Local consultant in running to manage Adams 14 proposes lens on literacy and instruction

To improve student achievement, schools and districts must have a strong focus on literacy.

That’s what is at the heart of the proposal from a local consultant looking to turn around the 7,000-student district of Adams 14.

An Adams 14 community group selected Schools Cubed as one of four finalists for the role of external manager for the district. A state order required the district to be the first in Colorado to give up some authority in an effort to increase student achievement that has lagged for years.

Community members and the school board will interview the finalists Saturday, and the school board will vote to select a manager on Tuesday.

Schools Cubed was founded in 2014 by Pati Montgomery, who started her teaching career in Adams 14 years ago. Before becoming a consultant, Montgomery worked as a special education teacher and principal at the elementary and middle school levels. She was also a director at the Colorado Department of Education helping roll out the READ Act, a law that requires districts to identify and help struggling readers.

Much of her initial consulting work centered around improving literacy in schools. That’s what her group has been working on in Adams 14 elementary schools since July.

District officials said administrators reached out to Schools Cubed because they found that schools “lacked systems and structures around effective literacy programming.”

In July, Schools Cubed trained Adams 14 elementary principals and other school leaders in helping coach teachers to focus on literacy. Since then, the group has been visiting schools to identify how teachers teach reading.

“There’s a reason I focus on literacy,” Montgomery said. “Our assessments, the way they’re designed — you have to be able to read them well.”

While Montgomery labels all the work she’s done as turnaround work, Schools Cubed has only more recently taken on districtwide work beyond literacy improvement.

In the fall of 2017, Schools Cubed began working to turn around a school district in Missouri after having successfully managed one of its schools. According to the proposal to Adams 14, that school district is also already seeing some results.

In its application, Schools Cubed proposes to create a “teacher academy” to train teachers, create a system to monitor each school’s progress, and roll out a social and emotional curriculum for students. The plan also proposes increasing collaboration, evaluating the district’s instruction of English learners, who make up about half of the district’s students, and possibly extending the school day for middle and high schools.

Much more will depend on findings from evaluating departments, and also on what the community wants. One of the firm’s lead consultants will be Antonio Fierro, who has experience in biliteracy and instruction of English learners. But Montgomery said it hasn’t been decided whether to expand Adams 14’s rollout of biliteracy programs.

“I would never make that decision solely,” she said.

Barb McDowell, president of the teachers union, said Adams 14 teachers have had mixed reactions about working with Schools Cubed. While some appreciate the new guidance on teaching strategies, others feel it’s just one more thing added to a long list of what’s being asked of them, she said.

Montgomery told the school board in an update last month that her work in the schools has been slow going.

“We’ve had a slower rate of change than what I’d like to see,” Montgomery said. “It can be done at every school, but…it really does depend on how willing principals [and] instructional leaders are to embrace the suggestions.”

Another part of the problem, she told the board, was that so many teachers haven’t learned how to use research-based instructional strategies and need more training.

But having spent time working in Adams 14 has still given Schools Cubed insight, because they have been listening to teachers and can understand the culture, Montgomery said.

“Even understanding how the kids are doing,” she said. “That’s huge. Knowing what’s already in place.”