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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: November 2019

Power to the people and people to the polls. Throughout this newsletter we cover results from the most recent School Board election in Denver, along with a preview of our upcoming report, and analysis of the future for Aurora Public Schools. Read all of this + more below.

A+ Updates

Sponsorship Opportunities and Tickets on Sale for the Best Education Party of 2020A+ Colorado invites you to this year’s Sharpening Education Celebration – How We Embolden, the best education party of the year on February 21st at Ironworks in downtown Denver.

Celebrate with us as we honor 3 leaders who are making bold moves to improve the lives of Colorado students. Act fast and grab your tickets today!

Charters, Innovation Schools, and School Budgeting 

We made it! Our 6th and final Denver’s Next Journey report is (almost) here. Have you ever found yourself asking, “Who makes decisions in schools?” and “What types of schools are working best for which students?” or “How is money allocated to schools and who decides this?” This report will hopefully answer all that and more. Charters, Innovation, and School Budgeting explores decision-making in schools, how different ways of allocating resources has changed how schools and the district operate, and how this decentralized model has changed the experience of educators and families.

The report will be released in early December, but you can catch up on the Denver’s Next Journey series while you wait.

News to share

Election Results

The November election ushers in a lot of change in Denver and more of the same on the state front. This election resulted in a complete sweep for teachers union-backed candidates in Denver’s school board election. While it is too early to tell exactly what that means for the direction of DPS, Van Schoales reflects on the results here.  Aurora’s school board race also resulted in two of the three seats being filled by candidates supported by Aurora’s teacher union which could result in changes for the growth of new charters there.  On more of the same front, Proposition CC failed hard in spite of increasing support for education funding at the local level. Colorado remains a deep purple state when it comes to state-wide tax referendums, and education “reform” has seemingly come to an end in Denver as we enter a new phase for Colorado’s largest district, students and families.

A+ Colorado looks forward to our newly elected leaders continuing to work towards a quality education for all students.

A+ EdWeek Feature 

Van Schoales was featured in a series of Education Week’s Rick Hess Straight Up blogs featuring timely pieces on:

APS Blueprint Phase 3 

Aurora Public Schools has begun Phase 3 in their Blueprint APS long-term planning process. Phase 3 will build off of the community engagement process from Phase 2 with a focus on selecting regional education program specializations for 7 subregions of the district. Each region has a dedicated Regional Design Team composed of district staff, families, and community members who will work to identify several specialization scenarios for their community. At the end of the process, these recommendations will be presented to the Long Range Facilities Advisory Committee for final recommendation to the Board. Two regions, representing parts of Northwest Aurora and Northeast Aurora will continue to meet through the spring to develop additional recommendations around facility use in those communities. Northwest Aurora is facing declining enrollment while Northeast is experiencing significant development which will drive a need for new schools. The district has also proposed a shift from neighborhood schools to a boundary model of schools in the hopes of increasing operational efficiency for the district in a declining enrollment environment. We’ll be keeping up with the process as it continues over the next several months.

Looking Back and Forward on Accountability

In November, A+ Colorado co-sponsored A New Foundation for Accountability: What is Quality and Who Decides? with the Colorado Education Initiative, Colorado Association of School Boards, and the Colorado Children’s Campaign. The event explored how different communities, locally and nationally, are evolving accountability systems to spark deep conversations about how and whether schools are meeting local objectives for students. At A+ we believe that we (the state and local communities) must know how and why we have gotten to our current system, in order to make accountability more meaningful and data about schools more relevant to more stakeholders. Our recent report, Communicating “Good Schools” to Families explores the evolution of measuring school quality in Colorado and in Denver over the past 20 years.

Another Year for Aurora Central High School 

Aurora Central High School and APS administrators faced a hearing with the State Board of Education last week about the school’s performance: Aurora Central has been on the “Accountability Clock” — or amongst the lowest performing schools in the state, since the state started counting nine years ago. The school, part of APS’ Action Zone, which supports five schools in Northwest Aurora who have struggled to support academic outcomes for students, implemented an innovation plan, in partnership with Mass Insights, which had been approved by the state board in the past.  

CDE’s review, the State Review Panel and Mass Insights highlight positive cultural shifts for students and staff, the latter of which is echoed in public comments submitted. Student attendance has been up (though rates are still lower than other high schools in the district, and some similarly performing schools across the state), teacher turnover is down. Teacher survey data at ACHS improved since 2015, but is still well below feedback given by teachers across the district and state. Graduation rates went way up, but dropout rates remain high. Academic measures of growth and achievement are low. 

For the state board this raised questions about what improvement, and pace of improvement, is both rigorous and reasonable. School turnaround, and high school turnaround in particular, is complex and nonlinear. It requires deep investigation into what is working and not working, and agile changes of direction by staff. The State Board’s decision to continue ACHS’s current path, with the recommendation of bringing in additional partners around academic instruction, acknowledges the complexity of changing large institutions. As the state, and as ACHS, look to additional partners for expertise and support, it is critical to better understand best practices and learnings across the state and nationally. A+ looks forward to more research about high schools, and hopes that this will inspire a learning agenda not only for Aurora, but for Colorado as a whole.

Community Spotlight: Youth On Record

The mission of Youth on Record (YOR) is to empower Colorado’s underserved youth to achieve their academic, artistic, and personal best by employing local, professional artists as their educators, and its vision is for youth to discover how their voice and value can create a better world.

Now a locally and nationally recognized and awarded organization, YOR works with over 1,000 young people annually to change the narrative for underserved youth and their families. Through its in-school, out-of-school-time, economic opportunity, and community-based offerings, YOR provides year-round support and access to safe, positive, drug-free programming for some of Denver’s most underserved and under resourced communities. They are committed to ensuring that the youth they serve graduate from high school and are ready to enter the workforce, and transition to college or enter advanced technical training and careers. 

Youth on Record aims to teach music not as the end-product, but instead as a tool for liberation. Their approach, to provide trauma-informed, engaged, culturally responsive access to out-of-school and academic music programs, has been recognized nationally and locally for its innovation and effectiveness. YOR provides young people ages 14-24 with more agency in their lives, while helping them see themselves as scholars, creatives, and necessary visionaries and change-agents in their communities.

  • For more Information on our out-of-school programs and how to get involved click here  
  • Need some new tunes? Check out the FEMpowered. Mixtape Vol. 1 here

Listen to the My Youth on Record podcast here

A+ Answers

You may have heard in education news people all over the country worrying about the results from “The Nation’s Report Card.” This year’s NAEP results were released, and the alarm bells tolled across the country as test results were the same or worse compared to two years earlier. For more information on what NAEP is, what happened, why it matters, and what it means for Colorado students, read more here.

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