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McMinimee’s contract a done deal, starts in Jeffco July 1

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 14:15

Dan McMinimee accepted the terms of his contract as approved by the Jeffco Public Schools board at their June 5 meeting, and will officially report to duty at district headquarters on July 1.

Because he signed the contract without any further changes, the board was not required to take a second vote on the contract at their meeting Thursday.

The contract’s total value is $280,000, which was the advertised salary in promotional materials during the superintendent search. McMinimee’s base pay will be $220,000. He’ll also be eligible for $40,000 in bonuses and the district will refund up to $20,000 for his personal contributions toward retirement benefits.

The board’s minority members, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, voted against the contract because they don’t believe McMinimee’s experience merits the pay.

Dahlkemper called the contract “a shell game with taxpayer’s dollars.”

In a video posted to the Jeffco homepage, McMinimee says he’s looking forward to listening to the community and to help find compromises among a fractured community.

Relationships between the board’s conservative majority — John Newkirk, Julie Williams, and Ken Witt, who were all elected in November — have been tense and rife with rumor and speculation.

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Categories: Urban School News

Revenue forecasts offer hints on negative factor, higher ed construction

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 14:11

State revenue forecasts issued Friday morning provided a first look at the possible direction of 2015 school finance debates and a better sense of winners and losers among college construction projects.

Economists from the Legislative Council staff and the Office of State Planning and Budgeting each presented their quarterly revenue forecasts and economic reviews to the Joint Budget Committee.

The legislative economists were the more conservative, lowering their forecasts for state revenue growth from what they had estimated in March. The OSPB inched its March forecast upward about 1 percent for both 2013-14 collections and for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Both found the Colorado economy generally strong and growing faster than the national economy.

Four pieces of the forecasts are of particular interest to education, including overall projected revenues, the health of the State Education Fund (SEF), projected inflation and expected marijuana tax revenues.

Here’s a quick look at what the forecasts say about those issues:

Overall revenues: The OSPB projects $10.8 billion in general fund revenues for 2015-16, compared to $10 billion for 2014-15. Legislative Council projects $10.5 billion in 2015-16.

“This is all positive, but they have built in some pretty conservative projections,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards. Urschel said the forecasts make it possible for the education lobby to push for further reductions in the negative factor next year but that it’s too early to say how much.

State Education Fund: The SEF is used to supplement basic school funding and to pay for special programs. Flush with one-time revenues, many lawmakers sought to tap it for pet projects during the 2014 session. The OSPB estimates $693 million will be left in the SED at the end of 2014-15, money that lawmakers could try to spend.

Inflation: The state constitution requires basic K-12 spending to increase annually by the rate of inflation. OSPB projects 2.6 percent inflation; Legislative Council estimates 2.8 percent. A federally calculated inflation rate reported early in 2015 will be used to calculate school funding for 2015-16.

Marijuana tax revenues: State economists are projecting that marijuana tax revenues will be lower than previously predicted, something that has implications both for school construction, which gets a slice of that money, and for funding of marijuana education programs in schools.

Of special interest to higher education this year is the projected amount of the state surplus at the end of the 2013-14 budget year. A law passed during the 2014 session allocated surplus funds first to water projects and the SEF, along with other smaller distributions. Any revenue above those uses was earmarked for a prioritized list of college and university construction projects.

Legislative Council staff now estimate there will be only enough money for a library project at the Auraria Higher Education Center. But OSPB is projecting there will be enough excess cash for the Auraria work plus projects at Fort Lewis College, Colorado State University, the University of Colorado, Metropolitan State University and Adams State University.

The question will be answered in September after updated revenue forecasts are made.

The June forecasts provide lawmakers, bureaucrats and lobbyists with some broad groundwork for the following year’s budget debates. New forecasts in September will provide the base for the governor’s 2015-16 budget plan, which has to be filed by Nov. 1. And updated forecasts in late December set the stage for lawmakers when they return in January.

Lawmakers generally use the more conservative of the two forecasts when making budget decisions.

Read the Legislative Council forecast here and the OSPB projections here.

Categories: Urban School News

Improving care for the youngest by targeting the back office

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 13:36

Last fall, Roman Hollowell contemplated closing the small child care center he runs out of the first floor of his childhood home in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood. Enrollment at “Kids 4 Real, Inc.” was dwindling and he didn’t know if he could keep the lights on for much longer.

It was a tough decision for Hollowell. His mother Oneta had opened the center in 1993 and run it for nearly two decades until she died of a rare form of cancer in 2012. Although he’d never envisioned himself in the child care field, he was reluctant to abandon the business his mother began building when he was a sports-loving high school kid.

“It was important for me to continue her legacy,” said Hollowell on recent Monday morning at the center. “Something just kind of told me to hang in there and stay the course.”

What helped turn his intuition into action was a program called Early Learning Ventures Shared Services model, or ELV. The non-profit, launched in 2009 by the David and Laura Merage Foundation, aims to help Colorado child care providers save time and money by giving them the tools to operate more efficiently. In exchange for access to ELV’s web-based platform, providers pay a monthly fee ranging from $50 to $250.

For many of the 556 licensed child care providers participating across that state, the program means discounts on supplies and services, online training for staff, computerized child-tracking systems, help with licensing documentation, and ready-made templates for things like parent handbooks. What helped Hollowell last fall however, was one of ELV’s marketing tools, which gave him access to the addresses of families with young children living near the center.

“That was amazing,” he said, perched on a blue-kid sized chair near shelves full of puzzles and games. “I was able to get my hands on 1,000 plus addresses.”

Hollowell subsequently sent out 400 letters advertising “Kids 4 Real” and enrollment picked up enough to keep the doors open.

A quality improvement strategy

Shared services is a relatively new approach in the early childhood arena, but one that is gaining momentum both in Colorado and nationally. Proponents believe the model will ultimately help providers—often small mom and pop shops—shed inefficient back-office practices so they can save time and money.

“The idea is not just to make director’s lives easier,” said Jonathan Godes, executive director of the Early Childhood Network in Glenwood Springs. “The idea is they take those time saving and money savings and reinvest them into the program.”

Shared services fits with the nationwide push to improve the quality of early childhood care and education, especially for low-income children. Currently, there are shared services efforts in about a third of states, though details—from the sponsoring organization to fee structures–vary widely.

“There are folks all across the country that are experimenting with shared services,” said Louise Stoney, co-founder of the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance and the Opportunities Exchange, a consulting group dedicated to advancing shared services alliances.

“Shared services is still a very new and unique movement in general,” she said.

In Colorado, ELV leaders have big plans for the program, which cost around $7 million to build and administer. In addition to eventually enrolling 2,050 Colorado centers, they hope to become financially self-sustaining by the time they reach 1,950. They also hope to expand the ELV model to other states.

Currently under ELV’s model there are six regional alliances in Colorado. Each alliance is run by a local non-profit, which recruits providers to participate and helps them learn the platform. ELV’s Englewood headquarters provide financial and technical assistance to each alliance.

Providers interested in participating in ELV can sign up for one of three levels of service. So far, there are 485 providers in Tier 1, which offers basics such as purchasing discounts and online training. Tier 2, which adds a computerized child-management system and other services, has 57 providers and Tier 3, which adds billing and financial services, has 15.

Stoney said ELV’s Tier 3 offerings are one of the program’s distinctive elements.

“There’s really not anyone else in the country that’s doing the same thing,” she said. “It’ll be very interesting to see what kind of uptake they get.”

Their passion is children not accounting

While many other industries, including K-12 education, have robust administrative systems in place, early childhood is an exception. A look at the numbers tells part of the story.

In contrast to Colorado’s 178 school districts, there are more than 4,000 licensed child care providers that provide regular care for the 0-5 set. To be sure, some are large programs run by school districts, national chains or sophisticated non-profits that may have specialized finance and operations staff. There are also some that use “off-the-shelf” products that provide some of the same services as the ELV platform. Still, there are huge numbers of small, independent providers that rely on shoestring budgets and paper-and-pencil methods.

Children at Kids 4 Real clown around before rest time.

Most get into the field because they love working with children, but the business side of the job can be a “real shock,” said Emily Bustos, executive director of Denver Early Childhood Council and board president of the Early Childhood Councils Leadership Alliance.

“That becomes the most challenging and time-intensive part of running a child care business,” she said.

In many cases, administrators rise to their positions through the teaching ranks and so while they may understand child development, they lack expertise in accounting, payroll, human resources and the regulatory environment.

“They just get thrown in and it’s kind of sink or swim,” said Godes, whose organization runs one of ELV’s six alliances.

There are plenty of anecdotes about rampant inefficiencies in the small preschools, child care centers and family child care homes that dot the early childhood landscape. Some providers go through the tedious process of hand tallying numbers for food program reimbursements or piecing together attendance records from paper sign-in sheets that some parents inevitably forget to fill out. Even drafting a parent letter when there’s a lice outbreak or a biting incident can turn into a time-consuming task.

Judy Williams, ELV’s program director, told of one rural child care center where the director and a staff member used to spend an entire day every month traveling to Denver to shop at Costco for supplies. It may have been cheaper than shopping local stores, but it cost far more than ordering supplies through ELV’s platform and getting next-day shipping.

Ultimately, many of these long-held practices either drain the budget or suck away the director’s time, keeping her busy with paperwork instead of working with teachers and kids in the classroom. That’s what happened to Kelly Esch when she became the director of the Little Red Schoolhouse in Snowmass Village last year.

She was working 50 hours a week, most of that shut away in her office. Since she began taking greater advantage of ELV’s tools, she’s cut her office work down to 30-35 hours, allowing her to spend more time assisting teachers, giving them breaks and helping them with lessons and activities.

“That way, they’re not so stressed out,” she said. “When you’re in the classroom 10 hours a day it’s hard to come up with fresh ideas,” she said.

Kathryn Hammerbeck, executive director of the Early Childhood Education Association of Colorado, believes ELV’s model may also help address her members’ most pressing problem: attracting and retaining high-quality employees.

“If you can control some of your overhead, some of your operational cost, then it frees it a little money to put into wages, which will help you attract and retain staff.”

At what price?

While many providers have gotten scholarships or partial scholarships to participate in ELV, especially for their first year, the prospect of eventually paying a monthly fee can be daunting.

“Early childhood education is a very, very price sensitive program,” said Stoney. “This is not a money-making field. It’s very, very difficult to charge fees for things.”

Currently, about 22 percent of participating providers receive full or partial scholarships to participate. In addition, the state plans to chip in about $500,000 for Tier 2 ELV scholarships over the next 14 months using federal Early Learning Challenge Grant money. The one-year scholarships will target 100 “high needs” providers that serve low-income children and English language learners, and generally do not have a quality rating from Qualistar.

Colin Tackett, business analyst at the Colorado Department of Human Services, said the hope is that the initial subsidies will allow providers to see the benefits of ELV and subsequently continue participating on their own dime.

According to a recent third-party return-on-investment study, there are concrete financial benefits to participating inELV, particularly for center-based programs. The results show that centers would save $84,000 to $114,000 over five years depending on which ELV tier they were in. The savings were smaller for home-based providers, with a five-year return of $270-$1,270.

Among current participants, there’s generally a feeling that the program generates significant financial savings. Hollowell, who has a partial scholarship for Tier 2 of ELV, said he pays $25 a month and realizes savings of about $100-150 a month, mostly due to discounts on office supplies and other equipment.

Esch, who pays $75 a month and has a scholarship to pay the other $100 for Tier 2, estimated similar savings. When other directors ask her if it’s worth it, her go-to example is the paper towel discount.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever bought industrial paper towels, but they’re extremely expensive and kids use them like crazy,” she said.

Sticking points

While Early Learning Ventures certainly has many enthusiastic advocates, it can be a tough sell in some quarters of the early childhood world. Some providers are wary of one of its central themes—using technology to streamline and modernize operations.

“This is a big leap for them,” said Williams, a former child care provider herself.

Aside from the inevitable anxiety or confusion about web-based tools, there’s also the challenge of getting time-crunched administrators grappling with major state-level changes—including the launch of a new mandatory quality rating system later this year—to explore a voluntary program that costs money up front.

While Bustos believes there is a market and demand for ELV, she said the benefits must be clearly spelled out for providers.

“There’s way more hand-holding than you realize…to get someone to that next level of sufficiency.”

That point is not lost on Hammerbeck, who in January signed a contract with ELV to offer Tier 1 services as a benefit to members. Although it’s free for the 400 preschools and child care centers that belong to the association, she said only about 10 providers representing 25 sites have signed up.

“It’s a question of educating them…they don’t have the time to sit and read the information we sent them about it.”

Still, she said, ““It would help them so much in running their program.”

Doing mom proud

Just inside the front entrance of Kids 4 Real is a large framed photograph of a smiling Oneta Hollowell. Underneath it is a bulletin board featuring one of Roman Hollowell’s proudest accomplishments. It is a plastic-encased certificate showing the center’s four-star quality rating by Qualistar.

That rating, the highest currently awarded, replaced the center’s previous three-star rating a couple months ago. Hollowell said meticulous preparation, including a walk-through by an ELV program manager, helped him get the points he needed.

“I was able to be hands on,” he said. “Our preparation in 2014 was perfect.”

It’s impossible to know whether Hollowell’s use of ELV’s purchasing discounts, its computerized sign-in/sign-out system, its address lists or anything else was critical to the four-star rating. Perhaps it all factored in to the equation.

What’s clear is that  Kids 4 Real realized exactly the type of improvement ELV leaders hope to see on a broader scale in the years to come.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Rural school district to push for waivers from reforms

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 08:33

Hug it out

The Jeffco school board approved their 2014-15 budget but the board majority and minority could not resolve their differences over how to fund charter schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

And board members also debated, once again, the fight to expand full day kindergarten. It failed to make it in the budget, despite an attempted compromise by board members. ( Denver Post )

Go your own way

A rural district in eastern Colorado is planning to apply for innovation status, which would allow to freedom from some aspects of state statute. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

All talk, no numbers

In a phone call with reporters, PARCC officials defended the field testing in Colorado (and controversy in other states) but did not release many details. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Gazette )

Schools at the ballot box

Voters interested in education issues have quite a few races to follow, both during the primaries and afterwards. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

One room for everyone

A charter school slated to open next year in Denver aims to create a classroom environment where all students are included, including students with special needs. ( 9News )

Seeing the light of day

A group of high school students is launching a project to get teens to turn off their electronics and go outside. ( CPR )

Trials and tribulations

An oxygen tank prompted a bomb scare at a Boulder middle school and frightened some summer school students. ( Daily Camera )

Unfortunately, it was just a scare at an Erie elementary school, where an apparent act of arson destroyed the playground. ( Daily Camera )

New day, old rules

After a high school club got in trouble for hanging posters, the St. Vrain school board is considering changing their policies for student clubs, which are three decades old. ( Times-Call )

Down in the valley

Future Farmers of America will soon be expanding to Ortega Middle School, in Alamosa. ( Valley Courier )

And valley officials are pursuing additional federal grants to expand early education services. ( Valley Courier )

school discipline

School discipline data reveals that students, especially those with disabilities, are still restrained and isolated in public schools. It's a practice some critics say is a violation of civil rights and has led to serious injuries for some students. ( NPR via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: D.C. suspends test-based teacher evals

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 08:06

The District of Columbia public school system, one of the first in the country to evaluate teachers using student test scores, announced Thursday that it would suspend the practice while students adjust to new tests based on Common Core standards. (Associated Press)

UNAWARE OF COMMON CORE: A MSN/Wall Street Journal poll, released this week, shows that 47 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed have not heard of the Common Core Standards. Of those who have, only 22 percent said they'd heard a lot about it. The remaining 30 percent said they'd heard "some." (Education Week)

VOUCHER FOES: A wide range of parent groups, teachers' unions, and civil rights groups are mounting an all-out offensive to convince Florida Gov. Rick Scott to veto a bill that would broaden the reach of the state's school voucher program. The groups believe the legislation will siphon much-needed funds away from the state's financially struggling public schools. (Education Week)

SEEKING MONEY: The Philadelphia superintendent of schools made a last-minute plea for funding this week to city and state lawmakers, saying he needs at least an additional $96 million to offer students even a “wholly inadequate” education next year. (The New York Times)

MANDATORY KINDERGARTEN: All 5-year-olds in Buffalo, N.Y., will be required to attend kindergarten under legislation that received final approval from the State Legislature on Wednesday. The move, advocates say, will both boost early learning and eventually help improve high school graduation rates. (The Buffalo News)

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board OKs general fund on split vote

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 23:58

GOLDEN — The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education, on a 3-2 vote Thursday night, approved how the district will spend its largest pool of revenue for the 2014-15 school year.

The board split over how and by how much the state’s second largest school district should equitably fund its charter schools.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman opposed the additional funding for charter schools — which was raised in an earlier vote Thursday night from a tentative $3.7 million to $5.5 million — and voted against the general fund budget as a whole.

Dahlkemper told her board colleagues she could support the $3.7 million for charters, pending a recommendation from Fellman to form a committee to discuss how to further evaluate how to increase funding to charter schools in subsequent years. The board majority — John Newkirk, Julie Williams, and Ken Witt — bucked the proposal,wanting to increase the funding this year.

The board, at the request of district staff, did unanimously approve tentatively increasing compensation for teachers by more than $4 million, pending final negotiations with the Jeffco teachers union. The total budget for compensation is now set at about $18 million.

Between increasing charter school funding and tentatively increasing teachers compensation, Jeffco finance chief Lorie Gillis warned the board the decisions they made Thursday could negatively impact the budget for the next several years if funding from the state does not continue to improve.

That could mean the district will face spending down its reserves or face budget cuts by the 2016 school year.

Further, the budget, Gillis said, does not address important issues like capital construction, beefing up technology and infrastructure, and improving the district’s choice system — a recent board priority.

Altogether, the suburban school district’s total budget for next year will be about $1.02 billion, which is broken into several different funds and expenses. The district’s general fund is the largest portion of the district’s entire budget.

The board unanimously approved mostly technical changes to the district’s other funds in subsequent votes.

The budget, despite a ballooning piggy bank, has been one of many ongoing conflicts between the board’s conservative majority and a fraction of the suburban community’s parents and teachers.

The district is expecting an increase of about $360 per pupil. Almost every department and school will see an increase in their bottom line.

In April, the board requested the district provide more money to the district’s charter schools — which claim they aren’t getting their fair share of local tax dollars voters have approved through mill levy questions since 1999.

In the budget that was presented to the board earlier this month, the district allocated an additional $3.7 million for the district’s 15 charter schools.

That money would close the discrepancy by about half. The final budget will close the gap by about three-fourths.

At the board’s first public hearing on June 5, charter school parents and activists asked the board, given the increase of state funding, close the gap completely “one and for all.”

“No one who has read the research would now dispute that there is a sizable discrepancy between the amount of funding Jeffco makes available to students attending its charter schools and the amount it makes available to identical students attending neighborhood schools,” said Nathan Drake, a Jeffco parent and member of the Jeffco Charter School Consortium. “As board members whose duty is to all of Jeffco’s children, you should never lose sight of the fact that this fundamental unfairness exists. The sooner you fully address it, the better.”

Parents who previously organized the district’s bond and mill campaigns said providing more funding to charter schools to make up the difference thwarts the will of the voters. The district and board — albeit comprised of a different majority at the time — made an explicit promises to Jeffco voters: the money would only be used to maintain the status quo.

Board member Jill Fellman, at the June 5 board meeting, suggested, to the ire of some, the charter schools ask the county’s voters for their own additional tax revenue.

In a move that increased tension, the board’s majority also scrapped an initial idea to expand Jeffco’s free full-day kindergarten to more schools to the tune of $300,000.

“You have been asked repeatedly to consider opportunities, such as an income-based sliding scale like Denver’s program, to allow more equitable access to full-day kindergarten,” said Tina Gurdikian, a parent who campaigned in 2012 for the mill and who is now advocating for the expansion of free full-day kindergarten, at the June 5 meeting. “I see from this budget presentation that there is no provision whatsoever for for full-day kindergarten. This concerns me considering 92 percent of budget survey respondents want full-day kindergarten — and the benefits are well-documented.”

In actuality, 71 percent of survey respondents said they supported expanding full day kindergarten.

Part of the board majority’s rationale for not expanding the full-day kindergarten program was the lack of localized evidence that the program increases student achievement, despite a groundswell of evidence from across the nation that it does.

According to district budget officials, Jeffco would have been able to fund more full-day kindergarten seats if the board reversed a previous vote to suspended the district’s participation in a childhood readiness evaluation known as TS Gold.

Littleton parent Katie Beyerlein said Thursday night the state mandate to implement TS Gold for kindergarten dollars wasn’t fair and suggested the district apply for a waiver.

“Sacrificing student privacy for money is an unwinnable situation,” she said.

However, the deadline to apply for the money has already passed, district officials said.

Previously, parents and teachers who have been a part of a pilot program for TS Gold have told the board TS Gold provided them useful information and an individual learning plan for students.

Board members Dahlkemper and Newkirk, who are generally on opposing sides of issues, attempted to find some compromise around expanding full day kindergarten, another sticking point, however a resolution never came to fruition.

Because a school district’s budget is largely based on per pupil funding, which is determined in October, and local tax revenue, which is factored only after the June 30 deadline, they are allowed to revise their budget up until Jan. 31.

Categories: Urban School News

Education-related races to follow in the primary election

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 18:15

People who follow education issues have several races to track Tuesday night when the Colorado primary election returns roll in.

The two contests of most direct interest are the primaries for State Board of Education seats, the Democratic fight between Valentina Flores and Taggart Hansen in the 1st District and the Republican tilt between Marcia Neal and Barbara Ann Smith in the 3rd. (See our detailed story on those races here.)

There also are education connections in three Jefferson County Republican legislative primaries.

Incumbent Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger are awaiting the results of two bitter Republican primaries that seem focused on which candidates are stronger advocates of gun rights. Kerr, a veteran teacher, is chair of the Senate Education Committee. Zenzinger serves on Senate Education and was appointed to her seat late last year after longtime education figure Sen. Evie Hudak resigned to avoid a recall election over her support of gun-control bills.

In Kerr’s District 22 candidates Mario Nicolais and Tony Sanchez are battling for the GOP nomination. Sanchez, who came to Colorado from California a few years ago, is backed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the most hardline of the state’s gun-rights groups. Nicolais has irked some Republicans with his support of civil unions and has criticized Sanchez for being a newcomer to the state.

Sanchez has raised $39,130 while Nicolais’ fundraising totals $21,714. Kerr is way ahead of both, having raised $83,340.

As a newcomer, Zenzinger is considered more vulnerable in District 19. Sias, a former fighter pilot, almost beat Hudak four years ago; Woods has the endorsement of RMGO.

Woods has raised $43,578 and Sias $45,530, while contributions to Zenzinger’s campaign already total $54,568.

The general election races are expected to be close, as both districts are evenly balanced among Democratic, Republican unaffiliated voters.

The races could determine control of the Senate in 2015. Democrats now hold an 18-17 majority after losing two seats in gun-related recall elections last year. And a loss by either Kerr or Zenzinger could noticeably change the makeup of Senate Education.

In southern Jeffco’s heavily Republican House District 22, Rep. Justin Everett is being challenged in the GOP primary by businessman Loren Bauman, whom Everett beat handily in 2012’s Republican primary.

Everett has been a distinctly low-profile member of the House Education Committee who tends to vote no on a lot of bills. Bauman has criticized Everett for his negative voting record and for some attendance problems during the 2014 session (background here).

(Get more background on the battle for Jefferson County is this article from the Colorado Independent and in this Denver Post story.)

Bauman has been endorsed by Stand for Children, the education reform advocacy group that also has endorsed candidates in two other primaries.

In the Democratic race for House District 2, Stand has endorsed Alec Garnett, former executive director of the state Democratic Party and son of Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett. The other candidate in the race is Owen Perkins, a writer and longtime Democratic activist. They are battling to succeed House Speaker Mark Ferrandino in the heavily Democratic central Denver district.

In House District 37, which covers several southeast suburbs, Stand has endorsed Republican Michael Fields, an Aurora charter school teacher and a former GOP statehouse staffer. He’s opposed by Jack Tate, who previously ran an unsuccessful race for the Centennial City Council.

The Colorado Education Association hasn’t endorsed candidates in any legislative primaries.

Other primary notes

It’s a big year for Republican primaries, with four candidates vying to run for governor against Democrat John Hickenlooper.

None of the four – former congressman Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former congressman Tom Tancredo – have much of a track record on education. All have said they oppose the Common Core Standards.

In the 4th Congressional District, term-limited Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley, who’s been the senior Republican on Senate Education, is one of four candidates seeking the seat.

The only other statewide elected education body is the University of Colorado Board of Regents. Three seats are up for election this year, but there are no primaries. School board elections are held in odd-numbered years, but several districts around the state are expected to propose bond issues or tax overrides to their voters in November.

Categories: Urban School News

State limits junk food sales for school fundraising

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 17:18

Starting next year, high schools across the state must sharply limit the sale of unhealthy snacks – such as candy bars and chips – during in-school fundraisers.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) approved new, phased-in limits on so-called “exempted fundraisers” during its meeting Wednesday. In the first year, high school fundraisers can sell unhealthy foods during school hours once per week. The frequency will drop to twice a month in the second year, and once a month in the third year and beyond.

The rules – which were approved on an emergency basis pending a public comment period – respond to new strict federal nutritional guidelines on all foods and beverages sold in schools.

Schools across the country have been bracing for the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, which kick into effect in July and apply to schools that participate in the federal school lunch or breakfast programs.

In Chicago, schools are already supposed to abide by strict rules on any snacks sold in school fundraisers, a la carte lines and vending machines. The rules, which were approved by the Board of Education in 2012, prohibit schools from holding more than two fundraisers per year with junk food sales. CPS also limits the number of classroom or school parties where unhealthy snacks are served to two per year. 

“We doubted we could be less strict than ISBE,” said Leslie Fowler, CPS executive director of nutrition support services. “ISBE has taken a very lenient stance. I almost think that [phasing in the reduction of exempted fundraisers] it makes it more difficult, instead of just ripping the Band-Aid off.”

Fowler said most principals, teachers and parents have bought into the strict CPS policy, but it has taken a lot of communication at the school level. And there are still challenges. When she learns of fundraisers or parties that involve unhealthy foods, Fowler tries to meet with the principals and remind them of the importance of establishing a healthy eating environment – without taking a punitive approach.

“We’re set up as an advocate and support system as opposed to an adversary,” she said. “But it can be challenging because this really puts us against a classic tradition that happens in schools every day, whether it’s a parent who wants to bring cupcakes for a party or a teacher who wants to reward their class with a pizza party.”

How ISBE drafted rules

The state’s new limits on “exempted fundraisers” will have a greater impact in districts outside of Chicago that haven’t established their own strict rules.

“This will mean different things to different schools,” said ISBE superintendent Chris Koch during Wednesday’s board meeting. “There are districts that do sales every day during the school year.”

Initially, ISBE had sought to allow districts to set their own limits on exempted fundraisers. But USDA officials told the state it could not delegate its authority to districts.

Staff at ISBE then drafted a proposal to phase in the reduction in fundraising days at high schools over a period of six years. But health advocates who spoke up during Wednesday’s meeting encouraged board members to either cut the number of exemptions or reduce the phase-in period.

“We understand that schools are stretched [for fundraising dollars],” said Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute. “Cold turkey is probably a difficult goal to achieve, but six years seems like a really long time.”

Mark Bishop, vice president of policy for the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign, said no other state has set such a high limit on “unhealthy school fundraisers.”

“In a society where one of three of our children is obese or overweight,” he said, “we have a responsibility to put our children’s health first.”

In response, ISBE members agreed to shorten the phase-in period to three years.

Because the federal restrictions go into effect in a matter of weeks, ISBE approved the rule changes on an emergency basis. Board members, however, also sent forward a proposed permanent rule change into a public comment period. The proposal will return to ISBE for a final vote later this year.

Categories: Urban School News

State limits junk food sales for school fundraising

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 17:18

Starting next year, high schools across the state must sharply limit the sale of unhealthy snacks – such as candy bars and chips – during in-school fundraisers.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) approved new, phased-in limits on so-called “exempted fundraisers” during its meeting Wednesday. In the first year, high school fundraisers can sell unhealthy foods during school hours once per week. The frequency will drop to twice a month in the second year, and once a month in the third year and beyond.

The rules – which were approved on an emergency basis pending a public comment period – respond to new strict federal nutritional guidelines on all foods and beverages sold in schools.

Schools across the country have been bracing for the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, which kick into effect in July and apply to schools that participate in the federal school lunch or breakfast programs.

In Chicago, schools are already supposed to abide by strict rules on any snacks sold in school fundraisers, a la carte lines and vending machines. The rules, which were approved by the Board of Education in 2012, prohibit schools from holding more than two fundraisers per year with junk food sales. CPS also limits the number of classroom or school parties where unhealthy snacks are served to two per year. 

“We doubted we could be less strict than ISBE,” said Leslie Fowler, CPS executive director of nutrition support services. “ISBE has taken a very lenient stance. I almost think that [phasing in the reduction of exempted fundraisers] it makes it more difficult, instead of just ripping the Band-Aid off.”

Fowler said most principals, teachers and parents have bought into the strict CPS policy, but it has taken a lot of communication at the school level. And there are still challenges. When she learns of fundraisers or parties that involve unhealthy foods, Fowler tries to meet with the principals and remind them of the importance of establishing a healthy eating environment – without taking a punitive approach.

“We’re set up as an advocate and support system as opposed to an adversary,” she said. “But it can be challenging because this really puts us against a classic tradition that happens in schools every day, whether it’s a parent who wants to bring cupcakes for a party or a teacher who wants to reward their class with a pizza party.”

How ISBE drafted rules

The state’s new limits on “exempted fundraisers” will have a greater impact in districts outside of Chicago that haven’t established their own strict rules.

“This will mean different things to different schools,” said ISBE superintendent Chris Koch during Wednesday’s board meeting. “There are districts that do sales every day during the school year.”

Initially, ISBE had sought to allow districts to set their own limits on exempted fundraisers. But USDA officials told the state it could not delegate its authority to districts.

Staff at ISBE then drafted a proposal to phase in the reduction in fundraising days at high schools over a period of six years. But health advocates who spoke up during Wednesday’s meeting encouraged board members to either cut the number of exemptions or reduce the phase-in period.

“We understand that schools are stretched [for fundraising dollars],” said Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute. “Cold turkey is probably a difficult goal to achieve, but six years seems like a really long time.”

Mark Bishop, vice president of policy for the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign, said no other state has set such a high limit on “unhealthy school fundraisers.”

“In a society where one of three of our children is obese or overweight,” he said, “we have a responsibility to put our children’s health first.”

In response, ISBE members agreed to shorten the phase-in period to three years.

Because the federal restrictions go into effect in a matter of weeks, ISBE approved the rule changes on an emergency basis. Board members, however, also sent forward a proposed permanent rule change into a public comment period. The proposal will return to ISBE for a final vote later this year.

Categories: Urban School News

Holyoke district hopes to modify state education reforms for rural schools

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 17:02

A rural Colorado school district hopes to become the second in the state to make use of a law that allows districts to request flexibility in state statutes.

Holyoke School District, a school district of roughly 600 students, is hoping to acquire innovation status under a 2008 law which allows schools and district to modify state laws in order to adopt pioneering practices.

The move is part of an effort to take state-level schools reforms that some rural leaders say are designed for urban schools and adapt them for rural districts. Holyoke district leaders hope to receive waivers to some aspects of two state laws that govern educator evaluations and early literacy practices.

The sole prior precedent for Holyoke’ actions comes from another small rural school district, Kit Carson, in southeastern Colorado. Kit Carson’s superintendent applied for waivers from the state’s 2010 educator evaluation law, including reducing the frequency of evaluations and extending teacher contracts beyond a year. At the time, the plan won approval from Sen. Mike Johnston, a reform advocate and a key player in passing the evaluation law.

“I don’t think it’s a scenario we’re very likely to see again,” Johnston told Chalkbeat Colorado at the time. The state board approved Kit Carson’s innovation status, four to one.

Holyoke is likely to face a more difficult battle, as it plans to do away with one of the law’s key provisions — the inclusion of student test scores in teacher evaluations. But district officials say they don’t intend to subvert the law, but to comply in a manner that works for their size.

“It’s not about fighting the man,” said Bret Miles, Holyoke’s superintendent. “Both [the early literacy law and the educator evaluation law] are good examples of good intentioned laws. They’re both examples of things that don’t apply to us as much.”

For example, the process of including student test scores in teacher evaluations requires a lot of work from a small administrative staff. And Miles said it doesn’t provide them any information they didn’t have already.

“We already had that kind of accountability in small schools,” said Miles. “When the test score comes out in the paper and 70 percent of sixth graders are proficient, everybody knows who that teacher is.”

He is aware there’s likely to be pushback, although he hopes critics will come around when they understand his plan.

“There’s no doubt some people are uneasy about what happens when a district tries to get out from under a law,” said Miles. But “we can increase the amount of time principals spend in classrooms by simplifying the process.”

Among the other modifications Miles hopes make is to eliminate the use of the only year-end early literacy test approved by the state, TS Gold. Instead, he plans to use a state-approved interim assessment already in place in the district.

On Tuesday, the Holyoke school board gave Miles the go-ahead to kick off the official process of applying for innovation status. In the next several months, Miles and his team will complete an innovation application, currently in the draft stage, and present it to the community. He expects a positive response from Holyoke teachers and parents, many of whom participated in the decision to move forward. If all goes as planned, Holyoke’s innovation plan will be submitted for approval from the state board this coming fall.

And contrary to Johnston’s predictions, Miles thinks his district won’t be the only one pursuing innovation status.

“I think it’s going to be something many rural school districts will consider,” said Miles. He’s already heard from two other interested districts.

Categories: Urban School News

PARCC leaders bullish on field test results, short on details

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 15:15

Officials of the PARCC testing consortium told reporters Thursday that spring field tests of language arts and math went well — but they offered few details because they still are analyzing the results.

“We learned a lot,” said Laura Slover, CEO of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. “Things are going very well.”

She also noted, “We said there might be glitches; in fact there were a few glitches,” primarily easily fixed technical ones.

Colorado participated in the field tests and is scheduled to administer the PARCC assessments in grades three through 11 next spring, replacing the TCAP testing system. (Get details here.)

Nationwide, sample tests were given this spring to about 1 million students in 16,000 schools in 14 states and the District of Columbia, said Jeffrey Nellhaus, PARCC director of policy, research and design during a conference call with reporters.

More than 10,000 different questions – “items” as they’re called in assessment jargon – on 21 different tests were used. About three-quarters of the tests were given on computer and a quarter on paper.

“The purpose of the field test was to test the test questions,” Nellhaus said, not to determine student proficiency.

But because PARCC experts are still compiling and evaluating the results, they don’t yet have detailed answers about how those questions performed.

Among things that need to be analyzed are the validity, reliability and fairness of test questions and whether students performed differently depending on whether they took the tests on computers or paper and depending on what kind of electronic devices they used. PARCC also still needs to compile the results and teacher and student surveys.

Slover noted that every question went through five reviews before being used, so she’s confident about their reliability and validity. “In the fall we’ll know whether that is true.”

Nellhaus said the field testing did reveal that test administration manuals need streamlining, some student directions need clarification and that some online tools like a math equation editor need improvements. “There are some things that need to be perfected.”

PARCC is in the middle of the growing national debate over the Common Core Standards, multi-state testing and education centralization.

On Wednesday Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced plans to pull his state out of the standards and PARCC, a moved opposed by the state’s commissioner of education, state board and some legislators (more details here).

Slover chose her words carefully when asked about that, saying, “We’re committed to proceeding under the memorandum of understanding that is in existence” with Louisiana.

She was equally cautious when asked about a PARCC-related contract dispute in New Mexico.

Officials in that state are negotiating a testing contract on behalf of all PARCC states. The process was challenged by the testing company American Institutes for Research, which claimed the specifications were tailored for the Pearson testing group.

New Mexico officials tossed out AIR’s appeal, but a judge in Santa Fe ruled last month that the state has to consider the protest. (Get more details in this EdWeek story.)

Slover Thursday said “anything that slows down the process” could be a concern but that “We’re confident the process was fair and open” and will be resolved.

Testing concerns started bubbling up in Colorado earlier this year, with both Republican legislators and the Colorado Education Association raising criticisms of PARCC. The debate is expected to resume later this summer, when a 15-member Standards and Assessments Task Force created by the legislature will begin its work (background here).

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: House speaker’s next gig is Denver’s school budget chief

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 10:53

out of the frying pan and into the fire?

Outgoing Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino will become Denver Public School's Chief Financial Officer in July. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, KDVR )

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 )

crowded out

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 )

joyful noise

Four Colorado music educators are in the running for a Grammy next year after having been nominated by their students. ( 9News )

posted question

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 )

express yourself

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 )

op-ed

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 )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Alderman agrees to meet Dyett supporters

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 08:50

A coalition including the CTU and community members that has been fighting to keep Dyett Academic Center open ended three days and nights of camping out in front of Ald. Will Burns' 4th Ward office with a commitment from the alderman to host a meeting on the school's future. (DNAinfo)

IN THE NATION
SPECIAL ED AND MINORITY OVERREPRESENTATION: The U.S. Department of Education is considering creating a standard definition for what constitutes "significant disproportionality" in special education. The move comes in the wake of a recent Government Accountability Office report that said that even though states are required to monitor overrepresentation of minority students in special education in their districts, only a tiny fraction of school districts around the country have actually been deemed to have a problem. (Education Week)

CUTTING COMMON CORE TIES: Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said Wednesday that he would seek to end his state’s enactment of the Common Core educational guidelines and plans to administer a test tied to them, but other officials immediately said that the governor had overstepped his authority and vowed to resist his moves. (The New York Times)

PRESCHOOL EXPANSION: California's general fund spending package that's headed to the governor includes $264 million for expanding education before kindergarten and would add 11,500 new preschool spots for low-income families. (Associated Press)

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado speaker Mark Ferrandino to join Denver Public Schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/18/2014 - 17:37

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.

Categories: Urban School News

New report raises questions about special education enrollment in Denver charter schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/18/2014 - 17:08

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.

Categories: Urban School News

In Aurora, new charter school signals change in headwinds

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/18/2014 - 14:11

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.

Categories: Urban School News

Two intra-party fights for state board quietly move into final stretch

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/18/2014 - 13:00

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:

  • Occupation: Retired
  • Education experience: Teacher, university instructor, administrator, researcher, member of DPS accountability committee
  • Website
  • Facebook

“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.”

Finance notes

  • Flores fundraising through June 11: $19,692 (contributions and non-monetary)
  • Interesting contributors: Public Education Committee, a CEA-related group ($2,250); DCTA Fund ($4,500); DPS board member Arturo Jimenez; former board member Jeanne Kaplan; past board candidates Emily Sirota, Jacqui Shumway, Mary Margaret Schomp and Roger Kilgore; former Democratic legislators Judy Solano and Evie Hudak. Also endorsed by American Federation of Teachers.
Taggart Hansen Taggart Hansen

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:

  • Occupation: Lawyer for CH2M Hill
  • Education experience: Two years Teach for America in Pasadena, Calif.; finalist for DPS board appointment 2013, service on various non-profit boards including DPS Foundation
  • Website

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.

Finance notes:

  • Hansen fundraising through June 11: $36,386 (contributions, loans, non-monetary)
  • Interesting contributors: Stand for Children Small Donor Committee ($4,500); Democrats for Education Reform Small Donor Committee ($600); Democratic SBE members Elaine Gantz Berman and Angelika Schroeder; former member Gully Stanford; current DPS board members Barbara O’Brien, Happy Haynes, Landri Taylor, Anne Rowe and Mike Johnson; former board members Nate Easley, Bruce Hoyt and Mary Seawell; former Senator President Peter Groff; lobbyist Mike Feeley; CU Regent Michael Carrigan; lots of Denver lawyers.
3rd District

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:

  • Occupation: Retired
  • Education experience: Elected to SBE 2008, member of Mesa 51 school board, social studies teacher
  • Website
  • Facebook

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.

Finance notes:

  • Neal fundraising through June 11: $5,081 (contributions, non-monetary)
  • Interesting contributors: Republican SBE chair Paul Lundeen
Barbara Ann Smith Barbara Ann Smith

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:

  • Occupation: Retired
  • Education experience: Teacher, member Mesa 51 budget oversight committee
  • Facebook

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.”

Finance notes:

  • Smith fundraising through June 11: $7,568 (contributions, loans, non-monetary)
  • Interesting contributors: Former congressman Scott McInnis; Bill Armstrong, president of Colorado Christian University and former U.S. senator
One more seat likely to see a new face

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

Board website

Categories: Urban School News

Comings & Goings: Carter, Knight

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 06/18/2014 - 11:09

Terrence Carter, currently the director and chief academic officer of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, has been named superintendent of the New London CT public schools.  Before joining AUSL, he was principal of Barton Elementary, which received an Illinois Academic Improvement Award for showing upward trends in test scores for three consecutive years.  Barton also served on Mayor Emanuel’s Early Childhood Education Task Force. 

This fall, Lloyd Knight will become the director of Lloyd Bond Charter School , which is in the Chicago International Charter School Network.   Previously, Knight was a teacher and the assistant director at the school.  Before coming to Bond, he founded the Boys Sports Mentoring Group in Newport News, VA, and the Helping Hands Mentoring Program in Raleigh, N.C.

Chicago Commons has won a $1 million Early Childhood Construction Grant from the Illinois Capital Development Board.  The grant will support the organization’s child development centers in Back of the Yards, West Humboldt Park and Pilsen with the expansion and renovation of classrooms, playgrounds, improved security and technology upgrades. 

Categories: Urban School News

Comings & Goings: Carter, Knight

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 06/18/2014 - 11:09

Terrence Carter, currently the director and chief academic officer of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, has been named superintendent of the New London CT public schools.  Before joining AUSL, he was principal of Barton Elementary, which received an Illinois Academic Improvement Award for showing upward trends in test scores for three consecutive years.  Barton also served on Mayor Emanuel’s Early Childhood Education Task Force. 

This fall, Lloyd Knight will become the director of Lloyd Bond Charter School , which is in the Chicago International Charter School Network.   Previously, Knight was a teacher and the assistant director at the school.  Before coming to Bond, he founded the Boys Sports Mentoring Group in Newport News, VA, and the Helping Hands Mentoring Program in Raleigh, N.C.

Chicago Commons has won a $1 million Early Childhood Construction Grant from the Illinois Capital Development Board.  The grant will support the organization’s child development centers in Back of the Yards, West Humboldt Park and Pilsen with the expansion and renovation of classrooms, playgrounds, improved security and technology upgrades. 

Categories: Urban School News

Comings & Goings: Carter, Bond

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 06/18/2014 - 11:09

Terrence Carter, currently the director and chief academic officer of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, has been named superintendent of the New London CT public schools.  Before joining AUSL, he was principal of Barton Elementary, which received an Illinois Academic Improvement Award for showing upward trends in test scores for three consecutive years.  Barton also served on Mayor Emanuel’s Early Childhood Education Task Force. 

This fall, Lloyd Knight will become the director of Lloyd Bond Charter School , which is in the Chicago International Charter School Network.   Previously, Knight was a teacher and the assistant director at the school.  Before coming to Bond, he founded the Boys Sports Mentoring Group in Newport News, VA, and the Helping Hands Mentoring Program in Raleigh, N.C.

Chicago Commons has won a $1 million Early Childhood Construction Grant from the Illinois Capital Development Board.  The grant will support the organization’s child development centers in Back of the Yards, West Humboldt Park and Pilsen with the expansion and renovation of classrooms, playgrounds, improved security and technology upgrades. 

Categories: Urban School News

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