These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

January 2016 Newsletter

Dear Members and Friends, 
Happy 2016! The year has started with a bang in terms of education news. And, it’s that time of the year again: Oscar nominations have been announced which means it’s also time to submit your A+ Game Changer award nominations. This is your opportunity to make sure that education hero in your life gets the recognition they deserve!
Continuing Our Work in FNE Denver

A+ Updates
A+ recently participated in a panel discussion and report release on the state of schools in Far Northeast Denver. A+ was deeply involved in the turnaround efforts in the region five years ago and recently worked with other community partners to reflect on where schools are now, and what has or hasn’t happened over the past five years of reform efforts.

Like most education reform work, it is a question of whether the glass is half empty or half full. There is no question that the glass was nearly empty in the Montbello community from 2002-2010. Graduation rates were some of the lowest in the district (2009: 57%) and dropout rates were some of the highest (2009: 6%). We can now say that there are several good schools (some among the highest performing in the district), yet there are still far too many that are mediocre and not making progress. We are encouraged by the engagement of community advocates and the school district in the renewed conversation about how schools in this part of Denver can meaningfully improve.

Get us your Game Changer Nominations!
It’s that time of the year where A+ gathers nominations for the 2015 education Game Changers. We are looking for individuals that have made contributions towards improving the quality of public education at the school, district, or state level in practice or policy in 2015. Previous awardees include Rosemary Rodriguez (DPS Board Member), Barbara O’Brien (DPS Board Member and former Lt. Governor), Andrea Merida (former DPS Board Member), David Singer (founder University Prep), Marcia Neal (former State Board of Education Member), Brian Eschbacher (Denver Public Schools) and many others. Submit your nominationshere.
Aurora’s Innovation Efforts
catCatch Up Quick
Innovation schools and their development have been in the news more than ever with Aurora’s work to turn around some of the state’s lowest performingschools. Nic Garcia from Chalkbeat Colorado did a nice job distilling the challenges and opportunities that Mass Insight (APS’s contracted turnaround consultant) identified in their school reviews

We will be closely following this work with the If Not Now coalition to ensure that these schools have a fighting chance to improve. As Mass Insight’s reports show, each school has their unique set of challenges, as well as shared challenges that must be addressed if these schools are to get better. Information about the innovation planning process and the teams leading the work can be found on the APS 2020 website. Also make sure to read the guest editorial about the need for change in Aurora Public Schools by Papa Dia, President of the African Leadership Group.

New Year, New Leaders
A+ welcomes two new leaders to start the year: acting Denver SuperintendentSusanna Cordova and Colorado Education Commissioner Richard Crandall. We are excited to continue to work with Superintendent Cordova. She’s a lifelong Denver educator who most recently led the work with A+ to improve school turnaround in DPS. This important work led to the advent of the “zero” year of planning: taking lessons from successful school leaders who had a year either working in the school or planning the school model before taking over including Ashley, DCIS at Fairmont, Green Valley Elementary, and McGlone. Our new state commissioner Crandall comes to us from the Grand Canyon State where he led teacher effectiveness, choice, standards, and assessment policy work in the Arizona legislature. We look forward to working with both of them over the coming year.
Education Choice Time
We are in the midst of the frenzy when families choose schools in Denver and many districts around Colorado. A+ will be looking into who chooses which schools, and also investigate the variety of barriers keeping some families from finding the school that best meets their needs. While Denver has one of the bestchoice systems in the country, there remain huge challenges this year with the the lack of school performance data at the time families are making school choice. In many cases, families and districts are flying blind.

We would like to celebrate the work that Denver and Mapleton school districts have done to support choice through systems that are more easily navigated by families. DPS has the Success Express transportation system in the far NE and Mapleton has a transportation system throughout the district that allows for most families to get to the school of their choice.

However, it is unfortunate that there remain far too few quality seats for families that need them and that so many families do not even know what the quality of schools are in their district. We have lots of work to do to improve the system in Denver, and much more work in other districts like Aurora where families have neither a unified system for choice, nor parent-friendly information on school quality.

Testing Tumult
There are bound to be a number of fights in this coming legislative session over standardized testing. The recent debacle by the Colorado Department of Education in choosing the SAT over ACT, along with the flip flop about whether the switch would happen this spring or in 2017, will likely only exacerbate the debates about testing.

Unfortunately most of these debates have been focused on how many tests rather than which tests, their relative value, and their purpose. We think it is sometimes helpful to take a look not just at what high performing states are doing, but also what other high performing nations are doing. In fact, as Andreas Schleicher, the Director, Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Directorate for Education and Skills points out, the amount of time US students report spending on standardized tests is less than their peers in other OECD nations. We tend to have shallow low-stakes multiple choice assessments while other countries have more thorough assessments (with actual writing and sometimes performance tasks), often with high stakes at critical education passage points. Check out the “A” level exams in the United Kingdom as an example.

SchoolSchool Snapshot
Career and Technical Programs Make Big Impacts
This month we’d like to highlight a set of programs, rather than a single school. Denver has been been building out a more comprehensive set of career and technical programs throughout the city. Enrollment is now over 5,300 students, and is projected to increase by 30% by the 2016-17 school year. A+ applauds the leadership of Joe Saboe who has grown the number of programs that connect students to credentials like Certified Nursing Assistant or engineering programs likeProject Lead the Way that allow students to leave DPS prepared for a career.
We would be remiss if we did not give a shout out to two of our best career and technical high schools that have been doing this important work for years, leading to the current expansions of career tech in many districts: Aurora’s Pickens Technical College and Denver’s Career Education Center’s Early College. Quality career education programs and schools are having a huge impact on students and we need more of these programs throughout the Front Range.
We want to hear from you!
Educators across the metro area are doing great things, and we want to hear about it!  At A+ Denver we’re always on the look out for excellent programs in all schools. We’re particularly interested in:
  • Opt-in/out decisions for district services
  • Physical education
  • Teacher leadership and distributed leadership
  • Teacher evaluation and compensation
  • Turnaround strategies
  • Community engagement
To share your approach with us, email Hayley at


A+ Denver