Colorado to issue new orders for low-performing Adams 14 school

Young children in masks and winter coats line up to enter an Adams 14 school building on a snowy day.
Central Elementary in Adams 14, pictured here in January 2021, will have a hearing with the State Board in February. (Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post)

Responding to leadership instability and apparent lack of progress, Colorado’s State Board of Education will direct an improvement plan for the lowest-performing elementary school in Adams 14, a district already managed by an outside company.

Central Elementary School, with just over 400 students, lacks leadership after its new principal quit just months after starting the job.

Uncertainty has returned to the school after four years of stability under a previous principal.

The new short-lived principal took the school off track this school year, according to state officials and leaders of MGT, the management company overseeing Adams 14 schools.

The principal removed Blueprint math tutoring and asked the district for a new literacy curriculum, even though the one the school had was less than a year old. The principal and MGT leaders disagreed about how school leaders should observe teachers and deliver feedback.

State and MGT leaders also told the State Board at a progress update meeting Thursday that Central started the year with schedules that didn’t allow for collaborative teacher planning — a new strategy that had begun the year prior and that state officials had considered key to the school’s improvement plan.

Because of low achievement, the state gave Central the second-to-lowest of four state ratings every year since 2012. The state has suspended giving those ratings during the pandemic.

But even without the usual amount of assessment data, state officials found that Central is off track.

“The transition in leadership, along with the transition in curriculum, and evidence of weakened structures from past years, indicates that the school is not moving forward,” the state wrote in its progress report.

In preparation for Central’s State Board hearing in February, the state will convene a State Review Panel — a group of educators and experts that will visit the school to observe work and problems, and to submit a recommendation to the State Board.

Under state law, the State Board has four options for how to direct action for a low-performing school: It can order it closed, turned into a charter school, handed over to an external group for management, or put on an innovation plan which grants it more autonomy.

Besides the review panel’s recommendation, the State Board also allows the district to submit its own proposal for which of those four actions to take. 

In this case, state education officials say MGT is considered to be the district, and will be able to submit a recommendation, despite at least one State Board member raising concerns that MGT has a financial incentive to recommend its continued external management of the school.

Other board members pointed out that school districts also have various conflicting interests in choosing certain pathways to recommend, and also have to weigh different recommendations.

When MGT began running Adams 14 schools in 2019, MGT leaders started considering plans to improve Central Elementary — where about 84% of students qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. MGT floated the idea of requesting innovation status for the school to allow flexibility from things like a teachers union contract that they said was getting in the way of how teacher planning time could be scheduled.

But months later the pandemic sent schools into remote learning and the focus of improvement work across the district shifted.

The state will convene two other State Review Panels, one to observe the progress of the district as a whole, and one to observe progress of Adams City High School, another school under state scrutiny for low performance. Those two panels won’t submit recommendations, but will just present observations to help the state continue to monitor the district.

The new scrutiny comes amid ongoing disagreements between Adams 14 Superintendent Karla Loria and MGT, which is in the third year of a four-year contract to improve student performance. State Board members wondered whether they might need to change their 2018 order to remove “sticking points” that might be causing disruption to improving the district. 

An attorney for the state said that the order doesn’t automatically end in four years unless test scores and other measures improve significantly, an increasingly unlikely possibility. 

The state will have a period to allow for public comment before the hearing.

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