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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: November 2018

stay sharpHappy Thanksgiving, we hope everyone gets a well deserved break while gathering with friends, family, and neighbors to cook, eat and reconnect. Many of us will be traveling far with Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish (you must give it a try) and having friendly arguments on whether the stuffing should have chorizo (we’ll have a veggie version). This Thanksgiving seems a particularly relevant time to make the extra effort to listen to others with differing perspectives given the growing divides across our nation.

A+ Updates

Many Languages, One Future Report Release

A first ever report from A+, Many Languages, One Future was released in a packed room on October 30 during a school visit with Bear Creek High School in Jeffco Public Schools, where emerging multilingual students show, across the past few years, some of the highest academic achievement levels when compared to high schools across the state. The event included 100 community members, educators, and emerging multilingual students and featured a presentation on the key findings from Many Languages, One Future, followed by a tour of Bear Creek High School’s English language development programs

“We are really proud of Bear Creek High School’s achievement and performance with all of their students, and as this report identifies, that extends to our students who are English language learners. It’s important to have access to transparent data on these students, just like other growth data for all students; however, even more critical is a school’s ability to provide the engaging and supportive environment and resources in order for these emerging multilingual students to thrive.” –Dr. Jason Glass, Superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools


Dr. Dan Lutz, community member and educator, reflects on the release of the report, “I learned very quickly that the emerging multilingual students were very proud of who they are.”

Many Languages, One Future, a First Ever A+ Report

On October 30, A+ Colorado released a report on the state of emerging multilingual students in Colorado. Many Languages, One Future finds enrollment growth for these emerging multilingual students has outpaced the overall enrollment rate by a factor of two, making 1 in every 10 Colorado students a recipient of formal English language instruction, the sixth largest statewide population in the country.This report illuminates which Colorado districts are best serving emerging multilingual students – students who speak a language other than English and are learning English through targeted services in public schools. As we often see, there is tremendous variability within the state, with Denver County having one of the largest populations of emerging multilingual students, nationwide, while other districts in Colorado have few emerging multilingual students. We grapple with the nuances of Colorado’s diverse student populations, and the several different standards by which we measure emerging multilingual students’ success, to see which districts have had the most success and draw attention to our remaining questions.

Despite large population numbers and nearly $56 million in annual spending on these students across the state, Many Languages, One Future finds that meaningful data for how these students are gaining English language skills and mastering Colorado academic content is hard to access. The report argues that greater transparency and improved reporting for this group of students would more easily allow the state to identify schools and districts where emerging multilingual students are thriving. Elevating these best practices through research and peer-to-peer learning would make it easier for additional investments to be focused on efforts with proven outcomes.

“Understanding how students are mastering the English language is one important piece of the data puzzle for these students, but we also need to be able to see how that is impacting their ability to ultimately master academic content as well, a critical component to students graduating ready for college or a career.” -Van Schoales, CEO of A+ Colorado.

News to Share

Election Reflection

Colorado had one of the largest “Blue” waves in the country with Democrats winning every statewide office and now fully controlling the legislature. While some pundits are saying that Colorado is no longer “Purple” and now “Blue,” we sense Colorado is more “Indigo,” a mix of purple with blue, if you consider the failing of tax increases for transportation and education. Colorado Governor-elect Jared Polis also seems to think we live in an Indigo state at least based on who has been included for his transition teams with individuals representing the Red, Blue and Purple parts of Colorado. Given our new Indigo status, it is likely to be an interesting few years when it comes to school funding and accountability.

The 2018 midterm elections included several measures for Coloradans to vote on regarding education policy. While Amendment 73, a statewide tax increase for education was defeated, local districts passed over half of the school bonds or mill levy overrides in Tuesday’s election. These measures included various increases in education funding around: mental health staff, security, building upgrades, and teacher pay.

Funding for education was a large focus on Colorado’s ballots, and the desire for change is evident with 28 of these measures passing. This large support sends a clear message from the community on how important an increase in funding can be for Colorado’s educational system, children and future. Clearly, voters want to fund their schools, it is unclear whether they want to fund other Coloradans schools. Read more on Van Schoales thoughts on the failure of Amendment 73 and where the state might go next to address education funding.

The rejection of Amendment 73 seemed similar to that of 66 a few years ago…

A New Direction for Adams 14

A+ Colorado has been closely following and weighing in on the school district and state’s discussion about Adams 14 where nearly 7,500 students are relying on decisions made at the elected and leadership levels. This week’s decision on a course of action for Adams 14 School District (and for Risley International and Heroes Middle School in Pueblo City 60) came after an extraordinary flood of public comment and community input which coalesced around one clear feeling: the situation in Adams 14 is dire — having failed a whole generation of students — and swift and dramatic action is needed. The State Board clearly felt the community’s concern, understanding that their action was key for setting the direction of the district and testing our state accountability system. The State Board will direct Adams 14 to hire an external management organization (EMO) for no fewer than 4 years to help them turn around the district.

So what will external management look like? An answer to this question is still vague. The State Board was clear that the external management must have both the capacity and expertise to turnaround schools and manage a district. Who — the EMO, Adams 14 Board, or Adams 14 leadership– gets decision-making authority over what, still must be negotiated. While some of this may be outlined in the Board’s forthcoming Order, it will likely be an ongoing discussion through implementation.

The success of this strategy will rely heavily on who is brought in to support the district. Success will also depend on how the relationship between the local board, the EMO, and district leadership is structured. Not to mention how communities and stakeholders including families, students, and educators are brought into the district to co-create and implement cohesive improvement strategies.

As Adams 14 pursues this path, we’re left with the following questions (which we can promise we’ll be monitoring and trying to answer): will student needs (particularly support for emerging multilingual students) be at the forefront of decision-making and improvement planning with the EMO? How will the district pay for external management organization? What standards of transparency will the EMO be required to meet, particularly if they are a for-profit company? How will the monitoring of the plan differentiate district improvement versus improvement at Adams City High School (which didn’t receive a separate directive)?

DPS Super Search Update

The search for Denver’s Superintendent continues this week behind closed doors as the DPS board narrows in on who should lead the district. We expect to come back from Thanksgiving break with an announcement on November 27 regarding their choice for one or several finalists along with a set of community meetings for the finalists to get to know the Denver community. While there have been lots of rumors around who is in the pool and will be chosen, the DPS Board of Education has been appropriately tight lipped about candidates while running a process that has gathered much input from the community. This decision is by far the most important one of the DPS board. It will have lasting impact on Denver’s students for many years. We are excited to work the next superintendent to accelerate progress in Denver. You can find the latest information from the DPS board here.

Aurora Public Schools Blueprint

Aurora Public Schools is wrapping up Phase 1 of Blueprint APS, the district’s initiative to engage the Aurora community in developing a long-term plan for how the district should serve the community. Phase 1 is scheduled to conclude in December with results from the community engagement process shared with the School Board. Those results will be used to create several possible scenarios for the district to consider in Phase 2 starting next spring. This effort overlaps with Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn being named the Colorado Superintendent of the Year, five years after taking the helm of APS.

School Spotlight

A+ Visits the Outliers: Lake County

Every year, A+ Colorado conducts our Outlier report on school districts beating the odds across the state. This year, we reached out to many of those districts to learn about what they were doing and to celebrate their success.

At the end of October, A+ Colorado had our second visit to an Outliers school district when we traveled up to Leadville to meet with the great folks in Lake County. Superintendent Wendy Wyman and Chief Operating Officer Kate Bartlett asked us to present to both their Board and to a weekly community meeting of groups from across Lake County. In both of the presentations, we had the opportunity to present where Lake County showed up on the Outlier analysis. The data showed tremendous progress and opportunity to grow. After both presentations, we spent time discussing and learning about where they feel they have succeeded and where they have been challenged. A major component we heard was about the need to implement foundations like strong hiring practices and retention plans for teachers, utilizing an outside group to bring in perspective on how to rebuild their talent pipeline. Additionally, they spoke on the need to manage the pace of change for their staff and their schools. They wanted to see progress and improvement while ensuring folks were able to adjust to the shifting culture. They also spoke up about their future plans to increase partnership between educators and families, building new trust and connection with their community.

Save the Date: How We Evolve 

Purchase Your Ticket to the Best Education Party of the Year

A+ in the News

Multilingual Student Population Growing, The Denver Channel

Report Hopes To Measure How Multilingual Students Fare In Colorado Schools, CBS4

Jeffco High School Highlighted in Report on English Learner Achievement, Chalkbeat

Support for Colorado’s Multilingual Students Lagging in Many Schools, The Denver Post

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