State and external manager report ongoing problems with Adams 14 district

A brightly lit sign sits in front of Adams City High School against a dark blue sky.
A progress report prepared for the state details ongoing problems between Adams 14 and its external manager. (Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Despite new leaders promising to work together, the Adams 14 district is still struggling with serious difficulties: high staff turnover, uncertainty about decision making, and poor communication with schools, a state progress report details.

The progress update, prepared for the State Board of Education’s Thursday meeting, comes a month after administrators of the embattled district and new leaders of its outside management company pledged to resume cooperating with each other and abiding by state orders.

The State Board will hold its first hearing on Adams 14’s performance since the state briefly stripped the district’s accreditation early last month. MGT leaders are also presenting an update to deliver at Thursday’s hearing, in which they lay out the problems caused by its dispute with the district and steps to resolve them.

But district leaders say MGT’s report is unfair and one-sided and are upset they won’t get to give their side at the hearing Thursday.

“I am disappointed that we weren’t involved in this presentation in any way other than receiving it, so we really didn’t have any say,” Ramona Lewis, the district’s board president, said at a school board meeting Tuesday night. “We have been invited to the table, but we don’t know what our role is when we’re sitting at the table.”

The district’s external manager, MGT Consulting, is back in Adams 14 after district Superintendent Karla Loria kicked the company out and issued a stop-work order early last month. Now under the leadership of Andre Wright, formerly the chief academic officer for Aurora Public Schools, MGT is holding meetings and trainings for staff. 

In its presentation to the state, MGT lists how Loria’s stop-work order slowed MGT’s improvement plan. For example, MGT states that the district conducted no data analysis in recent months and that in response, it is now developing districtwide protocols to use data to improve instruction. 

MGT’s presentation also notes that the work stoppage led to MGT being “unable to provide guidance and direction to school leaders without undermining by A14 staff.” While MGT is now leading cabinet and leadership meetings, the company’s administrators still worry about being able to provide direction to school leaders without being undermined by Adams 14 staff.

Adams 14 school board members on Tuesday night said MGT’s report insinuated work in the district stopped when MGT wasn’t there.

“We have a superintendent and it is her job to run our district,” board President Lewis said. “Just because MGT wasn’t here during that time, doesn’t mean that learning wasn’t going on. It certainly was. That paints a picture of we weren’t doing anything, but we were.”

MGT did not respond to requests for comment regarding the district’s concerns.

The report also cited ongoing loss of top staff. Adams 14 has long struggled with turnover in leadership. But last year, under MGT management, the turnover rate for principals and assistant principals was the lowest in at least six years. Teacher turnover also decreased in 2020. 

Nationwide, turnover rates in schools decreased in 2020 as pandemic uncertainty led people to hold onto their jobs. 

Since the start of this school year, two principals already have left Adams 14. The turnover has also affected district administration.

Of 20 people who were in the first group to undergo leadership training at the University of Virginia last year as part of MGT’s improvement plan, at least eight are no longer working in the district. 

Adams 14 board member Janet Estrada said the way MGT talked about staff turnover suggested that people left the district because of the work stoppage order, “which might not be the case.”

In the state’s summary of progress, state officials also raise concerns about how well MGT and district leaders are working together, and especially how that is impacting the ability to improve the two schools with the lowest performance, Central Elementary and Adams City High School. 

“Although CDE has observed that Adams 14 executive directors and MGT turnaround specialists are more coordinated, it is inconsistent between schools,” the state’s update states. “Not all schools are receiving aligned support of teaching and learning in all content areas, including bilingual education.”

At Central in particular, the state’s progress report suggests that the State Board may want to reopen hearings to consider issuing a new improvement order focusing on the school. Previously, the state had allowed the district order to encompass improvement of the two low-performing schools. 

Loria, the superintendent, said she first saw the presentation when the board received it, after it had been submitted to the state.

She and other board members said the presentation seemed to be “pointing the finger” at district leaders.

“We will have a response to the things we consider are telling half truth and therefore not expressing the entire picture,” Loria said.

Asked why the State Board was going to hear from MGT and not from Adams 14’s superintendent, a spokesman for the Department of Education said, “Last month the State Board requested MGT and the Adams 14 superintendent give an update in November. MGT has full management authority for the district, and it has chosen how it wants to do the presentation this month.”

MGT has had to give quarterly updates to the State Board since it took over the district in 2019, but this is the first time the district has had a superintendent not employed by MGT.

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