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Big year for school-based health in Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 10/05/2015 - 13:17

Jade-Marie Burgess lifted her two-year old son Eli onto the beige exam table. He was having tummy trouble so she’d gotten a walk-in appointment at the new clinic.

For 18-year-old Burgess, a senior at Denver’s Florence Crittenton High School, the appointment was a cinch. With the clinic just down the hall from her second-hour class and across the courtyard from Eli’s child care room, travel time was about two minutes.

Last year, it was a very different story. When her son was sick, she’d travel with him on two city buses to the clinic at Alameda International High School in Lakewood. The average time away from school was four to five hours.

It was “ridiculously long,” she said.

The clinic—still so new there are no pictures or decorations on its pale green walls—is a major milestone for the school, which enrolls 145 pregnant and parenting teenagers, as well as 109 of their young children.

School leaders believe it will help reduce absences due to illness as well as those associated with long commutes like the ones Burgess experienced.

The clinic, officially called the Alethea D. Morgan, M.D. Health Center, is also part of the reason that school-based health centers are having a red-letter year in Colorado.

This new building on the campus of Florence Crittenton High School in Denver’s Valverde neighborhood replaced two cinderblock warehouses and a gravel parking lot.

It’s among five new ones that have opened across the state this fall. That’s an unusually high number for Colorado, which has a total of 61 school-based clinics. The other four new centers are at schools in Aurora, Carbondale, Cortez and Leadville.

The clinic at Florence Crittenton is also the first school-based health center in the state to offer routine obstetric services—everything but ultrasounds and delivery.

Given the population served by the school, it was “a no-brainer to add that component,” said Suzanne Banning, President and CEO of Florence Crittenton Services.

A big lift

Advocates of school clinics in Denver and elsewhere readily admit that establishing such facilities isn’t easy. It takes years of planning and the costs are formidable.

At Florence Crittenton, the clinic is part of a new $8.8 million school building. About two-thirds of that money came from a Denver Public Schools bond issue and one-third from fundraising by Florence Crittenton Services.

Operating costs will run about $200,000 a year, to be covered initially by grant funding and dollars from Denver Health, which operates the clinic.

Currently, the state has a $5.3 million budget line that provides planning, start-up and operations grants for school-based health centers.

“That is enough right now, but as the number of school based health centers grows and that pot is divided among more locations, that won’t be enough,” said Deborah Costin, executive director of the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care.

Kids in the early childhood education program at Denver’s Florence Crittenton High School play on a new playground that was part of a construction project that added a new health clinic, gym and classroom space.

Still, there’s evidence that school-based clinics improve health access for kids, particularly those who face the greatest barriers in getting care.

Such barriers are often higher for Florence Crittenton students, who have to manage health care decisions for themselves and their children. Without the same-day appointment Burgess got for her sick toddler at the school clinic, it could have easily turned into emergency room visit, said Banning.

Getting students to make and keep health appointments at off-campus clinics has often been struggle at Florence Crittenton.

“We’ve always seen the challenge the girls had in navigating the health care system,” she said. “We’ve always seen that we set the appointment, but unless we gave them money and a taxicab to get down there, which we often did, they wouldn’t go.”

“Now, they’ve got nirvana,” Banning said as she led a tour of the new brick building that houses the clinic, high school classroom space and a gymnasium.

More clinics on the way

Two more school-based clinics are slated to open in Colorado next year — one on the Boulder Valley district’s Arapahoe Campus and one at a yet-to-be-determined location in the Adams 12 district. The clinics will be the first school-based health centers for both districts.

For many districts, the addition of school-based health centers represents the growing awareness about the link between health and achievement.

The idea is that students with health problems—whether asthma, tooth decay, depression or something else—miss out on learning.

“I think educators are becoming more cognizant of that,” said Costin, even as they work to raise test scores.

“Many of them are saying, ‘Well wait a minute, health is such a big part of this. Even though we’re in the education business, we need to be in the health business too, to move the needle on these measures.’”


Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Thompson union wins another round

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 10/05/2015 - 09:06
Thompson interrupted

The Thompson school board cannot change any policies regarding the Thompson Education Association while an appeal on a court-ordered injunction continues. The Colorado Court of Appeals has refused to delay that injunction, as requested the school board. That means the district must maintain the current conditions of employment and cannot remove union privileges while the case is pending. Reporter-Herald

moving on

An analysis of salary data and school free and reduced-price lunch rates has revealed a teacher experience gap in near-direct correlation to the poverty level of Greeley schools. Greeley Tribune

End of an era

After 45 years creating a legacy for Eaton's high school, baseball coach Jim Danley's iconic run is officially over. Denver Post, 9News

Election 2015

Two candidates in the Thompson school board election are searching for the vandal or vandals constantly targeting their yard signs. CBS Denver

The Roaring Fork School District’s $122 million bond proposal offers great promise for some schools but also poses political challenges. Aspen Times

Candidates for the Poudre school board sparred over testing and marijuana taxes during a recent forum. Coloradoan

The roots of Aspen’s proposed tax increase are in the state school funding shortfall. Aspen Times

Only one seat is contested of the two Durango school board positions on this ballot this fall. Durango Herald

School change

Colorado’s middle school principal of the year talks about how he turned his Summit County school around. Summit Daily

Building and curriculum changes at schools serving most of Jefferson County’s low-income and Latino students are taking hold and working, the school board has been told. Chalkbeat Colorado

D.C. transition

The appointment of former New York State Education Commissioner John King to head the U.S. Department of Education signals potentially deepening attention to education equity issues for the Obama administration. Chalkbeat New York

College costs

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia argues that colleges should have more flexibility in setting tuition rates. Coloradoan

Two cents

Reforms implemented by the Jeffco school board have put the district on the right track, writes the Colorado director of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Colorado Statesman

Categories: Urban School News

Meet the former N.Y. education chief who will take over for Arne Duncan as education secretary

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 18:16

Former New York State Education Commissioner John King will take over the federal education department in President Barack Obama’s final year in office, the president announced Friday.

King’s appointment signals potentially deepening attention to education equity issues for the Obama administration.

Arne Duncan, who has been education secretary since Obama first came into office in 2008, will step down at the end of 2015. He is set to move back to Chicago, where he was schools chief before joining the Obama administration and where his wife and children recently moved from Washington, D.C.

King joined the department as a senior advisor to Duncan in December, shortly after resigning from New York’s education department amid controversy over new learning standards and teacher evaluations. He had been commissioner for three and a half years.

[Here’s our timeline of King’s turbulent tenure.]

Duncan brought the nation’s education system “sometimes kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” Obama said during a Friday afternoon press conference. “We are making progress and we’re not going to stop in these last 15 months,” he added.

Duncan oversaw the creation of the Race to the Top program, which allowed states to apply for $4.35 billion in federal funding in exchange for changing their teacher evaluation laws, overhauling teacher preparation programs, promoting charter schools, and committing to shared learning standards. New York was one of 16 states to win a slice of the funding, and King was most responsible for crafting the application.

On Friday, King praised the administration’s policies around early-childhood education, tougher learning standards, and college access.

“It’s an incredible agenda and I’m proud to be able to carry it forward,” King said at the White House press briefing.

He becomes acting education secretary at a time when the federal education department’s role is in flux. Obama will not seek his official nomination in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Republicans who have grown increasingly critical of the federal government’s role in education policy.

That means King’s ability to push major policy changes may be limited. But he is likely to have wide latitude to advocate for an agenda that he deems important.

That agenda is likely to focus on equity issues. In a speech at the National Coalition on School Diversity conference in Washington, D.C. last week, King emphasized that racially and socioeconomically integrated schools benefit students academically and personally and promote the American ideal of equal opportunity.

King also suggested that the department might promote integration as one way to narrow achievement gaps and revamp low-performing schools — an approach that advocates faulted Duncan for doing little to advance.

In an interview with Chalkbeat after the speech, King said that integration is a school turnaround strategy that “has a long history and substantial evidence” of effectiveness, adding that the department is seeking to highlight examples of districts that have successfully pursued integration. One of his last actions as New York’s education chief was to launch a pilot program that used federal school-improvement money to fund socioeconomic integration measures at high-poverty schools.

“Schools that are integrated better reflect our values as a country,” King said in his speech, adding that the country has “much, much more to do” to ensure that all students receive strong educations regardless of their background.

Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has written extensively about socioeconomic school integration, said King had already taken a “strikingly different” approach from Duncan by suggesting that integration could be a tool for school turnaround. He said King could sway districts to take steps on integration even with relatively minor incentive programs, adding that the Obama administration has been willing to roll out significant new initiatives in other policy areas despite its lame-duck status.

He also said the climate is ripe for equity-focused education efforts following the recent unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., which have sparked national conversations about racial and economic inequality.

“The moment is right,” he said. “I’ve been writing about school segregation for a couple of decades, and I’ve never seen as much interest in it as in recent months.”

King’s attention to diversity issues is longstanding. As New York’s education chief, he clashed with New York City administrators over the importance of not concentrating high-needs students at low-performing schools. More recently, Kathryn McDermott, a professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that after she wrote a research paper criticizing the Technical Assistance for Student Assignment Plans, a little-known diversity initiative funded by the Obama administration, King responded personally.

Dennis Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program, said Duncan had already begun to shed his “mixed record” on school equity with a move this week to tackle the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Saying that he would instead like to see a “prison-to-school pipeline,” Duncan announced an initiative to keep students out of the criminal justice system and redirecting spending from prisons to teachers. Schools refer 250,000 students — mostly boys of color or students with disabilities — to the police each year.

“That might ultimately be one of the most important things that he’s done,” Parker said.

King, who was New York’s first African-American and Puerto Rican education commissioner, oversaw the state’s education department during a period of sweeping policy changes. After winning $700 million in federal Race to the Top grants, King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch moved quickly to change how teachers are evaluated and adopt the tougher Common Core learning standards.

The Common Core rollout triggered a backlash from parents and educators who said the changes came too quickly, leaving little time for teachers to be retrained or classroom materials to be updated. King pushed to introduce new tests aligned to the higher standards in the same year that those tests factored into a teacher’s evaluation for the first time. His reluctance to slow down those changes caused years of turbulence and divisiveness that have continued well beyond his tenure.

Duncan was a frequent visitor to Colorado, in particular Denver Public Schools, where he forged a strong relationship with Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Former DPS spokesman Michael Vaughn, who worked for Duncan in Chicago Public Schools, said Friday that Duncan will be remembered for “fighting really hard for kids and fighting the political pressure that comes with things like holding accountable schools that have not been serving kids well — and getting really good teachers, especially in high-poverty communities. He was super-tenacious and courageous about taking on those really hard fights.”

Colorado State Board of Education chairman Steve Durham, a Republican, was unsurprisingly not as positive in his assessment: “The federal government’s one-size-fits all approach perhaps already has but certainly will prove to be not positive for education results. The use of federal funds to force conformity and limit experimentation and innovation in education is not something we should proud of.”

Chalkbeat Colorado bureau chief Eric Gorski contributed information to this report.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Chicago’s graduation rates knocked down a notch

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 16:44
  • Chicago revised four years of graduation rates downwards after an investigation revealed that the rates were inflated. (WBEZ)
  • A landmark study found that the benefits of Tennessee’s expanded pre-kindergarten program fade out over time — and might even negatively affect participants in the long term. (Chalkbeat)
  • As in many places, D.C. is increasing Advanced Placement courses in its schools, but students aren’t keeping pace. (Greater Greater Ed)
  • Aggressive lobbying has kept schools spending big on graphing calculators that are less powerful than the average smart phone. (Mic)
  • An update on the state of education reporting finds lots of promise in Chalkbeat’s model. (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit engineered by StudentsFirst that sought to limit teachers unions’ ability to spend on political action. (L.A. Times)
  • The father of a New York City student murdered in a housing project is working to steer young adults away from violence. (New Yorker)
  • After years of smaller-is-better initiatives, efforts to improve high schools are no longer focusing on size. (Hechinger Report)
  • A parting word from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Instead of building prisons, we should pay teachers more. (Politics K-12)
  • A Florida county that started screening all students for giftedness found it among non-white students who previously had not been identified as gifted. (Washington Post)
  • A teacher notes that the same type of parents who opt their children out of tests also use the scores as arguments against integration. (Critical Classrooms)
  • The latest update on Finland’s superior schools: Children decide what they learn in kindergarten. (The Atlantic)
Categories: Urban School News

Changes embraced at Jeffco schools that serve low-income students

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 16:35

GOLDEN — Building and curriculum changes at schools serving most of Jefferson County’s low-income and Latino students are taking hold and working, the school board heard Thursday.

Early anecdotal evidence suggests the changes, which include combining four schools into two and developing a dual language program in primary schools, are resonating with teachers, students and parents, district leaders said.

But there are long-term building needs that the district will need to tackle and it’s still too early to know whether an emphasis to improve students’ vocabularies will be enough to boost achievement for those who are chronically behind.

“We’re in a good place,” said Susie Van Scoyk, principal of the reconfigured Alameda International Junior-Senior High School.

As part of the changes the school board approved last spring to schools in the Lakewood and Edgewater portions of Jefferson County that border Denver, Alameda High and O’Connell Middle schools merged to create the new grades 7-12 school.

Traffic congestion persists at the school, which now enrolls more than 1,300 students, 300 more than anticipated, Van Scoyk said. And classroom and meeting space are at a premium.

But, “it is really exciting to say, we’re full — we’re at capacity,” Van Scoyk said.

Alternatively, elementary students and teachers at the new Stein Elementary at O’Connell school are relishing their new digs, said Principal Samantha Salazar.

“We’re all under one roof,” Salazar said.

At the school’s former campus, kindergarteners were in mobile classrooms. Precious time was lost shuffling them in and out of the building for lunch or a trip to a library, especially during winter months, Salazar said.

And teachers now have a space to meet and plan together, Salazar said.

“No longer are we in a custodial closet to do our professional learning community,” she said.

At Jeffco’s second reconfigured junior-senior high school, Jefferson, older students have taken the lead to welcome the middle school students from the shuttered Wheat Ridge 5-8 school, said Karen Quanbeck, a Jeffco achievement director who oversees the schools in Edgewater.

“They feel a deep responsibility to mentor the junior-high students,” she said.

District officials believe the instructional changes at schools in the Edgewater area, including a push for stronger vocabulary skills and designing classes around projects, will boost student learning where it has traditionally fallen behind the more white and affluent district.

Jefferson has bounced on and off the state’s academic watch list for years.

No school in the area is on that list now. But student test scores across all grade levels in Edgewater continue to lag. Only about four of every 10 students at Lumberg Elementary could read at grade level in the third grade, according to state tests issued in 2014. At the same time, seven of every 10 Jeffco third graders were reading at grade level.

Given a switch in state assessments, it will be difficult in the near future to gauge whether the changes are effective. However, the schools will be using local benchmark assessments as a barometer.

Principals at both Alameda and Jefferson Junior-Senior High schools told the board a nascent concern is their aging buildings that are now “bursting at the seams” with students.

“We’re in our 60th year at Jefferson,” Principal Michael James said. “We can feel that in our building.”

School board members praised both communities for their work.

“We’ve come a long way from last year,” said board member Julie Williams. “We had parents lined up for public comment with many different concerns.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver Public Schools’ challenge of finding and keeping black teachers

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/02/2015 - 08:43
race matters

Denver Public Schools struggles to attract and retain minority teachers, particularly black teachers, mirroring a challenge faced by many urban school districts across the country. Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

count day

Thursday was the official "pupil count date" for Colorado's public schools, the day school districts report how many students are in attendance for funding purposes. Denver Channel

second chances

On Metropolitan State University of Denver’s 50th anniversary, a student there at the beginning returns to pursue education in a second career. 9News

house calls

For the third year, volunteers are working to reduce chronic absenteeism in the Adams 12 district by making early-semester home visits. Denver Post

Old school

Students at Ute Pass Elementary School are learning math concepts by trying to unlock that hands-on craze from the '70s and '80s, Rubik’s Cube. Gazette

wish list

The State Board of Education has set a high bar for the next education commissioner but seemS to be sending mixed signals about whether being a visionary is a desired trait. Chalkbeat Colorado

negative feelings

Gov. John Hickenlooper, in a brief talk to an education group, raises the possibility of Colorado’s school funding gap growing. Chalkbeat Colorado

Election 2015

Candidates in the Adams 50 school board races sound off. Northglenn Thornton Sentinel

Preparing for the worst

Colorado colleges and universities have developed procedures for dealing with active shooting situations on campus like the tragedy Thursday in Oregon. 9News

School safety

All students were accounted for Thursday at Cesar Chavez Academy in the West Highland neighborhood, but Denver police are continuing to investigate a report of a possible abduction. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Hickenlooper warns K-12 shortfall may grow

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 17:11

Colorado’s $855 million school funding gap may well grow in 2016-17, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday in remarks to a group that advocates for improved school support.

“We might not be able to decrease the negative factor, and there might be an increase,” the governor said, referring to the 2016-17 budget plan he has to submit to the legislature by Nov. 1.

Hickenlooper spoke to the annual fundraising luncheon for Great Education Colorado, an advocacy group that long has been critical of the negative factor, the formula the legislature uses to control school spending and balance the state budget.

The Colorado Supreme Court just last week rejected the case of Dwyer v. State, a constitutional challenge to the negative factor. That decision disheartened many education advocates.

Hickenlooper’s remarks were not surprising, given the court ruling and a variety of complicated budget challenges facing the state. But it was the first time the governor publicly gave that warning to a large education audience.

The governor’s comment was made in the context of brief, campaign-style remarks during which he pushed for a change that would ease pressure on the state’s revenue ceiling and dismissed Republican criticism of two administration transportation initiatives.

Negative factor history

  • Fiscal year 15-16: $855.1M
  • FY14-15: $880M
  • FY13-14: $1.004B
  • FY12-13: $1.001B
  • FY11-12: $774M
  • FY10-11: $381M
  • FY09-10: $130M

The governor talked mainly about the hospital provider fee, an assessment levied on hospitals and used to gain additional federal Medicaid funding. While it isn’t a general tax, the fee counts against the annual revenue limit set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That limit has been exceeded, triggering taxpayer refunds for as long as three years.

Hickenlooper was unsuccessful in persuading the 2015 legislature to reclassify the fee so that it wouldn’t count against the revenue limit. He’s expected to try again during the 2016 session.

“If we can get that reclassified it doesn’t solve the education and transportation funding problems, but it gives us some breathing room,” Hickenlooper said.

School district lobbyists are talking about allying with transportation interests to pressure lawmakers to reclassify the provider fee next year. That may be hard, given split partisan control of the legislature and the fact that 2016 is an election year.

The governor spoke for about eight minutes, didn’t take questions and left immediately after speaking. His cautionary remarks didn’t dampen the rhetoric of some speakers who followed him.

“Please understand that education was dealt another drastic blow” by the latest Supreme Court decision, said Buffalo district Superintendent Rob Sanders.

“When the Supreme Court rules that our system is thorough and uniform, I would beg to differ,” said Bethune Superintendent Shila Adolf. “There is no reason we should be sending the message that we can’t afford good education.”

The state constitution calls for a “thorough and uniform” education system. Many educators believe the current funding system violates that.

Boulder Valley Supt. Bruce Messinger / File photo

Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger was the most blunt.

“The reality is unless this state steps up and provides adequate funding for public schools, we are going to lose our public schools. … Public education in this state is dying a slow death,” he said.

Messinger praised Hickenlooper’s stand on the provider fee. “We are going to get it done, and then we’re going” after TABOR, he said.

“We’re going to need to get TABOR out of the way” to improve school funding, he said. Because TABOR is part of the constitution, repealing or modifying it would require a statewide vote.

Denver Deputy Mayor Cary Kennedy, a member of Great Education’s advisory council, said, “That Supreme Court ruling has motivated me more than ever” to push for increased school funding. Kennedy was the author of Amendment 23, the 2000 constitutional provision that requires base school funding increase annually based on enrollment and inflation.

Many advocates believe the high court’s Dwyer decision essentially gutted Amendment 23.

Learn more about school finance in Chalkbeat’s archives

Categories: Urban School News

Denver schools don’t have a lot of black teachers. Here are a few reasons why.

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 16:22

Denver Public Schools struggles to attract and retain minority teachers, particularly black teachers, mirroring a challenge faced by many urban school districts across the country.

The resulting imbalance is striking. White students in Denver are 10 times more likely to be taught by a teacher of their own race than are either black or Latino students, records show.

Educators and academics say that having a teaching staff that mirrors the student body’s racial composition makes a substantial, positive difference for kids and schools alike.

“(A racially and ethnically diverse teaching staff) is vitally important, not only because it impacts the learning environment for students, but it influences the whole culture and climate of a school,” said Elizabeth Hinde, dean of the School of Education at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

But there are many reasons districts like Denver and others in Colorado and nationally have trouble recruiting and retaining minority teachers, and especially black teachers, according to minority educators, district officials and other experts:

  • Professionals of color have more, often better-paying options open to them than they did four decades ago.
  • Schools and school districts are riddled with “unconscious bias” that make them feel like inhospitable places for minority teachers to work.
  • Relatively few black and Latino students enroll in schools of education, and even fewer graduate.
  • In Denver, black teachers are fired at a slightly higher rate than teachers of other racial and ethnic groups.

Last school year in DPS, there were just 241 black teachers, 77 fewer than in 1970, the year the Keyes v. School District No. 1 desegregation case was first decided in U.S. District Court in Denver. The number of black students declined over that period as well, but at a lower rate. This means the ratio of black students to black teachers has worsened, from 44-to-1 in 1970 to 51-to-1 last school year.

By contrast Denver’s Latino student to teacher ratio, while still high, declined markedly from 1970, when it was 206-to-1, to 2014, when it was 52-to-1. The number of Latino students in the district soared by 138 percent during that period, but the number of Latino teachers grew much faster – by 845 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are four white students for every white teacher in Denver.

Still, DPS’ numbers look less bad when compared to other metro area school districts. In Aurora Public Schools, for example, where a higher percentage of the student body is black – 18.1 percent vs. 13.8 percent in Denver – the percentage of black teachers is lower, 3.4 percent in Aurora vs. 4.1 percent in Denver. This means there are 97 black students for every black teacher in Aurora.

Other suburban districts have almost no black teachers. Jeffco Public Schools, Colorado’s second largest school district, employs just 12 black teachers, 0.2 percent of the teaching force. The student body in Jeffco is just 1.2 percent black, meaning the black student to black teacher ratio there is 85-to-1.

A history of bias?

Some critics of the Denver district say DPS pushes out black teachers at least as fast as it can hire them, and district officials acknowledge that “unconscious bias” may play a role in individual decisions in schools that lead to the dismissal of black teachers. The district has embarked on intensive “unconscious bias” training for its central office and school-site leadership.

DPS records for the past three years show that black teachers have been fired at a higher rate than other racial and ethnic groups: 6.5 percent of black teachers, 4.2 percent of white teachers, 3.8 percent of Latino teachers and 5.4 percent of mixed race/Asian/Native American teachers have been dismissed over the past three years.

Sharon Bailey, a Denver school board member from 1988 to 1995, said there is a widespread sense among some current and former black teachers, women in particular, that their contributions have not been valued by the district.

These issues aren’t new, Bailey said. When she served on the board, “African American teachers often felt isolated and unsupported by principals and the district.” In particular, she said teachers who were outspoken about issues like high suspension rates among African American male students “felt always at risk and like they had to tiptoe around issues. They felt little or no support for their efforts to support African American students.”

Annette Sills-Brown taught in DPS for 17 years before losing her job in 2011. She said she is convinced her union activism and outspokenness about the district’s failures to educate African American students contributed to her dismissal.

Still, she said, “I would definitely encourage a young African American teacher to go to DPS. It is the only way to make change.”

Whitney Robinson-Johnson, who lost her DPS teaching job in 2012 and now teaches in an Aurora charter school, said in schools with many minority students and low test scores, the failure of a largely white teaching staff to adequately educate students of color is glaring.

On top of that, Robinson-Johnson said, there is the “internalized racism” that many minority teachers feel coming from white parents.

What it all adds up to, she said, is an environment in which some black teachers decide there must be a better way to earn a living.

New pipelines

DPS administrators seem eager to acknowledge that the district suffers from ingrained, unconscious bias. They say they are working methodically to identify and eradicate it to the extent possible.

Last March, the district held its first “Mile High Showcase,” bringing 18 top minority teaching candidates from around the country to Denver for three days, hoping to persuade them to take a teaching job here. The effort succeeded: 14 of the 18 are now teaching in Denver schools.

While all eight Latino candidates signed on, three of six black candidates did so.

Now the key is retaining those teachers for the long haul. To that end, DPS is enhancing its efforts, and bringing in new partners. For the next round, DPS is partnering with the Mayor’s Office of Children’s Affairs and a group of local foundations to beef up the showcase and attach a mentoring program that will help new minority teachers settle in and put down roots in Denver. Each teacher will be paired with a civic or business leader of his or her race to help the new hire forge bonds here.

The district also has two grow-your-own teacher programs, Denver Teach Today and the Denver Teacher Residency, both of which are creating pipelines of minority teachers for the district.

Coupled with these initiatives is a concerted district effort to train its staff in how to work with a diverse group of people, said Debbie Hearty, DPS’ chief of human resources. That means changing the focus of diversity training from the more traditional “understand and respect differences” approach to one focused on the unconscious biases harbored by every individual, Hearty said.

Absence of in-state candidates

DPS officials also pointed a finger at Colorado’s schools of education, which Superintendent Tom Boasberg said “are pathetic in terms of the diversity” of their aspiring teachers. State data bears Boasberg out, particularly when it comes to black students enrolled in teacher education.

In 2014, just 1.9 percent of enrollees in Colorado’s college and university-based teacher preparation programs were black. Just over 11 percent were Latino, and 72 percent were white. Those number have held steady for the past four years. These numbers helped motivate DPS to create its own alternative pipelines.

Hinde, the Metro State education dean, acknowledged that her school and others need to do a better job attracting and retaining minority candidates. But she said there are multiple obstacles, and laying all the blame at the feet of higher education is simplistic and unfair.

It’s also worth asking, Hinde said, “what happens when the students leave the university? What happens in the schools? Why are they leaving in big numbers, voluntarily and involuntarily? This is a systemic challenge.”

Finally, Hinde said, universities like hers suffer from the same problem as the school districts: A shortage of minority faculty.

About 20 percent of the Metro State education faculty is minority, “but that’s not enough.” Hide said she has instituted an incentive program to lure minority faculty, offering a tenure track position and an extra stipend for doctoral candidates who come to Metro to finish their dissertations while teaching a lightened load of courses.

A national challenge

The Denver area is not alone in confronting a dearth of minority teachers. A report released in September by the Albert Shanker Institute laments the shortage of minority teachers across the country. It focuses on nine cities coast-to-coast that are struggling with this issue. But the main problem, the report says, lies outside recruitment.

“The most significant impediment to increasing the diversity of the teacher workforce is not found in the recruitment and hiring of minority teachers: Nationally, minority teachers are being hired at a higher proportional rate than other teachers. Rather, the problem lies in attrition: Minority teachers are leaving the profession at a higher rate than other teachers.”

Like Denver, other cities are having more success building the Latino teacher force than increasing the number of black teachers.

The report recommends that the federal government and states invest in creating high-quality schools of education in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and in tribal and Latino-focused institutions as well. Grow-your-own programs, like those in DPS, are also touted in the report.

Sills-Brown, the DPS teacher who lost her job in 2011, said solutions need to go deeper than that.

“Our society has to respect teachers and it doesn’t. So you aren’t going to get black and brown people to go into a profession where they are disrespected when they’ve been disrespected their whole life,” she said.
This is part of Rocky Mountain PBS’ ongoing coverage of Race in Colorado. Standing in the Gap examines race in public education in the state. To learn more, visit and watch a special report on Rocky Mountain PBS at 9 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19.

Categories: Urban School News

State board sets long wish list for new commissioner

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 13:40

Want to be Colorado commissioner of education? You’d better have a darned good resume.

The State Board of Education, working with the executive search firm Ray and Associates, has set a high bar for candidates in four-page flyer now available to interested applicants.

Among the 11 key characteristics listed are “excellent people skills,” “able to work with legislators,” “a strong communicator,” “a student-focused philosophy,” “a vision of quality education for the future” and “understands how to enhance student performance.” (See the full list in the copy of the flyer at the bottom of this article.)

After a fair amount of tweaking, the board set the list at a recent meeting, and those qualifications closely match priorities culled from responses to an online survey.

The board has been gearing up to find a new commissioner since Robert Hammond announced in April that he was retiring.

Ray and Associates was hired in early August, and the online survey went live later in the month. The consultants also conducted a series of interviews and meetings in early September, seeking opinions about desired characteristics in a commissioner.

The survey listed 33 possible characteristics, and respondents were asked to choose the 10 they felt to be most important.

People who took the survey also were allowed to write comments.

“The very first theme is that they want kids first and politics out,” is how Paige Fenton Hughes of Ray and Associates summarized the results for the board. Also, “there is in these comments a very strong preference for a person who comes from education.”

The comments provide an interesting, if unscientific, look at the fault lines in Colorado education today.

Several mentioned classroom experience, being able to inspire CDE, non-partisanship, sensitivity to rural needs, support for special groups of students and understanding of early childhood education, higher education and workforce needs.

The new commissioner should have “actually taught in a public school classroom for more than one year,” wrote one person.

Here are some representative comments on key issues:

Education reform: The commissioner should have a “Commitment to supporting Colorado’s reform efforts that have been ongoing for the last decade and that have made Colorado a leader among states in standards-based, data-driven instruction,” wrote one respondent. But another wrote, “It is time for a commissioner who is NOT committed to placating either the state legislature nor the federal government!”

Testing: No respondent argued for more testing. One of the more moderate testing comments went, “The state commissioner of education needs to take the lead in working with the legislature to ensure that test preparation and testing does not take excessive amounts of time away from teaching.”

Independence: Several respondents stressed the commissioner should be independent-minded. “It is important that the commissioner not be beholden to teachers’ unions or corporate interests,” wrote one. Said another: “Promotes a moderate political philosophy. Nothing extremist!”

Diversity: “Bilingual!” was all that one respondent wrote, while another noted, “I am hopeful that some female leaders emerge in this search.”

Finally, one person said, “I would like to see someone who is friendly with a good sense of humor.”

Read the full 20-page set of comments here.

About 680 people took the survey, about 25 percent of them teachers, 20 percent parents and 10 percent administrators. The survey, linked from the board’s website, was voluntary and anonymous, but respondents were asked to identify themselves by profession.

In addition to the qualities suggested in the survey and chosen by the board, state law sets these requirements for the commissioner: “The person shall have demonstrated personal and professional leadership success, preferably in the administration of public education; and the person shall possess an earned advanced degree, preferably in education or educational administration awarded from a regionally or national accredited college or university.”

Other voices also weighed in

The search firm also ran a series of interviews and focus groups with educators, state officials, advocates and others in early September. Those included state board members.

That led to a slightly uncomfortable conversation between Fenton Hughes and the board after she noted, “Virtually everybody mentioned dysfunction at the state board level. … Many felt that the political divisiveness is one of the greatest challenges for Colorado education.”

She continued, “Several of you mentioned in different ways that the board needs to work in a way so that there’s some consensus.”

Fenton Hughes said she also sensed board members are somewhat divided on whether they want a “visionary” commissioner or someone who will let the board take the lead and implement whatever it decides.

“I think it is very important for Gary [Ray] and I to understand” what the board wants, she said.

Val Flores, a Democratic board member from Denver, said, “We don’t want a toady. … We want someone who has some spine.” But the board really didn’t fully engage on Fenton Hughes’ question and moved back to discussing the flyer.

What’s next

Nov. 7 – Applications due. Applicants must submit a letter and a current resume, fill out an online application and provide four letters of recommendation.

Nov. 19 – Consultant meets with board to develop and finalize interview questions and procedures; names of top candidates presented to board.

Week of Nov. 30 – Start first round of interviews.

Week of Dec. 7 – Second round of interviews begins.

No firm deadline has been set for selecting a new commissioner.

The salary is set “in the range” of $245,000 plus benefits but will be negotiated between the board and the candidate. Hammond’s salary was $245,000.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Cherry Creek schools leading the state in teaching English language learners

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/01/2015 - 08:48
Teaching & Learning English

Teachers and "English-language acquisition specialists" have teamed up in Cherry Creek schools to provide better instruction for students who are learning English as a second language. And the state is paying attention to the results. Denver Post

Human Resources

Colorado’s rural school districts are on the brink of crisis when it comes to finding enough teachers to lead classrooms. To stave off the shortage, leaders are turning to foreign countries to recruit teachers. CPR

Growth Matters

The enrollment gap between districts in the Pikes Peaks regions is closing. Gazette

Election 2015

Former U.S. Congressman turned high school principal Bob Schaffer argued in court that a post by his school’s Facebook page was not a political gift. The Coloradoan

Jefferson County school board President Ken Witt says he has more work to and is ready to fight to retain his seat during the recall election. Arvada Press

Candidates for the Adams School District 50 Board of Education met to discuss the issues of the district including how to attract more students. Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel

Candidates for seats on the Poudre School District school board went about the work of distinguishing themselves on issues like testing and a tax on pot. The Coloradoan

Field trip

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia visited Summit County to promote reading and hear from local educators, community leaders and parents. Summit Daily

Race relations

Denver Public Schools is holding another student forum on race issues. The second round of talks will give students, parents, educators and other community members a platform to openly talk about race. Denver Channel

Healthy schools

A new survey tool called Healthy Schools Smart Source will help school leaders see how their health practices and policies compare to those of other Colorado schools. Chalkbeat Colorado

Students in several schools across Colorado got the chance Wednesday to try out some local food. 9News

Suburban Sprawl

By 2040, the number of students projected to be enrolled in the Douglas County School District is estimated to reach 128,000—nearly double the current enrollment, according to the Long Range Planning Committee’s Master Capital Plan Douglas County News-Press

Expected growth coupled with needs like aging buses, boilers and roofs equals about $275 million in capital needs over five years. A committee has suggested Douglas County schools ask voters for a bond. Douglas County News-Press

The school board believes the best approach for addressing capital needs is to use available money from the operating budget to update and maintain buildings year by year and work with charter schools to absorb some growth. Douglas County News-Press

Meanwhile, the district’s goal is for all students to have the use of a computer in all of their classes but those devices don’t come cheap and need to be replaced about every six years on average. Douglas County-News Press

Two cents

It's time for the Greeley teachers union and district to stop squabbling and reach agreement, the Greeley Tribune suggests. Greeley Tribune


The Pueblo city school district received national recognition for offering free breakfast and lunch to all students. KOAA

Kelly Kennedy, an adapted physical education teacher with Greeley-Evans School District 6, has been named the Colorado 2015 Adapted Physical Education Teacher of the Year. Greeley Tribune

Littleton Public Schools Chief Information Officer Mark Lindstone was recognized by the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Association of Leaders in Educational Technology. The Villager

Categories: Urban School News

New school health data system ramps up

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/30/2015 - 17:45

About 350 Colorado schools will try out a new survey this year that measures how well they incorporate health and wellness into all aspects of school life, from curriculum and meals to student services and school culture.

The online tool, Healthy Schools Smart Source, is meant to give school leaders information about how their practices in areas such as nutrition, physical activity and social-emotional health stack up to those at other public schools in the state.

Citing the link between student health and achievement, advocates say Smart Source will help schools identify and track practices that make students better learners.

It was first piloted last year with 77 schools. This year’s expanded pilot represents a second opportunity for project leaders to fine tune the survey.

Unlike the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which sparked a protracted debate last spring about whether parental consent should be required before students take part, Smart Source isn’t a student survey and doesn’t collect student-level data.

Pagosa Springs Middle School participated in Smart Source last year and will do so again this fall. Principal Chris Hinger believes the tool will ultimately help correct what he views as the state’s single-minded focus on academics and test scores.

“Smart Source … has the potential to swing that pendulum back to where we build into our accountability systems and our improvement plans health and wellness,” he said.

“If you value something, you measure it.”

Smart Source is a collaboration between the Colorado Education Initiative, the state health and education departments and Kaiser Permanente, which provided $3 million for the project in 2013.

The new survey collapses various school health questionnaires — including one from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — into a single tool. It asks about topics ranging from school salad bars and food-related fundraisers to daily recess time. There are also questions related to social-emotional health, such as whether schools conduct universal mental health screenings and have bullying prevention efforts.

Amy Dyett, director of Health and Wellness at the Colorado Education Initiative, said the tool appears to be unique nationally and has prompted interest from groups like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Action for Healthy Kids.

In Colorado, the tool replaces the five-year-old Healthy School Champions Score Card, a similar survey that was primarily used to determine winners of an annual healthy schools contest. That contest will continue with Smart Source as a key yardstick.

Like the Score Card, Smart Source will be voluntary, but project leaders hope that eventually about 75 percent of Colorado public schools will use it. That’s about 1,400 schools, in contrast to the 75 to 100 that routinely filled out the Score Card.

One of the biggest incentives to participate in Smart Source will be the crisp results report that participating schools receive.

“The number one thing that they want is a nice report. They want the data back,” said Dyett.

Hinger, whose school has won back-to-back Healthy School Champions awards, said he appreciates  comparative data from other Colorado schools on the Smart Source report.

“‘Where is the rest of the state?’ is always a question I’m asking,” he said.

For now, only participating schools will receive the results report, but project leaders hope eventually to make them available to the public.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Rural districts struggle to find teachers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/30/2015 - 08:35
The hunt for teachers

Colorado’s rural school districts are on the brink of crisis when it comes to finding enough teachers to lead classrooms. Even urban districts along the Front Range are struggling to fill positions. CPR


The Englewood School District and TriCity Academy Charter School negotiators failed to reach a contract agreement by the Sept. 9 deadline, and representatives of both sides agree there is no established procedure to deal with the impasse. Englewood Herald

Funding fights

Colorado isn't the only state where school funding is contentious. A variety of legislative disputes, court rulings and a budget fight that has been stalled in no-man's land for months loom large for education finance around the country. EdWeek

Union relations

Division and disagreement continue to plague the Greeley schools as district administrators and teachers union representatives prepare for mediation that might not happen until early November. Greeley Tribune

Election 2015

With the Jeffco recall looming, Americans for Prosperity organizes to support school choice. Colorado Independent

Candidate Robert Reichardt probably summed up the race for Littleton Public Schools Board of Education best: “This is three 50-year-old white guys.” Centennial Citizen

A charter in Jefferson County has run afoul of campaign rules. Colorado Independent, Chalkbeat Colorado

The candidates for the southeast Denver seat on the DPS board squared off over a variety of issues. Chalkbeat Colorado


Six schools in Colorado have been named National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2015. Gazette, Chieftain, Daily Camera

Helping hand

High school seniors can get help applying for college from the Department of Higher Education’s College Application Month in October. Chieftain


A judge’s recent ruling in the legal fight between the Thompson schools and the teachers union is an unprecedented assault on the autonomy of Colorado school districts, and it’s good that the district appealed. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Rowe, Butkovich tackle testing during southeast Denver school board debate

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/29/2015 - 22:31

Denver school board member Anne Rowe and opponent Kristi Butkovich sparred in a debate Monday over the purpose of standardized tests, the role of charter schools and other issues that highlighted stark differences in philosophy.

Rowe, who has been the chief architect on a number of policy shifts in Denver Public Schools during her four years on the school board, also defended the district’s use of broad enrollment zones to drive integration in schools.

“I believe if we think about these zones and bring communities together we can increase the integration in our schools,” Rowe said.

Meanwhile Butkovich, a staunch critic of Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg, said the district needs to do more to improve traditional neighborhood schools and parent engagement.

“If we have a quality school in every neighborhood … there’s no need for choice,” Butkovich said.

The first of three school board debates co-sponsored by A+ Denver, Denver Decides and Chalkbeat highlighted the differing policy stances and styles separating the candidates voters in southeast Denver can elect to represent them on the school board.

The debate was moderated by Chalkbeat Colorado Bureau Chief Eric Gorski.

Rowe and Butkovich agreed that standardized tests should be limited.

However, Rowe argued that the annual standardized testing required by the state and federal government was a parental right.

“This is an equity issue,” Rowe said. “Parents have a right to know how their schools are performing for their kids.”

Butkovich, in perhaps the most heated moment of the debate, countered that the results from those tests only line the pockets of test-making companies.

“I could not disagree with Mrs. Rowe more,” she said. “Standardized tests are useless. They are useless. It pits schools against schools. We have to stop color-coding our schools. We have to stop tying our teacher assessments to test scores.”

In another tense moment, Butkovich claimed Denver officials didn’t do enough to rein in low-performing charter schools. She said the officials act quickly to close district-run schools in low-income communities but allowed charter schools with poor results to remain open too long.

“We need to address the charter schools that are falling further behind than our traditional neighborhood schools,” Butkovich said. “That never gets out there.”

But Rowe said the district has closed low-performing charter schools. She also disputed the claim that charter schools in Denver could reject students with special needs or English language learners.

“No one gets to skim off [anyone],” Rowe said.

In a rare agreement, both women said they support the district rethinking how it incentivizes educators to teach in the city’s neediest schools.

Butkovich is the executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education and a former DPS employee. She last worked as a community liaison at George Washington High School in 2012.

Rowe formerly co-owned RP Publishing, a printing company.

Both Butkovich and Rowe have served extensively on a number of district committees.

The final two debates in this series will be Monday. School board President Allegra “Happy” Haynes and Robert Speth are competing for an at-large seat. Michael Kiley and Lisa Flores are battling it out in perhaps the most-watched race for a seat to represent northwest Denver.

Categories: Urban School News

District: Jeffco charter school broke policy in letter to parents that supports recall targets

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/29/2015 - 16:46

A Jefferson County charter school broke policy against using district communication channels to support or oppose candidates when the school’s executive director sent a letter to parents with information about this fall’s recall election, a district investigation found.

The letter written by Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen board president Alan Scheik urges parents to vote in the fall election, notes that the three recall targets voted in favor of equalizing funds for the county’s charter schools and claims the school could be at risk of losing that funding.

The letter sent by email does not identify any candidate by name and does not expressly endorse a “no” vote on the recall.

“We just want to make sure our parents are educated,” said Roberta Harrell, the school’s director. “That’s the way I read it. And I know that was Mr. Scheik’s intention.”

Still, Craig Hess, Jeffco Public Schools’ attorney, in a Monday email to Wendy McCord, the parent who filed the complaint about the letter and organizer behind the recall, said he found the school violated a policy that forbids using school communication channels to “expresses support for or opposition to” candidates in elections.

“We felt the letter went further,” Hess said Tuesday in an interview. “We felt that it provided electoral support for the three existing board of education members.”

Hess declined to discuss what actions the district took in response to the complaint, calling it a personnel matter.

Because charter schools have nonprofit status, they must abide by federal tax and election laws in addition to district policies.

That’s why the Colorado League of Charter Schools regularly sends guidance to its members on election laws, said Stacy Rader, a spokeswoman for the league. That included an email sent Monday with “do’s and don’ts.”

“We believe Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen’s intent in crafting this message was simply to encourage community members to be informed voters,” Rader said. “They were trying to follow relevant laws by stating facts and not specifically telling families who to vote for. This is a good lesson for all public schools about the need to be very well-versed on Fair Campaign Practice Act guidelines and to run election-related messaging by an attorney first.”

At a school board candidate forum hosted by the league earlier in September, 11 of the then-12 candidates pledged to maintain equal funding for charter schools.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: The end of court-ordered integration changed Denver schools forever

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/29/2015 - 08:57
The racial divide

Twenty years after a court-ordered integration program was halted, activists say Denver Public Schools needs to find a new way to integrate its classrooms. 9News

To court

A parent of a second-grader at Lafayette's Ryan Elementary filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging he was barred from the school without due process. Daily Camera

Teaching and learning

About 65 St. Vrain Valley staff members attended a day-long training Monday to learn about integrating computer science principles into their lessons. Times-Call

new beginning

A new school in Loveland with an emphasis on STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts, and music — education has a principal. Reporter-Herald

Healthy schools

Families in Woodland Park can now use an app to learn about school lunches. Pikes Peak Courier

Election 2015

Six candidates are running for three seats on the School District 51 Board of Education in Grand Junction. Grand Junction Sentinel

Meanwhile, six candidates have successfully made it onto the Jeffco recall ballot as successor candidates. Chalkbeat Colorado

Chalkbeat's deputy bureau chief laid out the issues behind the recall for Colorado Matters. CPR

at capacity

Voters in Aurora are poised to approve a tax increase for new schools even as they raise concerns about what's happening in classrooms. Chalkbeat Colorado

Human Resources

Two Harrison School District teachers have won the 2015 mathematics teaching award from the Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Gazette

Higher education

Dorothy Horrell was named the next chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver by CU system President Bruce Benson. Denver Business Journal

Preliminary enrollment figures show that the student body at Colorado Mountain College is increasing, students are taking more classes, and the college is becoming more diverse. Post-Independent

safe schools

Several Cherry Creek School District buildings were on secure perimeter for about a half hour after reports were made of a man walking down the street with a crossbow. 9News

Categories: Urban School News

6 candidates, including longtime critic, in running to replace Jeffco school board recall targets

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/28/2015 - 21:53

Six Jefferson County residents have collected enough signatures to be considered for the school board if an effort to recall three of its current members is successful, the clerk’s office said.

The final candidate to file paperwork before Monday’s deadline was Jefferson County parent Regan Benson, a special education advocate and longtime rabble-rouser in the district. She joins Paula Noonan and Ron Mitchell in the race to replace school board president Ken Witt in the southern part of the county that includes most of Littleton.

Benson’s candidacy adds a new wrinkle to the charged election: The board members facing recall have been criticized for taking right-wing stances on charter schools and the district’s budget, but Benson, who has ties to the Tea Party, might be even more conservative.

Benson made headlines in 2012 when her son was arrested for wearing an anti-Obama shirt to school on a day when First Lady Michelle Obama was visiting. Authorities eventually dropped the charges and, in a settlement brokered by the American Civil Liberties Union, the district agreed to pay the Benson family $4,000. Benson’s subsequent clashes with school administrators and with former superintendent Cindy Stevenson at one point led her to be banned from her son’s high school.

Since then she has gone on to create the Every Student Matters Project, a nonprofit that advocates for students with special needs.

The other five candidates to replace school board members who are facing recall had already filed their paperwork.

If the voters choose to recall John Newkirk, they’ll be asked to choose between Matt Dhieux and Susan Harmon. Brad Rupert is the lone candidate running to replace school board member Julie Williams.

In the recall election, voters will decide whether to recall each of the three school board members individually and then pick a replacement. Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell are running as a joint slate backed by prominent Jefferson County Democrats including U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter.

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

In addition to the hotly contested recall effort, four candidates are also running for two open seats on the board. Ali Lasell and Kim Johnson are running to represent the northwest corner of the county that includes most of Arvada. Tori Merritts and Amanda Stevens are running to represent the central portion of the county that includes most of Lakewood.

Under state law, Monday was the deadline to file paperwork to be a candidate in the recall election. No other resident has an outstanding petition, a spokeswoman for the clerk’s office said.

But a conflict between state law and the constitution could still disrupt the election and potentially add more candidates to the ballot.

That’s because the Colorado Constitution allows residents to petition onto the ballot until 15 days prior to the day of an election — or Oct. 19 for this election. But state law set Monday as the deadline to declare an intention to run.

The secretary of state pointed to this conflict in a letter to both the Jefferson County and Broomfield County clerks, but ultimately, the secretary’s office approved election plans for both counties.

Still, someone who wants to join the ballot in the next few weeks would have grounds for a legal challenge. Such a challenge prevented mail-in ballots — which tend to be for Democratic candidates — from being used in the 2013 election to recall two Democratic lawmakers who helped pass gun-control legislation.

Categories: Urban School News

Poll: Aurora voters support a tax increase even if the district isn’t doing enough to boost achievement

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/28/2015 - 18:04

Aurora residents would likely vote to pay more in taxes to repair existing buildings and build new ones despite having mixed feelings about the academically struggling Aurora Public Schools system — a new survey found.

Nearly two-thirds of voters in a telephone poll commissioned by the district said they would support raising property taxes by 65 cents per month for every $100,000 of their home’s value. The extra revenue would help repair school roofs, infuse classrooms with technology and build two new schools that would serve students in pre-school through eighth grade.

Support for a $350 million bond, which would raises property taxes by $2.30 per month for every $100,000 a home is worth, was lower at 43 percent.

At the same time, the survey found lukewarm support for what’s actually happening inside Aurora’s school buildings. Fewer than half of the voters surveyed feel Superintendent Rico Munn is doing a good job, and they also were split on a proposed policy to pay teachers more at some schools that have high turnover.

The survey’s results, which the school board will hear more about at its Tuesday meeting, will likely be used to influence some of the district’s most important policy discussions and decisions, especially whether to ask voters next fall to approve a tax hike.

Like many school districts along the Front Range, Aurora has struggled in recent years with a growing at-risk student body. Nearly every APS campus is at enrollment capacity, even after the district built a new school on Airport Road. Alternatives to a bond being floated include buying more mobile classrooms, shifting to a year-round school calendar and taking out a private loan to build another new school.

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Slightly more than 25 percent of voters believe Aurora Public Schools has gotten worse during the last three to five years.
  • 42 percent of voters believe Superintendent Munn is doing a good or excellent job at running the school district.
  • Nearly two-thirds of APS parents surveyed believe APS is doing a good or excellent job at meeting the needs of the district’s diverse student population.
  • But only 32 percent of parents believe the district has enough “innovation solutions” to boost student achievement.
  • 49 percent of voters believe teachers in all Aurora schools should be paid the same.

The poll of 500 likely voters was conducted between Sept. 8 and Sept. 16. The survey has a 4.3 percent margin of error.

APS is one of about a dozen school districts on the state’s watch list for low student achievement. If the district does not improve quickly, it risks losing its accreditation from the state.

In an effort to stave off state involvement, the district is launching an ambitious reform plan that would free Aurora Central High School and other schools in the Original Aurora neighborhood from some district and state policies. Those schools, in what is being called an ACTION Zone, would also have more flexibility around their budget, staff and curriculum.

An immediate lesson the district learned from the poll: it hasn’t done enough to communicate its plans for its struggling schools.

“We have not communicated a lot about our innovation plans and what we’re looking at as far as the ACTION Zone Plan and that is something we do plan to do,” said Rebecca Herbst, the district’s bond communication specialist.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Middle school students want dress code changed

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/28/2015 - 08:51
Dress codes

A group of seventh graders at Boulder's Manhattan Middle School is advocating for changes to the school's dress code and how it's enforced, saying it discriminates against girls. Daily Camera

Election 2015

The increasing politicization of school board races is making it more costly to run for those seats. Reporter-Herald

Honoring Emily

More than 4,000 motorcyclists participated in the annual ride along U.S. 285 in memory of victims of school violence, especially Emily Keyes, killed by an intruder nine years ago at Platte Canyon High School. Fox31, The Denver Channel

Being green

Several aging buildings in Pueblo City Schools will soon have all new energy-efficient systems, estimated to save the district millions in utility costs in coming years. Chieftain


Police have issued 13 tickets this month in just one Colorado Springs school zone. KKTV

A Denver woman has been cited after state troopers say she backed into several children at Valley View Elementary School in the Mapleton district. 9News, Denver Post

Healthy Kids

With the help of a $1.4 million Colorado Health Foundation grant, the St. Vrain district is expanding to all elementary schools a program that encourages students to walk 100 miles each school year. Times-Call

Elite company

Wiggins High School boasts fewer than 200 students, but that doesn't mean it can't make a list of top U.S. high schools. Fort Morgan Times

What reform looks like

Some DPS schools like Trevista at Horace Mann are fundamentally changing how they look and feel. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

The current turmoil in Jefferson County is an object lesson in the intense politics of public education, writes Mike Rosen. Denver Post

Maybe American kids would eat school lunches if we fed them more like France feeds its students. NY Times


The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dwyer case is a reminder of the need for a frank discussion about funding levels for both K-12 and higher education. Times-Call

Haunted by Columbine

The killing of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in 1999 continues to shape how we view and understand school shootings today. NY Times video

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: The education policy passions for and against Arne Duncan

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 18:00
  • Arne Duncan’s quest to push for educational equity through high standards and accountability from the highest branch of government inspires a lot of passion, both in favor of his vision and in opposition to it. (Politico)
  • The “opportunity gap” doesn’t end at high school. Students from affluent families are more likely to land elite jobs after college than students from working-class homes because of social skills they learned from their parents. (Washington Post)
  • What the sound of slamming lockers, or lack thereof, tells us about the other ways a Denver school is trying to improve, including its use of a New York-developed Common Core-aligned curriculum. (Chalkbeat)
  • Do high schools that train students for technical vocations, not college, represent an abandonment of those students or an investment in their future? One Philadelphia school offers clues. (The Atlantic)
  • As a charter school chain designed to upend traditional school bureaucracies grows larger and its systems grow more complex, the ways its executive handles logistical snafus reveal a lot about the challenges of running large school systems and what changing those systems could actually take. (Chalkbeat)
  • An Ohio dad got Internet famous for posting on Facebook the donation check he wrote to a school making fun of Common Core… (Buzzfeed)
  • …And then an Ohio math teacher took him down for mocking what he didn’t understand. (Patheos)
  • Here’s a moving essay about the emotional toll it takes on immigrant students when teachers and peers refuse to learn how to properly pronounce their names. (The Toast)
  • The experience of having one’s name butchered is very common for English language learners especially, and can have subtle but lasting consequences on children’s educations. (Chalkbeat)
Categories: Urban School News

Opening a new chapter, a Denver elementary school on the rebound changes its look and feel

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/25/2015 - 11:32

Each morning, the littlest students at Trevista at Horace Mann school would fight with the olive green lockers.

They’d struggle to unlatch them. They’d stand on their tip toes in futile efforts to hang up their jackets. Then in rapid succession they would slam the doors shut, because 4-year-olds tend to slam things.

This, school leaders thought, is not what an elementary school should sound like.

That was before. When students arrived for classes this fall in the art deco building in northwest Denver that for decades housed a middle school, they passed through freshly painted bright blue doors and under a new school logo designed by an outside marketing firm.

Those intimidating first-floor lockers are hidden from view — framed up and splashed with yet more blue paint. There are hooks within easy reach of small hands and shelves for lunch boxes and water bottles.

The striking visible changes at Trevista at Horace Mann grow out of a school of thought at a number of Denver public schools in or coming out of turnaround — schools that were performing so poorly, drastic changes were put in place accompanied by an influx by district and federal resources and dollars.

Along with a relentless focus on strengthening school culture and experimentation with schedules and curriculum, these schools are fundamentally changing how they look and feel, from tossing old furniture to plastering their logos on yard signs to spread the word.

At Trevista, the aesthetic changes that greeted students this year carry special weight. Last spring, DPS shut down the middle school portion of what had been a preschool through 8th grade school due to plummeting enrollment, and talk heated up about moving the elementary school out of the 1931 blond brick building.

That sea of blue is meant to send a message — the Trevista community’s goal is to stay put and climb from being one of the district’s lowest performing schools to one that is rated blue, or distinguished, on DPS’s school performance framework that measures academic proficiency, growth, enrollment and more.

“The aesthetic changes really represent what we feel as a staff and a community about the possibilities our students hold,” said Jessica Mullins, who as a teacher leader splits time between teaching 5th grade language arts, coaching colleagues and planning. “It’s a physical representation of what we believe our students are capable of. As an educator, it looks like to me a place where anything is possible.”

Changing school culture

Trevista was put on turnaround status four years ago, beginning a tumultuous period that included the hiring of a new principal, most of the teaching staff being cut loose and the granting of innovation status, which gives the school more freedom with staffing, scheduling and curriculum decisions.

New Trevista principal Jesus Rodriguez lives five minutes from the school and often runs into families at Safeway or a local pizza place (photo by Eric Gorski).

The school adopted an extended day and calendar that includes extra time for data analysis, planning and staff training. It gained waivers from district assessments and curriculum, allowing it to begin experimenting with a Common Core-aligned curriculum, EngageNY, the district has since embraced.

The City Year program, staffed by AmericaCorps personnel, provides after-school homework help.

Perhaps most notably, Trevista went to work on improving school culture, said Jesus Rodriguez, who took over as principal this year after previously serving as an assistant principal.

The school adopted three core values: work hard, show respect and be responsible. The idea, Rodriguez said, is to create an environment that sets high and clear expectations but also celebrates joy.

Students who demonstrate those values are rewarded with falcon feathers — for the school mascot — and are entered into drawings to win donated college T-shirts they can wear in place of their uniforms.

Between periods, students are instructed to walk silently, hands hooked behind their backs in two straight lines — which calls to mind practices at no-nonsense charter schools.

The changes were not enough to save the middle school, which had seen enrollment decline and performance lag. Last spring, however, the elementary school crept into green status on the DPS school performance framework, meaning it meets expectations.

Critics say the framework system is broken and includes far too wide a range for schools to meet that bar. But it was cause for celebration at Trevista.

Last year, Trevista ranked among the top 40 DPS schools in median student academic growth. Still, on the most recent state test scores available — 2014 TCAP assessments — Trevista students lagged behind their peers in the district in academic proficiency, often by wide margins. For instance, just three in 10 fourth-graders were at grade level in reading, compared to the district-wide rate of about 50 percent.

Trevista has chosen to set the bar higher — to strive to become the first “blue” school in northwest Denver.

“Blue represents distinction,” Rodriguez said. “No one questions whether it’s a great school.”

‘A crayon box full of colors’

To brighten the school more, Trevista did away with the uniforms of old. For the previous seven years, elementary school students wore blue polo shirts and middle-schoolers wore gray ones.

The student handbook barred red on campus, based on Denver Police concerns about gang associations. Rodriguez said the middle school closure made that a non-issue. Now, children can choose from a rainbow of T-shirts and polos — including red ones.

“The moment I walked into the rooms, it felt to me like when color TV hit the mainstream,” Rodriguez said. “I had spent the last few years in this seas of blue and gray and now am seeing a crayon box full of colors.”

The rallying crying for the Trevista community is “Destination Blue” (photo by Eric Gorsk).


Then there are all the physical changes. For the first time, the school has a sign bearing its name, rather than just Horace Mann Middle School. Grant money paid for the paint jobs on the framed-in lockers and panels on the second floor.

Rodriguez anticipates the new logo, stationery, banners in the entranceway and other branding will cost about $10,000, tapping into funds that support multicultural efforts.

Mallory Powell, who has two daughters attending Trevista, said the visible changes at the start of the school year “just shows kids and parents that the school cares — and that you are walking through a great school.”

She has seen other, more meaningful changes at the school over the last four years, including a transition from teachers who told her everything was fine — when it wasn’t — to those who called from their personal cell phones to welcome the family back for the new year.

Trevista borrowed much of its makeover blueprint from other DPS turnaround schools, in particular DCIS Fairmont and Ashley Elementary School, both of which like Trevista are innovation schools.

DCIS Fairmont, which replaced a dual-language K-8 school, adopted four core values, developed a system for rewarding positive behavior and and splashed everywhere it could its new logo — a colorful globe-shaped “cultural mosaic” that represents its international focus. Principal Anne Jacobs likened it to a company rebranding.

“We came into a neighborhood that has so much history with the school and the campus, and this is very true for Trevista, as well,” Jacobs said. “It can be a very tough and emotional ride.”

DCIS Fairmont made surprisingly quick gains, lifting itself up to green status within a year and seeing behavioral problems and suspension rates drop.

At Ashley Elementary in northeast Denver, the turnaround process included a similarly deep emphasis on school culture along with repainting the entire school and replacing every desk and chair.

“In the turnaround setting, we need to completely change what the perception of the school is — that the school looks and feels different than it did before,” principal Zachary Rahn said.

At the same time, Rahn said school leaders were careful to hold onto cherished school traditions. So December still brings the annual Nutcracker performance and International Arts Night arrives in the spring.

High ‘choice-out’ rates

The Trevista boundary is big, sprawling and unwieldy. It includes the city’s largest public housing project — the Quigg Newton Homes — and new arrivals moving into high-priced box-shaped duplexes.

But so far, the gentrification of the Sunnyside neighborhood at the heart of Trevista’s boundary is not reflected in the school. About 80 percent of students are Latino and 15 percent are black. About 97 percent qualify for government-subsidized meals. Those figures have remained about the same for years.

For two weeks before school began, educators at the school attended training dubbed “Trevista University” (photo by Eric Gorski).

The percentage of families in the Trevista boundary choosing to attend schools elsewhere was in the mid 60s last year.

This fall’s head count showed considerable work remains. Enrollment was about 340, or 26 students short of projections, setting up Trevista’s budget to be short about $115,000, Rodriguez said. Because Trevista is designated as a priority school, DPS provided money to help make up some but not all of the difference. Rodriguez made cuts in the operational budget, and a school psychologist is in the building one day fewer per week.

Rodriguez, unsurprisingly, would like to improve on those numbers.

He envisions Trevista as a large, diverse neighborhood school, a place where everyone vies for one of those college T-shirts, girls can wear red bows in their hair and the hallways are free of the sound of crashing lockers.

Categories: Urban School News

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