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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: September 2017

stay sharp

Update: We originally inappropriately reflected the Colorado Department of Education’s “2016 State of the State on Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners in Colorado.”  The presentation CDE staff made to the State Board of Education at the September 2017 Board meeting is part of a larger report that does, in fact, include results of emerging multilingual students on CMAS PARCC. This newsletter has been updated on October 2, 2017 and the link to the full report is below.

A+ Colorado has been working behind the scenes to build out our most robust voter education resource page ever for the upcoming school board elections in Aurora and Denver. These school board races will set the direction for districts that serve over 130,000 kids, of which only 20% of APS 3rd graders and 38% of DPS 3rd graders are on grade level in reading (2017 results).

Both districts are comprised of nearly 70% students qualifying for free/reduced price lunch. There is much work to do to improve the academic outcomes for these traditionally underserved students to ensure all students regardless of their background, receive an excellent education. These elections will also have a significant impact on education policy for Colorado given the size of these districts and the large number of students in low-performing schools. Now is the time to get engaged (and informed) on these upcoming races.

A+ Updates

2017 School Board Election Information Center

A+ Colorado has created an election resource center for the school board races in Denver and Aurora. You can find candidate profiles, responses (and non-responses) to our candidate questionnaires, candidate forum information for Denver and Aurora, and other materials related to school board elections in Aurora and Denver.

Upcoming Event: Reinventing America’s Schools

We invite you to join The Progressive Policy Institute, A+ Colorado, The Gates Family Foundation, The UC Denver School of Public Affairs, The Donnell-Kay Foundation, Democrats for Education Reform, and The 74 Million for “A Conversation With David Osborne,” author of Reinventing America’s Schools, on Tuesday, October 17, 2017 from 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM at the University of Colorado – Denver.

Reserve your spot to hear the foremost expert on public sector policy reform share stories of inspirational change in creating a 21st century education system.  David will share excerpts from his book (that include stories and analysis of Denver, New Orleans, D.C and Indianapolis) along with a panel discussion regarding the implications for supporting school districts with a focus on developing a system of autonomous schools.   


News to Share


This past week has been a busy week in the Aurora education community. Dr. Lamont Browne hosted a meeting to discuss updates on the ACTION Zone and work the school district is doing to create more flexibility and autonomy for schools in need.  Dr. Browne asked the community for their partnership and committed his schools and department to work closer with communities and families.  His presentation offered a sober and realistic status of the work ahead of the innovation schools and we applaud his public accountability and transparency.  

The Residents Leadership Council (RLC) hosted State Education Commissioner Dr. Katy Anthes and State Board member Rebecca McClellan to discuss the current state of education in Aurora. Following an overview from the Commissioner and State Board member, we heard from the RLC, a group of passionate parents and community members deeply interested in building ongoing partnerships with organizations and individuals familiar with academic performance data to help them understand the district’s performance. Their desire to build ongoing partnerships with education advocates to build their capacity to push the system for change is a reminder of the hunger at the community and district level for change. 

As we discussed in our August newsletter, Aurora saw some schools increase significantly while others remained far from ensuring all student have an excellent education.

Breaking the Cycle of Turnaround?

In the past two weeks, A+ Colorado staff have had the chance to visit both district and charter turnaround schools to celebrate initial wins.  A+ Colorado has long been interested in the work of turning around our persistently low performing schools.  We are planning on writing a much longer blog post and bringing leaders together on this to explore the history and future of turnaround work in the Colorado ecosystem.  

Year 0 Schools in the Spotlight

At Schmitt Elementary, A+ Colorado got a chance to sit down and hear from Jesse Tang, one of the “Year 0” leaders in Denver Public Schools. The early data results seem to suggest dramatic gains at many of the schools who received a “Year 0” Turnaround in DPS.  The school moved from Red to Green on the state SPF, saw +20 growth on MGP from 2016 to 2017 results and saw substantial proficiency boosts in both Math and Reading.  Jesse spoke to us about his work focusing on family and community engagement, leading a community-driven design process and keeping his staff hone in  on the right instructional moves. As Jesse continues to lead the change work that needs to happen over several years at Schmitt, he’s glad for signs of early progress that can rally the community and build momentum. A+ Colorado are looking forward to exploring more about how the district can learn from the success of these Year 0 schools and ensure the momentum continues. (Disclosure: While at DPS, I worked on the team supporting turnaround schools including the Year 0 schools).

UPrep Steele Success – Lessons for the System?

This week, the UPrep team hosted a convening for education leaders to share their incredible results transitioning Pioneer Charter School to their Steele street campus.  The successes are staggering:

– 4th grade: an increase from 23 MGP to 86 in English Language Arts

– 4th grade: an increase from 28 MGP to 91 in Math

– 84% teacher retention from 16-17 to 17-18

– ELL students: moving from 57% “on track” in 15-16 to 92% in 16-17

When asked what they would share out to help teach the system about this turnaround success, David Singer, the executive director and founder of University Prep suggested it was all the pieces – home visits, instructional support and coaching, student conferences and other items together, not just one alone.  This seems to suggest a comprehensive approach to these complicated issues.  

Significant Honesty and Public Leadership

A common thread between both leaders worth calling out is the level of honesty and public leadership both leaders exemplified.  They built and sustained cultures of telling parents and families truthfully and clearly about where the school stood and how they were going to improve together.  David Singer spoke passionately about including it in his hiring process. This author has seen Jesse Tang in front of parents with data charts and a mountain to signify how much farther they have to go to ensure success for every child. It is worth noting that this is also a great leadership characteristic that many of our high-performing schools and district employ.  As we move forward with turning around schools and districts in our state, significant honest and public leadership must be core values.  

Time Keeps Ticking

The Colorado Department of Education released preliminary School and District Performance Frameworks (remember, these frameworks are different, and historically set a lower bar, than what DPS sets for its School Performance Framework). While these ratings aren’t finalized (schools and districts can appeal their rating in a Request to Reconsider process), there were some wins — and more than a couple pauses for concern. We would like to congratulate a number of schools and districts that moved off the state’s accountability clock including Aurora Public Schools and Lake County Public Schools.

However, far too many of the state’s lowest-performing schools bounce on and off the clock without making a significant improvement for students. Of the 164 schools that have been initially identified as being on the clock this year, nearly 70% of them have been on the clock in the past. And 30% of all schools that have ever been on the clock have bounced off and then back on the clock, effectively “restarting” their time on the accountability clock without truly changing the narrative for students in the intervening time. This makes us wonder if the clock is actually providing appropriate pressure for schools and districts to improve, and, more importantly, whether we’re asking the right set of questions to ensure improvement is real and sticks. We must do more to support the more than 80,000 students in schools currently on the clock.

Who is Supporting Colorado’s Linguistic Diversity?

We would like to congratulate the educators recognized at the Colorado Association of Bilingual Educators Awards Gala this week. Thank you for all you do to support, nurture, and educate linguistically diverse students across our state.

The Colorado Department of Education shared a selection from its annual report on linguistically diverse learners in the state. 

This report shows that the number and share of Colorado students who do not speak English as their first language continue to grow. The selection focuses on how these students performed on NAEP. The larger “2016 State of the State on Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners in Colorado” includes information about how these students are doing on our state assessment that measures their understanding of the Colorado Academic Standards.

Yet, the report provides little information on how schools and districts are supporting these students.

We think this is a problem. And educators in the field do too. After being approached by school districts and school leaders about the challenge of serving emerging multilingual students, A+ is undertaking a large-scale research project to understand which schools and districts in Colorado are most effective at instructing emerging multilingual students learning English. Look for an agenda item on an upcoming State Board of Education meeting for us to advocate for this project, and for a report next year.


Spotlight: New Schools

Every fall new schools open in Colorado. This year was no exception. Several of these schools include curricular elements that reflect national trends in education including personalized instruction, extended learning hours, or an emphasis on the classics. Some of the new additions to school choice in Colorado include:

The Boys School of Denver

In 2006, President George W. Bush enacted new rules that allowed public school districts to establish single-gender schools, as long as enrollment was voluntary. Started by the Girls Leadership Academy (GALS), the Boys School has begun with a class of sixth graders and will add a grade each year until 8th grade. Like GALS is leadership, active learning and athletics focused.

The Colorado Military Academy

Situated outside the gates of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, the Colorado Military Academy is the state’s first K-12 military-style charter school. Ninety percent of the faculty is former military or has a military connection.  Education is STEM focused and blends classroom instruction with real-world experiences through the Civil Air Patrol cadet program.

Landmark Community School

The only public high school in Colorado for students specifically designed for students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction opened in January.  The school states “Preliminary studies show that there is a 70% relapse rate for teens with normal intervention, while those in a recovery high school have a 30% relapse rate.” The school offers extensive mental health supports to students.

A+ in the News

Understanding School Choice:  Denver Style, Front Porch

Denver Public Schools Making Changes to Choice Process Meant to Benefit Low-Income Parents,  Chalkbeat

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