Colorado

Transportation change coming to West campus

Ivonne Porras has two children attending different schools on Denver’s West High School campus. She is an involved parent who wants the best possible educational opportunities for her family.

westmeet
Rocio Salcedo speaks to Nicole Portee, director of transportation, left, about improving school transportation at the West High campus at a November meeting. <em>Photo courtesy of Padres & Jovenes Unidos</em>

But she says she can’t worry too much about academics until she is certain her children have safe access to their schools.

In some communities, safe rides in yellow buses or short walks on tree-lined sidewalks are a given. But that is not the case for all families at West.

Parents say buses are often late, which means students may not have time to eat breakfast at school, or over-crowded with students sitting in the aisles. They say fights break out and that the district doesn’t always communicate well about things like altered routes. The latter situation resulted in parents having no idea where their children were one day.

Now, Porras and other families are working with Padres & Jovenes Unidos to expand transportation options at West. Ideally they’d like to see a Success Express shuttle open for business in their community by 2014.

Everyone wants Success Express

The Success Express is a bus system in Far Northeast and Near Northeast Denver that uses a fleet of DPS buses to ensure that all students have a ride to and from school every day. The Success Express runs for three hours each morning and four hours every evening. The buses also have two adults on them, the driver and a paraprofessional, to make sure behavioral issues don’t get out of control.

“The main goal is to see the West campus succeed,” said Sheila Keller, an organizer with Padres Unidos who’s working with families at West. “We want these students to be prepared for college and have an equal shake at life. If you can’t get there, you can’t get what they’re offering.”

Keller said when she started meeting with parents as part of a bigger push to improve the academic preparation of low-income students and youth of color in their middle school years, one issue quickly bubbled to the top of parents’ list.

“Transportation came up immediately, and as a barrier to the success at the school,” Keller said.

For months, parents and representatives from Padres and the new West Generation Academy, which enrolled students in sixth, eighth and ninth grades this year, and West Leadership Academy, which has sixth- and ninth-graders this year, have been meeting with district transportation officials  to address parent concerns. Both schools will ultimately serve grades 6-12. The district has informally agreed to some of the parents’ suggestions to go into effect next year, but not others, Keller said.

Until agreements are formalized, district officials declined to discuss changes that are coming.

“We’re looking at different ways to increase services to students going to the West campus,” DPS spokesperson Dave Nachtweih said last week. “What that exactly looks like we don’t know yet.”

Final plans on hold due to changes at West

Nachtweih said plans can’t be finalized until choice numbers are in and the district knows exactly how many students will be attending the West campus next year and how many will need busing. Meanwhile, the Leadership Academy is making significant scheduling changes, which will also affect bus routes and schedules, he said.

The biggest change parents want? Use of yellow school buses for some high school students – especially freshman – instead of having students take RTD city buses.

Some high-schoolers now have to use three transfers to get to school and spend at least 45 minutes to an hour on a bus each way.

“The RTD system doesn’t string together in way that is time effective,” Keller said.

What this means is that younger siblings often get home before the older siblings who are charged with watching them, she added.

“That’s a lot of time and insecurity for the students,” Porras said through a translator. “A lot of the moms don’t want to put kids on RTD because of safety. Parents are saying it’s better not to come to West if you have to put them on RTD. They might send (their child) to another school even though it’s not a better school.”

Yellow buses for high school students?

Parents and school leaders are still working on opening up seats for at least ninth- and 10th –graders on the yellow buses. But it’s not clear that will happen.

However, it does look like larger buses may be used at West next year, providing seven to 10 more seats, giving students more space and – parent and organizers hope – resulting in fewer conflicts breaking out due to overcrowding.

Exhaust from diesel school buses poses a threat to millions of schoolchildren nationwide.
<em>EdNews</em> file photo

And, it looks like school leaders are open to changing the start times of the schools, so that the buses would make two morning rotations through the feeder neighborhoods. This would allow students to board buses earlier if they needed or wanted to get to school earlier, Keller said.

Ditto at the end of the school day. Two rotations of buses home would create a mini-shuttle system allowing students who stayed later for tutoring or activities to take a bus home. Again, nothing has been finalized.

But Keller also said work is underway to raise money to launch an after-school activities bus at West, which would guarantee transportation for students leaving school at a later hour.

Silvia Urbina’s son is a sixth-grader at West Leadership Academy. She too worries about her child taking public transportation.

“With everything happening with students we’ve seen in the news, I am worried our kids could get attacked or something on the bus,” Urbina said through a translator.

Urbina said she signed her son up for the Leadership Academy, a College Board school that give placement priority to students who live in the West shared boundary, to give him a shot at a successful life.

“I am very excited as a mother about these new schools here for my son… and the opportunity for him to get to university,” Urbina said. “But transportation has been a barrier to my son to get here and I even have friends who want to come here and that would be a barrier.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.