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


June Newsletter: Keeping you informed about A+ Denver

By matter

Dear Members and Friends, 

School is almost out so our newsletter will be taking a little vacation. We’ll be back around the same time as those Staples back-to-school commercials.

DPS News

Paradigm Shift

For the first time, DPS schools will be asked to “opt in” to rather than “opt out” of district supports like curriculum, school-based assessments, and professional development. It’s nothing short of a paradigm shift. This move decentralizes decision-making, giving schools more flexibility about what they do in the classroom. It also calls into question the fundamental role of a school district, shifting from dictating educational program design to providing services and supports at the behest of school leaders.

The district will need to refocus its energies: its primary responsibility will be to ensure a high standard of quality is met, letting those closest to kids make the decisions about the programs and support it wants from the district. We applaud DPS for putting the needs of principals, teachers, and students above the instinct to maintain control. Look for more of our thoughts in our Rambles later this month.

Legislative Recap
The Colorado General Assembly was a busy place this spring, with 119 education-related bills introduced (though 62% of those bills were killed). Here’s a recap of some which passed through the gauntlet.

Testing
Lawmakers are reducing time spent on testing by eliminating CMAS tests in 10th-12th grade, testing science and social studies once each in Elementary, Middle and High School, and streamlining Read Act assessments in K-2. PARCC (English and Math) will continue to be administered each year in grades 3-9. A+ believes this bill reduces the burden on teachers, schools and districts, while retaining a set of high standards for all Colorado students, and comparable metrics across the state. We feel there is still work to be done at the district-level where we’ve seen a proliferation of assessments of varying quality.

PERA
Despite initially rejecting the legislation, the General Assembly adjusted Denver Public Schools’ employer contribution rate to the state pension system to match the rate of every other school district in the state, saving DPS about $20 million a year. See our support of the bill here. Now the question is how the district can best leverage these resources to support schools, teachers, and students.

State Board of Education
Current State Commissioner Robert Hammond announced his retirement. During his tenure, Hammond implemented Colorado’s educator evaluation legislation, new high standards, and an accountability system that has been a national model. The State Board of Education is looking for his replacement; it is critical the new commissioner be committed to maintaining high standards for every Colorado student, and holding districts and schools accountable for achieving them. We look forward to working with the State Board and new commissioner to ensure we have a quality public education system.

A+ Updates

How to Pay Teachers: A Discussion on Teacher Compensation
Seventy teachers, school leaders, and community members joined A+ to hear a panel of experts discuss teacher compensations in DPS. Panelists Paul Teske, Brad Jupp, Shayne Spalten, and Amber Wilson of DCTA addressed the history of ProComp and highlighted challenges the current bargaining teams are facing. Keep an eye out for more A+ events and news around this important issue.
School Turnaround and School Leadership
Collaboration, creative problem-solving, and continuous learning are important skills, not just for our students, but for district decision-makers as well. That’s why A+ Denver has been hosting conversations between DPS, community, and business leaders to brainstorm new approaches to improve school turnaround and school leadership in Denver.

As part of this effort to broaden ideas, the Donnell-Kay Foundation and DPS invited Bryan Hassel, Co-Director of Public Impact and a national thought-leader on both school turnaround and school leadership, to meet with these thought-groups and with turnaround practitioners. Dr. Hassel brought provocative recommendations like redesigning the school leadership role, developing strategic criteria to drive prioritization during school turnaround, and fundamentally rethinking the district-school relationship. Look for more insights from these conversations in our memos to be released later this month.

School Snapshot

Arts at McGlone Elementary
We went on school visits in May with an eye toward the arts. This time we highlight McGlone Elementary.

McGlone Principal Sara Gips has adopted a holistic approach to both academics and specials, integrating a daily, two-hour long enrichment block. Each week students have two entire blocks for studio art time.

Walking into the arts room with grades 3-5 teacher leader Christina Reeves, we saw kids working on thoughtful art projects. Students regularly examine classical works and create their own sculptures, paintings, and mixed media pieces that are accompanied by artists statements. Evidence of high expectations and interdisciplinary learning covered the walls, both in the classroom and out. Our visit ended with conversation on how McGlone, as part of the Denver Summit Schools Network, could collaborate with feeder schools to ensure that intensive arts study extends beyond elementary school.

We want to hear from you!
Educators across the city 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:
  • Arts education
  • Physical education
  • Teacher leadership and distributed leadership
  • Teacher evaluation
  • Turnaround strategies
  • Community engagement

To share your approach with us, email Stephanie at stephanie@aplusdenver.org.

Cheers,

A+ Denver