out of the frying pan and into the fire?
know your candidates
Two very quiet primary races will begin to shape the make-up of the State Board of Education next year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Falcon School District 49 officials are considering asking voters to approve their third ballot initiative in five years designed to expand some schools and build new ones. ( Gazette )
New School on the block
The opening of Aurora's first charter school since 2008 signals a change in winds for the suburban school district, but challenges for the school remain. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Four Colorado music educators are in the running for a Grammy next year after having been nominated by their students. ( 9News )
The St. Vrain school district is seeking legal counsel on how to amend its policies around student groups after a school's gay-straight alliance learned they were violating district policy by hanging posters. ( Times-Call )
a deepening question
A new report argues that the reasons behind the gap between charter and district school enrollment are more complex than the conventional "counseling out" narrative suggests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
About 15 Boulder students learned art and storytelling skills through a summer program. ( Daily Camera )
people are jerks
An apparent arson fire destroyed the preschool playground at Erie's Black Hawk Elementary School on Wednesday. ( Daily Camera )
Colorado's former speaker of the House and a local businessman praise the recent district court dismissal of a lawsuit challenging part of the state's teacher evaluation law. ( Denver Post )
PHOTO: Courtesy Out Front
Mark Ferrandino, Colorado’s first openly gay speaker of the House, will join Denver Public Schools as its chief financial officer, Chalkbeat Colorado has confirmed.
Fox31 first reported the news that the Democrat, who is term limited, will join DPS this summer. His first day is July 21.
Ferrandino, who is widely know for his advocacy for the Colorado Civil Union Act, previously served on the state’s Joint Budget Committee, which writes the state’s finance laws, before becoming speaker in 2013.
On the budget committee he earned a reputation as a master of budget policy and details.
Ferrandino was first appointed by a vacancy committee to represent his Denver district, which includes a large portion of South Broadway, in 2007.
Before entering the legislature, Ferrandino worked as a senior budget analyst for the state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which administers the Medicaid program. Before coming to Colorado, Ferrandino worked as a analyst for federal agencies, including the Office of Budget and Management.
He has not been an initiator of K-12 legislation, but he’s been at the center of some those debates as speaker. During the 2014 session he initially opposed reductions in the state’s $1 billion K-12 funding shortfall, known as the negative factor, but softened his position after intense lobbying from district interests.
His signal piece of education legislation was House Bill 14-1319, which lays the foundations for a performance-based system of higher education funding. The measure easily passed the legislature – after significant changes sought by higher education lobbyists and the Department of Higher Education.
Ferrandino has been widely rumored as a candidate for director of the Office of State Planning and Budget if Gov. John Hickenlooper is re-elected and current budget chief Henry Sobanet were to step down. In that job Ferrandino would have been perfectly positioned to oversee implementation of higher education performance funding, something that won’t happen now.
Ferrandino is a member of the advisory board for Democrats for Education Reform-Colorado.
Ferrandino replaces David Hart who left the district earlier this year. According to The Denver Post, Ferrandino will make $145,000 a year with up to $15,000 in incentive pay.
Update: This article has been updated for context. A smaller percentage of students with disabilities enroll in Denver charter schools than traditional public schools — and that gap grows as students age.
But, according to a new report, the reasons for that gap and why it grows over time are much more complicated than the received wisdom that charters “counsel out” challenging students.
The report, which uses school choice data and school-level enrollment data from Denver Public Schools, was compiled by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a Seattle-based research and policy analysis organization. The research was funded by the Walton Family Foundation.
In 2012, charter schools enrolled roughly 2 percent fewer students with disabilities in kindergarten, possibly because fewer of those students requested charter schools.
But the causes behind the growth in the gap — which nearly triples by eighth grade — are more complex. And researchers say that the typical narrative of “counseling out,” whereby charter schools encourage students with high needs to leave the school, may not be behind it.
At a panel announcing the release, Marcus Winters, the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs professor who is behind the report, listed a few potential contributing factors, including who applies to go to charter schools, who leaves them and how schools designate students as disabled. Winters is also a member of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.
His findings, which show low rates of students with disabilities leaving charter schools, are “really inconsistent with counseling out as a driving factor.” That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, Winters said, but it’s not big enough to be the driving force. In fact, students with disabilities are more likely to leave traditional public schools than charters.
Instead, Winters said that students without disabilities moving to charters — which lowers the proportion of disabled students — was a bigger force, contributing to roughly half the gap. The other half came from the fact that charters were less likely to identify previously unidentified students as needing extra support.
It’s an issue charter schools are grappling with, said Bill Kurtz, the head of Denver charter network DSST. He said schools often lower expectations for students with a disabilities designation but that schools have to find a balance between raising expectations and supporting students.
“What is the right bar to set?” Kurtz said, whose schools are known for a high-structure, high expectation model. “How do we think about accommodations?”
The full report is available here.
Note: The Walton Family Foundation is a contributor to Chalkbeat.
AURORA — Nestled on the second floor of a nondescript shopping mall with tenants that include a prepaid mobile phone service provider, laundromat, and barbershop, this suburb’s newest school, Montessori del Mundo, was buzzing with the trappings of the first day of school. Except that’s still several weeks away.
Parent Jahn Castillo Sr. grilled his son’s teacher, Julio Alas, while 7-year-old Jahn Jr., played with a puzzle of the map of Australia.
“He likes puzzles,” Alas pointed out. “And this puzzle of Australia can launch into an entire lesson of the continent if that’s what your son wants to learn.”
Students at Montessori del Mundo, like most other schools that use the Montessori model, will learn at their own pace, guided by a team of teachers and a rubric that, similar to the new Common Core State Standards that Colorado has adopted, emphasizes a deeper learning of core numeracy and language.
But there is something unique about this Montessori school — besides its dual language instruction. When Montessori del Mundo opens Aug. 18 it will be the first charter school to open within the Aurora Public Schools boundaries since 2008.
“Opening up a school is like taking a leap of faith,” said the school’s founder and director Karen Farquharson. “People have to have faith you’re going to open and educate their children. You have to have faith they’re going to enroll and show up.”
While Denver Public Schools has led the way in opening and expanding charters in the metro area as part of a strategy to expand opportunities for low-income students, APS – with similarly high levels of poverty and students of color — turned inward and allowed the nationwide movement to largely pass it over.
For years the suburban school district east of Denver was known as being “openly hostile,” toward charter schools, said Rob Miller, principal of Aurora’s Vanguard Classical Academy charter school.
His first charter application in 2006 was rejected by the school district’s Board of Education, for a laundry list of reasons — including, Miller said, that the board simply did not want the school in their backyard.
The State Board of Education overturned APS’s rejection and the school opened in 2007.
“Historically it’s been tough,” Miller said. “But more recently [APS] been much more friendly.”PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Montessori del Mundo teacher Julio Alas, center, meets with the Castillo family Saturday at an open house. Clockwise from center left is Jahn Sr., Jahn Jr., Yoli, and Yaretzi. Jahn Jr. will attend the school in the fall.
Not only did APS grant Miller’s school an “easy” charter renewal, a board made up of mostly new members granted an expansion and the Classical Academy will open a second campus with a high school in the fall.
Miller credits updated state laws regarding charter schools and the attitudes of new board members in Aurora for the evolving relationship between the district and its charter schools. Further, he believes his school and the district’s five other charters schools have earned the board’s trust.
“It’s worked both ways,” he said. “We’ve proven to them that we have a common interest in educating Aurora students. I think we’ve proven we want to be a partner on equal grounds with them.”
In an interview earlier this year, Aurora’s superintendent Rico Munn, who marks his first year leading the district in July, said he’s “indifferent” to charter schools. He said that he’s happy to consider any new school that might be able to meet a need in the district but recognized APS can’t provide the support — and maybe more importantly the space like DPS has for its growing charter networks — to new schools.
“We’re not there, yet,” Munn said.
Farquharson said that the difficulty of finding a building for a charter school in Aurora should not be underestimated. Because of the difficulty finding a building and upgrading it, Farquharson had to delay the opening of the school by a year.
“Delaying had an impact on a lot of people,” she said. Her teaching staff had to find new jobs and students needed to be enrolled in different programs.
Nevertheless, Farquharson recognizes the changing culture toward charter school and can rattle off nearly a dozen names of APS officials who have come to her aid — part voluntarily, part because she sub-contracts some of their services.
Still, because of certain district policies around funding pre-school and distributing Title I funds, Farquharson decided to charter her school through the state instead of APS.
Farquharson said during its first five years, the school is likely to receive $2.5 million more directly from the state than if she were to charter through APS.
“We really want to be a part of APS, and they’ve asked us to reauthorize with them in five years,” she said. “We’ll wait and see how the policies change.”
Until then, she said she and her school are committed to the students of Aurora Public Schools. Between spreading word of mouth, passing out flyers at local grocery stores, and exercising plain hardihood, Montessori del Mundo is set to open with nearly 150 students split between seven teachers, all bilingual and certified to teach Montessori, on their first day.
According to early data, nearly 73 percent have self-reported they either already attend or would attend an APS school.
Saturday’s meet and greet was just the first of many summer events Farquharson and her team have planned.
Parents will be invited to help build the campus’ playground. There will be practice school nights. And teachers will visit students at their homes. It’s all a plan to help create a relationship for students, teachers, and parents so the first day of school isn’t that bad, Farquharson said.
“Education is relational,” she said.
Two quiet primary races that will be decided next week will help shape the face of the State Board of Education.
Democrats and Republicans this year both have primary fights for seats on the board, positions that traditionally are among the state’s lower-profile elected offices.
All the candidates in the June 24 election have views on high-profile education issues such as Common Core, testing and reform, but – as usual – the campaigns are low-key and have little visibility for the average voter or even for many education professionals.
Democrats Valentina Flores and Taggart Hansen are vying to succeed Elaine Gantz Berman in the 1st District, which includes Denver and a slice of northern Arapahoe County. The race has the familiar union vs. reform flavor that has characterized recent Denver Public Schools board races.
In the sprawling 3rd District, which covers all of the Western Slope from Glenwood Springs west but also covers the San Luis Valley and Pueblo County, Republican incumbent Marcia Neal is facing a challenge from political newcomer Barbara Ann Smith. Both candidates are retired teachers and are critical of the Common Core Standards, but with individual nuances.
While the candidates have a wide variety of opinions, those finally elected to the board next November won’t necessarily have the ability to easily put those into action. In Colorado the legislature and the governor are the primary drivers of broad education policy, an unending source of frustration to some SBE members. The board has a largely regulatory role, although members undoubtedly will have a voice in continuing debates on standards and testing.
And the board that takes office in January 2015 will face significant and difficult decisions about how to handle struggling districts and schools that reach the end of the five-year accountability clock starting in July 2015.
For some voters, the election is done because they’ve already mailed their ballots. The Department of State reported Wednesday that 343,933 ballots already have been returned, 142,570 Democratic and 198,213 Republican. (See list by counties here.)1st District
Both candidates have professional campaign managers, but Hansen has a distinct fundraising edge, supplied by many of the same contributors who ponied up to support more accountability-minded candidates in past Denver Public School board races.
The primary winner will be the district’s next board member, as there is no Republican candidate in the heavily Democratic district. Incumbent Berman chose not to run for reelection.Valentina Flores Valentina Flores
Flores is a critic of what she calls the corporatization of public education, writing on her website, “ I oppose a ‘reform’ model that is slowly privatizing our public education system.”
She argues that the last decade of educational change in metro-area districts has “steadily undermined this beacon of equity – public schools. … While there is a place for charter and innovation schools, we must not allow these ‘reforms’ to continue to undermine our commitment to traditional public education offerings. As in all things, we need a balance that provides the best opportunities for all children in Colorado.”
In an interview with Chalkbeat Colorado, Flores also was critical of the Common Core Standards and of standardized testing.At a glance:
“I think Common Core has issues, a lot of issues,” she said. Moving onto the subject of testing, she said, “I really do think standardized tests do not really get at what kids know. Teachers know so much more about individual students. … We need to slow it down.”
If elected to the board, Flores said she will push for expanded early childhood education – “I believe in universal early childhood education” – and improved teacher preparation, especially in how to teach reading. She also wants to advocate for improved graduation rates for minority students and foster great multi-cultural understanding in schools.
She said she “possibly” could find common ground with Republican SBE members on content standards and testing.
Flores also is concerned about what she sees as attacks on teachers. “I think we’ve been killing the profession,” she said. “There is no respect for teachers.”
As for her opponent, Flores says, “I don’t think he knows education.”
Hansen likes to tell a story about his experience at Denver’s Morey Middle School, where he says black students were tracked and his parents had to pressure the principal to put him into more challenging classes.
“That’s why I’m running for this seat,” he said in an interview, saying that pushing for equal opportunities for all students and setting high expectations are his top goals. “Where we set the bar really matters.”
Hansen also says his two years with Teach for America in Pasadena, Calif., had an important effect on him. He said that while he wanted to be a lawyer since he was in high school, his TFA experience “has profoundly affected everything I do.”
He’s been active in educational issues for various non-profit groups and doesn’t see his relative lack of professional experience as a problem. “I’ve always had my pulse on education. I can learn it; I’m a quick study.”At a glance:
Hansen seems to have a realistic view of the SBE’s role, noting that “the State Board does whatever the legislature tells it to.” He said he wants to use a seat on the board as bully pulpit. “It’s about having a really strong voice for equity,” he said.
While he notes the board can’t do much itself about school funding, he said, “the funding issue for our schools is the next great civil rights issue.”
Hansen said he supports the Common Core Standards because they are stronger than previous state standards and because they set the same goals for students across the nation.
He’s a bit more nuanced on standardized testing but doesn’t support Colorado pulling out of the PARCC tests. He said debate about testing “is a legitimate conversation to have” but that any changes in current state testing plans probably are a matter of “modifying, tweaking.”
Hansen and his wife have two daughters who attend the Denver School of Science and Technology.
State Board incumbents seldom have primary challengers (or successful general election opponents), so the district was wide open last year when Neal announced she wouldn’t run for a second term.
“I just had the feeling that six years was enough and that it was time for somebody else to take over,” she said in an interview. “I did look for another candidate but did not find one.”
Smith registered as a candidate in May 2013. Neal later changed her mind and entered the contest in March, and Smith decided to stay in the race.
Why did Neal have a change of heart? “I think it’s very important that we keep the Republican majority” on the board. “I became very concerned that we’d lose the seat in the fall.” Neal trailed Smith by 4 percentage points in voting at the GOP party assembly, and Smith has the fundraising edge in a campaign where both candidates have used their own money.
Waiting in the wings for the result of the Republican primary is Democratic candidate Henry Roman, former superintendent of the Pueblo City district.Marcia Neal Marcia Neal
Neal has been an occasional swing vote on the board, siding with the three Democrats on a handful of issues. But she voted no in 2010 when the board voted 4-3 to adopt the Common Core Standards. (Republican Randy DeHoff, now gone from the board, provided the swing vote on that issue.)
Neal remains critical of the standards but said six years on the board have taught her the limits of SBE’s powers. “I can’t make Common Core go away.”
She argues that Smith makes sweeping statements about eliminating the standards that have attracted some Republican support, but adds, “It’s easy to say things when you don’t understand the process.”
Neal’s also concerned that Republicans who complain about the growing Department of Education budget don’t understand there’s “only a tiny part of that budget that we [the board] have any say over.”At a glance:
During her time on the board Neal has become known for her strong sympathy for the needs and challenges of small rural districts and for her advocacy of building up the state’s permanent fund, which derives revenues from state lands. Interest from the fund can be spent only on education. She’s been critical of the Building Excellent Schools Today program because it taps revenues before they get to the permanent fund.
Asked about second-term priorities, Neal that she’ll advocate even more strongly for rural districts, work to “maintain local control for all our schools” and that “a priority would be to lessen the intrusion of the federal government.”
But, she notes, what the board does in the future may not be in members’ hands. “It depends on who ends up in the legislature,” she said.
Smith has had a peripatetic education career, having studied in New York and California, graduated from the University of Northern Colorado and worked in special education in several places.
She’s been involved in local Republican politics and said a friend suggested she run for the board. “I thought about it, and I do have a lot of skills. … There’s a lot I could help the state do.
“I would bring the knowledge I have. I have worked in several state; I have budgetary experience and planning experience,” she said. “I know what kids need.”
She’s all for local control and against the Common Core.
“I’m for local control; I’m not for anything from the national government.”
At a glance:
On standards, she said, “We can do our own,” adding, “I’m not in favor of the PARCC testing. [It’s] too many people making money.”
She said she opposes teacher tenure but that teachers need to be paid more. “It’s such an underpaid job.”
Smith, who’s been traveling the district, is confident about the outcome. “I can’t wait to win this primary.”
Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican who represents the Colorado Springs-based 5th District, is running for a state House seat in a safely Republican district and has no Democratic opponent. Once he’s elected to the legislature, a Republican vacancy committee will appoint a successor.
In the 7th District, which includes Denver’s western and northern suburbs, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff faces Republican Laura Boggs in the November general election. Boggs is a former member of the Jefferson County school board.About the State Board of Education
A controversial report issued by the National Center for Teaching Quality showed that over half of Colorado teacher preparation programs scored below the national average. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, KUNC )
Man with a Plan
Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger recommended a $567 million construction plan that would bring the district a new school in Erie, an expanded preschool program, and all-day kindergarten programs. ( Daily Camera )
Out of Control
Spring Creek Youth Services Center, the juvenile detention center in Colorado Springs, has been described by former employee Sonja Goldinak as a 'war zone.' ( The Gazette )
Teaching Critical Thinking and Teamwork
Denver teachers are finding creative ways to teach their kids to be critical thinkers and collaborators, while meeting new education standards. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Finding Their Savvy
Mayor Michael B. Hancock's Youth One Book, One Denver summer reading program will teach Denver youth how to hone their "Savvy," with the help of local author Ingrid Law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Jefferson County is taking a note from Denver Public Schools with its recent proposal to give charters $3.7 million in funding, stirring controversy. ( Denver Post )
“Imagine waking up on the 13th birthday knowing something extraordinary was going to happen to you, but you didn’t know what.”
This is the premise of the book chosen for this year’s Youth One Book, One Denver summer reading program.
“A savvy is a power that forces kids to make sense of themselves and make sense of growing up,” said Ingrid Law, the author of ‘Savvy,’ this year’s selection. “‘Savvy’ is a book about family, friendship and the talents inherent in us all.”
Mayor Michael B. Hancock revealed the selection of Law’s book to participants, parents and sponsors at kickoff of the Youth One Book, One Denver event on Tuesday morning.
Hancock had students raise their books in the air and recite this pledge: “I promise throughout the summer (that) I will read every day. And if I have yet to learn to read, I will ask an adult to read to me every day this summer so that I don’t have summertime learning loss. I’m ready to read.”
The selection follows votes from more than 1,800 schoolchildren. Rosen Publishing donated more than 10,000 books for the 6,000 participants in the program.
The Youth One Book, One Denver program was designed for children age 9-12 with the hopes of keeping them educationally active throughout the summer, as well as increase the number of students reading at or above grade level. The program runs through July 26.
Teachers at the Odyssey School have a mandate from their school leaders, math teacher Ali Morgan said recently. Their charge is to figure out where the new Common Core academic standards intersect with the skills students will need to find jobs in an increasingly white-collar job force.
These new standards require students to learn fewer subjects in areas like math, but in deeper detail, encouraging students to think critically about the questions and collaborate with their peers to find solutions.
“In my mind, that’s asking us as teacher to prepare students to interact effectively with others, while deepening involvement in the content,” Morgan said.
That challenge — finding the balance between meeting new education standards and teaching students to be collaborative and critical thinkers — is one of the many issues Morgan and about 10 other Denver teachers touched on as part of a workshop held last week at Galvanize as part of Summer Institute, a professional development program.
Teachers at the Odyssey School find this balance in a number of ways. Students are expected to demonstrate their mastery of Common Core skills for their grade level, while also demonstrating habits the school has identified as crucial to success: responsibility, revision, inquiry, perspective taking, collaboration and leadership, and service and stewardship. Morgan’s sixth grade math class focuses on the habit of inquiry, generating and analyzing questions to better understand the content.
Morgan said the way students are taught at the Odyssey School, although not directly related, correlate with Common Core. At the end of each year students’ growth is measured in all subjects, and they are given the opportunity to discuss with their teachers how the habits taught in class influenced their success. Allowing students to reflect on their year’s work makes the chances of them retaining it higher.
Teaching Soft Skills
Panelist Brett Goldberg, an entrepreneur who works at software company FieldTek, Inc., said while tech skills are important, teaching kids good communication and collaboration are key to successful businesses and work environments.
“They may be considered soft skills, but they can make or break a company,” Goldberg said.
That is what many teachers are focusing on in their lesson plans. Patrick Seamars, a Spanish teacher at Manual High School, said his classrooms are very collaboration-heavy and project-based.
While several of the educators at the panel agreed that this model of teaching is beneficial, the problem lies in teaching students to think critically and work with one another in an environment that is extremely test-intensive and individualistic.
“(The schools) seem to know that and hear that — the importance of soft skills like communication — but with the reform movement it’s more about getting the correct answers on a test,” Allan Cutler, a librarian at Stanley British Primary School, said.
Several teachers said the big challenge is time: school districts have set up a short time frame to implement the Common Core and teachers said they struggle to find the time to introduce the collaboration and critical thinking lessons.
Seamars said students need to be taught that failure is a positive thing in the learning process, but the current learning environment does not allow that. He said in high school — at a time where it is crucial to learn how to cooperate and communicate effectively — students are uncomfortable with it.
“It’s not OK in the current paradigm to fail,” he said. “My classes have always been project based and (students) feel uncomfortable, but if I give them an assignment and tell them, ‘Read this, fill in this blank, read this and tell me what you think I want to hear,’ then they thrive, and that’s unfortunate.”
Lori Nazareno, teacher leader in residence at the Center for Teaching Quality, said there is a dissonance between what educators want to teach and what they can teach.
“We want to create cooperative, collaborative, creative and entrepreneurial spirits in students, in a way that says ‘OK, you have to sit in this row and fill in this bubble’,” Nazareno said.
Coglianese said that problem is also seen in his own company. He recently made several new hires and sees how uncomfortable they are with being on their own and generating unique ideas.
“I’m teaching them on a daily basis,” he said. “That look your students have on their face when you tell them to work on a new project is the same look they have.” They look terrified and the reason they look terrified is they don’t yet have enough information to feel confident doing that.
Nazareno said it will take teachers like Morgan and Seamars to effectively integrate these changes. Gaps between what teachers currently teach and what they need to teach to meet these standards will take time, space and support from school administrations and the public as they try to align their lesson plans with the students needs and the standards.
Update: This article has been updated. It previously stated that Summer Institute was held in part by the University of Colorado Denver, when UCD only provided space for one of the program’s workshops.
Over half of Colorado’s teacher preparatory programs scored below the national average on a controversial national ranking released Tuesday.
That’s the second low score for the state on the ranking system from the National Center for Teaching Quality (NCTQ), a reform-minded advocacy organization which began evaluating the nation’s teacher education programs last year. The first release sparked frustration and anger from many education schools, with critics arguing that the rankings failed to look at aspects proven to help teachers improve student learning.
This year, some teacher education programs in Colorado and elsewhere refused to participate in the ratings. University of Colorado-Denver did not submit any materials to the NCTQ. The school’s dean sent an email to colleagues and the college’s partners directing them to an alternate review of the program’s quality. CU-Denver scored the lowest of any of the CU campuses in the NCTQ rankings.
But others have touted the rankings as a much needed push to make the preparation for teaching more rigorous and more relevant. Colorado legislators and education advocates have considered changes to how teachers are licensed to teach, which would affect teacher preparation programs. But no new legislation surfaced during the 2014 legislative session.
Highlights from the report include:
The report focussed primarily on traditional teacher prep programs, although it did include a small selection of alternative programs. In Colorado, that included Teach for America and the Teacher Institute at La Academia. Neither scored high on the NCTQ rankings.
Despite Colorado programs’ overall anemic showing on the ratings, the University of Colorado-Boulder education school ranked among the nation’s best. It scored 18th in the nation for its preparation of elementary teachers, compared with 394th for CU-Denver and 125th for CU-Colorado Springs.
The full report, including the results from other states, is available here.
Looking to the future
A week-long conference is teaching Northeast Denver high school students about leadership, career-readiness and health-care careers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A new Denver charter school gets approved in what seems like a blink of an eye to its supporters. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Going to court
A neighborhood preschool and health center is going up where a liquor store once stood in Denver's Westwood area. ( Denver Post )
Preparing for the worst
Bear Creek High School staff and faculty are learning life-saving skills in case there is ever an active-shooter situation on campus. ( 9News )
Thompson school board members will be evaluating superintendent Stan Scheer in closed session later this week. Although the evaluation process spurred has controversy among board members, board member Pam Howard said she does not anticipate Scheer's contract to be in jeopardy. ( Loveland Reporter-Herald )
Laying down the law
For a few districts around the nation, the federal school nutrition rules set to take effect July 1 — which for the first time set nutrition guidelines for every food that participating schools offer during the day — are just too tough to swallow. ( EdWeek )
Rating teacher prep
The National Council on Teacher Quality, in its second annual evaluation of teacher preparation programs, found that only 7 percent performed well enough to achieve the group's definition of "top status." ( Huffington Post )
The Denver Public Schools board vote to open the Banneker Jemison STEM Academy happened so fast that the school’s founding executive director Tunda Asega and his family almost missed it.
“Congratulations,” the district’s innovation officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust told Asega’s six children, who crowded around her in the boardroom’s lobby shortly after the board voted on Thursday. “You have a new school.”
The children cheered and jumped up and down.
A few minutes later, outside the district’s headquarters, another adult in Asega’s group could hardly contain her shock.
“That’s it?” she asked. “Just like that? We really have a school?”
More nods and smiles of happy disbelief.
The Asega clan nearly missed the vote not because they were late to the meeting, but because their charter application’s approval was stacked in a lengthy consent agenda with more than a dozen items that the board approved in one fell swoop quickly after the meeting came to order.
This is how most new charter schools open in Denver: early mornings and late night nights are poured into lengthy charter school applications for months — sometime years. There are meetings and interviews with district staff; emails are fired back and forth; there are revisions to the charter, meeting with perspective families; and — maybe — an occasional public backlash.
And yet, in a mere moment, the city’s Board of Education vote decides ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’
“It’s like training for the Olympics,” Asega said. “You prepare, practice, drill, analyze, anticipate. You stay up long hours working as a team. Then, the gun goes off and you put everything out there.”
Preparing the school’s charter has been “the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Asega said. “It’s the fulfillment of a longtime dream.”
He and many of his board members grew up in the city’s historically black northeast neighborhoods, where the school will be located at the King M. Trimble Building near Curtis Park.
The school’s model, according to district documents, will rely heavily on the Core Knowledge curriculum, with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM for short.
Asega and his board believe the students of the near northeast — like many poor students of color across the nation — have been underserved by the STEM movement. And if those students do ever come across a STEM program — most likely at the middle or high school level — they’re so far behind they drop out.
“We’re going to prepare students for STEM programs so they’re ready to achieve, succeed, and thrive in high school and beyond,” Asega said.
But he still has a lot of work to do.
For the charter to go into effect, the Banneker Jemison team must prove there is enough interest to fill 80 percent of its seats by Nov. 1, revise its budget, develop an evaluation tool for Asega, and provide evidence it has resolved a conflict of interest between a board member and the school’s proposed principal.
If the charter can meet that criteria, the school will open in 2015, with another 17 schools the Denver board has approved. Banneker Jemison plans to open with 150 students its first year and grow to 300.
“We know that community well,” he said. “There’s been so many ups and downs. We’re coming back to provide our gifts to that community that supported us. There’s a spirit to right some of the challenges that exist.”
Renzo Laynes has a clear favorite childhood memory: when his father, who worked in healthcare, would pick him and his brother up in an ambulance after a house call and drive them around the neighborhood.
But he didn’t know that he could turn that beloved childhood memory into a career.
Growing up as a Peruvian immigrant in Denver and relying on his mother’s income as a teacher gave Laynes little access to college-readiness programs and career advice. It was through programs like Councilman Chris Herndon’s Northeast Denver Leadership Week and the community involvement of places like Kaiser Permanente that Laynes said enabled him to pursue a successful future. Now, he’s entering his third year at the University of Colorado – Boulder, studying integrative physiology.
On Monday, Laynes, a recipient of Kaiser Permanente’s Diversity Scholarship, told his story to 70 high school students, kicking off the event’s fourth year. The goal of the week is to expose Denver high school students to career paths they might not have considered and in doing so, creating a more diverse workforce down the line.
Speakers at the event ranged from doctors to radiologists. A small group led by Dr. Terri Richardson, a Denver native and doctor of internal medicine at Kaiser Permenente, touched on the different careers in healthcare — from internal medicine, her specialty, to physician assisting — as well as the need for more youth of color in these fields.
“We need to do more with our young people, especially our young people of color,” she said. “I’ve been in practice 27 years. We need some younger people that are going to be leaders in every field, certainly in medicine. There’s got to be some young people we’re bringing forth that are going to feel comfortable and empowered enough to lead in the future.”
Dr. Jandel Allen-Davis, vice president of government and external relations at Kaiser Permanente, said diversity in healthcare fields plays a crucial role not only to get more people of color working in these fields, but also to convince patients to actually come to their physicians and heed their advice. Addressing health disparities in varying ethnic groups takes personal knowledge and passion.
“Patients are far more likely to adhere to treatment and have a good relationship with their physician or care provider if they look like them,” Allen-Davis said.
For that reason, Herndon said he makes a deliberate effort to have people from all different backgrounds speak to students.
“A lot of our students aren’t originally from this country, but if they see somebody interested in a medical career and hear their story, they think ‘Wow, that’s something that I can do as well,’ so it’s very important that we have speakers that have diverse backgrounds,” he said.
money, money, money
The State Board of Education decided last week to shift some Title I money away from low-income school districts to the relatively rich Douglas County School District, which houses the HOPE Online Learning Academy elementary school. The pilot program, which raised eyebrows from low-income school districts, will run for two years. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The state's community colleges are expecting a 5 percent dip in enrollment — which is tied to funding — this year. A recovering economy and a restructured developmental programs for students who need remedial work are contributing to the reduction in enrollement. ( Denver Post )
Parents and community members, led by education reform advocates, demanded better schools in the southwest corner of the city during the Denver Public Schools board meeting Thursday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
What's in a name?
Meanwhile, the DPS board approved the name for the city's new Stapleton high school campus. It will be named after the late civic leader and politician Paul Sandoval. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
And on Friday, Tom Boasberg announced to staff a reshuffling of his cabinet. Susana Cordova and Alyssa Whitehead-Bust will be his top deputies. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Racing to the top
Colorado's education department received mixed reviews from the U.S. Department of Education during an annual evaluation of its Race to the Top grant. Colorado, the review found, needs to do a better job helping districts choose measurements of educator evaluation, help districts review different assessments, and make districts aware of available STEM resources. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Hopes and hoops
A summer leadership academy for at-risk youth sponsored by Regis University and basketball star Chauncey Billups is underway at Regis. Since the first graduating class in 2002, 98.2 percent of students graduated from high school on time. ( 9News )
No room at the Inn
Colorado Springs District 49 may ask voters for money to build a new high school. Previous attempts, since 2011, have been unsuccessful. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )
Meanwhile, some Colorado Springs teachers are beefing up their skills at a summer program at Colorado College to help their dyslexic students when they return in the fall. ( Gazette )
One year after implementing its new math curriculum, Boulder Valley School District is seeing more rigor in its classrooms. But more work remains to get all teachers on the same page — especially at the elementary level. ( Daily Camera )
As the calendar turns
Staff at Denver's Castro Elementary thought they were participating in a "light-hearted end-of-year" activity when they made their "Men of Castro" calendar. But one community member didn't see it that way. ( 9News )
Denver Public Schools’ top boss has reshuffled his leadership team as the city’s school district moves toward rolling out its new strategic plan and after one of his top lieutenants departed for a new job.
In an email to district staff, Tom Boasberg announced Susana Cordova, formerly the district’s chief academic officer, will become the chief schools officer. Meanwhile Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, who previously oversaw the district’s innovation and reform office, will become the chief academic and innovation officer.
According to an email provided to Chalkbeat by DPS officials, Cordova will oversee all schools with the assistance of Ivan Duran, the recently minted assistant superintendent of primary schools, and Greta Martinez, who is newly appointed to assistant superintendent of post-secondary readiness.”
Martinez’s new title was previously held by Antwan Wilson. Wilson is leaving Denver to lead the Oakland Unified School District beginning July 1.
“The new structure will allow the chief schools officer to align our support, accountability, and implementation across all grade levels and all schools,” Boasberg said in his email. “By making the work of [the Office of School Reform and Innovation] in promoting innovation pilots and authorizing autonomous schools a part of the work of the chief academic and innovation officer, I am also excited about the increased opportunities to promote and share innovation and best practices across all our schools, regardless of governance type.”
Van Schoales, CEO of the education advocacy organization A+ Denver, said the announcement has promise.
“I think it’s smart and long overdue,” he said after being briefed on the transition this morning by Boasberg.
Schoales said the district’s academic and innovation offices previously worked independently of each other and weren’t aligned to provide the best support to its schools and school leaders were often getting direction from multiple central administration teams. He hope the reshuffle will change that.
“I think it potentially has big implications for the district,” he said.
The district did not immediately release new salary figures for Martinez or Whitehead-Bust.Boasberg’s email
As we have worked together to craft our revised Denver Plan this spring, I have spent much time engaging with our teams on how to best accelerate our academic improvements and close our achievement gaps. You have been clear with me about the importance of coherence and alignment across all our schools and central school-support teams in order to support our educators and share our learning as we implement the new Common Core and Colorado Academic Standards.
I am pleased to let you know that we are going to restructure some critical roles on our senior leadership team to strengthen this alignment and coherence. To achieve these goals, Susana Cordova will serve in the newly-created leadership position of Chief Schools Officer, which will oversee the support and management of all of our district-run schools. Ivan Duran has been doing an excellent job as our Assistant Superintendent in charge of our elementary schools, and he will continue in that role. I’m pleased to share that Greta Martinez has been named as our Assistant Superintendent for Post-Secondary Readiness in charge of our secondary schools. Both Ivan and Greta will be reporting to Susana.
Alyssa Whitehead-Bust will be moving to the new role of Chief Academic and Innovation Officer. Alyssa will lead all of the departments that are currently part of the Chief Academic Office. She will also continue to lead the Office of School Reform and Innovation in all its current duties, with the exception of leadership and network support for innovation schools. Leadership of the innovation schools network will move under Susana as Chief Schools Officer; and she is committed to supporting the flexibilities in their innovation plans.
The new structure will allow the Chief Schools Officer to align our support, accountability and implementation across all grade levels and all schools. By making the work of OSRI in promoting innovation pilots and authorizing autonomous schools a part of the work of the Chief Academic and Innovation Officer, I am also excited about the increased opportunities to promote and share innovation and best practices across all our schools, regardless of governance type.
We are lucky to have such talented people here in DPS and incredible leaders like Susana, Alyssa, Ivan and Greta. They are caring, accomplished, equity-driven educators who have a fierce dedication to our mission.
While the shifting of responsibilities and teams always has sensitivities and challenges, we have worked through these conversations with an overriding goal of determining the right team structures to best support success for our teachers, our school leaders and our kids.
My overriding message to you as we make this leadership shift is: Don’t wait. Lead. Please continue the excellent work you are doing. Do not pause or second guess our current plans. We are deeply committed to the work we have underway this summer and in the new school year, and the better alignment on our leadership team will help drive results for our kids.
I have great confidence that our experienced and talented school-leadership team will help us move more quickly toward our shared vision of Every Child Succeeds.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Susana Cordova.
We’re kicking off a new feature here (and an old favorite at Chalkbeat New York) with a roundup of the most interesting commentary and insight on education we read this week. Read on and tell us what you think (or what we should include next week) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The big news of the week was a court decision to strike down California’s teacher tenure laws and well, everyone had an opinion.
But that wasn’t the only thing riling up the education world. A Washington Post article looking at billionaire Bill Gates’ involvement in the rollout of Common Core got people talking.
But the furor also raised the question: how much has it actually changed the classroom?
Another school shooting in Oregon once again raised the question of violence in schools.
In an attempt to better match federal funds with the students the money is supposed to help, the state is piloting a program that will re-direct more than half a million dollars to the relatively wealthy Douglas County Schools.
The State Board of Education this week voted 6-1 to approve a pilot program under which the suburban school district will receive an additional $547,072 in federal Title I money next year to provide services for poor students.
The two-year pilot is intended to account for students who attend the HOPE Online Learning Academy – Elementary but who live in other districts that now receive the Title I funding for those children. The $547,072 is the estimated shift of funds in 2014-15. A similar amount likely would be allocated in 2015-16.
The plan drew vocal opposition from board member Elaine Gantz Berman at Wednesday’s meeting, and district leaders who stand to lose money aren’t happy either.
“We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Berman said. Dougco “is the ninth wealthiest county in the United States. … I can’t in good conscience vote for this. I can’t take money away from Greeley and Aurora and DPS.”
Charlotte Ciancio, superintendent of the Mapleton Public Schools, told Chalkbeat Colorado that what CDE is doing “is absolutely the right conversation and absolutely the wrong solution.” Mapleton would lose $5,188 from its estimated $1.2 million Title I allocation.
“Five thousand dollars in a district our size is significant,” Ciancio said.
The four districts taking the biggest hits are Denver ($169,733), Aurora ($143,970), Adams 12-Five Star ($45,868) and Westminster ($45,905). See the list of districts that will lose money and the amounts here.
Summing up the dilemma, state school finance director Leanne Emm told the board, “It’s a zero sum game.”The problem
The problem CDE is trying to address was created because Title I funding allocations are based on geography – primarily poverty rates within U.S. Census tracts and welfare caseloads. But students enrolled in online schools like HOPE live in many different districts, 21 districts in HOPE’s case.
In the bureaucratic words of a document presented to the board Wednesday, “Current methods for allocating Title I, Part A funds do not always accurately reflect where students are receiving services. Given the changing landscape of educational opportunities for students, studying the impacts of revising allocation methods will provide information necessary to make informed decisions moving forward.” (See the full presentation here.)
Although HOPE Online is authorized by the Dougco district, “very few of those kids live in Douglas County,” Keith Owen, deputy commissioner of education, told Chalkbeat Colorado in an interview. About 1,000 HOPE elementary students live outside the district.
“HOPE and Douglas County have been asking the department” for action on the issue for a number of years, Owen said, but no solution seemed workable until the idea for the pilot program came up. Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl indicated to the board he believes the program meets federal requirements.
The additional funds won’t necessarily go to HOPE but rather will allow Dougco to provide Title I funding for resident students in its own schools.
Owen told the board that Dougco’s current $1.2 million Title I allocation goes to HOPE and to certain set-asides like funding for homeless students. “They [the district] don’t serve other schools currently,” he said.The bureaucratic backstory
Title I is massively complicated, and a major issue is that while overall district funding is determined by census-determined poverty rates, money is distributed to schools based on different criteria, usually the number of students eligible for free lunch or for both free and reduced-price lunch.
Ciancio, in a letter to the board urging rejection of the pilot project, noted that census-based poverty calculations indicate 1,486 Mapleton children are in poverty, but it has 4,287 free-lunch students. (Read the letter here.)
“We contend that the [Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates are] seriously underestimating the true impact of children in poverty in some districts,” she wrote. (SAIPE is the federal acronym for the census poverty calculation.)
On top of that, Title I funds come in four subcategories, for which districts have different levels of eligibility.
And, beyond a requirement that schools with 75 percent or more at-risk students get Title I funding, districts have latitude in how they spend the money. Some give it just to elementary schools, for instance.
“There’s never enough money to serve every student,” Owen said.
The complexity and the flexibility lead to varying amounts of Title I funding among districts. Owen said Dougco is spending $758 per eligible HOPE student. Berman said the DPS per-student amount is $438. Within a district, some schools may receive no Title I money, even if they serve some poor students.
See the list of all Colorado schools with their 2012-13 Title I status here (link downloads PDF).The proposed solution
CDE developed criteria for online schools that could be eligible for the pilot, including minimum numbers of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, having a significantly higher percentage of such students than the authorizing district and participation in the federal school meal program. Of all the programs considered, only HOPE met all the criteria. It’s the only such school to participate in the meal program at its learning centers.
Owen said CDE will monitor use of the funds, including the strategies implemented for poor students, the impact on districts that lost funding and how to effectively use Title I funds in a multi-district online school. “A pilot gives us the opportunity to look at the impact,” he said.
Commissioner Robert Hammond told the board, “Ultimately the lessons learned could lead to statewide changes.”
In her letter, Ciancio wrote, “In our assessment, taking resources from one severely underfunded, highly impacted school district to support another underfunded school district feels inappropriate and unjust.”
She continued, “We ask you to charge the Colorado Department of Education to go back to the drawing board to find a solution that equitably funds districts and considers each child.”
She suggested that a more uniform way to allocate per-student funding could be developed by the state.
Owen told the board that such a statewide change might be possible but “is a massive undertaking” that CDE doesn’t have the capacity to handle now.
Shifting of Title I funds away from districts isn’t unprecedented. The state-run Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs and schools supervised by the Charter School Institute receive Title I funds based on their students’ districts of residence.
HOPE’s elementary program enrolls about 1,750 students, more than 60 percent eligible for free lunch. The school is in its fourth year at the priority improvement rating, Owen said. That’s the second lowest level in the state accountability system, and schools remaining at the level for five years are subject to state interventions including closure. (See the accountability report on all three HOPE schools here).
Southwest Denver parents and community members demanded Thursday that the Denver Public Schools Board of Education create a task force to address the lack of resources and poor performance in the area’s schools.
Their requests follow last week’s rally, where parent and student leaders of Stand of Children Colorado and Padres y Jovenes Unidos voiced their disappointment in the board’s lack of involvement and interest in the schools’ success.
A report issued by A+ Denver in April put what parents already knew into numbers, Mateos Alvarez, the Denver metro director for Stand for Children Colorado, said. The report states that only one-in-10 graduating high school seniors is college ready. Out of the 42 schools in southwest Denver, only seven received a grade of B or higher on the state’s system.
Parent Ana Munoz represented 55 families from the area’s one failing school — Val Verde Elementary. Munoz told the board that she and other parents had brought their concerns to the school’s principal, but they were ignored. Val Verde parent Ariana Hernandez said the principal was upset when she found out the parents would be addressing the board about the failing school.
Maria Galvan, a parent leader for Stand for Children Colorado, said the students in southwest Denver deserve the same educational opportunities that are offered in the far northeast. Angelica Castro, parent of three, said the board is responsible for these schools’ success.
“Success in an elementary school is based on good leadership,” Castro said. “We all feel very disappointed at the academic level (the schools) are at, and in the leadership we have in southwest Denver.”
Padres y Jovenes Unidos member Sandra Reva presented the board with a list of changes parents and students want to see in the southwest: longer school days and years, prompt academic interventions for children who are struggling, better food options, and restorative justice as school discipline in lieu of suspension, expulsions and police involvement, which parents said only aids the school-to-prison pipeline. Reva said longer school days and years would allow the inclusion of sports and tutoring for all students.
“We are certain that by incorporating these points, we can prepare southwest Denver students for college and to be active community members,” Reva said.
The district’s turnaround plan for Kepner Middle School has sparked more interest in the state of other schools in the southwest, as parents and advocates have demanded the district focus more of its efforts there.
Parents were pleased with the news that the former Kepner Middle School campus would be replaced with an expeditionary learning school, but said more needs to be done. With a population that is more than 80 percent Latino and 90 percent impoverished, the success of schools plays an important role in bettering the community.
“Education lifts people out of poverty,” southwest Denver community member Denise Maes said. “It keeps them out of prison.”
Three schools have been approved to open in the area for the upcoming 2014-15 school year: STRIVE Prep Southwest Middle School, Southwest Community Denver School and a to-be-determined district-run middle school. The board approved the co-location of one of its new district-run schools with STRIVE Prep Southwest Middle School.
While much attention was paid to the board’s final decision on new programs for the 2015 school year, the board took a few votes on other key issues at their meeting last night. Here’s a rundown:
Colorado continues to make progress on reaching its Race to the Top goals but has a few things to work on, according to an evaluation released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The state received $17.9 million in late 2011 as part of a round of R2T “consolation” grants.
The four goals in Colorado’s application were increasing state capacity to implement reform goals, helping schools and districts transition to new standards, implementing the new educator evaluation system and integrating STEM knowledge in all content areas.
The DOE evaluation said, “In Year 2, Colorado continued to develop and successfully implement most aspects of its Race to the Top plan.” The evaluation specifically cited improved project management by the state Department of Education, expanded communications by CDE, development of a state sample curriculum and assistance to districts on educator evaluation.
On the negative side, the evaluation concluded that “Colorado continued to grapple” with helping districts choose and weight various measurements of educator evaluation, “also struggled with” helping districts review different kinds of assessments and “had difficulty” making districts aware of available STEM resources.
Jill Hawley, Colorado associate commissioner, said felt the DOE report was “a pretty accurate assessment” of how the state is implementing the grant.
Read the DOE’s full Colorado report for December 2012-December 2013 here.
Colorado’s educator effectiveness system requires that half of the evaluations be based on student academic growth. That growth is measured not just with data provided by statewide tests but by growth information from multiple kinds of tests. A key part of CDE’s effort has been to help districts evaluate and choose what tests to use.
The evaluation system is still being rolled out. All districts were required to use state-compliant systems in the just-finished school year, but the results won’t count against possible future loss of non-probationary status by ineffective and partially effective teachers.
Next year, to account for a “data gap” caused by the switch to new tests, districts will have flexibility in how much to weight student growth when evaluating teachers. So the full rollout of the evaluation system launched in 2010 won’t come until the 2015-16 school year.
The state has lost three R2T bids but won two consolation grants, including the $17.9 million award. The state also won a $29.9 million R2T-Early Childhood Learning Challenge consolation grant in late 2012, and that award that was supplemented with an additional $15 million last year.
The federal R2T program made its first awards in 2010 and has given more than $5 billion to 24 states and the District of Columbia. Some $1 billion in grants to 20 states have been given in the early learning program. And more than $500 million has been awarded in R2T-District grants.
In 2012, the St. Vrain Valley district won a $16.6 million district grant. The district is using the money to expand and improve STEM programs.
New kids on the block
Last week, board members heard from parents, community members and students about the potential new schools that could open in Denver. Among the most controversial questions: who will take over a brand new southeast Denver campus where a charter and a district-run school were vying for approval. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The district-run school won out last night during the board vote on new schools, although members vowed to find a building for the charter. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
As we go on, we remember
On the last day of school, a first grade classroom in Englewood celebrate the year and look to next school year. ( 9News )
More of the same
A Pueblo charter will be getting a new leader next year, but that doesn't mean a new face since the school's current dean will be taking over. ( Chieftain )
Where are the watchers?
Some Pueblo community members are objecting to the elimination of a school district budget oversight committee. ( Chieftain )
Pueblo also got the go-ahead on a state building grant to update fire protections at one of the city's high school. ( Chieftain )
And a San Luis Valley middle school will get a new roof through the same program. ( Valley Courier )
The road less traveled
A new self-directed teen learning center is a blessing for some students struggling to find a path outside of traditional education. ( Gazette )
A lot of numbers - and debate - are flying around concerning school shootings. A closer look at the 74 shootings in schools since the infamous Sandy Hook shooting reveals a "Sandy Hook-like" incident occurring every five weeks in the United States. ( KDVR )
The Sentinel editorial board says teacher tenure laws, which were struck down in California this week, harken back to a time when teachers could be fired for where they went to church. That's not true anymore. But teacher pay also needs to get better. ( Aurora Sentinel )