town hall tour

Now is your chance to weigh in on how Colorado should reverse its teacher shortage

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Mrachek Middle School math teacher Diardra Gascon helps students solve a math problem.

To get a better sense of Colorado’s teacher shortage, state officials are hitting the road.

Officials from the the Colorado Department of Education and Department of Higher Education will cross-cross the state this summer for a series of town halls. The idea is to gather information that will help them craft a plan to reverse the trend gripping many of the state’s schools.

State lawmakers earlier this year passed legislation calling for such a plan, which is due by the end of the year.

Colorado’s traditional teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities have seen enrollment numbers drop significantly. Between 2010 and 2016 there was a 22.7 percent drop in the number of people completing preparation programs at Colorado colleges and universities.

Current teachers also are leaving the profession at a steady clip.

Some teaching jobs get no shortage of applicants. The shortage is pronounced in rural schools, while Front Range schools struggle to fill teaching positions in certain grades and subjects — for example, high school math and science.

The first town hall meeting is Wednesday in Ridgway, about 40 miles northeast of Telluride on the Western Slope.

Here’s a list of other scheduled town halls:

  • Parachute – June 23
  • Fort Collins – July 28
  • Denver – July 31 or August 1 (TBD)
  • Leadville – August 2
  • Colorado Springs – August 7
  • Otis – August 10
  • Ignacio – August 14 or 15 (TBD)
  • Limon – August 17 or 18 (TBD)
  • Las Animas – August 21

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.

Half-priced homes

Detroit teachers and school employees are about to get a major perk: Discount houses

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is announcing an educator discount that will allow employees of all Detroit schools to buy houses from the Land Bank at 50 percent off.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting ready this morning to announce a major effort to lure teachers and other school employees to the city of Detroit: Offering them half-priced homes.

According to a press release that’s expected to be released at an event this morning, the mayor plans to announce that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter or parochial schools — will now get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

That discount is already available to city employees, retirees and their families. Now it will be available to full-time employees of schools located in the city.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future,” Duggan is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.”

If the effort can convince teachers to live in the city rather than surrounding suburbs, it could help a stabilize the population decline that has led to blight and neighborhood deterioration in many parts of the city.

For city schools, the discounts give administrators another perk to offer prospective employees. District and charter schools in Detroit face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers.

Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.

In the press release, he’s quoted praising the discount program. “There is an opportunity and need to provide innovative solutions to recruit and retain teachers to work with our children in Detroit.”

The Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program will be announced at an event scheduled for 10:45 this morning in front of a Land Bank house in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood.

The Land Bank currently auctions three homes per day through its website, with bidding starting at $1,000.