How Adams 14 plans to give an outside company authority over some school management

The struggling Adams 14 School District had been talking about seeking innovation status for almost two years, drafting plans to give some schools freedom from district or state rules so school leaders could work on what they saw needed to change.

But Superintendent Javier Abrego, on the job for less than a year, says that state officials have steered him in another direction that might show results faster.

State officials and district leaders will recommend at a hearing this month that the district partner with an outside company to help take on some of the duties the district hasn’t successfully handled itself.

State documents say the change was in part because of “the district leadership transition, little progress on the innovation plan, and further decline on the accountability clock.” That is the term for the system that allows the state to intervene after persistent low school performance.

The state Board of Education must direct action for the district because it is one of several this year that has recorded more than five years of low performance. The board must also approve corrective action for one of the district’s schools, Adams City High School.

The recommendation to allow the district to work with a company, Beyond Textbooks, to improve performance states the district has to show improvement in two years or the state will reconsider other options. That could include asking the district to turn schools over to charters, closing schools or merging the district with with another, higher-performing district.

Beyond Textbooks, a nonprofit program created by a school district in Arizona, partners with school districts in seven states, including Arizona, to provide curriculum development, teacher trainings, student tests that guide teaching, and a system for catching students up when they have trouble learning something the first time it’s taught.

The Commerce City district is planning to use the program at three schools for the 2017-18 school year. But if things go well, the district will roll out the program in other schools in the following years.

“This is the first time we’re bringing it to Colorado,” Abrego said. “We want to try it out first. If there’s any bumps in the road we want to figure it out before we bring it to more schools.”

Abrego used Beyond Textbooks to turnaround two other districts in Arizona before he came to Adams 14. The suggestion for introducing Beyond Textbooks to Adams 14 was written into his application for the superintendent job.

Regardless of the state’s final decision on the recommendation, Adams 14 already has started Beyond Textbook training for teachers at the three schools.

District leaders say the program from Beyond Textbooks is in part a response to a common complaint by teachers that they don’t have enough resources to teach the state’s academic standards.

Beyond Textbooks officials condense the state’s academic standards and create a school calendar that helps teachers figure out how long they should focus on each standard. If teachers across the district are teaching the same standard at about the same time, it increases the chances they’ll be able to collaborate and plan together, said Teresa Hernandez, the district’s director of assessment and technology.

Teachers also would get access to a website where teachers from all over the country upload suggested lesson plans that correlate to the standards. Adams 14 teachers also would get the chance to upload their own lessons if they create one they want to share.

Teachers at Rose Hill Elementary learned on Friday about the resources available through Beyond Textbooks. While the website is easy to use, Justin Chesebrough, the director of Beyond Textbooks, warned teachers they are likely to spend hours looking through lesson plans and resources uploaded by other educators.

“We’re doing that already,” one teacher said. “We’re searching for stuff already, so I feel like we’re getting the gift of time.”

The company will also train school leaders to coach teachers and train district administrators to spot problems in schools using the program.

Abrego said Beyond Textbooks officials will be given authority to make recommendations to the superintendent about letting go of teachers or other employees who are not showing improvement after using the program. (Officials later added to clarify, Beyond Textbooks recommendations will ensure educators are faithfully using the program.)

The state’s documents note a concern that Beyond Textbooks is not expected to be enough to raise the district’s quality rating.

District officials are planning to move forward with other changes they will oversee at all schools such as creating a mentoring program for new teachers, training teachers to help students learn English and adding time during the school day for students to work on learning something they’re behind on or get advancement when they’re ahead.

Abrego also said that Adams City High School will still follow plan they’ve worked on. They will present it to their school board, perhaps next month, and would still make those proposed changes — like creating a governing board and developing more community partnerships to offer internships, mentorship or work study.

The district has almost 7,500 students enrolled in 11 schools. Almost half of the students are English learners, and about 85 percent qualify for free or discounted lunch. This year, none of the district’s schools earned the state’s top quality rating.