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Updated: 37 min 14 sec ago

DPS board OKs controversial, contested middle school placements in southwest Denver

Thu, 10/15/2015 - 22:32

Editor's note: This story was updated at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16 with reaction from school leaders, activists.

Faced with tough choices and intense lobbying, the Denver school board took its own path Thursday in deciding to place three new middle schools — two charters and one district-run school — in available space in two southwest Denver district buildings.

The board majority took the unusual step of rejecting a staff recommendation on the placements, taking an alternate course that drew applause from some and jeers from those opposed to charter school expansion and multiple schools on a single campus.

Last week, DPS staff recommended that high-performing charter school network DSST open a middle school in underutilized space on the Lincoln High School campus. At the same time, it urged that district-run Bear Valley International School take over the building currently housing Henry World Middle School, which is being phased out after a long period of struggles.

The board, however, opted to move just-launched charter school Compass Academy onto the Lincoln High campus, and put Bear Valley and DSST under the same roof at Henry. All three middle schools are to open their doors next fall. 

"I think the final outcome is going to improve the odds for those kids in my district who don't have access to a high-quality program," said board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver and was the driving force behind the adopted plan. " ... This is tough. This was tough because the change is almost radical. It's significant."

The result disappointed but did not surprise Lincoln students, parents and teachers who staged a high-profile campaign to fight placing any middle school in the building. DPS officials said declining enrollment has left plenty of room for a quality middle school the neighborhood needs. The only question going into Thursday was which middle school would end up there.

The votes also raise questions about whether DSST and the Bear Valley school can co-exist peacefully, and whether the two schools can draw enough students to both flourish. Board member Arturo Jimenez was highly critical of the "very rushed" decision to co-locate a DSST school on the Henry campus, which was opposed by Bear Valley school organizers.

"I raise my concern and strong disdain for this board's decision with a week’s notice to place a colocation up for a vote without giving the community a full opportunity to discuss this option,” said Jimenez, the board's consistent dissenting voice.

The votes were 6-1 on the placements at Henry, with Jimenez the lone "no" vote, and 6-0 on the Lincoln plan after he left the meeting.

Complex circumstances

Few recent issues have vexed the board like the southwest middle school decision, thanks to a complex set of circumstances. The race for the space pit charter schools against district-cultivated schools, involved the always sensitive issue of co-locating schools and represented the first time the district has relied on a new policy for choosing new school sites.

In recommending DSST for Lincoln, district staff cited its high academic performance, alignment with many district priorities and long waiting lists. That area of the southwest region, the staff reasoned, is in greatest need of a high-performing school. Staff lauded Bear Valley's strong leadership and plan, harmony with district priorities and demand in urging a Henry placement.

But that scenario left Compass Academy, a charter school that opened this fall with a sixth-grade class in temporary space at Kepner Middle School, with no permanent home.

Board members pushed back, viewing Compass as a good fit for Lincoln with its seal of biliteracy, strong English language development and promise to forge strong bonds with the district-run high school.

The school's founding chair, Mary Seawell, is a senior program officer with the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation and a former DPS board president. Compass executive director Marcia Fulton formerly led the Odyssey School, an expeditionary learning school.

Rodriguez also championed putting the two schools in Henry, saying it represents an opportunity to put “two wonderful programs” in a building that can accommodate both.

Board president Happy Haynes criticized Jimenez's "rhetoric around privatization."

"This has been portrayed as some sort of a corporate takeover," she said. Rather, she said charter school organizers are people who "live in our communities who come forward with ideas about how to better serve our students."

'Fix Lincoln First!'

At a packed public hearing Monday night, community members and a parade of representatives of the schools vying for space took turns arguing their points.

Lincoln High School students and parents marched from Civic Center Park to district headquarters carrying placards and chanting, “Fix Lincoln First!” DSST students clad in matching T-shirts told stories about teachers who are “strict and nice,” doing your best and aspirations to attend Stanford, Yale or Harvard.

Lincoln High School students outside DPS's school board meeting rally classmates against putting a middle school on their campus (photo by Eric Gorski).

A group representing Bear Valley International School took a decidedly different tone, urging that it not be forced to share space with a DSST school in the Henry building. One speaker argued Bear Valley would “provide options not for high performers but for every child,” a not-so-veiled reference to the accusation that high-performing charters skim the best students.

Bear Valley principal Lindsay Meier said Friday the two schools sharing one building brings logistical and recruitment challenges. DSST offers a well-known, high-quality program and Bear Valley will be vying for the same students, she said.

"I liken it to the being in the grocery store, and are you going to buy the Oreos or the off-brand?" she said. "We are going to be that off-brand that is going to make a great name for ourselves, and we are committed to doing that."

“It was a really difficult decision for the board of education to make,” said Meier, the district's choice to lead the new school after a stint as assistant principal at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver. "I would just say that our community has fought hard for this, and regardless of the colocation, we are going to open strong and we are committed to doing everything we promised to do in our plan."

The board’s decision to put a middle school in Lincoln will give fuel to critics who contend the district does not truly listen to the communities it serves.

"We expected the outcome because we knew the outcome from the beginning," said Ricardo Martinez, co-executive director of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, an activist group that spearheaded the fight to keep a middle school out of Lincoln.

The district, however, has only so much space available and has prioritized lifting the quality of southwest Denver middle schools.

Haynes said the board did hear community voices.

"This has been tough and emotional issue for many of us," she said.

New policy tested

According to DPS, enrollment at Lincoln has declined from about 1,900 in 2009 to 1,371 this school year, giving the building ample room to accommodate a 300-student middle school.

To hear students and many teachers tell it, that is far from the reality. Over the past few months, complaints have surfaced about overcrowding in the hallways, cafeteria and parking lot. Critics of co-location contend Lincoln has been denied resources afforded other schools. DPS says Lincoln was one of the largest beneficiaries of a 2013 school bond, getting $4.5 million for improvements.

The process is the first test of a new DPS policy, adopted in January, that ties new school location decisions to the schools’ academic performance, student enrollment patterns, community demand and other district priorities.

The board rejected an application for a district-run dual language Spanish and English school, Academia Lincoln, that wanted to open on the high-school campus. District staff faulted the school’s leadership for lacking details on the program, and for not showing as much community demand as the other contenders.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Everyone at this forum is worried about pot

Thu, 10/15/2015 - 09:32
This is your brain on pot

More than 350 school officials, first-responders and school mental health professionals gathered in Thornton to discuss legalized marijuana in schools. Everyone is worried. Denver Post

Worst to first

How do you fix a failing high school? An Aurora high school student says, "Focus on the students." Hechinger Report

Thanks, but no thanks

The Cherry Creek school board has rejected a charter application linked to the controversial school operator Academica. Aurora Sentinel

Finding the way

Mortensen Elementary School in Jefferson County is leading the way toward a better model to teach students with autism. Denver Post

parent engagement

The Jefferson Center for Mental Health hosted its annual Helping Kids Thrive Conference that provide parents free resources and classes for parenting children of all ages. Lakewood Sentinel

Election 2015 • Follow the money edition

Denver school board candidate Lisa Flores has raised $80,000 from high-profile donors while the city's teachers union has given graciously to her opponent Michael Kiley. Chalkbeat Colorado

In Jefferson County, candidates linked to the school board recall effort outraised their opponents in the race for two open seats. Chalkbeat Colorado

Boulder Valley school board candidate Chris Barge raised the most money so far of the four candidates vying for two seats. Daily Camera

Meanwhile, the teachers union in Colorado Springs gave handsomely to a slate of candidates. Gazette

Election 2015 • Help wanted edition

With two term-limited school board members on their way out, the Valley Re-1 School District is seeking at least two candidates interested in filling those anticipated vacancies. Greeley Tribune

Not all of the spending in the Thompson school board race is being done by candidates. Yard signs and mailers are being produced by outside groups that have yet to file campaign finance reports. Reporter-Herald

Election 2015 • Thompson edition Part 2

Safety is Thompson school board candidate Bruce Finger's top priority. Reporter-Herald

Candidate Dave Levy wants to guide, not micromanage, the school district. Reporter-Herald

Tomi Grundvig wants parents to have more choices. Reporter-Herald

Pam Howard believes the Thompson School District is at a crossroads. Reporter-Herald

Two cents

The Colorado Department of Education is becoming the Colorado Department of Surveillance, opines Paula Noonan. Colorado Statesman

Categories: Urban School News

Who gave to your 2015 Jeffco school board candidate?

Thu, 10/15/2015 - 00:19

Hundreds of donations to two candidates running for open seats on the Jefferson County school board add up to an unusual sum for such an election. But nothing is ordinary about this fall's election in Jeffco, where all five seats are up for grabs because of a recall effort. Check out the list of donors to candidates in the regular election. The next fundraising report for these four candidates is midnight, Oct. 30. (Recall targets, other candidates and committees involved in the recall have a separate deadline for filing to the Secretary of State.

Total contributions, expenses Individual donations
Categories: Urban School News

Who gave to your 2015 Denver school board candidate?

Thu, 10/15/2015 - 00:17

As expected, the 2015 Denver school board election is attracting big donors from well-known education reform advocates and teachers unions. In the first round of fundraising reports, northwest Denver candidate Lisa Flores reported the most with nearly $80,000. Check out the list of donors below. The next fundraising report from the candidates is midnight, Oct. 30.

Total contributions, expenses

Editor's note: Total raised for some school board candidates may include existing balances.

Individual donations database
Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco school board candidates, linked to recall group, outpace opponents in race for open seats

Wed, 10/14/2015 - 11:40

Two Jefferson County school board candidates, backed by organizers of a politically-charged recall effort, handily outpaced their opponents in the race for the two open seats on the board, records show.

Candidates Ali Lasell and Amanda Stevens are two-fifths of the so-called “Clean Slate” that aims to change the entire makeup of the controversial school board this fall. Lasell raised $48,155. Stevens raised $34,568.

Lasell’s opponent, Kim Johnson, raised $10,630, while Stevens’ opponent, Tori Merritts, raised $4,735.

Those four candidates are vying for the open seats on the board after Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman decided not to seek re-election.

Tuesday was the first fundraising deadline for school board candidates across the state. But the numbers available so far in Jeffco tell only part of the story. Targets of the recall, the candidates running to replace them and the political committees on both sides of the issue must file their campaign finance reports by midnight, Oct. 20.

While Tuesday’s reports paint only a partial picture of the state of play in Jeffco, they do provide an early hint of how much money this unusual election is likely to attract.

Follow the Money | Use our database to track donations to candidates.

Lasell’s and Stevens’ warchest are a relatively large bounty for a suburban school board race and are likely to grow.

By comparison, Jeffco school board President Ken Witt raised a total of $10,741 during his 2013 campaign. Tonya Aultman-Bettridge, who also ran unsuccessfully for the Jeffco school board in 2013, raised a total of $31,202.

Among Lasell’s and Steven’s high-profile donors, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, former Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson and former Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis.

Johnson's largest contributors were Laurens and Sandra Thurman of Redlands, Calif. They each gave $1,000. Merritts' largest donors were Robert Blackwell of Conifer and Shirley Scheider of Lakewood. Each gave $400.

Additionally, the issue committee For Better Public School raised $5,000 from Jeffco Student First Action, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that is generally supportive of the school board majority subject to recall. 

Categories: Urban School News

Big donations from teachers union highlight first Denver school board campaign finance report

Wed, 10/14/2015 - 11:15

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a late filing from District 1 candidate Kristi Butkovich.

The first campaign finance reports in the race for three Denver school board seats show big money flowing into a competitive contest in northwest Denver and large investments from the teachers union in candidates opposed to the current regime.

Lisa Flores, a former program officer with the Gates Family Foundation running for the open District 5 seat, easily led all the candidates, raising nearly $80,000. She also dwarfed the other candidates in expenditures: nearly $63,000.

A committee associated with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, meanwhile, was responsible for the lion's share of donations to Flores' opponent, Michael Kiley, at-large candidate Robert Speth and District 1 candidate Kristi Butkovich.

The DCTA Fund's $38,000 given to Kiley represented nearly 70 percent of the $55,000 he raised; the $25,000 given to Speth accounted for more than 60 percent of the roughly $40,000 the candidate reported; the $21,000 contributed to Butkovich represented more than 90 percent of the $23,195 her campaign collected.

The reports — the first glimpse at the money and players invested in the campaign for control over the governing body of the state's largest school district — were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year.

Butkovich, who is challenging District 1 incumbent Anne Rowe for the southeast Denver seat, did not file a report by the deadline, according to the Secretary of State's office. Her report was filed Wednesday, a day late, making her campaign subject to a $50 fine.

Follow the Money | Use our database to track donations to candidates.

Rowe raised nearly $19,000 in the reporting period, to go along with nearly $16,000 she already had on hand from earlier fundraising, records show.

Board president Allegra "Happy" Haynes, fending off a challenge from Speth, brought in just over $16,000 in the fundraising period. She previously had $2,800 in hand. By the first campaign finance deadline four years ago, Haynes had raised $213,000.

With three seats in play, the election result will not shift the balance of power on the DPS board. Since the last election, the board has consistently sided with the reforms of Superintendent Tom Boasberg by a 6-1 margin. Still, the result will shape the debate moving forward as the district seeks to achieve ambitious — some say far-fetched — goals to lift student achievement by 2020.

Flores not only brought in the most money, but she had the largest number of donations. Her notable donors included Stacy Schusterman, chair of oil and gas company Samson Energy Company, LLC ($5,000); Highlands Ranch retiree Walter Kirkham ($5,000); Philip Reyes of Orange, Calif., ($5,000); Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman and CEO Daniel Ritchie ($2,500); Fox Family Foundation president John Fox ($2,500); and California-based Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg ($2,000), who also wrote the bestselling book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead."

Others gave more, but another bold-faced name on the list is Gov. John Hickenlooper ($500). Flores formerly was a policy analyst for Hickenlooper when he was Denver mayor.

Flores' campaign spent its haul on advertising, consultants and fundraising, records show.

Rowe brought in more modest donations in her defense of her seat in District 1. Ritchie was her biggest supporter ($2,500). Haynes — whose challenge from Speth came late — raised the least amount of money of the candidates who filed campaign finance reports. Her largest gift was $1,500.

In the 2013 board race, small and large gifts to pro-reform candidates outnumbered gifts to critics three to one.

The first campaign finance deadlines for committees not affiliated with candidates is Thursday, which will provide a fuller picture. Some committees, however, already have filed their first reports. The Public Education Committee, a small donor committee of the Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, reported a $6,500 contribution to Kiley.

One major player had yet to file — Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. The group is well-funded and has been active in the 2015 campaign. Well before election season, Raising Colorado received $100,000 from New York-based Education Reform Now, according to its last report with the state, which covers April through June.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado Springs audience quizzes District 11 candidates

Wed, 10/14/2015 - 08:32
Election 2015

So what exactly would three education-reform candidates change in Colorado Springs School District 11, if they were elected to the school board? That seemed to be what many voters wanted to learn at a Tuesday evening candidate forum. Gazette

The Pikes Peak Association of REALTORS has released its endorsements for school board candidates in Colorado Springs School District 11 and Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument. Gazette

Fundraising has been moderate for candidates for the Poudre school board. Coloradoan

The scholarship tax proposal on the Denver ballot inspires hope for students, but also pushback. Denver Post

Tomi Grundivig and Pam Howard, candidates for the District D seat on the Thompson school board, are profiled. Reporter-Herald

Candidates for the Pueblo 60 school board respond to questions about their views. Chieftain

Keeping kids in school

Administrators are working to reduce the number of referrals to truancy court in the Mesa Valley 51 district. Daily Sentinel

Crime beat

Jury selection began this week in the trial of a former Denver Public Schools principal and former New Mexico school administrator who has been charged with child sexual abuse and assault cases in Colorado. CBS4

A Colorado Springs PTA is forced to start over after its former president allegedly took off with the group's cash. KKTV

Student health

State health officials believe a 2014 immunization law and last winter’s high-profile measles outbreak contributed to increases in Colorado’s kindergarten immunization rates. Chalkbeat Colorado

College readiness

In the quest to eliminate the need for remedial courses between high school and higher education, Colorado Mountain College is partnering with high schools around its service area. Post-Independent

Two cents

The Denver Post editorial board urges Jeffco voters to reject the recall of three school board members. Denver Post

Joyce Rankin, the newest member of the State Board of Education, writes about her learning curve on the job. Post-Independent

The superintendent of the Aspen schools is urging to voters to support a proposed district tax override on the November ballot. Aspen Times

Categories: Urban School News

More Colorado kindergarteners are fully immunized

Tue, 10/13/2015 - 15:50

State health officials believe a 2014 immunization law and last winter’s high-profile measles outbreak contributed to increases in Colorado’s kindergarten immunization rates.

Last year, 73.4 percent of kindergarteners were up-to-date on required shots, up from 63.7 percent the previous year, according to an annual survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Although the survey has a relatively small sample size—350 children—officials say the increase is statistically significant. In contrast, a slight jump in the percentage of kindergarteners exempted from shots by their parents—from 4.6 percent to 5.4 percent—is not statistically significant.

The report detailing the new survey numbers has not yet been published, but the department provided the numbers at Chalkbeat's request.

Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, said of the jump in kindergarten immunization rates, “We applaud great news like that. It’s probably a convergence of reasons. One being the unfortunate measles outbreak.”

Required kindergarten shots
There are varying dose requirements for the immunizations below.

  • DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis)
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)
  • Polio
  • Hepatitis B
  • Varicella

“Anecdotally, we heard a lot of parents who would have previously delayed or refused vaccines were getting up to date.”

The multi-state outbreak, which started at Disneyland last December, was linked with 117 cases of measles nationwide, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.

Diana Herrero, deputy chief of the state health department’s immunization branch, said heightened awareness about immunizations surrounding the passage of House Bill 14-1288 is also likely a factor in the rate increase.

One of the law’s key provisions, which took effect in the 2014-15 school year, required schools to release immunization and exemption rates to the public. The new mandate prompted much greater scrutiny of how well schools collect and track students’ immunization data.

“I do think House Bill 1288…prompted some schools to be a little more diligent,” Herrero said.

Wasserman said the law holds schools publicly accountable for their rates and gives parents the opportunity to advocate for better compliance.

It’s well known that Colorado has lower immunization rates and higher exemption rates than most other states. An annual state-by-state report from the CDC, which draws on Colorado's annual 350-child survey, reveals that Colorado's immunization rates are in the mid-80 percent range for three of the five required kindergarten shots. In many other states, the rates for those three shots are 90-95 percent, the threshold typically needed for herd immunity.

Various factors contribute to Colorado's low immunization rates, including the fact that historically it's been easy for parents to opt their children out of some or all shots by claiming "personal belief" exemptions. In addition, state laws requiring childhood immunization records for school entry lack teeth and haven't been widely enforced.

School-by-school immunization compliance and exemption rates, available for the 30 largest districts in this Chalkbeat database, can provide a valuable yardstick for parents, particularly those with babies, young children or immunosuppressed family members who are more vulnerable to disease.

In 2016-17, the state health department will launch a public database of immunization and exemption rates for schools and child care facilities statewide. In preparation for that, the department will pilot the new system in December with any interested districts.

Herrero said multiple districts asked to participate in the database this year so administrators have somewhere to direct parents and the public when immunization inquiries start coming in.

Categories: Urban School News

Parent at center of Northfield High controversy speaks out

Tue, 10/13/2015 - 08:49
Trouble at Northfield

The parent accusing a Northfiled High School security guard of mistreating her daughter has spoken out. "You see him holding my daughter's hands behind her back,” she said, referring to surveillance footage captured at the school. 9News

Healthy minds, safe schools

A University of Colorado Boulder program designed to encourage emotional health and well-being in schools received more than $6 million from the National Institute of Justice to roll out services to 32 middle schools along the Front Range. KUNC

South by Southwest

Members of Padres Padres y Jovenes Unidos marched from Civic Center to the Denver Public Schools administration building to protest the possible co-location of a middle school at Lincoln High. Westword

Thanks — but no thanks

Denver Public Schools is trying to integrate schools through a number of policies. But some students and parents like schools where almost everyone has the same background. 9News

Tick, tock

Greeley administrators say they have a sense of urgency to improve two schools before the district faces state sanctions. Greeley Tribune

A mascot by any other name

A new panel, commissioned by Gov. John Hickenlooper, will examine the use of Indian mascots in public schools. Here’s why that issue is complicated and emotional. I-News

No room at the Inn

High schools in Boulder, Louisville, Erie are seeing record freshman enrollment. Daily Camera

Moving Matters

A Colorado Springs community is split over a plan to move students from one elementary school to another two miles away. Gazette

Ready or not

Some observers are concerned flexibility around the state’s school readiness law could lead to inconsistency among schools and districts and make it harder to track whether kindergarten students statewide really are prepared for first grade. Chalkbeat Colorado

Election 2015 • Thompson edition

School board candidate Jeff Swanty wants to move the board away from partisan politics and from taking sides. Reporter-Herald

Aimie Randall is an advocate for local control in school districts. Reporter-Herald

Denise Montagu, running for re-election, wants to focus on the positive aspects of the school district. Reporter-Herald

Crime beat

Some Cherry Creek schools were placed on secure perimeter due to an armed robbery nearby. 9News

Categories: Urban School News

New waivers from school readiness law raise concerns

Mon, 10/12/2015 - 17:58

More than 60 Colorado charter schools  — and one of the state’s largest school districts — have been granted exemptions from some requirements of the state’s school readiness law just as it is being rolled out statewide.

Those schools and four districts have been granted waivers by the State Board of Education, which allows them to use their own programs to determine if kindergarteners are ready for first grade.

While the waivers are permitted by state law, some observers are concerned that such flexibility could lead to inconsistency among schools and districts and make it harder to track whether kindergarten students statewide really are prepared for first grade.

While no one seems to be questioning the quality of individual waiver plans, some people are concerned that it will be hard to review the quality of individual school and district readiness tools.

“I’m apprehensive about the trend,” said Bill Jaeger, vice president of early childhood initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Jen Walmer, Colorado state director of Democrats for Education Reform, said she also has questions about “the push-to-a-waiver mentality.”

Angelika Schroeder, vice chair of the State Board of Education, also raised questions during the Oct. 7 board meeting at which the issue was discussed.

“Having everybody get a waiver, that would be a problem. … I really don’t want to go against what districts want to do, but I don’t want the legislature to believe we will go against their legislative intent,” she said.

School readiness evaluations of kindergarteners are required by a sweeping 2008 education reform law called the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. Evaluations were supposed to start statewide in the 2013-14 school year, but full rollout was delayed until this year.

Children are not formally tested but rather observed in a structured way by their teachers, who use the information to decide if students have the skills necessary for first grade. Evaluations cannot be used to prevent children from entering first grade.

What's behind waiver applications What CAP4K requires

  • All kindergarteners must be evaluated for school readiness using CDE-approved assessments
  • Children are to be evaluated on physical well-being and motor development, social and emotional development, language and comprehension development, math and cognition and general knowledge
  • Individual student readiness plans
  • Reporting of aggregate readiness data to CDE

Those familiar with the issue say the surge of waiver applications, which started last April, was prompted by two things. One is advice given last year by the state attorney general’s office to the Colorado Department of Education concluding that schools could seek waivers from the readiness law.

Second, some schools wanted to get waivers before the program's requirements rolled out statewide this school year.

And some districts and schools have been unhappy with the most widely used readiness assessment tool, Teaching Strategies GOLD.

During its past few meetings the state board has granted waivers to charter schools without discussion and by voting on applications as a group. Schroeder said she has less concern about charter applications because those have to be approved by local school boards before they come to the state.

But waiver applications from school districts have prompted a bit more board discussion. Readiness waivers have been given to three small rural districts in eastern Colorado, Holyoke, Kiowa and Woodlin.

The board faced a different case on Oct. 7, when the 24,578-student Academy 20 district in El Paso County came before the state board for a waiver. Academy is the state’s 11th largest district and is ranked at the top level of the state accreditation system.

“We understand the important purpose underlying the state law,” Academy Assistant Superintendent Susan Field told the board. But she said the district believes its own system for evaluating kindergarteners is “meeting the intent of the law in a manner far better suited to our community.”

She noted that a charter school in her district already has a waiver.

“If the waiver is good for the kindergarten students in our charter school, why isn’t it good for the rest of the kindergarten students?” Field said.

A key reason that Academy wanted a waiver was so it could continue evaluating kindergarteners' readiness within the structure of its standards-based report cards, which it uses in elementary grades. The district argued that kindergarteners need to kept within that system so that there's continuity in tracking student progress from grade to grade.

The district's application contained more than a dozen documents making its case. CDE staff reviewed the application and concluded, "The district provided documentation to demonstrate how the standards-based report card is inclusive of the areas for school readiness."

The board granted Academy’s request.

Two concerns raised about waivers

Observers of the waiver surge raise two issues.

The first is whether the individual substitute plans offered by school districts are adequate.

“They vary significantly,” Jaeger said. “Do the replacement plans adequately meet the intent of the law? It’s an open question.”

Walmer has a similar feeling. “The replacement plans are all over the map. … I have a concern that the state board isn’t looking closely at the replacement models.” Walmer added, “I’m OK with flexibility as long as we’re holding to the intent of the law.”

One of the sponsors of the CAP4K law had similar thoughts. Former Democratic Rep. Christine Scanlan of Dillon said she hasn’t been following the waiver applications closely, but added, “I hope that those districts who have waived out of the assessments either have good data sharing with preschool providers that give district teachers necessary information to best support the needs of new kindergarteners or that the local assessments being used have proven to be better than the state's at identifying specific learning needs and gaps.”

Jaeger noted that state law gives the board fairly limited grounds for denying waiver applications.

“It is difficult for the state board to deny waivers even if they have concerns,” he said.

The second concern was voiced by Schroeder, a Democrat from Boulder. While charters are overseen by local school boards, she said, “We don’t have a re-evaluation plan for districts,” given that waivers for districts are open-ended. “Where’s the oversight when we grant all these waivers?”

Teaching Strategies GOLD a sore point Readiness timeline

  • 2008 – Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids passed
  • 2010 – Expert panel reviews criteria for readiness assessments
  • 2012 – CDE determines only TS GOLD meets criteria
  • 2013 – Program supposed to launch statewide, but SBE gives districts flexibility because only one assessment available
  • 2014 – CDE adds to new assessments and short version of TS GOLD to approved list
  • 2015 – All schools to do evaluations this school year
  • 2016 – SBE to adopt system for reporting results

Part of school and district anxiety over readiness is driven by the Teaching Strategies Gold assessment tool, usually referred to as TS GOLD.

The tool is widely used by schools and also in the Colorado Preschool Program for at-risk students. Part of that is because for two years it was the state-approved assessment. Additional tools were added to CDE’s list only last year.

TS GOLD has been criticized by some teachers and administrators as too time-consuming.

Some parent activists also fear it infringes on family privacy with questions asked about a child’s social and emotional development and have worries about the privacy of that data.

“Teaching Strategies GOLD has gotten mixed reviews,” said Jaeger, agreeing that some teachers find it too time-consuming.

A lot of the concerns were summed up in testimony to the board by Cindee Will, principal of the James Irwin Charter Academy in Colorado Springs, which has a waiver.

“All that glitters is not gold; it might be fools gold,” she said. Use of the tool “amounts to a significant loss of instructional time.”

Will added, “Assessing the whole child is nothing new … what’s new is the intrusion into personal matters. Teachers are required to upload private and personal data. ... Why does personal information have to be uploaded to follow a student throughout their school years and perhaps into their careers?"

Information about students is uploaded to a central database. TS GOLD also allows teachers to upload photos and videos of children to the database, a feature that makes some parent activists nervous. The state doesn't require use of photos of videos. That decision is left to individual schools and districts.

Reporting whether students are ready

The CAP4K law also requires creation of a statewide data reporting system about the readiness of kindergarten students.

The state board is only beginning to consider that task. Some members indicated during a recent discussion that they want to be careful about that process.

Republican member Debora Scheffel of Parker was critical of the data collected by TS GOLD.

“These data points are far in excess of what’s needed to measure readiness,” she said.

Board chair Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said, “It would seem to me the legislature wants to know whether kids are school ready. That’s yes or no. That’s two data points. … When it comes to the data collected, less is better.”

What’s next

The flow of school readiness requests may have crested for the moment.

“There are other districts talking about it," said Michelle Murphy, new executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance. "There are a lot of other districts interested in it, [but] there are none in the hopper right now.”

Murphy speculated that districts’ interests in waivers may turn to the state’s new graduation guidelines, which have been criticized in some quarters. The state board recently approved those, with the proviso that districts could seek waivers.

“It’s an open question to me if we will see [waiver laws] used for something other than school readiness,” Jaeger said. He and Schroeder both suggested the legislature might want to review the broad question of waivers from education laws.

More immediately, Schroeder said the board itself needs to take a deeper look.

“I think we’re all ready to have a serious conversation about this,” she said.

Learn more about school readiness requirements and programs on the CDE website. Get details on assessments and readiness plans here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver schools resegregated 20 years after busing ended

Mon, 10/12/2015 - 08:35
deja vu

Twenty years after a judge let Denver Public Schools end court-ordered busing, Denver schools are again segregated and efforts to encourage natural integration have not generated many results. Denver Post

On leave

The principal and a security officer at DPS’ new Northfields High School have been placed on leave after two families have raised concerns about how their students were disciplined by the officer. 9News

Election 2015

Despite being competitive, Greeley school board candidates are playing nice. Greeley Tribune

Voter interest could be light in the races for the Poudre school board. Coloradoan

Sick day

An outbreak of a gastrointestinal virus at Shawsheen Elementary School in Weld County has sent more than 100 students and staff members home sick. 9News


The historic but deteriorated Helen Hunt Elementary School in Colorado Springs could be closed and a another closed school in the area reopened. Gazette

Campus safety

Community colleges conduct annual drills, including drills for active shooter scenarios. Universities conduct drills at their own discretion, but a spokesperson for Colorado's Department of Higher Education said they are "frequent and diverse." AP via Aurora Sentinel

Middle school riddle

The Denver school board this week will consider the fate of sought-after district building space in southwest Denver. Chalkbeat Colorado

Easing stress

Children experiencing toxic stress tend to struggle to concentrate in class and are more likely to get sick. Chalkbeat Colorado

Police blotter

Mitchell High School in central Colorado Springs went on lockdown late last week as police investigated reports of a girl with a gun on the school grounds. Gazette

An Aurora elementary school teacher is on paid administrative leave after being arrested on charges of indecent exposure. Aurora Sentinel

Debating Aurora's future

Two community activists argue that the Aurora Public Schools urgently need reform, while Superintendent Rico Munn argues that the district has an improvement plan in place. And The Denver Post editorial board opines that Aurora’s problems aren’t unique. Denver Post - activists' column, Denver Post - Munn column, Denver Post - Editorial

Two cents

Denver Deputy Mayor Cary Kennedy, one of the authors of Amendment 23, argues that Colorado needs improved school funding. Denver Post

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia urges Denver voters to support a ballot measure that would raise city taxes in order to fund a scholarship program for city residents. Denver Post

Critics of charter schools often are misinformed, argues an editorial. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: Why Bill Gates' education revelation has him investing more in teaching

Fri, 10/09/2015 - 19:11
  • Looking back at eight years of trying to influence education policy, Bill Gates said it's been harder than he expected. But he isn't giving up on investing in improving teacher quality. (Hechinger Report)
  • A new initiative at Harvard University aims to fix America's "non system" of supporting quality teaching. (Teacher Beat)
  • A new study found that in 50 of the largest U.S. cities, fewer than 1 in 3 students take either the ACT or the SAT, which most colleges require for admission. (NPR Ed)
  • One of the central promises of the Common Core — that families and policymakers could compare how students are doing across states because they use the same standards and tests — could be unraveling as Ohio officials opt to interpret their test results differently than other places. (Washington Post)
  • Schools might worsen racial and economic achievement gaps in math, two new studies said. (EdWeek)
  • Teachers at a California charter school dreamed up a tool to let them customize the day for individual students. Facebook helped them build it — and now is taking it national. (Hechinger Report)
  • Encouraged by his teachers, a black teen from West Baltimore is hoping his creative efforts will help redefine the neighborhood beyond images of violence and poverty. (The Atlantic)
  • Thousands of district teacher jobs that would be lost are becoming a political issue in the debate over a massive charter expansion proposal there. (L.A. Times)
  • A Florida school district is settling a lawsuit with the families of three students who died within months of each other after their high school principal hypnotized them. (Slate)
  • A special education teacher shares her experience working to meet her own son's special needs. (The Mighty)
  • From New York City, a primer for parents about classes that mix students with and without disabilities. (Insideschools)
  • Incoming education secretary John King has neither the carrots nor the sticks that his predecessor, Arne Duncan, wielded. (Politics K-12)
  • A look at King's recent efforts to push New York schools to integrate reveals the depth of his challenges ahead. (Chalkbeat)
  • A parent exhorts his peers: Ask not what a school can do for your own child. Ask what it can do for all children. (Notebook)


Categories: Urban School News

DPS faces thicket of challenges in placement of new southwest Denver middle schools

Fri, 10/09/2015 - 18:43

In its first big test of the 2015-16 school year, the Denver school board next week is set to pick from among a group of applicants vying to open new middle schools in coveted available district building space in southwest Denver.

Denver Public Schools staff is urging that a soon-to-be-closed middle school be given new life as a district-run international school and that growing charter school network DSST open a middle school on the Abraham Lincoln High School campus.

The recommendations, shared Thursday evening during a school board study session, have been the subject of intense speculation and are far from the final word, with the board expressing interest in alternate scenarios.

The competition for the space in southwest features two district-run schools and two charters — three emerged as strong contenders — and represents a test of both a new policy for awarding space to new schools and of how the district juggles roles as both a school operator and authorizer.

Long known as welcoming to charter schools, DPS is trying to cultivate more entrepreneurial school founders of its own. But with building space at a premium, the district finds itself in an awkward position: Those homegrown leaders are competing for the same real estate with charter schools such as DSST, which has a track record of success and big expansion plans.

The board is set to vote on the recommendations for the southwest Denver middle schools Thursday, with public comment scheduled for Monday as part of a work session. As it weighs its decision, the board is struggling with how to compare new and existing schools, including figuring out how much weight to give past performance and measure community demand.

Pushback at Lincoln

As part of a series of reforms in a region that is largely low-income and Latino, DPS put out a call for new middle schools to replace struggling Henry World Middle School, which is being phased out, and to share space at Lincoln, which the district says is possible because of declining enrollment.

A vocal contingent of Lincoln students and parents — joined by the teachers union — is fighting the latter proposal. They argue that the school hallways, parking lot and cafeteria are overcrowded, and that co-locating a middle school on the high school campus would undermine Lincoln High.

On Thursday, the board showed little inclination of changing course. The DPS recommendation tries to extend an olive branch, suggesting that DSST’s middle school opening at Lincoln be delayed a year, until fall 2017, to ease the transition. The school would be “incubated” for a year at the College Heights University campus alongside DSST’s College View school.

The proposal also calls for convening a committee of Lincoln parents, students, staff and community members to help develop an improvement plan for the high school.

In recommending DSST for Lincoln, the district turned away a program its own people devised and built — Academia Lincoln.

The school, which the board signed off on last month without giving it a home, calls for dual-language Spanish and English instruction emphasizing science, technology, engineering, math and the arts.

The staff review found Academia Lincoln’s leadership could not describe the program in the same detail as the other contenders, and was not able to show the same level of community demand.

DPS staff also favored DSST over another charter school, Compass Academy, for placement in Lincoln. Compass opened this fall with a sixth-grade class in temporary space in Kepner Middle School and promises a seal of biliteracy, strong English language development and close connections with Lincoln High.

New policy, questions remain

The site-selection process is being closely watched because it is the first test of a new DPS policy that ties new school location decisions to the schools’ academic performance, student enrollment patterns, community demand and other district priorities.

But as board members’ questions illustrated, the policy has not necessarily cleared things up.

Board member Mike Johnson asked how the district could judge Compass’s academic performance, since it just opened this year.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, DPS’s chief academic and innovation officer, said that with new or unproven schools, the strength of the application, school leader and other factors are considered.

Yet with past performance and public demand as determining factors, DSST is going to be hard to beat in any competition for buildings. In 2014, DSST schools accounted for five of the top 10 secondary schools in DPS when taking into account growth and proficiency on state tests.

The school board in June approved eight more DSST schools, putting it on schedule to have 22 schools by 2024-25. Given that aggressive growth strategy, DSST will almost surely be a player for any new building that suits its needs.

In recommending DSST for Lincoln, the district cited that high academic performance, that it aligns to many aspects of the district’s priorities and has a 144-student wait list for its other area school. The report cited as cons that DSST’s program “may not be for every child,” that DSST middle school students may not attend Lincoln and that the school lacks a bilingual emphasis.

DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg noted that DSST would offer a native language instruction program — offering core courses in Spanish — a first for the network.

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, questioned whether placing a DSST middle school on campus is a precursor to closing Lincoln. Susana Cordova, DPS’s chief schools officer, said the district remains dedicated to Lincoln.

Alternate scenarios

Both DSST and Compass sought space in Henry in addition to Lincoln. DPS staff recommended that the Henry building be turned over to district-run Bear Valley International School, which promises an International Baccalaureate program, personalized learning and biliteracy support with every student getting some Spanish.

The district cited the school's strong design and leadership, its alignment with district priorities and evidence of demand.

Although DSST and Compass already boast waiting lists in the area, DPS staff ranked the Bear Valley school above them both in enrollment demand based on "a substantial number of petition signatures" in support of the school.

Boasberg told board members another important factor influenced the decision around Henry — the fact that the staff already had recommended placing DSST on the Lincoln campus, in effect taking it out of play for Henry. Staff prioritized putting DSST, its highest performing applicant, in the area of greatest need.

The staff report left open an alternative scenario — co-locating DSST and Bear Valley at Henry and moving Compass Academy into Lincoln High School. That, however, has drawbacks, the report noted, including denying the region's highest-need students access to DSST and the risk that the area around Henry cannot sustain two middle schools.

Still other possibilities include DSST at Henry and Compass at Lincoln, or DSST getting both buildings.

Board member Barbara O'Brien was blunt in sharing her frustration about the site selection process, saying the logic behind the recommendations remain elusive even after multiple explanations. She said she would have "appreciated an attempt to take our questions seriously" and more seriously discuss alternatives to the staff recommendations.

"I just want to make sure we are not being kind of ad hoc in how we rate some of these things," O'Brien said.

Marcia Fulton, executive director of Compass Academy and former leader of the Odyssey School, an expeditionary learning school, said Friday she is confident the district will find the school a permanent home in this round or a future one.

"They see our strong potential as a gift to the southwest community," she said. "I heard that loud and strong. This is complex. It is about kids in southwest Denver that we are all trying to serve with heart and soul. There are a lot of factors the district has to weigh."

The district's site-selection process is new and features built-in tensions, DSST chief executive Bill Kurtz said Friday.

“We need to have the opportunity for new schools — district or charter-led — to be created because they will ultimately bring innovation and new ideas and opportunities to the district," Kurtz said. "We were a new school at one point and we appreciated that chance was afforded us. At the same time, I think it’s really important in communities that have not had great schools for a long time that we very carefully consider the track record of schools.”

Tensions over dual roles

Whitehead-Bust, the chief academic and innovation officer, acknowledged the tension of the district staff wearing “dual hats” as both school operator and authorizer. She emphasized DPS offers the same help during the process to both district and charter applicants and maintains a“firewall” between its operator and authorizer functions — making sure people aren't working on both — to screen out any actual or potential conflicts of interest.

"We've worked incredibly hard to mitigate the tensions of being both an authorizer and operator," she said.

Most of the district's community engagement took place during summer, and turnout at times was bleak. Southwest Denver parent Jose De Jesus, in comments translated from Spanish and provided by an interpreter, said Friday he does not feel involved. He said he feels kept in the dark about what is going on at Lincoln, where his daughter is a senior.

"Lincoln needs to be given the opportunity to succeed and relocate the resources that it needs to send the students well prepared to be successful in college or in whatever career they choose," De Jesus said. "If the middle school comes in, it's not going to get the resources that it needs."

In an interview Friday, Boasberg said the public should have "lots of confidence" in the staff recommendations after more than six months of work and dozens of conversations with community members.

"We've had very, very strong new school proposals come forward that promise tremendously improved school opportunities for our kids in a region of town that for too long has not had high enough quality middle schools," he said.

"In many ways, this is a terrific position to be in, to have more very high quality new school applicants than buildings for them to fit in," Boasberg said. "At the same time, that is what is causing so much discussion and anxiety. Of these very good choices, which one is best? Given there are multiple schools and multiple buildings, there are multiple alternatives. It's not an up or down simple choice."

Categories: Urban School News

Q&A: A researcher who’s seeking nimble interventions for toxic stress

Fri, 10/09/2015 - 11:19

When children endure toxic stress, it can have lifelong impacts on their health, education and well-being. Dr. Philip A. Fisher, professor of psychology and research scientist at the Prevention Science Institute at the University of Oregon, believes traditional evidence-based interventions are too cumbersome and expensive to replicate widely. He argues that researchers, program developers and policymakers must become more flexible and innovative in finding ways to mitigate the effects of toxic stress.

Dr. Fisher spoke Thursday evening at the annual Community Lecture Series hosted by the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy at the University of Denver. This Q&A, which has been edited for length and clarity, took place earlier in the day.

Q: How did you get interested in the topic of toxic stress?

Dr. Philip A. Fisher

A: In high school, I started volunteering in a residential treatment center for severely emotionally disturbed kids. I worked at summer camps for troubled kids during college.

What I continued to encounter were these things that really didn’t have adequate explanations. So, why were so many of the kids we were working with from disadvantaged communities, from poor backgrounds? Sure, kids who don’t have opportunities don’t do as well, but it didn’t really explain why there were the specific kinds of issues that we saw in these kids.

The models that were out there…mostly consisted of assigning labels to kids. You have conduct disorder. You have attention deficit disorder. They didn’t say much about what was going on.

Q: What is toxic stress?

A: It has to be put out there first and foremost, not all stress is toxic…We know that some stress is probably not a bad thing. It actually can help make people stronger.

In early childhood what [toxic stress] really means is prolonged activation of these bodily systems…that are designed to help us respond to stress, in the absence of any kind of supportive care.

If there’s a lot of distress that a child or infant is experiencing—they’re hungry, they’re tired, they’re scared—and it happens consistently over long periods of time and there’s no caregiving adult present—somebody to help buffer the child from the experiences of stress—that’s when things move from tolerable to toxic.

Q: How does toxic stress manifests itself in children?

A: Kids become much more sensitive to stress in their lives. So, when they experience stress, they tend to function more poorly. We see that not only in terms of their ability to concentrate and focus in class but also health vulnerabilities. They’re more likely to get sick. They’re more likely, over their life span, to have problems with things like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

It’s also increasingly clear that toxic stress really does have the potential to disrupt the architecture of the developing brain…so (kids who experience) significant toxic stress, of some types, have more difficulty with self-control. In a classroom setting, they tend to be more impulsive. They tend to be the ones more likely to lash out or do things not consistent with the rules. They have a hard time shifting their attention flexibly from one thing to another.

Q: What are the implications of toxic stress for educators tasked with helping children achieve academically?

A: The first thing is just to understand that those kids aren’t (misbehaving) because they’re troublemakers or they’re willfully disobeying you. One of the things that’s become clear from our research is that those kids just don’t process information very well.

(If kids are) doing something that’s not what they’re supposed to be doing, corrective feedback might not be getting through. That’s one of the reasons…having more individualized support for the child, making the signals really clear to them, can be really, really helpful.

Q: You’ve talked about developing flexible, low-dose programs that help with toxic stress. Why is that important?

Where we started developing programs that helped to offset toxic stress, they were large, expensive programs. What I’ve become convinced in the last 10 years is that we’re not going to have impact at scale if that’s all that’s available. It’s just not going to happen.

We have to get a lot smarter about…cutting to the core of what needs to happen most. It’s not like the system’s broken and we should throw it out, but we need to augment what’s out there with other ways of approaching of knowledge development…We have to be committed to a broad array of strategies, and a process of learning about them in a much more rapid-cycle way.

I think school is the perfect innovation platform…If you engineer things properly, then each year can be a new opportunity to gather information, to figure out what’s working and for whom…and for those for whom it’s not, to engineer new approaches.

Q: Right now, what do you consider the most promising interventions for dealing with toxic stress?

A: The majority of the ones that are out there, they’re at a point where there’s good proof of concept. One of the hallmarks of the toxic stressors that we’re talking about is that kids don’t really learn good cause and effect.

A baby crying (will think), “Maybe somebody’s going to come pick me up. Maybe they’re not. Maybe if they pick me up, they’re going to shake me. Maybe they’re not.” That whole learning process really goes sideways.

The things that…help turn that around are things that make it very clear to the child that the environment is consistent, predictable and responsive, and then also warm and nurturing.

Q: You’ve described healthy interactions between children and caregivers with a tennis analogy, “serve and return.” What is that?

A: We define serve and return very precisely. It’s an instance in which the child initiates some action, either puts the focus of their attention on the adult or something else in their immediate environment and the adult shares the child’s focus of attention and (responds).

(A serve) could be the child fussing or that they’re delighted. It could be that they’re gazing at something. It could be that they’re pointing to something and saying what it is. The return of the serve is really what’s critical.

Q: What is the video coaching program, Filming Interactions to Nurture Development, or FIND,  you’ve helped develop?

A: It involves basically showing people, using video, instances of themselves engaged in “serve and return” with the children they’re taking care of. Showing people instances of themselves doing this is a profound experience…because they’re seeing something that is the building block of healthy brain development.

What we think is different about this is were not coming from a place of people need to do something they don’t know how to do and therefore we have to instill new skills. I think that’s one of the reasons our existing programs are so costly and cumbersome. They come from the starting point of people are deficient in something and we have to start from the ground up.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco board president's ethics request appears DOA

Fri, 10/09/2015 - 08:09
Total Recall

No shortage of media outlets covered Jeffco school board president Ken Witt's announcement that he wants the state's Independent Ethics Commission to examine a campaign claim, but the matter is outside the scope of the commission's work. Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado, 9News, Denver Channel, Arvada Press, Colorado Independent

Election 2015

State Sen. Michael Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat, criticizes Republicans for wading into nonpartisan school board races. Gazette

Unlike in past years, plenty of candidates are vying for board seats in Monument's Lewis-Palmer School District 38. Gazette

A League of Women voters school board forum drew a crowd in Durango. Durango Herald

Moffat County school board candidates diverge on a mill levy and Common Core. Craig Daily Press

Six candidates are running for two seats on the District 51 board in Grand Junction. KJCT

safe schools

The University of Colorado has landed a $6.2 million grant to go toward its Safe Communities Safe Schools program as a part of the university's effort to promote school safety and reduce violence among middle schools across the Front Range. Daily Camera

Culture wars

In a lawsuit, a group of abortion opponents claims Colorado State University and Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood violated the state constitution by purchasing tissue of aborted fetuses and indirectly used tax dollars to subsidize abortions. Denver Post

threats and consequences

One juvenile has been arrested and charged with making threats against Rangeview High School, Aurora police said Thursday, a day after some teachers said they were scared to come to school amid threats and several students stayed home. Denver Post, Aurora Sentinel

Two cents

The Denver Post editorial board sees good sense in a new commission that will grapple with the Indian school mascot issue. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board president Ken Witt asks for ethics opinion into recall claim

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 11:55

Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt, the target of a high-profile recall campaign, announced Thursday he is asking the state's Independent Ethics Commission to weigh in on recall organizers' claim that he violated state transparency laws.

"I'm simply calling their bluff," Witt said at a news conference.

Making such a determination, however, is not the typical role of the commission, said Amy DeVan, the commission’s executive director. Neither open meeting violations nor actions taken by unpaid elected officials are within its jurisdiction.

"The IEC doesn’t have authority to do what the legislature gave the court the ability to do regarding opening meeting laws," DeVan said.

Witt's move is the latest twist in a recall campaign that has drawn considerable outside interest and no shortage of political maneuvering to the suburban school district in a bellwether Colorado county.

Witt, at his press conference, said he’d let the commission decide what it has jurisdiction over.

“Yes, this is ridiculous, an elected official filing an ethics complaint himself,” Witt said. “But sadly, this empty ridiculous accusation requires an equally ridiculous action to shed light on the truth.”

The commission's next regularly scheduled meeting is Nov. 6, three days after the election.

While the commission can ask for an earlier meeting, it isn't typical, DeVan said.

Another wrinkle to Witt’s request is that typically an elected official or state employee seeks an advisory opinion about an action they’re contemplating, said Peg Perl of the Colorado Ethics Watch.

"You can only ask for an advisory opinion about something you haven’t done yet,” she said. “They really can’t do an advisory opinion about past conduct.”

The transparency violation claim is cited on the recall question that made the ballot this November. The most specific claim cited by recall proponents: that the hiring of board attorney Brad Miller was a done deal before a public vote was taken.

Miller's position and how he got it has been a longstanding sore point among opponents of Witt and two other conservative school board majority members who swept into office in November 2013. In the past, the board hired lawyers on a case-by-case basis. Miller's hiring represented the first time the school board had a lawyer on retainer.

Witt said that of all the recall claims, the transparency violation allegation disturbs him most.

"Their assertions don't pass the credibility test," he said.

Witt emphasized he was asking for the commission’s opinion regarding the claim against him, not against his two colleagues also targeted in the recall — John Newkirk and Julie Williams.

The state's open meeting law allows board members to discuss the school district's business one-on-one.

However, it forbids three elected officials or a quorum, whichever is greater, from meeting without proper notification.

Further, transparency activists and case law from around the country suggest it is illegal for elected officials, like school board members, to work around the law by coordinating "spoke" meetings.

A "spoke" meeting, also known as a "walking quorum," is when one elected official meets with other members of the board on the same subject to coordinate a vote or policy stance.

Recall organizers claim that Witt, Williams and Newkirk have wasted taxpayer dollars, disrespected the community and met illegally in private. The recall targets counter that they've authorized building a school without increasing the district's debt, given teachers raises, and opened access to school board meetings by streaming them live on the Internet.

Witt's request DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-2454184-witt_ethics_opinion_request' });
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colo. Springs charter school is growing up and expanding

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 08:52
English lessons

Two out of every 10 Colorado students speak a language other than English at home. This statistic mirrors national trends. Denver Business Journal

making room

Atlas Prep, a Colorado Springs charter school, opened in 2009 with 85 students. This year, the school has about 800 students in fifth through 11th grade. To make room for all those students, the school has completed two large expansion projects. Gazette

Help wanted

School districts in and around Denver don't have enough bus drivers. Here's why and how some are trying to solve the problem. KDVR

Aurora in spotlight

As we reported yesterday, a coalition of 17 nonprofits issued a blistering report about the state of Aurora Public Schools. That coalition held a press conference to talk about their hopes and fears for the school system. CPR, KDVR, 9News

Meanwhile, students at Aurora's newest school have some pretty cool role models. Like, the husband and wife the school is named after. Aurora Sentinel

Teaching and learning

A Fort Collins family shared their Native American culture with students. Reporter-Herald

The Colorado Supreme Court paid Denver’s East High School a visit last week as part of the Courts in the Community program Colorado Independent

Fall into the gap

The achievement gap between Denver's poorest students and their more affluent peers in reading and math is double the national average in a new report comparing some 50 cites. Chalkbeat Colorado

Healthy (after) schools

A National League of Cities grant is helping the Aurora parks department sponsor fresh, healthy after-school meals at recreation centers. Denver Post

Election 2015

Two years of controversy come to a reckoning this November. The Jefferson County School Board election and recall could see anywhere from two to all five of the board seats change hands. Arvada Press

A former Jeffco school board member wants to bring balance back to the board room. Arvada Press

Meanwhile, a Jeffco recall target believes he and his colleagues have more work to do. Lakewood Sentinel

The four candidates running in two contested races for Boulder Valley school board seats all identify the achievement gap as a major issue, but they would take different approaches to solving it. Daily Camera

All three school districts in Arapahoe County will have new faces on their school boards after this fall's election. Denver Post

history lesson

A three-year power struggle ensued after Colorado Springs voters in 2003 elected a pro-education reform slate of school board candidates. Gazette

State Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Republican and former chairman of the State Board of Education, is one of the heavyweight supporters backing a new reform team of candidates that has emerged in the school board race for Colorado Springs School District 11. Gazette

safe schools

School will be in session at Rangeview High School today in Aurora after alleged threats were made against a teacher. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Denver ranks last among cities scrutinized for income-based achievement gaps

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 09:28

A sweeping new report comparing schools in 50 urban areas portrayed Denver in grim terms by some measures — including a dubious distinction for its achievement gap between poor students and their better-off peers — while offering glimmers of hope.

Denver had the largest achievement gaps in both math and reading between students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch and other students among — 38 percent in reading and 30 percent in math over three years studied. The gap nationally was about 14 percent. Of the 50 cities examined in the report, 37 provided enough information for analysis on that achievement gap.

About 70 percent of students in Denver Public Schools qualify for a government-subsidized lunch.

Denver fared better when it came to proficiency gains in math and reading among all students, and racial gaps were narrower in advanced math course-taking rates than the national norm.

The report, released Wednesday by the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, paints a largely discouraging picture of U.S. urban education, especially when it comes to hard-to-serve students.

Nationally, the statistics are bleak and familiar: Academic performance in most cities is flat, with large numbers of schools ranking in the bottom 5 percent of their respective states. In one example of the barriers facing minority students, white students were four times more likely than black students to enroll in a top-scoring elementary or middle school, the report found.

Researchers relied on publicly available data and emphasized they looked at measures beyond test scores, including U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Survey data, out-of-school suspension rates and enrollment in high-level courses.

While the research for Denver drew almost entirely on Denver Public Schools information, it also included a few charter schools in Aurora and Charter School Institute schools, the authors said. DPS officials did not immediately comment on the report.

Despite DPS's extensive efforts at school reform that have gained national attention, the district's achievement gap between white and minority students has persisted for the last decade. Black and Latino students are making gains, but the gap is widening because white students are improving at a faster rate.

“There is a lot of great work going on in Denver, and people are doing a lot of innovative and I think positive stuff around improving the system,” said Michael DeArmond, the report’s lead author. “But like a lot of places, there is a lot of work still be done.”

Among the Denver-related findings:

  • Less than a third of cities made gains in math and writing over the three most recent years of data studied relative to their state’s performance. Denver was in that group, ranking No. 7 in math improvement and No. 13 in reading gains.
  • Seven percent of all Denver high school students in a given year took an advanced math class such as analytical geometry and trigonometry in 2011-12. In Miami and Chicago, 24 percent of students took such classes. Compared to other cities, the gaps in advanced math course-taking rates between white students and minority students were relatively small, however.
  • Denver’s graduation rates ranked No. 45 among cities in 2013, the year spotlighted in the report for that measure. DPS’s four-year on-time graduation rate was 61.3 percent that year (and has since inched up). That represented a considerable gain over time, however — it was 22 points higher than the graduation rate from 2006-7.

The report did not seek to analyze whether urban areas adopting particular approaches — heavy on district-run schools, charter schools, voucher programs or a blend — fared any better or worse. Some of the metro areas scrutinized boast a single district, while others are a patchwork with different strategies.

“When you look across as a collection, the mixed results shows there is no one sure path to success," DeArmond said. "Clearly there a lot of different things going on in these cities.”

The report's jarring conclusion about Denver's achievement gap comes as the racial makeup of schools and how that correlates to academic performance gets increased scrutiny.

Charles Robertson, founder of Young Adults for Positive Action, was among more than 80 people who gathered Tuesday night in far northeast Denver for the premiere screening of a segment of "Standing in the Gap," an upcoming Rocky Mountain PBS documentary series that examines education equity and the end of court-ordered busing in Denver.

After a community dialogue session that followed the screening at DPS's Evie Garett Campus, Robertson said the report's unflattering spotlight on Denver's achievement gap shows the district needs to better involve businesses, foundations, organizations and parents in crafting new strategies.

"I continue to be surprised at the amount of effort the district continues to put in to the education system, but we continue to get the low results," said Robertson, who served on the district's Far Northeast Turnaround Committee. "We continue to do the same thing and expect different results when we should be looking at how we can be more creative."

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Denver ranked last among 50 cities on income-based achievement gaps. However, researchers only were able to gather data for that measure on 37 cities, and Denver ranked last among those.

Here's the full report:

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Contract agreement reached in Greeley

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 08:34
Greeley agrees

Facing ongoing public backlash, Greeley-Evans School District 6 and Greeley teachers union officials on Tuesday took risks and gave ground to reach a tentative agreement for the 2015-16 teacher contract. Greeley Tribune

Indian mascots

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order Tuesday creating a commission to discuss American Indian high school mascots. A bill that would have created a body with power to require changes in mascots died during the 2015 legislative session. Denver Post, Durango Herald, AP via Coloradoan

Election 2015

None of the eight people vying for four seats on the Thompson School District Board of Education identified themselves as “reform” candidates, but all of them acknowledged during a forum that some change is needed in the district. Reporter-Herald

A “reform team” of candidates is looking to make changes in Colorado Springs District 11. Gazette


Arapahoe High School has changed its dance policy to ban students from "grinding" on the dance floor as it kicks off its homecoming week. Denver Post

Familiar face

Mike Miles, former superintendent of the Harrison schools and a 2004 Colorado U.S. Senate candidate, has returned to Colorado Springs but says he’s not interested in politics. Gazette

Pricey teacher housing

In the Roaring Fork School District, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree starts out at $35,691 a year — a fair margin above minimum wage, but not enough to buy a house or make resort rent prices easy to swallow. Post-Independent

Ed tech

For the Durango School District, keeping technology current is a challenge. Durango Herald

Aurora in spotlight

Two new reports paint different pictures of challenges facing the Aurora Public Schools. Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

The outgoing president of the Thompson school board defends charter schools in an op-ed column. Reporter-Herald

Categories: Urban School News

Coalition: Aurora could do more to improve chronically failing schools

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 01:01

When Rico Munn was hired to lead Aurora Public Schools, the charge was clear: improve the inner suburb’s schools.

Two years later, a blistering report from 17 nonprofits claims that district officials are failing to meet that mandate.

The report’s authors, including several Denver-based education reform outfits, say Aurora officials have failed to explain their vision, engage parents and community members, and replicate successful schools that serve mostly poor and Latino students.

These factors, in part, have contributed to APS having 18 schools considered failing by the state, more than any other district besides Denver, and putting the district’s accreditation at risk, the report said.

But Superintendent Rico Munn counters that today, after months of listening to his community of teachers, principals, parents and civic leaders, the district is ready to take head on the needs of its schools and the students they serve.

“We were very intentional about laying the ground work for reform and turnaround,” Munn said. “We’re at a tipping point where we can accelerate the outcomes for our students.”

The report, the first of its kind to dive deep into Aurora’s struggles, is a prelude to a much larger conversation the city, its parents and schools are about to have: how to improve chronically low-performing schools.

“It’s difficult to come to terms with problems that are so close to home,” said Jordan Posamentie, a deputy policy director for the Center for Reinventing Public Education who has begun researching education changes in suburban school districts.

And those conversation about systemic education reform can often be grim.

“South (Middle School) is falling apart right now,” said Diana Castro, a parent volunteer for RISE Colorado, an organization that contributed to the report. “They sent us a letter that says if we want to move my brother to a different school we could. But we couldn’t because we live so close to the school, so he can walk.”

While those emotionally charged exchanges about improving failing schools are not new in urban centers like Denver, they are to suburbs like Aurora that were designed after World War II to serve mostly white and affluent families growing as a result of the baby boom.

Yet as demographics shift quickly in Aurora and across the nation, more observers of public education are increasingly paying attention to inner suburbs. And parents are awakening to the problems in their schools as as government sanctions, like those that Aurora faces, loom.

From bad to worse to — hopefully — better

Out of every 10 Aurora students, about six will graduate on time, two will go to college and one of those will need remediation when he or she arrives, the coalition’s report found.

“It makes me feel really sad,” Castro, whose daughter attends an APS preschool, said. “I’m scared. I don’t want my daughter to be one more statistic. It’s scary. It makes me upset.”

Graduation rates aren’t the district’s only concern, proficiency rates of APS students on state tests have fallen in reading and math and the gap between APS students and the state is widening.

Low-income students and students of color are performing worse in APS than in the rest of the state, including Denver.

Students learning English as a second language are also making slower progress than their peers in Denver, the report found.

And while the district has reduced suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement, less than half of students surveyed feel safe at school.

But the school system can turn a corner, Castro and the coalition believe.

Blessings, curses

Improving low-performing schools in suburbs comes with unique challenges and opportunities that education researchers are only now beginning to identify, Posamentie, the researcher, said.

“There are really interesting advantages to the suburbs addressing these problems if they get it right,” he said.

For example, growing suburbs like Aurora likely won’t have the option — and tough dilemma — of whether to close low performing schools. That’s because districts have no available space in other schools for students displaced by such closures. Instead, they can open new ones with unique models, something Aurora has already done.

Suburban school districts can also tap into usually strong volunteer bases and the local small business community, Posamentie said.

Another bonus: most suburban school districts already have lean central offices. That make bureaucratic shuffles like the one Aurora did last school year easier.

“When you don’t have that many people, you can get away with stronger change,” he said.

But there are drawbacks to being removed from an urban center.

Too often, Posamentie said, there’s a lack of infrastructure. Unreliable or scattered public transportation makes access to different schools difficult for low-income families trapped in pockets of poverty.

Suburban school districts with shrinking or stagnant budgets also can’t rely on generous donations to provide the additional support needed to educate more vulnerable students because they are traditionally focused on urban areas, Posamentie said.

And finally, the further away a school district is from the capitol, the less political clout they have to ask for resources.

But regardless of whether a school district is urban or suburban, Posamentie said, leaders must work together with teachers, parents and other community members to improve schools.

“To have the community work with the school district is essential,” he said. “For the community to be able to navigate the plan is really important.”

Slow and steady

Aurora is doing something, a lot of somethings, to improve its schools, said Superintendent Munn.

In his own report given to the city’s board of education Tuesday, Munn outlined all the steps the district has taken to improve schools up to this point, including reallocating more than $10 million dollars to schools, changing how it recruits and retains principals, and creating a turnaround leadership team.

The district has also launched several community-based committees to redesign up to five schools in the Original Aurora neighborhood, including Aurora Central High, that have been chronically under-performing.

Munn said he understands some of the frustration. But he cautioned the kind of fast and flashy change some in the education reform might hope for often doesn’t work.

“You can come in and move fast and move out of alignment with your community,” he said. “But that’s not helpful or sustainable.”

Moving forward, Aurora schools facing similar obstacles will work in teams to boost student learning. That includes 14 schools that are focused on culturally-responsive learning, Munn said.

The district also has a new annual review process for schools to identify what supports, such as increased teacher training or different curriculum, it needs from the district.

“We need to create more space for innovation in the district,” Munn said.

Among the coalitions report’s recommendations to do that:

  • Rewrite the district’s strategic plan with a timeline and milestones linked to student data
  • Engage parents and community members early on issues like school improvement plans, transportation, and before and after-school programing
  • Provide families with easy-to-understand school performance data in families’ native languages
  • Build new curriculum and programs for students who are learning English as a second language
  • Create room for charter schools

“I hope this report helps the district,” Castro said. “I hope the district takes this seriously and does something. I really hope so.”

A tale of two reports

Read the “If Not Now … ” report
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Read Munn’s “CORE” report
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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Diana Castro. 

Categories: Urban School News

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