A+ Colorado is springing forward with more conversations around how to create more integrated and effective schools in Denver. There have been important shifts in Denver, Aurora, Adams 14 and JeffCo school districts over the last month – some moving forward – some moving backward. A+ Colorado is also looking for community advocates for our new “A Team.” And last, we highlight a fascinating public Montessori innovation school in Denver that teaches physics through bike repair and a host of skills through chicken rearing.
Two weeks ago, A+ Colorado released our new report Learn Together, Live Together: A Call to Integrate Denver’s Schools. A+ Colorado believes this issue is not only critical for our work in education but the future of Denver as a whole.
On March 7th, we hosted the first of our community conversations. That night at the Vickers Boys & Girls Club about 40 community members attended a discussion and panel conversation about the report, integration and how to move forward. Our panel touched on enrollment zones, affordable housing and how leaders need to have integration as a fundamental value and mindset of their work. A+ Colorado received great new ideas for furthering the conversation and will continue the dialogue on March 21st at our next panel in northwest Denver. If you’re interested in working with us on this critical issue, connect with us to start discussing what we can do together.
Join the A+ Colorado Action Team!
Are you passionate about education? Do you want to share your perspective with other leaders and decision-makers? A+ Colorado is assembling an Action Team, or “A Team,” to speak on high priority issues and topics in communities.
We are looking for folks of all backgrounds and roles – educators, parents, civic leaders, small business owners, etc., who want to share their voice in important education conversations in Colorado. We are committed to building a diverse set of speakers who are excited to speak to school boards, other civic organizations and explore education issues in their community.
Apply by filling out this survey with your interest and a recent resumé. All accepted applicants will be asked to attend a 2-hour orientation and will receive ongoing support from A+ Colorado. Please fill out the survey by March 31.
News to Share
Congratulations to Former A+ Colorado Board Chairs
Former A+ Colorado Board Chairs, Terrance Carroll and Anna Alejo, will join Denver Public Schools in senior staff positions. Speaker Carroll will be the new Chief Legal and External Affairs Officer while Ms. Alejo will be the new Chief Communications Officer. Both of them have played important roles in helping shepherd A+ from a Denver focus to a state-wide research and advocacy action tank. We are grateful for their leadership and are excited to work in partnership with them in their new roles. Denver Public Schools could not have done better with these thoughtful advocates who always put kids first.
Aurora Public Schools Update – Forwards or Backwards on Quality Options?
Aurora continues to grapple with how to provide quality school options to students. A positive development is the district’s new process to request proposals for new schools. The district has announced that it has received applications from a number of people and organizations looking to offer quality options in the district. Now comes the task of vetting and approving the promising applications: the district will conduct quality reviews this spring, and the school board will vote whether or not to approve in June.
Even as new options may be on the horizon for students, the district still must address its chronically low-performing schools. However, the school board appears to be resisting changes. A case in point: Lyn Knoll Elementary School. Last month we raised concerns that the school board rejected the idea of having an outside management organization partner with the school and district, deciding instead to let Lyn Knoll stay its current course. In the intervening month, the principal of that school left. This leaves Lyn Knoll, a pilot school, and the district in a precarious situation where it is unclear who, if anyone, is envisioning and leading changes within the school, and when those changes would be implemented.
This situation raised a bigger question about how the district and the new board will tackle one of their biggest challenges: how to turn around the district’s lowest-performing schools. Currently, there are 13 Aurora schools on the state’s accountability clock. In the past seven years of the accountability clock, 26 Aurora schools have been on the clock, and 16 of those schools have bounced on and off and on the clock again. Paris Elementary and Aurora Central have been on the accountability clock for six and seven years respectively.
Will the district take bold research-based action to turnaround the district’s lowest performing schools? What is the district’s turnaround strategy? Will it be to push more schools toward innovation? (You can see A+’s reviews of the plans for schools who were pushed that direction two years ago). Will the district partner with other school operators like it did at Fletcher? This spring and summer, as APS leadership and the board continue discussions about the district’s direction, will be telling.
Adams 14 – A Pivotal Moment
Parents and community groups are calling for dramatic change in Adams 14. Groups have called upon the board to resign and to fire the Superintendent, Dr. Abrego. As many folks know, Adams 14 has a long history of low-performance and reached the end of the accountability clock last year. Pursuant to state statute, the State Board of Education intervened in the district last year, approving a plan for the district to contract with Beyond Textbooks to help the district restructure curriculum and instruction, with a focus on three schools. A+ Colorado is deeply concerned that this plan is not driving the needed improvements in the district, and in fact, may be pushing things in the wrong direction. Of particular concern are reports from families and staff of mismanagement, teacher turnover, and the de-prioritization of both family engagement and biliteracy.
The State Board has an opportunity to step up and provide a check up on Adams 14’s improvement plan, and the state of education in the district more broadly. The district has been working with their external partner and making changes to operations and instruction. However, it is clear that neither student achievement nor attendance is improving dramatically.
As community leaders and families call for the local board to “step up or step down,” A+ Colorado asks the state department of education to engage actively in the district. We hope the State Board will be bold as it weighs options and interventions in the district. Families are leading the charge, will our elected officials step up as well? This is a major test for the Colorado accountability system. If the state doesn’t act in this case, it is hard to imagine it will act anywhere.
Jeffco Public Schools – Safety, Strategic Clarity, and Innovation Funds
Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Jason Glass issued a thoughtful response following the tragic Parkland shooting. Given the impact of the Columbine High School shooting on the Jeffco Public Schools community and the country, Superintendent Glass was in a position to be heard, and he took the opportunity to advocate for improved school security. Rather than embracing stances such as arming teachers or gun control that he considers political dead-ends, he discussed the practical measures that Jeffco has been successfully implementing and advocating. These measures include trained, armed security officers in schools, robust school mental health services, sharing information and changing the layout of school buildings to make them safer.
Other major news in the district is that Jeffco has been setting clear and ambitious targets to measure progress in achieving the goals articulated in their new strategic plan. As we wrote back in the fall, A+ Colorado is excited to see not only that there has been follow-up to that plan in the form of a site with clarity around goals, targets and leading indicators but also forums and other opportunities for community engagement.
Finally, Jeffco released the names of the winners of their innovation fund. A+ Colorado is interested in digging into and learning more about which efforts have being funded. Some investments, like the school health centers investment or the STEAM space, are definitely activities and initiatives that align with increased student achievement and well-being. Given the priority of school safety, it makes sense that two of the awards are given to safety initiatives. While it’s important to jump-start activities aligned to the strategic plan, we should all ask if these awards will helping build unique capacity to support low-income students. Put another way, is this fund being used to stimulate real student-centered “innovation,” or is it backfilling other district priorities? A+ Colorado looks forward to seeing how these funds are used in practice, and how Jeffco thinks about funding innovation moving forward.
Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School
In alignment with the Montessori model, Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School serves students in grades 7-12, most of them choosing to continue their Montessori education from area Montessori elementary schools Denison, Academia Ana Marie Sandoval, Garden Place, and Lincoln. In their fifth year of operation, Denver Montessori is serving 186 students in grades 7-11, graduating their first senior class in 2019 and establishing the only K-12 Montessori pipeline in Denver Public Schools.
For those students who have experienced success in their elementary Montessori school, Denver Montessori offers a true to model secondary program. Students participate in six- week project classes including plant propagation, bicycle repair, and nutrition all mixed with equal doses of biology, physics, and nutritional science. Students at Denver Montessori have built out a farm program, complete with chickens, selling their eggs and produce as part of a neighborhood CSA. While these untraditional high school activities also come with unusual legal and logistical challenges for a public school leader, Principal Katy Myers highlights the support and partnership provided by Denver Public Schools as key to her success.
A+ Colorado is currently working on a new report that will highlight the current diversity of school models in Denver Public Schools. We look forward to sharing those findings later this year.
A+ in the News
After criticism, Denver will change the way it rates elementary schools Chalkbeat Colorado
Denver should seize on this moment to better integrate schools, report says Chalkbeat Colorado
DPS Schools Are Segregated As They’ve Ever Been CBS Denver 4
Parents Talk Solutions To DPS Segregation Study CBS Denver 4
A+ Colorado Report Release Park Hill Neighbors for Equity in Education
Former Colorado speaker Terrance Carroll to work for Denver Public Schools Chalkbeat Colorado
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