supporting students

At diverse schools across metro Denver, deep-rooted concern over what a Trump presidency will bring

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Students at College View Elementary earlier this year.

At Lincoln High School in southwest Denver, many students and teachers spent most of the school day crying. At Rocky Mountain Prep elementary schools, students asked their teachers if they or their families would have to leave the country. An Aurora principal heard of two cases of Hispanic students being told by classmates that they would be deported.

Teachers and school leaders across the metro area struggled Wednesday helping students process the implications of a bitter, divisive election that will send Donald Trump to the White House. Those worries were especially acute in more diverse schools, where students worried about what might lay in store after a campaign in which Trump talked repeatedly about deportations, building walls and banning Muslims from the U.S.

Ruth Baldivia, principal of Boston K-8 in Aurora, which has a large number of Latino and refugee students, said she told teachers to try to keep discussions broad and focused on how democracy and elections work, “not specifically about how Trump might impact them.”

Baldivia said she heard of two incidents Wednesday in which students were “not being nice to their fellow Mexican students,” telling them they will be deported.

Many of Baldivia’s concerns centered on the well-being of her students and their families.

“Our parents already hide out because they don’t have papers,” she said. “I haven’t heard anything from them yet, but I do anticipate that and want to be prepared to support them and I’m not even sure how.”

At Lincoln High School, 14-year-old Jose Jon Carlos said his teachers made him feel better about his concerns about a Trump presidency and what it could mean for his immigrant family.

“They supported us,” Carlos said of his teachers. “They told us we don’t have to worry yet. They said they were here for us if anything happens.”

For Justin Geovanni, 15, seeing his teachers join students crying made him feel supported.

“They let us express ourselves,” Geovanni said. “Some of them are Mexican, too, and they’re here because they want the same American dream we do. They understand.”

At some Colorado schools, students walked out of class Wednesday to protest Trump’s victory.

Lola Rosales, a Lincoln senior and a member of Denver Public Schools’ student board of education, is trying to prevent that at her school. Instead, she wants to plan an informational rally to teach students and the community about their rights and “what power they have.”

“Everyone is scared in this school. There were tons of tears today,” Rosales said. “The reason for a walkout is when the administration isn’t listening to us. But our voice is being heard.”

When the double-doors opened Wednesday at the Denver School of International Studies, civics teacher Jennifer Boyle welcomed her high school students with hugs and tears.

One student cried 90 minutes straight during a planning period. Another, a 16-year-old Latina, came to her in hysterics, fearful for her family’s safety.

Boyle, in her sixth year teaching at the school, said she was apprehensive about teaching civics in a political year marked by so much polarization. Yet she said she also sensed an opportunity to fulfill the school’s vision of creating students who are tolerant, inquisitive about the world, communicative and aware of different perspectives.

“Kids were coming to me and asking, ‘What happened? Do you have the answer for me?’” Boyle said. “I said, ‘I think the answers are in the results. I think there are a lot of people who felt marginalized for a long time.’”

At Rocky Mountain Prep, a charter network with two schools in Denver, staff shared resources with teachers Wednesday morning to guide them through talking to students, said James Cryan, the CEO. The elementary schools serve large numbers of children of color living in poverty. The network is also in the process of taking over an Aurora school, starting with preschool this year.

“We’ve had multiple students ask if this means that they’ll have to move away or if they’ll no longer have a home in the U.S., or express concerns about a specific relative, asking if their father or mother will have to move away,” Cryan said. “We have all elementary students, so it’s heartbreaking to hear those questions in 2016 from our scholars.”

Cryan said Rocky Mountain Prep students held mock elections at their schools Tuesday, but “it got a lot more personal and scary this morning.”

In general, he said, the focus now is on making all students feel safe. The school staff are also exploring ways to provide resources for families with help from community organizations.

“I think our teachers feel like our work and our partnership with our scholars and our community is more important today than before,” Cryan said. “We’re very committed to showing all of our scholars what great community means and looks like.”

At College View Elementary in southwest Denver, some parents picking up their kids on Wednesday afternoon said they didn’t know how to talk to their children.

“I don’t know what to tell them,” said Mirna Bustillos, a mother of three children ages 7, 5 and 3.

Bustillos said that her 7-year-old son came home one day worried because his classmates had told him he would be kicked out of the country if Trump was president.

“When he knew he won, he got upset,” Bustillos said. “I told him nothing is going to happen.”

Carolina Martinez, a mother of a 9-year-old girl at College View, said she was trying to believe that everything would be fine.

“I have to be fine,” she said, “so that she will be fine, too.”

talking it out

At NAACP hearing on charter school moratorium, foes and fans find common ground

PHOTO: Cassi Feldman
Nyla Jenkins, a first-grader at KIPP STAR Harlem College Prep Charter School

When the NAACP called for a moratorium on charter schools last fall, the group’s president and CEO Cornell Brooks said the group wanted a “reasoned pause,” not a “doomsday destruction” of charters.

Still, it ignited a firestorm among charter school supporters and sparked a series of hearings nationwide, the last of which was held Thursday in New York City. But rather than a heated debate, the panelists and public speakers took pains to find common ground.

“We cannot have a situation where schools are pitted against each other,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the packed auditorium at Harlem Hospital Center.

Many panelists said the problem wasn’t school choice, but the fact that too many parents felt compelled to seek alternatives to struggling district schools.

“If you go into communities where education is working, you don’t see people scrambling around, trying to figure out what school to put their child in,” said Lester Young, a member of the state Board of Regents. “We have communities in New York City right now where parents say there is not one middle school I can place my child in. Now, that’s the issue.”

Still, many of the speakers also acknowledged problems with charter schools, particularly in states where the laws governing them are more lax than they are in New York.

“We want to make sure that those schools are going to accept students that have special needs,” said Rebecca Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association. “We want to make sure that we do not create separate systems that are unequal.”

The charter school advocates on the panel seemed to agree that some charters weren’t working. They were quick to denounce for-profit charters, for instance. “For-profit operators have no business in education,” said Katie Duffy, CEO of Democracy Prep Charter School. Our children “are not assets and liabilities and they shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Rafiq Kalam id-Din II, who founded a charter school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, spoke about the need for more schools like his, founded and staffed by black and Hispanic community members. Without naming names, he called out charter schools that believe “if you don’t sit a certain way, you can’t learn” or are using suspension as a “first response” rather than a last resort.

“Criminalizing the behavior of our children — there should be a moratorium on that,” he said.

But it was Nyla Jenkins, 7, a first-grader at KIPP STAR Harlem College Prep Charter School, who drew the most applause of the night when she took the microphone and declared herself a junior lifetime member of the NAACP. “Let’s find a solution for all of us,” she said.

Building Better Schools

IPS broke its own rules to work with a for-profit charter operator. Now it’s having second thoughts.

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Donnan Middle School was taken over by the state and handed off to be run by Charter Schools USA in 2012. The school now includes an elementary school in partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools.

An unusual partnership between a for-profit charter operator and Indianapolis Public Schools could be on the rocks.

That’s because during its first year of operation, Emma Donnan Elementary School students had some of the lowest test scores in the district and did not make significant gains from the prior year — landing it on the shortlist for district intervention.

If scores are not good this year or in 2018, the district might terminate its contract with Charter Schools USA to operate Donnan, according to Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.

“They struggled in last year’s performance,” he said. “They did not perform at our standard.”

Florida-based CSUSA began managing three Indianapolis schools, including Emma Donnan Middle School, after the schools were taken over by the Indiana State Board of Education six years ago. In 2015, they opened Donnan Elementary as an IPS innovation school in the same building as the middle school. The district is responsible for the school’s — so far low — test scores, but the staff are employed by the charter operator, which handles daily operations.

IPS suspended a policy against working with for-profit operators when it agreed to work with CSUSA to launch Donnan Elementary. The move was intended to give the district more involvement in a building that otherwise would be state-controlled and give CSUSA a chance to work with students earlier. Middle schoolers at Donnan often enroll far behind grade level.

Eric Lewis, a senior official with CSUSA, said the organization is “thrilled to be in partnership” with IPS, and he is not concerned about pressure from the district to improve test scores because “we always intend to improve.”

CSUSA operates 77 schools across the country, many of which also have struggled academically. In the six years since Indiana handed management of three IPS schools over to the charter-manager, those schools have not shown significant improvement.

In recent years, CSUSA has appeared poised to expand in Indiana, but earlier this week the Indiana Charter School Board canceled charters for two schools that were expected to be managed by CSUSA because the company had stopped communicating about its plans.

IPS board members have been skeptical of Donnan Elementary’s progress in the past, but they were relatively quiet during a presentation from CSUSA at their meeting Thursday. (Innovation schools must present their progress to their board twice a year.)

Board member Diane Arnold said the report, which included information on enrollment and scores on tests used to track student progress throughout the year, showed more improvement than the last report school leaders presented to the board.

She is cautiously optimistic Donnan will improve with support.

“We kind of pushed the envelope to give them the elementary school,” she said. “My expectation is we should see results. … And I am hopeful.”

But it’s unclear what help the school will get from the district to improve test scores. Lewis said he did not “have any sense” of what resources the district could provide the school through its new intervention process, but “we look forward to partnering with them.”

Board president Mary Ann Sullivan said she was concerned that Donnan appeared on the list of low-performing schools, and she is relying on the staff overseeing innovation schools to track its progress.

“When we have partners … their purpose is to improve student achievement, and (if) that doesn’t happen, then yes, we will absolutely intervene in those schools,” she said. “We are going to be looking for accountability.”