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Updated: 30 min 25 sec ago

Rise & Shine: ProComp agreement likely to be extended as negotiations continue

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 09:32

third time's a charm?

After two attempts at either finding suitable Common Core-aligned curriculum and trying to write their own, Denver Public Schools officials now say they're headed "back to the drawing board" to find appropriate classroom materials. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

small steps

The Aurora Public Schools board took a half-step towards allowing a cash-strapped charter school to stay open. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

negotiating the negotiations

Two weeks before Denver Public Schools' current teacher compensation program, ProComp, expires, district and union officials haven't come to an agreement on changes. ( Denver Post )

oil for schools

The mayor of Windsor is fighting to use a portion of the town's oil and gas revenue to fund schools. ( Coloradoan )

creating safer spaces

A new survey reports that Colorado's gay, lesbian and bisexual students face significant physical and mental health challenges in school. ( Summit Daily )

no more bullies

A Jefferson County mother is encouraging other parents to take a proactive approach to talk to their children about bullying. ( 9News )

congratulations

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall announced that he's nominated 54 Colorado students for admission to military academies. ( Daily Camera )

climb the bus

An after-school program is using a school bus outfitted with a climbing wall to teach about science. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver Public Schools “back to the drawing board” in search for Common Core-aligned curriculum

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 18:06

Denver Public Schools officials say they are starting their search for curricular materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts all over again.

It’s been four years since Colorado adopted the Common Core in language arts and math as part of the Colorado Academic Standards. Starting next spring, the state’s standardized test in the subjects will be tied to the new standards.

But DPS has yet to adopt or purchase a new set of curricular resources aligned to the Common Core.

District officials say that the textbooks and other academic resources that are on the market right now aren’t up to snuff, especially for Denver’s large population of English learners.

“It’s a real struggle right now,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer. “Finding a curriculum that’s that’s been redesigned for the Common Core is difficult enough—and finding one that’s aligned for English learners is a different challenge.”

The district reviewed the Common Core-aligned textbooks and curriculum on the market last year, Whitehead-Bust said, but decided that none was worth the millions of dollars the district would have to invest.

The district then decided to create a new curriculum in-house. “That was Plan B. And that turned out to be equally challenging,” Whitehead-Bust said. “Now we’re back to the drawing board.”

Whitehead-Bust said there was no clear date by which the district was guaranteed to have new resources. “We’re continuing to move forward with research and investigation,” she said.

In the meantime, DPS teachers are in limbo, adapting resources that were created with the previous state standards in mind to create lessons that are aligned the Common Core.

Redesigned, not realigned

The Common Core standards for English language arts and math have been adopted in 43 states and the District of Columbia (Minnesota adopted only the standards in English language arts). Though the standards have stirred political and educational controversy, Denver officials say they are more rigorous and will encourage better teaching and learning.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiThird graders at Ellis Elementary study English with ESL teacher Bree Roon. Each of the students in this group has a different native language, including Karen, Spanish, Russian/Turkish, Arabic, and Bosnian.

But Denver is not alone in having not found new Common Core-aligned curriculum and textbooks, said Carrie Heath Phillips, program director for Common Core State Standards at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which helped develop the standards. “Many places didn’t want to rush to buy new materials until there were more quality resources out there.”

She said that’s starting to change: Some states, including Tennessee, Louisiana, and Hawaii, have recommended lists of textbooks that are aligned to the standards.

In Colorado, each district chooses which curriculum and resources it will use. Some districts, including Boulder, have adopted new curricular resources tied to the Common Core.

Whitehead-Bust said that DPS is searching for something that’s not simply old textbooks with a new label. “There are a lot of companies that have remapped their material to the standards. But they haven’t redone their material. We’re looking for materials that are really redesigned, not just realigned.”

In the meantime, she said, teachers haven’t been totally without updates and support. “What we’re trying to do is take the resources that were in place last year, many of which were really strong and solid resources, and deepen the rigor of the content, infuse more informational text, and deepen expectations around text-dependent questions, so we can really guide teachers through.” Elementary English language arts teachers have gotten new guided reading books for their students. A literacy newsletter has suggestions about how to tie lessons to the new standards.

“Great resources in the hands of less-than-well-trained teachers don’t have anywhere close to the same impact as well-trained teachers using resources you’d hoped to replace and upgrade over time,” she said.

But weaving old materials together with new additions aimed at making lessons more rigorous or aligned with the new standards isn’t always easy.

“They do provide us with a lot of resources,” said Margaux Rowley, a second grade teacher at Ellis Elementary, in southeast Denver. “But sometimes you’re getting so much—it’s, ‘do this with the scope and sequence,’ ‘do this with the standards.’ It’s a lot of information.”

Rowley said that making sure the lesson plans and instructional materials she uses in class line up with the standards, and with how other grades in the school are interpreting the standards, is a challenge.

Theresa Winslow, a fifth grade teacher at Ellis, said that math materials are more up-to-date than language arts. “In literacy, we’re still tied to the lesson guides from ten years ago.”

Frustrated board

At a meeting of the district’s board in November focused on academic programs and teacher and leader training initiatives, board member Arturo Jimenez said he was concerned about the delay. “If we don’t have the curricular materials chosen and implemented and ready to go, it’s difficult to see the logic that we’re focusing on teacher leadership development, evaluation and incentives,” he said. He compared it to sending paratroopers into battle without parachutes.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiThe Denver school board discusses academics, including curriculum, at a meeting in November.

“How do we focus teachers without planning and practice guides, without curriculum that’s focused on the Common Core? It seems like we’re doing it backwards,” he said.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said while he understood the concern, “we have kids on the ground who desperately need our teachers. Are not going to say we’re not going to coach or develop them?”

Whitehead-Bust described the district’s efforts to “bridge” between old materials and new. “Many districts are in our position,” she said. “It’s frustrating for teachers.” She said there would likely be an update to the timeline for finding resources as the district develops its new strategic plan this winter.

Board president Happy Haynes said she was surprised to hear that materials appropriate for English learners were hard to come by. “I don’t know why it took [publishers] so long to figure out that that’s an extraordinary need—but we need to keep the pressure there in order to get the materials we need.”

Challenges for English learners PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiEllis Elementary enrolls students who speak more than 20 different native languages.

States and districts have been developing ways to make sure the standards are accessible to English learners, according to the CCSSO’s Phillips. The state of New Jersey, for one, has developed scaffolding guides for English learners. The school district in San Diego has translated all of the standards into Spanish. The Council of the Great City Schools released a “user’s guide” for districts looking to find instructional materials tailored to English learners’ needs this August.

In 2013-14, 35 percent of Denver’s public school students were English learners.

District chief schools officer Susana Cordova said the new standards highlight an already-existing challenge: “It’s difficult to find material in Spanish in general–and even more difficult to find material that’s been revised and aligned to the rigor of the Common Core.” The district offers several Transitional Native Language Instruction, or TNLI, in programs, in which Spanish speaking students spend some time learning in their native language.

She said there also aren’t enough materials with features that make it easier for students who are learning English to process text (such as on-page definitions for tricky words). She said the Common Core standards’ emphasis on informational text and problem solving in math means that English learners are confronted with more technical language and, in math, just more language than ever before.

And even resources that are advertised as aligned don’t always live up to the hype, she said. When the district reviewed one publisher’s Common Core-aligned materials, Cordova said, eight of the ten lessons built for English learners focused on idioms. “That’s not the bulk of what English learners need to learn,” Cordova said.

The district adopted a new program called E.L. Achieve, intended to be a more effective literacy program for English learners, earlier this fall.

At Ellis Elementary, where more than 24 languages are spoken and fewer than a third of students speak English as a first language, “we didn’t get the new standards and think, oh my goodness, how will we teach our English learners,” said Linda Miller, the dean of instruction at Ellis. “It was, how will we get STUDENTS to show that they have mastered or are where they should be with the standards? So now it’s this aftermath—so now we’re going to use E.L. Achieve. How will that support teaching the standards as well?”

“We’re working as hard as we possibly can to teach all our students,” Miller said. “A large majority happen to be English learners. But that hasn’t changed.”

Teachers were most concerned about how students, especially English learners, would fare on PARCC, the state’s new computer-based, Common Core-tied assessment, which, they said, is very text heavy. Even the instructions for how to navigate the online exam—drag and drop, or figuring out which box is an answer box—can trip up students, especially those who are still translating in their heads.

“A lot of our English learners are brilliant,” Winslow said. “But the test isn’t really going to show you what they’re capable of. And then it looks like we’re not doing our jobs.”

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora board takes half-step to help cashless charter school

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 14:51

AURORA — A charter school teetering on the edge of bankruptcy was given a tentative lifeline Tuesday night by the city’s school board. But the Aurora Public Schools board stopped short of approving a one-year charter extension for AXL Academy.

While several board members aired their skepticism about granting a one-year extension to the school – its charter contract expires June 30 – the board unanimously agreed to allow the district and AXL more time to develop a plan that would close a $632,000 shortfall and set the charter school on a path toward fiscal and academic stability.

The board, which has been considered chilly to charter schools in the past, will review the plan and vote on a one-year charter contract extension as early as its Jan. 6 meeting.

The vote can’t come soon enough for the AXL community. Thanks to some budget crunching, it has just enough cash now to get through March 2.

The extra time is also a welcomed symbolic gesture of Aurora’s warming to charter schools, said Nora Flood, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

“This board is interested in what’s in the best interest of children and their families,” Flood said after the meeting, pointing out that APS has also renewed two of its charters schools — Global Village and the Aurora Academy — this month. “They’re taking a broader view. They’re looking across their portfolio to make sure there are high quality options for their students.”

While AXL had originally asked for the district to establish a credit line for about $300,000, the school presented a new plan Tuesday asking the district to allow the school to run a deficit of about $175,000 this school year. That deficit would be wiped out by a projected surplus next year. The surplus would come from one-time funds promised by the legislature to all public schools, and an anticipated increase in per-pupil funding.

The new plan also relies on raising  $150,000 from philanthropic foundations. And in keeping with the original plan, AXL would like APS to defer about $300,000 in service fees this school year, allowing the school to pay those over three years.

“We strongly believe that this process will create an AXL Academy that is strong, more effective, and most importantly, more responsible than ever before,” said Brent Reckman, a co-principal at AXL.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Financial consultant Jason Gurrero from G and G Consulting, left, and AXL co-principal Brent Reckman answered questions from the APS Board of Education Tuesday night.

More than 100 AXL supporters squeezed into the modest APS board chambers. Six individuals — two parents, two teachers, and two students — spoke in favor of providing a contract extension to AXL.

“It isn’t a perfect school, but it is our school,” said Amber Malin, an AXL teacher whose child also attend the school.

Parents and teachers who spoke at the board meeting shared their renewed faith in AXL, which has experienced financial hardship before and has seen a dip in academic performance, according to state test score data.

“I feel more secure in the planning of AXL’s future than ever before,” said Heather Rivers, an AXL teacher.

Student Vance Manzanares said his teachers have inspired him to go to college since he was young.

“They want us to be great people — not just now, but especially when we grow up,” he said. “They always tell me to go for my dreams. I want to be an inventor. Not one of my teachers has told me that’s a bad idea. That’s why you’ll all be able to fly in 2025 with awesome rocket-propelled shoes.”

Board members and Superintendent Rico Munn, weighing the financial ramifications of its options, fired a series of questions at AXL’s leadership, financial consultant, and Lisa Flores from the Gates Family Foundation.

(Disclosure: Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Gates Family Foundation.)

One of the most intense exchanges was between Munn and Flores.

Munn attempted to gauge the foundation’s willingness to support AXL and what the district and school would need to do to ensure for the foundation’s contribution. Flores said her foundation is interested in continuing its support of AXL, which it has done for many years, but explained she didn’t have the authority to pledge any dollar amount without approval from the foundation’s board of directors.

“What we’re looking for is everyone making a good faith effort to long-term planning,” Flores said.

Flores said she was impressed by how the school’s new leadership team was grappling with a number of challenges including food service, renegotiating the school’s lease, and student recruitment, but that several details still needed to be finalized, including how much time AXL would have to repay the $300,000 in fees that would be deferred this year.

Munn and his board of education agreed.

“I have to be honest, this is making me a little nervous,” said APS board member Amber Drevon. “Are you looking for donations in other places?”

AXL’s leaders said they were.

Board member Dan Jorgensen appeared pleased with the path Aurora and AXL were on.

“There’s nothing I can see as another approach,” said board member Dan Jorgensen.

But board member Eric Nelson wasn’t so optimistic.

“I’m really praying that you have a contingency plan,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Adams 12 makes plans to address school crowding after a $220 million bond failed

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:26

Buildings

The Five Star school board is trying to figure out how to address school crowding after a $220 million bond failed this November. ( Westminster Window )

school rankings

ColoradoSchoolGrades.com has ranked Colorado schools on a scale from A to F. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

school rankings

Most of the schools that earned strong grades are in the Pikes Peak region. ( The Gazette )

Open or Close

The Aurora school board is deciding whether to close or renew the contract of AXL Academy, a charter school that's struggling financially. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Coding Possibilities

Researchers at the Baylor School of Medicine are using code written by Colorado students to help improve outcomes for cancer patients. ( 9 News )

New Homes

Three charter schools in Colorado Springs are purchasing new buildings. ( The Gazette )

Oil and Gas

The mayor of Windsor plans to use oil and gas money to support schools via a foundation—but not everyone supports his plans. ( Coloradoan )

Jeffco

Jeffco teachers got their first compensation updates in years in November. ( Arvada Press )

Making Friends

A group of elementary students have created a "buddy bench" to help make sure none of their classmates are lonely. ( Westminster Window )

Restorative Justice

A school in Oakland, Calif. is beginning to use a restorative justice aproach. ( KUNC )

absenteeism

The state of New York is planning to track chronically absent students, taking a page from New York City schools. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Digital Divide

Even once kids get laptops as parts of one-on-one initiatives, many don't have the internet online. ( Hechinger Report )

Homelessness

A new housing project in Tacoma, Wash. aims to help homeless K-12 students. ( Education Week )

Health Care

A challenge to the Affordable Care Act could have big implications for school system workers—especially support staff at schools. ( Education Week )

Vouchers

A Denver parent argues against school vouchers in a letter to the Denver Post. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Coalition releases school grades for parents

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 17:04

Colorado parents looking for more user-friendly information about their school’s academic performance last year can now search an updated online database that ranks schools on a familiar A-F grading scale.

ColoradoSchoolGrades.com, developed by a coalition of 18 nonprofits organizations with that generally support accountability-reform efforts, uses data from the Colorado Department of Education and a formula developed by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver to compute the grades.

The site was updated this week with the most recent test data from the 2013-14 school year.

The aim is to give every parent an easy-to-understand letter-grade ranking for their school to inform decisions about where to send their students.

Colorado is one of a few states that ranks schools and districts on a variety of metrics that provides quality information to parents, but a report by the Education Commission of the States found that information is not easily accessible to most parents.

From the organization’s press release:

“Parents need clear, concise information to make good school choices for their child,” said Bob Deibel, President and Owner of OfficeScapes and board member at Colorado Succeeds. “Colorado School Grades is a critical tool to provide a first step for any parent making a choice or improving a school.”

For four years, Colorado School Grades has represented an alternative to other school rating systems, which are difficult to navigate or offer watered-down information. For example, the Colorado Department of Education indicates that more than 70 percent of public schools are “top performers,” making it difficult for parents to understand how their school measures up. Colorado School Grades rates schools on a more rigorous curve, so the community can understand which schools are performing at the highest levels.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora school board to decide fate of cash-strapped charter school

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 16:11

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education tonight will decide the fate of one of its charter schools that has just enough cash to operate until the end January.

The school board will decide whether to shutter the AXL Academy charter school at the end of the month, close it at the end of the school year, or extend its charter for 18 months so the school can possibly regain its financial footing.

At stake is what’s best for the 500 students of AXL —  about 90 percent of whom live inside the APS attendance boundaries — and the suburban school system’s own finances.

AXL officials, who met with the APS school board earlier this month, told board members that the financial shortfall was caused entirely by the school enrolling 100 fewer students than originally budgeted for.

According to the officials’ remarks at the APS school board meeting and in subsequent interviews with Chalkbeat Colorado, it appears most of the school’s staff, its board, and district officials were kept in the dark about the shortfall until after the state’s official count day in October.

Count day is one of the most important days of the school year. On this day, schools and districts report how many students are at their desks. Those numbers determine how much money school systems receive from the state for the entire school year. While AXL’s enrollment did increase this year, it still fell short of its growth projection of 600 students.

As a result of the enrollment shortfall. AXL received about $700,000 less than officials had projected.

AXL officials claim they have a plan to establish a solid fiscal foundation. They believe the kindergarten through eighth grade school should stay open because the school has growth potential. District-run expeditionary learning schools are popular in Aurora and have waiting lists.

AXL also meets or beats the district’s average student achievement results on state reading and writing tests, although those scores have slipped by double digit percentage points in the last three years and still lag behind the state’s average.

While the school, which has similar demographics to the district’s, has underperformed the district’s and state’s average in math, overall the school has earned the state’s highest rating a school can earn for the last three years.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Donny Wright, left, and his son, Trenton Wright, 12, were among the 200 AXL Academy charter school supporters who packed an Aurora Public Schools Board of Education meeting earlier this month. AXL Academy has enough money to operate through January. It’s requesting an 18-month charter extension and loan from the APS.

AXL officials hope an extension to the school’s charter will provide the campus a chance to move past its financial mistakes and refocus on teaching and learning.

“We don’t want to dwell on the past,”said Matt Wasserman, the school’s new board president, at the Dec. 2 APS board meeting. “We’ve made a clean break from the past. We want the ability to have a fresh star. This is a financial crisis. But it is not an academic crisis. … AXL is asking for what amounts to a second chance.”

Since late October, AXL’s school director, Audra Philippon has left. The school has restructured its administration team and board of directors, and also cut about $90,000 from its budget.

Philippon did not respond to a request for comment.

As part of its restructuring, the school has hired a charter school consulting firm for about $30,000.

“We’ve tried to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” said Brent Reckman, AXL’s co-principal, at the APS board meeting. “Cutting the Spanish team was the most difficult.”

It’s still unclear how only a select few of the school’s administrators knew about under enrollment problems and what specific systems will be in place by the end of the school year to prevent a similar budgeting problem going forward.

AXL is asking the district to defer about $315,000 in fees for district services and establish a credit line for about the same amount.

Part of the conversation tonight between AXL and the APS board will be to discuss what the financial trade-offs are for either keeping the school open or closing it.

“I need to have a real good idea about what it would cost the district for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school year,” said Mary Lewis, an APS board member.

If the board agrees to float AXL a lifeline there is no guarantee the district will see the hundreds of thousands of dollars again. The school could ultimately close if it can’t boost its enrollment. Some families have already left since news about the financial hardship spread.

If AXL does shut down, any assets such as computers the school purchased with state tax dollars would become the property of APS, according to a spokeswoman with the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

This isn’t the first time AXL has had money woes. In the fall of 2013, APS sent a letter to the school claiming AXL was not in compliance with its charter contract due to concerns about its financial status and governance structure. But the school corrected course, APS officials pointed out to their board this month.

“We were here last year, but for different reasons,” said Rico Munn, APS’s superintendent. “As of June, we all felt good.”

While there have been signs the Aurora school board is becoming more friendly to charters, over the years it has earned a reputation of being anti-charter. While neighboring school districts like Denver Public Schools and Douglas County have been steadily opening charter schools, APS hasn’t authorized another charter school since AXL opened in 2008.

The APS board’s decision tonight could signal a greater openness to working with charter school or a closing of the ranks.

Aurora officials and board members earlier this month said they were happy the district and charter school officials were communicating through the entire process. And many board members praised the school for rallying parent support. More than 200 parents, teachers, and students packed the modest APS board room earlier this month to show support for the school.

If the board decides to shut down the school at the end of the month, all AXL students — regardless of what school district they live in — would be able to choose an APS school to attend so long as a seat was available.

AXL’s parent Max Garcia’s  three students would likely finish the school year at their neighborhood school, Jewel Elementary. But he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“I believe in the expeditionary learning model,” he said. “If they close the school, it’d break my heart. I volunteer there. I teach the cooking club. I know a lot of the kids on a first name basis.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that 90 percent of AXL students live inside the Aurora Public Schools boundary. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: More Denver high school students being arrested for pot

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 09:52

Testing madness

The state's testing task force finally got down to voting on tentative recommendations yesterday. But the process was messy, and the results were mostly inconclusive. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

gone to pot

Arrests for marijuana-related incidents spiked nearly 40 percent at Denver Public Schools following the opening of recreational pot stores this year, according to city police records. ( CPR, 9News )

turn it around

The DPS school board heard recommendations on how to improve student learning at two of its most struggling campuses: Manual High School and Kepner Middle School. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Wake up sleepy head!

Later school start times for middle and high schools are slowly gaining traction in Colorado. The newest school to have a late start will be Denver's new high school in the Stapleton neighborhood. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Decisions, decisions

Denver families who want to choose new schools next year may now do so. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

#COLeg 2015

House Republican leaders on Monday made their committee assignments for the 2015 legislative session, including five members for the House Education Committee. Many are familiar faces. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

If you want to be the first to know about happenings at the Colorado General Assembly next January, you need to sign up to be a Capitol Member today! ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

New hires at both Cherry Creek and Littleton schools this year most recently taught at Douglas County schools, new reports show. But one Dougco school board member isn't surprised. ( Douglas County News-Press )

First things first

Some families in southwestern Colorado will get a little help paying for early childhood education thanks to a $300,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation. ( Durango Herald )

Paying it foward

A Denver East High School family has raised more than $5,000 for the officer who was critically injured after a car hit him as he was escorting students back to campus after a rally. ( 9News )

brick and mortar

The Boulder Valley School District is moving forward with new construction projects after successfully passing the state's largest bond measure in history this fall. ( Daily Camera )

A charter high school in Colorado Springs and two others affiliated with Colorado Early Colleges are purchasing their buildings with a $17.3 million loan from a Longmont bank. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing task force struggles, stumbles as deadline looms

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 23:25

The state’s Standards and Assessments Task Force, which has been meeting since July, finally got down to voting on tentative recommendations Monday. The process was messy, and the results were mostly inconclusive.

Straw votes taken over nearly eight hours by the 15-member advisory group generally supported reducing the amount of state-required testing in high school, but the members couldn’t reach agreement on a long list of other issues, including reducing the overall amount of testing, what to do about the new social studies tests and about readiness and literacy evaluations for young students.

And those recommendations the group did agree to “are not set in stone,” said chair Dan Snowberger.

As the daylong session dragged to its end, he said, “We are going to need much more time to come to agreement on recommendations.” Snowberger is superintendent of the Durango School District.

The group had a hard time getting to those preliminary decisions, having to redo votes on several issues and consuming time as members tried to explain the nuances of why they voted the way they did.

The discussion was civil and polite but clearly indicated the philosophical divisions among task force members, particularly between representatives of education reform groups on one side and parent activists and district administrators on the other.

The divisions on the task force likely prefigure disagreements during the 2015 legislative session, where testing is expected to be a top education issue. Some lawmakers say they are waiting to see what the task force proposes. But the task force’s inability so far to speak with one voice could well diminish its influence on Capitol deliberations.

Lawmakers already are chomping at the bit on testing; at least half a dozen legislators reportedly have reserved bill titles on the issue.

The tentative recommendations The testing task force’s work product.

The task force did reach preliminary agreement on some testing issues, including:

  • Elimination of all state-required testing in the senior year of high school
  • Replacing the high school science exam with a beefed-up “college entrance exam” (like the ACT, but not necessarily that test)
  • Continue giving state science tests in the fifth and eighth grades
  • Elimination of language arts and math tests in the 11th grade and limiting those tests to the 10th grade
  • A majority of the group leaned toward allowing districts and schools to continue giving language arts and math tests in the ninth and 11th grades as a local option

Some members of the group appeared to support – kind of by default and perhaps temporarily – continued language arts and math tests in third through eighth grades.

In short, the group for now is leaning toward reducing state testing to what’s known as “the federal minimum,” the testing sequence that’s currently required by the federal government.

Members differed on what those straw votes meant.

“From grades three through eight we’ve affirmed the status quo. … We spent today essentially affirming the status quo. In all our discussions we haven’t reduced anything,” said panel member John Creighton, who serves on the St. Vrain school board.

“We have made progress. … Let’s not kick ourselves too hard just yet,” responded Jay Cerney of Cherry Creek Academy charter school in Englewood.

A tortured process

The discussion went slowly for a number of reasons, including:

  • Individual member suggestions for broad policy statements, intended to gain agreement from the group, frequently were greeted with “Yes, but” responses from other members, leading to prolonged discussions.
  • Even after straw votes, members took time to qualify and explain their votes, and several votes had to be repeated.
  • Task force facilitator Laura Lefkowits had to repeatedly call for second votes after members dropped their hands too quickly for her to count them.
  • The group wandered from topic to topic, changing subjects when they couldn’t reach agreement.

Comments by Snowberger, Lefkowits and others through the day illustrate the slow pace of discussion.

  • “So where are we?” – Snowberger at about 11:30 a.m.
  • “Can we vote on this?” – Snowberger shortly after noon
  • “We’ve cut very little in the way of testing so far.” – Tony Lewis of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, at about 2 p.m.
  • “So where are we? – Snowberger a short time later
  • “This isn’t much of a recommendation if we’re split in half.” – Lefkowits as 2:30 p.m. neared.
  • “Let’s try to finish one thing before we move to another.” – Lefkowits at about 2:45 p.m.
  • “We need to talk about how long we are going to stay tonight. … We’ve spent a lot of time on things that have not moved.” – Lefkowits as the original adjournment time of 3:30 p.m. approached.
  • “We are a long ways away.” – Snowberger shortly after 3 p.m.

The meeting broke up shortly after 5 p.m.

What’s next

A rump group of the task force was planning to meet Tuesday to see if it could come up with more specific proposals for the full group to discuss later.

Snowberger also is trying to organize small groups of members to discuss issues before the next full meeting on Jan. 9. “If we wait until the 9th to do this again we’re going to be very disappointed,” he said.

The Jan. 9 meeting wasn’t scheduled originally, but the group agreed to it Monday. The panel also is scheduled to meet Jan. 12.

Snowberger’s comments also indicated he’s backing away from the goal of consensus the task force had at the start. “We’re going to have to start putting stakes in the ground, and if 10 of us agree, then report that 10 of us agree.”

Interest groups make their pitches

The task force’s day started with presentations by three interest groups with vocal positions on testing. Task force members split up for simultaneous presentations by the three groups, then discussed the information as a full group.

A parent group known as the Denver Alliance for Public Education presented the results of an online survey it conducted that found strong respondent opposition to the current testing system. The group has complained that a survey done for the task force by the consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates didn’t sample parent opinion.

Representatives of the Colorado Education Association presented a teacher survey that showed respondents split on the Common Core State Standards and skeptical of the value of current assessments.

Members of the Social Studies Policy Group have been following the task force closely and are lobbying to avoid changes in or reduction of the state’s new social studies tests.

Learn more about the groups’ positions in these documents:

You can see the final APA report here and read recent public comments submitted to the task force here.

The task force was created by the 2014 legislature as a political compromise because lawmakers weren’t ready tackle more substantive changes to the testing system. As is typical with such study commissions, the task force membership was designed to include representatives of various education interest groups.

Categories: Urban School News

Plans for Manual and Kepner on the table as DPS discusses turnaround strategy

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 17:51

After a year of adjustment and debate, Denver Public Schools has finalized its plans for Manual High School and Kepner Middle School, two of the schools it has identified as most in need of improvement.

Those plans and an update to the district’s overall turnaround strategy will be up for discussion at the district’s school board meeting tonight.

Several possibilities for Manual’s future, including a partnership with East High, one of the district’s highest-performing high schools, have been considered since last year. The school was the district’s lowest-scoring high school.

The newest plan for Manual would bring in a group of eight City Year volunteers into the school to focus on both academic achievement and school culture.

The district has also selected Manual to receive a grant to bring a bio-medical program, part of a Career and Technical Education pathway, to the school. A new assistant principal will lead that program.

Candidates to be the school’s new principal are already being recruited and interviews will happen in January.

At Kepner, the district has plans to place two new charter schools in the building next year while the current school program is phased out. The plan to house Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep in the building raised concerns about the fate of the district’s program for English learners in the building.

The board will vote Thursday on a plan to place both Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep in the building temporarily, while also moving forward with plans to place Strive and district school Kepner Beacon in the building in 2016. The district’s agreement with Compass specifies that the school will come to an agreement with DPS about services for English language learners.

The district delayed plans to place Strive and the Kepner Beacon program, an expansion of a current school at Grant Beacon, to open next fall.

District officials will also discuss updates to its plans for all turnaround schools and schools it has identified as otherwise in need of support.

The district plans to expand support and funding for turnaround schools to five years instead of three years. As part of its Whole Child initiative, turnaround schools will receive mental health-focused staff and supports for the community. The district also plans to add an instructional expert at each of its turnaround schools.

Turnaround schools will also get an additional planning year, and the district said it would plan to find leaders and teachers for turnaround schools early on in the planning process.

Denver Public Montessori, Harrington Elementary School, Schmitt Elementary, Beach Court Elementary, Goldrick Elementary, Morey Middle, Abraham Lincoln High, Henry Middle, and Amesse Elementary were all flagged as being in need of some improvement (not necessarily for turnaround). The district will analyze each school to decide which are eligible for which services in the coming months.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Later school start times slowly gain traction in Colorado

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 17:32

When Denver’s new Northfield High School opens next August, its students will report to their first class more than an hour later than students at most other district high schools.

The school’s planned 8:45 a.m. start time is a nod to the growing body of evidence that suggest teens are hard-wired to favor later bedtimes and do better academically when school schedules accommodate their natural sleep cycles.

Northfield Principal Avi Tropper said the decision to go with some version of a later start was based on abundant research, with community focus groups helping pinpoint the exact time.

“It’s pretty clear to me starting a school from the ground up…it’s just an opportunity from the beginning to do what works for students,” he said.

While later secondary start times are relatively uncommon, the concept is slowly gaining traction among educators in Colorado and across the country. In August, the topic got a burst of attention when the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, published a policy statement advocating for middle and high school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later.

It was news that grabbed the attention of Denver school board member Michael Johnson, prompting him to send the statement to fellow board members and district staff.

“This is something we ought to look at,” he said. “This might be something that we could do that would be relatively painless…and we might be able to bump up student achievement just by changing the schedule.”

Johnson said he doesn’t envision a districtwide mandate for later high school starts, but perhaps a recommendation with implementation supports for interested schools.

Giving it a go

Among the small number of schools that have start times of 8:30 a.m. or after are Cortez Middle School and Montezuma-Cortez High School. An interim superintendent changed the previous 7:30 a.m. start to 8:50 a.m. in 2012 and at the same time changed the district’s four-day school week to a five-day week.

Jason Wayman, the high school principal, said adding Fridays back into the school week was the more controversial change, but the later start time drew some complaints too.

“I’ve gotten mixed feedback. You have a lot of kids who need the sleep and you have a bunch of kids who want out earlier because they have to go to work,” he said.

Other concerns, all fairly typical in the debate about later start times, include sports practices being pushed later, elementary schools starting earlier and tricky districtwide busing logistics. Wayman said because the district’s longer elementary bus routes are now completed before secondary bus routes, some of the high school buses arrive late.

Parent Sheri Noyes said her son, who graduated in 2013, liked the earlier start time better but her daughter, who is a junior, prefers the later start time. It gives the busy teen time before school to go to dance or track practice, and still make time for additional dance classes, or softball or soccer practice after school.

“I think all in all the late start time is good for the high school kids,” said Noyes. “I know it works for us.”

She said some families with elementary-aged children didn’t like the later start time at first because their older children were no longer dismissed in time to watch younger siblings after school.

“It wasn’t too friendly that way, but I think people have dealt with it,” she said.

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

Christine Lyle, the district’s public information officer, said the late start discussion originated with concerns from school board members and parents about high school start times, but the committee concluded last spring that later starts would be good for all students.

While the new middle school start times align with the AAP’s recommendation, the high school start times are well shy of the 8:30-or-after goal.

Lyle said “We didn’t quite hit that with our high schools…I think we will continue to look at the data and study it. Obviously, we made the change before that recommendation came out.”

Anecdotally, the later start times are making a difference, though she said it’s hard to untangle the impact of the new schedule from the simultaneous districtwide implementation of “Breakfast After the Bell.”

“Our teachers feel like attendance is better, tardies are down, students are more engaged during instructional time,” she said.

Reviewing the research

Early secondary start times have long been the norm at many schools. But research shows that students with such schedules get less sleep than they should, and both health and achievement suffer.

The August policy statement from the AAP noted that adolescents who get enough sleep—8.5-9.5 hours a night is recommended—are at reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in car accidents, and have better grades and higher standardized test scores.

So why don’t teenagers just go to bed earlier? The short answer is that biology doesn’t let them. That’s because sleep-wake cycles shift when kids hit puberty, making it harder for them to fall asleep as early as they did in elementary school. Experts say it’s normal for teens to be awake till about 11 p.m.

“Everybody who has kids knows that teenagers don’t get up in the morning very easily,” said Johnson, who currently has two children in high school.

Only about 15 percent of the nation’s high schools have start times of 8:30 a.m. or after, and 40 percent start before 8 a.m. In Denver, most high schools start between 7:15 a.m. and 7:45 a.m, and none start after 8 a.m.

Change is hard

No matter how much scientific evidence there is to support later school start times, changing school schedules can be a hard process for families and schools. Aside from transportation, child care and extracurricular activity logistics, there’s plain old habit.

“My reaction is it’s probably inertia as much as anything,” said Johnson.

Even among the Northfield High community, which had no status quo to fall back on, there was some resistance to later start times. Tropper said some focus group participants said at first, “That’s impossible. It can’t work.”

After he presented findings from various studies, most people changed their minds. The school, which will have an extended day schedule will run from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. with mandatory daily physical education. For student athletes, that PE time may count for some of their daily sports practice.

Northfield’s scheduling experiment could be closely watched in Denver.

“If they have a later start time maybe that’ll get other schools looking at it,” said Johnson.

Categories: Urban School News

Familiar GOP faces return to House Education

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:06

House Republican leaders on Monday made their committee assignments for the 2015 legislative session, including five members for the House Education Committee.

Returning to the panel are Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, the ranking minority member, and Reps. Justin Everett of Lakewood and Kevin Priola of Henderson.

Wilson has become a prominent GOP figure on education issues and has made priorities of increased funding for full day kindergarten and reduction of regulatory burdens for rural districts. Priola has pushed unsuccessfully for providing additional pay to highly effective teachers who work in low-performing schools. Everett has not been particularly active on education issues.

Newly elected GOP members who will join the committee are Paul Lundeen of Monument, who’s been chair of the State Board of Education, and JoAnn Windholz of Brighton, a businesswoman who won an upset victory over Democratic Rep. Jenise May in November.

Windholz’ campaign website says, “Education standards are the responsibility of local districts and states, not the federal government. JoAnn supports high education standards without federal interference.”

Democratic members of the panel were appointed last week (see story), and the lineup of the Senate Education Committee was set earlier (see story).

Categories: Urban School News

Denver Public Schools school choice process for 2015-16 opens today

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:01

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty

The Denver Public Schools school choice process for 2015-16 opens today.

This is the fourth year Denver parents will use the district’s unified enrollment system to apply to enroll at public and charter schools around the city.

Applications are due on Jan. 30, 2015. Parents find out in March if their child has gotten into their desired school.

This year’s enrollment will look most different for parents in southwest and parts of southeast Denver, where the district has created new enrollment zones modeled off of those in the far Northeast part of the city. Those zones mean that students will be given preference for several schools in their geographic area rather than being automatically assigned to a school.

For the first time, parents can also use the district’s new parent portal to sign up for schools.

Brian Eschbacher, the district’s director of planning and analysis, said the system has become increasingly complex over time. “It started off as pretty basic, and as people have gained trust in it, we’ve been able to personalize it more.” Some of those tweaks include requiring schools to hold a certain number of places for students who are moving into the district or a school’s zone after enrollment has already closed.

A report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a research group that supports school choice at University of Washington, found that while Denver parents felt more educated than average about the options in their city, they were dissatisfied about transportation options and feared that it increased inequity in the district.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado’s teachers union files appeal in evaluation lawsuit

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 09:48

Protests continue

For the first time in 10 days of protest, students from a half dozen Denver high schools joined forces Friday and marched to the capitol with a list of demands for the City of Denver and Denver Public Schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, CPR )

speaking out

Earlier in day, students at Manual High School shared speeches they prepared in an advanced English class with school and city officials. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Back to court

As expected, the Colorado Education Association has appealed a judge’s June decision to dismiss a case that challenges how Denver Public Schools uses part of the state’s teacher effectiveness law ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teaching and learning

Students at Niwot High School are learning English as a second language through a survival theme using hands-on projects. ( Daily Camera )

Healthy schools

With hopes of seeing more students eating in Jeffco cafeterias, some schools are raffling off prizes during lunch. ( 9News )

Tick, tock

Pueblo City Schools and other school districts on the state's accountability watch list will speak with the State Board of Education this spring. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

#COLeg

Colorado House Democrats have set their education committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Talk to us

Chalkbeat readers told us last week that teachers should listen to and look like their students before conversations about race can start in class. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

And this week's question: If you were a Colorado Supreme Court justice, how would you decide the Douglas County voucher case? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Trading places

A Colorado Springs teacher will swap classrooms with a teacher from Australia. ( Gazette )

one year later

A vigil this weekend honored slain Colorado high school student Claire Davis who died a year ago after being shot at her school. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

How should the Dougco voucher case be decided?

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 08:32

Last week the Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Douglas County School District’s voucher program.

From our article:

The oral arguments centered around whether the program violates the state’s school funding and charter school laws, whether the program is designed to benefit the student or religious institutions, and whether the plaintiffs — a group of parents and taxpayers — have legal standing to challenge the program.

That brings us to this week’s question: If you were a supreme court justice, how would you decide the case?

Click here if you need more information for or against the voucher program. You can also listen to the hearing, which is about an hour long, here. (The case is officially known as Taxpayers v. Douglas County.)

Each Monday, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver student protesters demand changes from district and city

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 20:24

The chants are by now familiar: “No Justice, No Peace!” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” “I can’t breathe!”

But the repertoire today included a new call and response: “Change begins with what?” “Unity.”

In the past ten days, students at nearly 30 Denver schools have held protests to raise awareness about police brutality and discrimination in the wake of two deaths at the hands of police in Missouri and New York.

This afternoon, for the first time, students from a half dozen Denver high schools joined forces and marched to the capital with a list of demands for the City of Denver and Denver Public Schools.

More than 150 people, mostly teenagers, gathered at City Park after school to rally and make signs before they headed down Colfax Avenue.

The approach was different than the walk-outs the students had organized before. The protest started off of school grounds and after school hours.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiDenver students marching from City Park to the state capital.

The demands were also more specific than before: For the school district to hire more teachers of color to reflect the 70 percent of its students who are not white; for the city to hire a special prosecutor to try cases of police misconduct; for the school district to fund student-led discussions about race and create a special process for discipline issues among minorities. [See full list of demands and statistics from a flyer below.]

Both Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Mayor Michael Hancock have announced plans to host conversations about social justice and race in response to the student protests. Individual schools have also tried to capitalize on students’ passion: Juniors at Manual High School gave speeches to a small crowd that included police earlier today, and DSST: Cole is creating a social justice club.

Denver Public Schools officials said that while a few adults from the district joined the students this afternoon to ensure they were safe, the district did not provide buses or transportation as it had for students who left school earlier in the week.

A Facebook event promoting the protest was organized by students at East High, Denver School of the Arts, Strive Prep, Thomas Jefferson High School, and DCIS.

Their suggestion for how adults could help, per social media? Bring burritos.

But adult supporters showed up, both in the crowd and behind the bullhorn. One woman brought a sign that said “Thank you, students!” Representatives from Padres y Jovenes Unidos carried signs that said in Spanish, “I am a student, not a criminal.”

And a member of Aurora’s NAACP spoke to the crowd to laid out troubling statistics about policing in the city. Two men who had traveled to Ferguson encouraged students to be nonviolent—and to appreciate the protection of the police so far in Denver.

After a series of speeches and a song, one student took a bullhorn and told the crowd to prepare to head downtown. “Take a deep breath,” he said. “We have every right to be here.”

Here’s a full list of schools that have held protests since last Wednesday, according to Denver Public Schools:

  • East High School
  • West High School
  • South High School
  • North High School
  • George Washington High School
  • Abraham Lincoln High School
  • John F. Kennedy High School
  • DCIS @ Montbello
  • Manual High School
  • Evie Dennis Campus
  • Bruce Randolph
  • DSST @ Cole
  • Stapleton HS and MS
  • Farrel B. Howell
  • Florida Pitt Waller
  • High Tech Early College
  • Strive Prep@ Montbello
  • Marie L. Greenwood Academy
  • Hamilton MS
  • CPA @ Noel,
  • Omar D. Blair
  • Cesar Chavez
  • Kepner Middle School
  • Strive Prep @ SMART
  • Srive Prep @ Remington Sunnyside
  • CEC Middle College,
  • Denver School of the Arts
  • Morey Middle School
  • GALS (Girls Athletic Leadership School)
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Categories: Urban School News

Teachers union files appeal in mutual-consent lawsuit

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 19:35

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging how the Denver Public Schools uses part of the state’s teacher effectiveness law have appealed a judge’s June decision to dismiss the case.

The appeal, which had been expected, was filed late Friday afternoon with the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The case, Masters v. DPS, was filed by five former teachers and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and claims district officials have misused the mutual-consent provision of the 2010 evaluation law. Plaintiffs argue DPS used the law to improperly fire teachers without due process. The DCTA is supported in the legal effort by the Colorado Education Association.

The challenged provision requires both principal and teacher agreement for placement of a teacher in a school.

Denver District Judge Michael Martinez dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims – and the case – on June 6. (Learn more about the ruling and read the full decision in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.)

A business-oriented education reform group, the Great Teachers and Leaders Coalition, criticized the appeal in a statement issued before the legal document even was filed Friday. “If the union receives a favorable opinion in this appeal, our students, teachers and leaders face a major setback,” according to a quote in the statement from Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, a prime sponsor of the 2010 evaluation law.

The coalition and related groups have been persistent critics of the lawsuit, which focuses on the mutual consent portions of the law and doesn’t challenge other requirements of the evaluation system.

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Categories: Urban School News

House Democrats finally set education committee lineup

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 18:49

Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, Friday was named new chair of a pared-down House Education Committee by Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst.

Buckner, a retired Cherry Creek principal and administrator, has served on the committee for two years and was elected to a second House term in November. His main education initiative has been to increase funding for English language learners and to upgrade programs for those students.

Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, was named vice chair. Pettersen, who also will be starting her second term in January, has focused on early childhood issues.

Also returning to the committee is Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. The other three Democrats named to the panel haven’t served previously on Education. They are Reps. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs, Dominick Moreno of Commerce City and Alec Garnett of Denver. Garnett is a “true” freshman, having been elected to the House for the first time in November.

The committee has suffered something of a brain drain as Democratic former chair Millie Hamner of Dillon and member Dave Young of Greeley have moved to the Joint Budget Committee, whose members don’t serve on other panels. Another veteran Democrat, Cherilyn Peniston, left the education committee and the legislature because of term limits.

Many lobbyists and education activists were sorry to see Hamner leave Education, given her expertise in such complex issues as school finance and her leadership skills.

Minority Republicans, who were waiting for Hullinghorst to make her committee picks, are expected to name their five members next week.

That list will include at least two new names, given that only three GOP committee members from last session remain in the House and available for appointment. They are Reps. Justin Everett of Lakewood, Kevin Priola of Henderson and Jim Wilson of Salida.

Next year’s education panel will have only 11 members, down from 13 in recent sessions. Democratic Rep. Lois Court Denver wasn’t reappointed to the committee and instead will serve as chair of the Finance and House Services committees and as a member of two other panels.

Some statehouse observers expect House Education to serve as the “kill committee” for some bills that come from the Senate, when the November election gave Republicans an 18-17 majority.

Senate Republicans and Democrats filled their committee slots last month. Learn about the new Senate Education Committee in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Is the era of the aggressive state ed chief over?

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 18:18
  • An observer sees the beginnings of “homeostasis” in the exits of schools chiefs in New York and Tennessee. (Flypaper)
  • Students are going on fewer field trips than ever, to the detriment of their learning. (Educated Reporter)
  • A data-driven take on class-size reduction concludes that the value might not be worth the cost. (FiveThirtyEight)
  • To celebrate a teaching prize, a mother writes about the music teacher that changed her son’s life. (TNTP)
  • Across the country, school districts are holding fewer students back. (Inside School Research)
  • Montgomery County, Maryland, is taking aggressive steps to employ more teachers of color. (Teacher Beat)
  • A “Jeopardy!” category during Kids’ Week poked fun at Common Core math — and stumped contestants. (Ed & the Media)
  • Research and common sense say focusing on four-year-olds won’t solve the early childhood learning gap. (Atlantic)
  • Here’s what you need to know about the health implications of Congress’s school lunch funding plans. (Vox)
Categories: Urban School News

Manual High School students speak out about Ferguson and race

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 17:57

This morning at Manual High School, Olivia Jones’ 11th grade Advanced Placement Language and Composition classroom was crowded.

Parents, police officers, district officials, school board members, and community members gathered to hear six students share speeches about race, police brutality, and events in the news.

Since last Wednesday, students at more than a dozen schools across Denver, including Manual, have walked out of class to protest two grand juries’ decisions not to indict police officers in Ferguson, Mo., and in New York City who had killed African-American men. Students are planning another unified protest this afternoon.

But Jones and her class decided that they wanted to go a step deeper and start a dialogue about security, justice, and values.

One student said that the first conversations the class had held about the issue were difficult. The teenagers disagreed with each other: Some thought that Michael Brown and Eric Garner could have prevented tragedy by interacting with the police in a more positive way. Others saw the events as evidence of discrimination.

But the conversation was a starting point for students to explore the thoughts and emotions spurred by the killings. They began to develop their ideas into speeches, weaving statistics and news reports in with personal details and opinions. Some offered suggestions (video cameras for police); others offered emotional anecdotes (a young black man walking down the street and seeing a mother and child move away).

They invited representatives from the mayor’s office, the police department and the school board to hear them share their speeches today.

Here are three:

After the speeches, the class held a brief discussion of some of the points the students had raised.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiMembers of the Denver Police Department watch as students from Manual High School share speeches about Ferguson.

Bill de la Cruz, the district’s director of equity and inclusion, asked the students how to keep the conversation going.

“One of the things I’ve heard is that young people don’t have an opportunity for their voices to be heard,” he said. “What do we need to do differently so that this happens all the time, not just when there’s a crisis?”

One student suggested a regular series of current events lessons.

“We need people from outside to come in,” said another. “That way our ideas can spread and not just be in a fishbowl.”

Two of the police who joined responded to students’ speeches. One was himself a Manual alumnus.

“What I love is that you are doing something different,” he said.

Another told students that feeling that police needed to be tied to the communities they served was part of what inspired him to become an officer.

“There were things I didn’t necessarily agree with when I was young,” he said. “What I did when I was older, I chose to become a police officer because I believed that the police force needed to be diverse.”

“There’s a perception that young people can’t grapple with this stuff,” said one audience member. “What you did today was helped people show you’re very capable of grappling with the very things we’re struggling with as adults…That’s what’s going to transform us.”

District officials shared resources for teachers and principals to use to discuss Ferguson late last week. Here’s a sample:

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Categories: Urban School News

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