Today is Valentine’s Day; infamous to those who work in schools for the amount of sugar students consume and candy wrappers left in desks (and on the floors and in the halls…). Here at A+, we think there’s a lot to love about February, read on to find out what’s going on this month including the last call for our first annual fundraising event. We’re glad you’re connected, and as always, we welcome your thoughts.
We’re are a little over a week away from our inaugural How We Elevate event. We hope you join us to connect with other Colorado educators and advocates, and to honor three seminal leaders who have made a difference for students. There will be excellent conversation, engaging content, and excellent food and drink. We only have a few tickets left so buy yours today!.
Upcoming Report Releases
Learn Together, Live Together: A Call to Integrate Denver’s Schools digs into the impacts of segregation and gentrification on schools in Denver and explores steps that Denver can take to ensure all students benefit from the diversity the city offers. Check back soon for more information on a panel discussion to accompany the report release.
The Outliers: The State of Colorado School Districts 2018 will shine a light on the school districts in Colorado that buck the trend and are getting the best results for students. This year’s report offers new learnings and lessons to share in communities across the state. Expect more information about the report release in March.
News to Share
Denver Public Schools Corrects the SPF
A+ Colorado wants to thank Denver Public Schools for announcing this week that it will be correcting parts of the School Performance Framework (SPF) so that it more accurately reflects the true performance of elementary schools. While we had hoped DPS would have revised the inflated elementary school ratings before the current choice season, we are nevertheless thrilled that the changes will take place for the 2018-2019 school year so that families and educators have an accurate measure of school quality. We also want to thank all of the families, civil rights groups and civic leaders that stepped up to call on DPS to make the changes to the SPF. A+ Colorado looks forward to continuing to work with DPS to support a more effective, easily understood and transparent SPF in the future. Sign our letter to stay engaged on this critical issue, support these recent corrections and encourage DPS to continue focusing on honest and transparent data for families, including a new SPF that will be more relevant.
Is DPS’s Achievement Record a Glass Half Full or Half Empty? It is Both
Denver has impressively moved from the bottom of state performance to the middle of the pack. However, we know this isn’t enough for all students in the city. Former DPS Board Chair Theresa’s Pena’s strongly worded editorial appropriately urges DPS to step up the urgency to do more to improve achievement for low-income and students of color. Last year’s 4 point improvement in the percent of elementary students meeting expectations in English Language Arts is fantastic, yet the district will have to more than double the number of students meeting expectations to reach it’s own goal of having 80% of 3rd graders meeting English Language Arts expectations. Will the Board take Ms. Peña’s challenge and generate new urgency with a clear plan for improvement in Denver schools?
Adams 14: Time for Student Centered Policies
The Adams 14 school district continues to be one of the lowest performing school districts in Colorado and is struggling mightily to meet the needs of families in Commerce City. A+ Colorado was pleased to see that the district reversed its exclusionary policy to end parent-teacher conferences. Adams 14 and most other districts need to do far more to work with families to support student learning, not less.
Aurora Public Schools: Out of Excuses but Not Out of Options
We are deeply concerned by two recent developments in Aurora. This past week, Aurora Public Schools voted to give more time in one of it’s most troubled and low performing schools – Lyn Knoll Elementary School. Superintendent Rico Munn had recommended hiring an external management company to support the school’s instructional practices, professional learning, family engagement, and new principal selection.
Yet the Board voted to give the current principal (who has been there for a significant amount of time) even more time to turn the school around. During the School Quality Review process the review team recognized that there were few structures for instructional planning or implementation of curriculum and that family and community engagement is a significant concern. These are red flags: it is very difficult to turn a school around without a coherent intervention and the support of the families who send their kids there. Lyn Knoll needs a strong, local leader that the school community can rally around to make the improvements so desperately needed. We are disappointed that Lyn Knoll– which made its first appearance on the state accountability clock in 2014 and was again identified in 2017– has been given more time when it is clear that students at the school deserve more.
Secondly, we are deeply concerned that Vega Collegiate Academy, a new college-prep charter school that opened this fall in NW Aurora, has been stopped by APS from moving into a permanent facility, despite having deep support from the community and city of Aurora. We recognize that it is not ideal for schools to locate within 1,000 feet of a marijuana dispensary, nor near a liquor store. We hope the Aurora School Board and Superintendent will step up and work with Vega to solve this problem and open a larger and suitable facility this fall.
A+ Colorado would remind the Aurora Board to look to the district’s recent example of a school improvement strategy, rooted in collaboration. Our recent ramble highlighting the great work that APS and Rocky Mountain Prep has done at Fletcher shows that Aurora has the capacity to implement bigger and bolder solutions that are right for kids and the community. The APS Board should learn lessons from recent experiences and be aggressive about scaling them out across the district.
Improving Transportation Options for Students
Under current DPS transportation policy, students are eligible for transportation if they attend their designated neighborhood school and live a specified distance from that school – more than 1 mile away for elementary school, 2.5 miles for middle schools, and 3.5 miles for high school. While there are exceptions where transportation is provided, only one-third of students have DPS transportation.
Partners at Donnell-Kay, Together Colorado, Mile High Connects, and Stand for Children Colorado have been working to expand these opportunities, not only for DPS students but everywhere RTD runs, impacting students in 14 school districts. Their recommendations are to create:
- a Youth Pass that is free for youth riders 12 and under, and provides fares and passes at a 70% discount for students 13-19 years old; and
- a Low-Income Pass that offers 50% reduced price fares and passes for those that make 185% of the federal poverty level or less.
You can support these expanded transportation options by signing onto a letter to the RTD Board of Directors, RTD Staff, and RTD Pass Program Working Group.
Roaring Fork School District – Transparency Exemplified
A few weeks ago, A+ Colorado had the pleasure of visiting the Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) to discuss school performance management with the board of education. The visit was remarkable for a number of reasons. One was the tenor of the board meeting which started with a reflective reading, introductions by all that were in attendance and was dominated by thoughtful, attentive conversation about how best for the board to support/challenge the RFSD to improve. One change that the district has made to reach more people in the district is to no longer hold all of their meetings in the Carbondale district office; but instead, to hold meetings in schools in the communities served by the district – Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs.
RFSD also is notable for all of the data that is publicly available on their website, everything from achievement to student culture surveys. The state does not require the sharing of these the surveys, but Roaring Fork is sharing the information to clearly capture and communicate progress toward meeting their strategic goals.
We toured the recently renovated Glenwood Springs Elementary School; a building that takes the value of transparency and uses it in design. Nearly all of the classrooms have glass walls. We look forward to following how making teaching and learning easier to see outside the classroom will impact upon the school’s efforts to improve.