small group projects, practice skills through role play, work on public speaking and, at the end of the course go on a field trip to the state Capitol.
During a March session adult participants made collages showing how society perceives families and family leaders. They clipped out dozens of magazine pictures of queens, smiling moms, quirky TV families, a pan of lasagna and even Oprah posing with a tiger.
The ensuing discussion raised pointed questions about whether fathers advocate enough for family issues, whether families are mostly seen as consumers rather than leaders, and whether power requires wealth.
One participant observed that often when there are problems in schools, “It’s not taken care of till one of the kids with money, it happens to them.”
Next door in the youth classroom, groups of teens tried — and sometimes struggled — to practice reflective listening as they role-played adolescent problems like sibling rivalry, scolding adults and fair-weather friends.
“This seemingly simple task is actually really hard,” admitted one girl.Challenges and victories
While FLTI is well established in Colorado compared to many other states — where often one city or region offers the program — it’s not without its challenges.
Raising money is one of the biggest. Currently, funding for the classes — about $20,000-$35,000 per site — comes from the Colorado Health Foundation, portions of two federal grants, and dollars raised by the local host agencies.
But the number of communities that want to offer the course outstrips the supply of willing funders. In part, it’s because the concept of family leadership is often misunderstood, conjuring up adversarial images of activism or prompting questions about the program’s agenda, said Forlenza.
Is it education reform, health care reform, something else?
None of the above, said Forlenza.
“It’s getting the voice of everyday families back in the civic process,” she said.
What that means is perhaps best explained by the kinds of community projects participants plan during the course. In the Loveland class, besides Donovan’s bus driver project, a middle school football coach from Fort Collins proposed a mentoring program for his athletes called “Warriors of Excellence.”
Kiara, a teenage participant, citing statistics about teen suicide, self harm and sexual abuse, proposed a support group for teens or tweens “to just be heard.”
A number of grassroots projects have also came from the program’s 425 alumni across the state, Forlenza said. One participant convinced county commissioners to build a bridge over a ditch that separated her small neighborhood from a local park.
Another, whose young son was chronically ill, helped establish a program for siblings at Children’s Hospital. That mom went on to serve on the hospital’s family advisory council and is now serves on a national health care council.
There are also marked behavior shifts among participants who take the course. A national evaluation of the model revealed large increases in the percent of participants who attended meetings of elected officials, spoke at such meetings or contacted lawmakers after completing the course.
For many participants, the classes go beyond just teaching individual skills and confidence. They create a sense of community. When Donovan made his official school board race announcement at a restaurant a few weeks after he revealed his plans at FLTI, he enthusiastically reported that several classmates attended, along with their children.
“We’re so fortunate these efforts are being made and we’re developing a bench of people who are active in their community,” said Donovan. “The value of what we’re learning in these 20 weeks is immeasurable.”
Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Colorado Health Foundation.
Foster youth in Colorado are more likely to have criminal records than high school diplomas. ( I-News via Chalkbeat Colorado )
Chalkbeat won five local journalism awards for stories including an investigation into the Jeffco board president's missing emails and a piece on the history of reform at Manual High School. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
DPS has picked a new principal for George Washington to lead the school during some years of transition, starting in 2016-17. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Vote to help Chalkbeat expand its "election engine," which helps voters sort through issues and candidates. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Bills Bills Bills
Jeffco Public Schools won't host an event to mark the signing of a controversial bill aimed at reducing standardized testing. ( Denver Post )
Not Choosing Choice
Parents in northwest Denver are concerned about the options that Denver Public Schools has put on the table for schools in their region, including a move that would zone some families to a STRIVE school. ( 9News )
A study shows that the Denver Scholarship Foundation has positive financial implications for the community as well as for scholarship winners. ( 9News )
A school in Woodland Park is becoming a haven for international students. ( The Gazette )
What do you do with a student who fidgets in class? ( KUNC )
The Longmont Community Foundation gives out scholarships to local teens. ( Times-Call )
Boulder seniors credit "I Have a Dream" tutoring program for graduation success. ( Daily Camera )
As George Washington High School embarks on a new effort aimed at bridging academic and cultural gaps in the school, students and staff now know who will lead the school when current interim principal Jose Martinez retires at the end of next school year: Scott Lessard, currently an assistant principal at the school.
Lessard will be the school’s third principal in four years. Former principal Micheal Johnson left the school last summer for a central office job after a proposal to dramatically open up the school’s International Baccalaureate program caused an uproar among many IB parents. He was replaced by principal Martinez. Initially slated to stay for one year, Martinez announced in January that he will stay at the school until the end of the 2015-16 school year.
Lessard came to George Washington last summer after 13 years at Denver’s Thomas Jefferson High School. Next school year, Lessard will be a “succession principal,” which means he will be working with Martinez to prepare for the 2016-17 school year for a full school year before he officially becomes principal.PHOTO: via DPSScott Lessard will be the principal at George Washington High School starting in the 2016-17 school year.
Chalkbeat spoke with Lessard about his vision for George Washington, retaining teachers, and how the school is working to improve academics for all students at the school.
Why were you interested in being George Washington’s principal?
From the day I got to GW, I realized what a special place it was and how many assets it had. As you know, it’s gone through some turmoil that I thought that shouldn’t be repeated. I think I have a clear vision for success and I want to make sure we have the consistency here to make those things happen.
What is that vision?
GW has an International Baccalaureate program second to none in the state of Colorado. So part of my vision is to make sure that it maintains its status and its academic excellence so students around the city have that kind of environment to come to to study. At the same time, we have to spend a lot of time and energy making sure students who aren’t in IB — which is two thirds of students — have an academically rigorous and engaging program so they can graduate college-ready.
What are you doing to close opportunity gaps at the school?
Specifically thinking about IB, we have broadened the pipeline for entrance. There’s no more screening at freshman year. If we’re talking about the school at large, we did a lot of work to identify the different challenges that our entire population has regarding academic success and identifying things we can do.
One is streamlining curricula to make sure students in 9th and 11th are getting coursework they need so they can take college level-classes senior year without fear of not succeeding.
At a presentation describing plans for the school next year, students talked about a cultural divide in the school. How are you going to address this?
There was a big division between IB and non-IB students. We have dedicated a ton of resources going into next year to make sure we can run a full-fledged, integrated advisory for ninth graders. Students will work on a service learning project, and kids will be grouped together to build relationships over the whole year.
There will also be a group of upperclassmen called the PIT group, or Patriots In Training, who will be leading those ninth graders.
There are more high schools on the way in the area: For instance, DSST has announced plans to expand. How are you thinking about recruiting and retaining students?
You have to have a great product, and word of mouth is everything. While I do engage with our community at large in different areas — I just met with the president of our local Homeowner’s Association to give them a sense of what’s going on at GW — the key to success and growing enrollment is making sure we have a great product. That great product is students graduating college ready and scores reflecting that.
The other part is, we want to make sure students are safe. That means kids are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Leadership transitions often come along with significant staff turnover. Can you talk about how you’re approaching teacher retention?
Last year we had to replace 17 teachers, and many of those were teachers who decided to leave GW and go to a different school in the community. That means they thought it was better to go somewhere else than to stay here. This year we have only one doing that, and they live closer to the school they’re going to. That says volumes to the optimism of staff in the ability of this community of educators to provide an outstanding education.
How are you working with the community and parents?
Both Jose and I know it’s critical to keep people who’ve demonstrated such passion for GW engaged in the work we’re doing. Last spring was tumultuous but I think it brought out the best of what GW can be because there’s a lot of people wanting to make things better.
Is there a possibility that GW would eventually offer credits for individual B courses instead of having only an all-in diploma program?
While I never say never, we do not have any thought of offering IB coursework to non-diploma program kids. We are a diploma program. It’s been critical for our success over last 30 years that that be part of goal for every kid who’s participating. I think to dilute it by doing certificates within the program would compromise the IB program’s long-term success.
We also have a great Advanced Placement program, and a lot of really smart kids who don’t necessarily want the IB Diploma. They’re very happy in AP program. There’s a different kind of structure than the certificate would have, but the academic rigor should be the same.<
How does the introduction of an IB program at Northfield affect George Washington?
We might lose kids to Northfield IB. That’s the nature of the game – when you build more schools, enrollment will change. But I’m not overly concerned that Northfield will draw out the heart and soul of our IB. I think that Northfield will offer its program. For kids in grades 5 or 6, there will be an opportunity to watch both grow and develop before they make a decision. I think ultimately we can offer something that a lot of people are very interested in.
Chalkbeat Colorado won three first place prizes in a regional journalism competition Friday including an award for its coverage of Denver’s struggling Manual High School.
Other top honors were awarded for an investigation into the email habits of the Jefferson County school board, and continuous coverage of education legislation during the 2014 Colorado General Assembly.
The education news nonprofit also won two third place awards in the Top of the Rockies, a regional journalism competition hosted by the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists, for its website and coverage of a controversial proposal to review an advanced U.S. history course in Jeffco.
Chalkbeat, which publishes only online, competed against newspapers with print distributions between 30,000 and 75,000. Those news organizations include the Colorado Spring Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, and the Boulder Weekly.
The Top of the Rockies honors news organizations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico.
Here’s the full list of awards Chalkbeat won:
Other education stories from around Colorado to receive honors included Westword’s feature on how Denver Public Schools uses the mutual consent law and the Denver Business Journal’s look at Colorado’s higher education “paradox.”
Tori Black, 25, “aged out” of Colorado’s foster care system seven years ago. Her story is one of survival, but also of perseverance and rare success. She didn’t soften the words of her struggle as she addressed the state Senate Finance Committee.
“The pathway from foster care to higher education is a cliff, and most of us are just completely falling off the cliff,” Black said, her voice rising, as she explained her view that the state is failing foster youth.
Black spent most of her childhood in foster care. Now a college graduate, she is an advocate for “youth in transition,” or kids who age out of the child welfare system at 18.
In taking testimony from Black and others on legislation that would impact foster care in the state, the senators heard about a system that many consider dysfunctional.
A Rocky Mountain PBS I-News analysis of data provided by the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) revealed that only 28.7 percent of foster youth will graduate from high school on time, but at least 38 percent will have been incarcerated between ages 16 and 19.
By age 19, foster youth who were never placed in a permanent home are more likely to have a criminal record than a high school diploma.
Foster care outcomes are particularly bleak for Colorado minorities.
According to CDHS statistics, blacks are four times more likely than whites to enter the child welfare system, and Hispanics are nearly three times more likely than whites to spend time in out of home care.
“I was an eight-year-old kid,” Alfredo Carrillo, a former foster youth said. “I thought I should be home with my mom, not having other people tell me when I can sleep, when I can eat.”
Carrillo said that living in foster care and group homes boosted his chances of getting into trouble with the law, that his background has followed him into his adult life.
“I’m still looked at as a criminal,” Carrillo said. “Just because I have tattoos, the color of my skin and how I lived my life, back in the day.”
Carrillo, 21, said that he “started robbing houses” as a juvenile, but maintained that he has since avoided criminal activity. He currently lives just a few blocks from where he grew up, and was able to find housing through a program called Bridging the Gap at Mile High United Way. The program provides 18 months of housing vouchers for youth who age out of child welfare or the division of youth corrections.
This gave Carrillo the opportunity to escape the alternative, homelessness, he said, and has helped him to stay out of jail. He said that while he was in foster care he felt like he was being prepared for prison.
“They make you feel like, you’re one of the statistics, you’re going to the penitentiary,” Carrillo said. “So we’re gonna get you set up for the penitentiary.”
Nationwide, former foster youth and young adults are more than 10 times as likely as their non-foster peers to be in jail or prison as their “current living arrangement.”
The national data show that 43 percent of women and 74 percent of men who emancipated from foster care will have been incarcerated at least once in their lives.
State officials said the primary solution to addressing this problem is to place foster kids in permanent homes, either through adoption or being reunited with their birth families.
“We know that aging out of foster care, without a family, without a permanent family, does not have good long-term effects,” said Robert Werthwein, director of the Office of Children, Youth and Families in the Colorado Department of Human Services. “Having a family is really key. You don’t just stop growing at age 18.”
But for teens in foster care, finding a permanent home can be difficult. In Colorado, close to 70 percent of teens in foster care live in group homes with other foster teens.
“I spent a lot of time in juvenile detention; basically, that was my second home during my teenage years,” said Tamisha Macklin, 26. Often group homes are populated by both those in the juvenile justice system and those who are not.
Macklin entered foster care at age six and by 14 she was spending most of her time in group homes and detention centers. “I would just leave, or miss curfew and be counted as a runaway, I would just violate,” she said.
Macklin now works as a foster care advocate, regularly appearing before the Colorado General Assembly and appealing to lawmakers in Washington.
She uses her past experiences to help others, including Anthony Piccolo, 21, who said he also experienced several placements after fighting with foster parents or running away. He said that life in group homes helped him build a rap sheet.
“Living in these group homes, there are all these guys and then all this testosterone and you get in fights and then that’s an assault charge,” Piccolo said. “It’s the simplest things that you end up going to court for.”
Common behaviors like fighting or running away – which youth policy advocates say is common for all teens, not just those living in care – can lead to harsher penalties for foster youth.
“It’s normal for kids to break curfew,” said Kippi Clausen, a policy consultant in Colorado working on child welfare programs. “Some of these challenges are normal for kids.”
State officials say that it’s not policy to require criminal charges for what might otherwise be considered simply youth acting out, but that there are reporting requirements to ensure safety.
“We have licensing and monitoring in Colorado, we need to know what’s going on,” Werthwein said. “But that doesn’t always mean charges – it’s a different track than a judicial charges.”
Werthwein says his goal is to reduce the size of group homes and to help more kids remain with their families or a family member, or with a foster family.
“Not in an ideal world, (but) in this world, we need to have more foster homes,” Werthwein said. “It’s not an easy thing.”
A recent report from policy research group IFC International, submitted to the state auditor’s office, estimated that Colorado needs 574 new caseworkers and 122 additional supervisory positions to meet the demands of the 10,000 foster youth flowing through the system each year. There is also, CDHS reports, a consistent shortage of foster homes.
But attempts to address staffing and housing shortages have been difficult. This year, Gov. John Hickenlooper requested that the $25 billion state budget include room for 130 new caseworkers. That request didn’t make the final budget.
Other bills to address the needs of teens and young adults leaving the foster care system have faced similar challenges.
“I thought, ‘I cannot let these kids down,’” said state Sen. Linda Newell, D-Arapahoe County, who has proposed a number of bills that would support older foster youth. “The hundreds of kids across the state, those kids who through no fault of their home have lived with this system as a parent, I couldn’t let them down.”
She sponsored the “Fostering Connections” bill to help foster youth get into college, while keeping them off the streets and out of jail.
The bill failed by a 3-2 vote in the Senate Finance Committee.
Tori Black and Tamisha Macklin, who both testified on behalf of this bill, said they were saddened and somewhat surprised the bill failed – but remain steadfast in their advocacy for foster youth.
The senators who voted against it said that focusing on foster kids and higher education missed the mark. As it is, many foster teens have gained a juvenile record and will have trouble graduating from high school.
“I think this is a huge problem, I just don’t think this is the solution,” said Sen. Tim Neville, R- Littleton, the committee chair.
Most advocates and former foster youth do not think there is a simple solution to all that ails the system. They hope legislators and the human services department will continue to seek ways to decrease the incarceration rate for foster youth.
“I’m worth it,” Carrillo said. “I have a chance to prove something to society. I am not who they think I am. I am better.”
Chalkbeat Colorado brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at rmpbs.org/news. Contact Katie Kuntz at email@example.com.
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The State Board of Education last week signaled interest in adopting a different accountability system for rural schools. Plus, five other things we learned at the board's two-day meeting. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Boulder Valley School District plans to provide more training on supporting transgender students to improve consistency among schools and better implement a transgender policy approved in 2012 after a parent filed a federal complaint. ( Daily Camera )
Chalkbeat readers, in an unscientific survey, said they were unhappy with the education legislation that was passed. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
And some education activists known as "the moms" echoed that sentiment. ( Colorado Statesman )
Jefferson County school board member Jill Fellman has yet to decide whether she'll seek re-election as the campaign season kicks off. ( Denver Post )
Some parents in Douglas County are asking teachers their opinion on a slate of reform efforts pursued by the school board. ( Douglas County New-Press )
Two teachers wanted to find an uncommon way to teach students Common Core standards at the Gold Hill School in Boulder. So they went fishing. ( 9News )
It takes a village
A new program in Colorado Springs aims to get more parents and community members in the classroom to help students read. ( Gazette )
Six Aurora Central seniors were named the first-ever Aurora Gives Scholars, an honor that earns them two debt-free years of education at the Community College of Aurora. ( Aurora Sentinel )
A special-needs couple were the favorite to win prom king and queen at Colorado Springs high school. ( Gazette )
The state board's antics on testing are not welcomed, writes the Denver Post's editorial board. ( Denver Post )
We should incentivize students with money to earn good grades, suggests a Denver Post columnist. ( Denver Post )
While the State Board of Education retreated on testing waivers and making changes to parent consent to a health survey this week, members also waded into new area of assessment and accountability flexibility and data privacy. They also failed to find common ground on graduation requirements.
Here’s a look at what we learned on Wednesday and Thursday:1. The board is in favor of experimenting with new accountability systems but there are plenty of ‘buts’ to work through.
Several conversations on Wednesday and Thursday gravitated toward testing and accountability, even if the official agenda item had nothing to do with the topic.
However, two presentations on Thursday centered specifically on these issues.
First, a coalition of rural school districts presented an alternative to the state’s accountability system, which relies heavily on data from standardized tests. Here is that group’s presentation. Every board member voiced his or her support for the work the group had done, and encouraged the coalition to work closely with the board and state department to identify and remove any sort of bureaucratic barriers that would stop implementation.
However, board member Angelika Schroeder warned of deviating too far from the state’s model.
“Schools are different, kids are different, but we also need comparability,” she said.
Her fear is that holding small and rural districts accountable to a different system than larger urban districts would raise questions about whether rural students are receiving an education “as good as” their urban counterparts.
Elliott Asp, special assistant to the commissioner, also presented an overview of what a new assessment system blending state assessments like the PARCC test and local assessments could look like.
The pilot would be made possible by the testing bill approved by the General Assembly earlier this month. It would require the U.S. Department of Education’s stamp of approval. But the system Asp pitched, which is far from being fully fleshed out, relies heavily on work done in New Hampshire.
That state’s flexible assessment system was approved by the feds, but only after a few years of double-assessing students.
Board member Debora Scheffel, a Republican, warned there is no appetite for more tests.
“In some ways [it looks like] we’ve created a lot more work and we have not uncoupled from PARCC,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re not asking for more [assessments].”2. On data privacy, board members want to act now.
A data privacy bill failed to make it through the legislature. But state board members want to take matters into their own hands and update contract language with vendors that reflect the most agreed upon apsects of the privacy bill.
“I believe we can accomplish by contract virtually everything that was in legislation and could set that as a model for school districts,” said board member Steve Durham, a Republican3. The state’s accountability clock is in limbo after a testing bill is passed.
During a lengthy discussion on the testing bill passed by the General Assembly between the board and its lobbyist, Scheffel asked what the bill meant for those schools and school districts on the state’s accountability watch list.
Schools and districts that fall below state expectations have five years to improve or face sanctions.
Keith Owen, deputy commissioner, told the board his team was still reviewing what the bill meant for those schools. On first read, however, Owen said some academically-struggling schools might get an extra year to improve before the state can step in. However, he said, the final word on how the education department plans to proceed would likely come later this month.4. Schools and districts with high opt-out numbers will likely face federal, but not state, sanctions.
We already told you that the federal government is not interested in holding harmless those schools and districts that failed to meet the 95 percent testing requirement.
However, CDE staff told the board there could be a compromise under which schools that saw a large number of student skip state standardized tests face federal sanctions but get to keep their state accountability rating.
Under federal law, schools that don’t meet the 95 percent testing level could be required to send home letters that label the school as failing, could lose some federal funds, or be required to use those dollars for certain programs like tutoring.
Under state law, if a school does not meet the testing threshold it could be earn a lower accreditation rating — even if the students who take the test do well.5. The board will hire a search firm to find the state’s next education commissioner.
Board members agreed Thursday to put the logistical portions of finding the next education chief in the hands of a search firm.
“We don’t have anyone to manage the process,” said chairwoman Marcia Neal “And we need someone to do that.”
The board also agreed to zero in on and likely appoint an interim commissioner at its June meeting. All board members said it’s urgent to find a person to replace education Commissioner Robert Hammond, who announced his retirement in April.
Hammond’s last day is June 24.6. The split among the board is as wide as ever and Marcia Neal is not happy.
Despite retreating on several controversial topics (like the cut scores and the health survey) the board is still divided primarily along philosophical differences about what its role is.
“We’re a regulatory agency,” said vice chair Schroder who has mostly aligned herself with fellow Democrat Jane Goff and chairwoman Neal, a moderate Republican. Her comments came during a break after a heated conversation about graduation requirements during which board member Durham made a motion to strip the state of any graduation guidelines.
He eventually dropped his motion after members agreed to table the discussion. The board is required to adopt new graduation guidelines under state law.
Other board members volleyed back and forth during breaks about their actions and reputation.
Several times, Neal shared her frustration about the board’s behavior Wednesday and Thursday. At one point Thursday she said she had never had a more frustrating two days in her six years on the state board. Most of her frustration was pointed toward Durham. Neal accused him of trying to unravel six years of education reform policy.
“You seem to blame this on staff,” Neal said. “Staff is doing what they’re legally bound to do. Obviously you want to take that apart. You very well might be able to do that. … But you can’t take it all apart in a couple of weeks.”
On Monday, we asked our readers if they were satisfied with the education legislation passed this year by the Colorado General Assembly.
The session ended earlier this month with little to show for education. Here’s how our readers voted in our unscientific poll:
Teacher Mark Sass put it this way:
In my opinion it would have been best had the state legislature never even convened. The assessment legislation was a hodgepodge of concessions among legislators that only satiated their desire to claim partial victory with their constituents. The new assessment legislation throws a major wrench into the work districts have done around teacher evaluation. As for education funding, little was done to lower the negative factor. Not a memorable legislative session.
The State Board of Education Thursday agreed to release a limited results from this fall's high school senior science tests. But results from the companion social studies tests may never be released. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The board of education also left graduation requirements alone because some feared rural schools wouldn't be able to implement the less rigorous requirements. ( Denver Post )
duncan in denver
A dozen rural school districts from across Colorado are calling for relief from Common Core-linked testing and asked for a chance to take a local approach to measuring student success. ( AP via SF Gate )
More than a score
For students at Aurora Central High School the notion that bleak test scores tell their life stories is a frustrating one. ( Aurora Sentinel )
Despite the Great Recession, which forced school districts across the state to slash their budgets, arts education is on the rise. ( CPR )
pomp and circumstance
A Colorado Springs student this spring will earn his college degree before his high school diploma. ( Gazette )
Jefferson County high school students took third in a national cooking competition. ( Thornton Sentinel )
School and Marijuana
A disabled Colorado Springs student was suspended Monday after school officials discovered medical marijuana in his lunch box. ( Gazette )
A senior prank went wrong in Pueblo and dozens of students are paying the consequences. ( Pueblo Chieftain )
Colorado high school seniors who took the state’s science standardized test last fall will receive individual reports with information about how they did.
But those same students will likely never know how they did on a companion social studies test after the State Board of Education declined Thursday to approve cut scores for that assessment.
The board, after months of debate, did approve cut scores for the science test, but only for the purpose of providing students their individual results. Students will also be provided some information of how they did compared to students at the same school and in the same school district.Cut scores are the benchmarks that sort a student’s results into one of four achievement levels to provide context for how much a student was able to demonstrate on an exam. The achievement levels in Colorado are distinguished command, strong command, moderate command, and limited command. Schools will also receive a copy of individual student reports. But it is unclear what aggregate information will be released to districts, the media and public.
“I’m sure there will be further direction,” said Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessment at the Colorado Department of Education.
The board’s mixed action Thursday ends months of bureaucratic limbo.
Results for both tests were ready months ago. However, the board earlier this spring refused to set cut scores, as it is legally required to do, because of philosophical objections to the tests. Those philosophical concerns, including that students were tested on matters that weren’t taught, were what prevented board members from approving the cut scores for the social studies tests.
But a compromise emerged Wednesday and was codified Thursday in a resolution proposed by Republican board member Steve Durham.
“I am persuaded that those who took the test have a right to know the results of those tests,” Durham said. “I don’t believe these results should be for any other purpose.”
Durham led the charge against the cut scores in March.
The debate over setting cut scores, which in the past has been merely procedural, demonstrates how contentious the issue of standardized testing has become.
“Someone explain to me why we can’t set cut scores and release them?” asked board member Angelika Schroeder during Thursday’s discussion. “That is our responsibility.”
Board member Val Flores responded, “Because adults give horrible meaning to the results.”
The senior social studies and science tests have also been the center of the testing debate since thousands of students in mostly suburban and rural counties opted out of them. Many of those students refused to take the test because they said the results were irrelevant to their futures.
How Colorado students perform on state standardized tests has no impact on their academic record. Test score results do, however, play a major role in school and school district ratings. And the plan is to use some of that data for teacher evaluations as well.
Responding to the mass number of opt-outs, state lawmakers killed the senior tests in legislation this spring.
The State Board of Education backed away from a plan to allow school districts to waive out of accountability requirements from standardized tests after being told it did not have the authority to grant them. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Legislators want to experiment with a non-PARCC alternative standardized test in Colorado, but the details aren't clear. ( Denver Post )
Teachers at STRIVE have traditionally written their own curriculum, but starting next year things will be more centralized. That's just as Denver Public Schools announced plans to decentralize curriculum decisions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Questions remain about how and if Jeffco Public Schools will fund and place a new elementary school in North Arvada, where classes are at capacity. ( Arvada Press )
Eagle County's superintendent writes that the legislative session was a disappointment. ( Vail Daily )
A Boulder student who was at Mt. Everest when the earthquake struck Nepal is working to raise money for relief efforts. ( Daily Camera )
In an about face, the State Board of Education denied dozens of waivers from mandatory state testing school districts filed this spring after the board directed the education department to grant them.
The board also rescinded its original direction to the department to open up the waiver process.
Board chair Marcia Neal pointed out the waivers were moot after the attorney general’s office ruled that the neither the board nor the Colorado Department of Education had the authority to grant the requests.
“What this has done has caused chaos in local districts that have applied for the waivers and of course not received it,” Neal said.
The motions were the second retreat from a series of controversial moves the board, reconfigured after the November election, has made this year. Earlier Wednesday, the board dropped action to change how students participated in a health survey. However, the board tabled action on setting cut scores for science and social studies tests taken by seniors last fall.
Earlier this year, the board refused to set performance levels on the tests because a majority of members said they had philosophical concerns with the tests and how the data would be used. The board’s action has delayed release of the results to students and school districts.
Cut scores are the benchmarks that sort a student’s results into one of four achievement levels. In March, CDE had recommended cut scores that would have put only 1 percent of seniors taking the social studies test in “distinguished command,” the highest level of achievement. Only 9 percent would have been rated with “strong command.” The percentages for science were 2 percent distinguished command and 17 percent strong command.
Part of Wednesday’s discussion on the cut scores included options that moved more students into higher achievement levels.
The board is expected to spend 30 minutes Thursday trying to hash out a compromise that would release test results to students but not set cut scores.
The State Board of Education agreed Wednesday to seek no changes to a survey that asks students about drug use, sexual habits, and other health issues, ending months of controversy about how parents should be notified about the biennial questionnaire.
The board voted unanimously to stick with the status quo on the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which will be administered this fall. That means families who don’t want their students to take the survey will have to sign a form opting them out of it.
Board member Steve Durham, a Republican, made the motion to drop the crusade against the survey. He acknowledged that a revised letter to parents explicitly noting the voluntary nature of the survey was the biggest impact the board could have for now.
However, Republican board member Deb Scheffel suggested the Colorado Department of Education might want to remove itself from the survey in the future. The state health department partners with the education department and the Colorado Department of Human Services on the survey.
“If CDE wants to not accept the funds we can do that in two years,” she said.
The controversy about the survey bubbled up last winter amid parent complaints that some questions are inappropriate and invasive.
Parents wanted schools to get advance written permission from parents, known as “active consent,” for students to participate in the survey. Currently, most districts use “passive consent,” which means students are administered the survey unless their parents sign a form opting them out.
On the flip side, officials from the state health department emphasized that the survey is anonymous and voluntary, and said the survey data is critical to identifying trouble spots and tracking progress on adolescent health. They worried that an “active consent” model would dramatically reduce survey response rates.
Throughout the survey controversy, some state board members expressed interest in changing parental consent rules or otherwise curtailing the survey’s use in schools. These efforts, while much discussed, never got off the ground.
Last month, State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman weighed in on the issue after health department officials requested a formal opinion from her office. She wrote that state and federal laws don’t require schools to get advance permission from parents when students take the survey.
In other words, the passive consent model is legal.
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey has been given under various names to the state’s middle and high school students since 1991. More than 40,000 students in 224 schools took the survey last time it was given in the fall of 2013.
During the next planned survey administration this fall, the number of students surveyed could grow because even if schools are not selected as part of the official survey sample, for the first time they are being invited to participate for free.
The high school version of the survey asks questions about sexual orientation, sexual behavior, suicide, smoking, alcohol, drugs, bullying, exercise, nutrition, grades, and school involvement. The middle school version of the survey doesn’t ask questions about sexual orientation or sexual behavior, but does ask about the other topics.
It’s up to participating school districts to decide whether to use active consent or passive consent to notify parents. About 92 percent of schools that participated in the 2013 survey chose passive consent.
The annual budget for the survey is about $950,000. Most of that funding comes from the state’s Marijuana Cash Tax Fund, with smaller portions coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state’s tobacco tax and other sources.
Chalkbeat Colorado reporter Ann Schimke contributed to this report.
As Denver Public Schools makes plans to allow schools to choose their own curriculum and materials, at least one Denver charter school network is moving in the opposite direction.
STRIVE Preparatory Schools, a charter network with nine schools in Denver, has traditionally relied on teachers to create their own resources for everything from the scope and sequences that define the year’s coursework to individual lessons. Some teachers might not have drawn from traditional textbooks or resources at all.
But as the network has grown from one school in 2006 to the current nine, and as its schools have started to implement the Common Core State Standards, STRIVE is creating a set of “Core Curricular Resources” for all of its teachers.
The idea behind the old approach of using hand-crafted curriculum is that teachers should have as much autonomy in their classrooms as possible, said Joshua Smith, the network’s chief schools officer. “We provide them with exemplars, best practices, existing or purchased curricula they can start with,” he said. “But by and large, we rely on teachers to build their own curricula.”
That’s not uncommon in the charter world. The other large network of charter schools in Denver, DSST, also relies on teachers to create units and lessons, which are then often shared among teachers.
But it’s a different approach than some districts, including DPS, have traditionally taken: Adopting a set of textbooks and, increasingly, online materials, and outlining the scope and sequence of the year’s lessons for many courses in most schools.
Smith said as STRIVE has grown, however, the network has decided it makes sense to provide teachers with more standardized templates and resources.
“We feel like we’re very much centralizing and saying, here’s our approach to close reading, here’s our vision for how this works,” Smith said.
STRIVE is not unique, according to Alex Medler, the Vice President of Policy and Analysis for the National Association Charter School Authorizers. He said that more charter schools are part of networks and more of those networks are setting defined curricula than in years past.
At STRIVE, there are a few reasons for the timing of the shift. The network saw a drop in test scores at schools last year. Smith said more consistency and structures are part of an effort to address that drop.
It’s also part of an effort to make teachers’ workloads sustainable and to improve quality control.
“It seemed silly to have everyone creating things from scratch,” Smith said. “We want to have a common vision of what should be happening in the classroom.”
Smith said creating Common Core-aligned lessons is more challenging than what teachers have had to do in the past.
“There’s a level of critical thinking, a level of rigor, and a level of being able to dive deep into complex text that’s harder and more time-consuming,” Smith said.
STRIVE’s teachers are currently provided with materials from EngageNY and College Preparatory Math, both of which are advertised as aligned with the Common Core. DPS plans to use EngageNY for literacy in some grades starting next year.
At a meeting on Monday where DPS board members decided that schools should have the ability to choose their own curriculum, board members suggested that schools might even contract with a group like STRIVE, which has had several years of strong academic results, to use their curriculum.
But Smith said the switch to a more established curriculum is still a “work in progress” STRIVE has been moving toward over the course of a few years.
Smith said that the network’s plan is to have teacher leaders who are paid a stipend outline units, weekly schedules, and even sample lessons for others who teach their same course, starting in 2015-16. He said teachers would still have the ultimate control over their planning.
Smith said that regardless of the resources, “teachers have to be bought into what they’re teaching, and curriculum is just a bunch of words on paper if there’s not a deep understanding of what the choices are and why it’s designed the way it was.”
“Anyone can print a lesson or a unit off the internet. But you can’t print it, read it, and expect it to lead to student learning,” he said.