Students, parents excited and hopeful about new year in Adams 14 schools

Two large brick school buildings with students walking along the sidewalk between them and cars parked on the street in the foreground.
Students arrive to their first day of school at Adams City High School Monday. (Yesenia Robles / Chalkbeat)

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Getting ahead of most school districts in the state, Adams 14 students started a new school year Monday, nervous, excited, and curious about possible changes the district might roll out. 

Adams 14 is expected to be making changes as part of its turnaround as the first district in the state ordered into reorganization after many years of low ratings in state performance measures. Most parents and students were unaware of the turnaround changes, and some were curious about what to expect. 

Most students at the high school didn’t know about the school’s plans to create career academies in health sciences and human services; architecture, construction, engineering and design; business, hospitality and tourism; and digital information and technology. The district has said ninth graders would eventually pick one of the four academies, or paths, that can give them certifications along with their high school diplomas. 

Some students don’t expect much to change. However, many already had their schedules in hand as they walked into school — an important improvement over some past years when students reported waiting days in the auditorium to get a schedule. 

At Monaco Elementary, parents walked their little ones, carrying stuffed backpacks, boxes of tissues, and other supplies, to wait for their teachers to take them into their first day of classes.

Monaco is receiving students this year from former Hanson Elementary which the district closed due to declining enrollment and to make more room for the alternative high school. Parents of Hanson students said their kids were nervous, but fortunately found former teachers and classmates among the friendly faces at their new school.

“They’re very excited now that they found out a lot of their friends moved with them,” said parent Tabitha Amaya. Her first and third graders were still getting used to the new school building, but besides praising the lunch and recess periods of the day, were excited to have a science class this year. “That’s the highlight.”

For Amaya, one concern remains: how she’ll manage to get her kids to school on Thursdays. The district announced that this year they’ll have classes start two hours later once a week to allow teachers more time to plan or train. 

“With both parents working, it’s kind of hard,” Amaya said. She said Monaco leaders had reached out to her to hear her concerns, seemingly looking for a solution, she thought, but she hasn’t heard back.

“I guess we’ll see Thursday,” Amaya said.

Adams 14 has about 6,100 students and still has an uncertain future. Reorganization could mean school closures or nearby districts taking control over the district’s schools, but the plan has to be shaped and approved by the community, and leaders appointed to the reorganization committee support letting Adams 14 continue to operate as is. 

Much of that work remains on hold while the district awaits a Colorado Supreme Court decision as it argues the state doesn’t have the ability to order a school district to close. In the meantime, district leaders are counting on Superintendent Karla Loria’s new administration to drive academic improvements that multiple past administrations have been unable to accomplish. 

District leadership refused an interview to talk about the work that’s going into those improvements. Parents said they’re unaware of what changes are happening, but are hopeful for a good school year.

Angelica Munoz said she just moved to Commerce City and isn’t aware of any of the district changes, but heard from her sister-in-law that Monaco was a “wonderful school.”

Her daughter loved her first day of kindergarten.

“She can’t wait to go back tomorrow,” Munoz said. “She said they were doing a lot of reading. I think that’s good.”

Carlos Cabrera has a son, 14, with special needs, who is starting at Adams City High School this year. 

Cabrera said his son was worried about the bigger school, older students, and more social interactions, and he was concerned because his son doesn’t communicate much. 

But after school, Cabrera said it seemed to go well.

“He said he likes the teachers,” he said. “It looks like it went good.”

Cabrera said that in the morning he walked into the school with his son, but didn’t get a lot of information. The school said they’d let him know about the academies later. 

Jason Malmberg, the president of the district’s teachers union, said he and other teachers are most excited about the district’s continued work to roll out the community school model. 

The model, which seeks to bring community resources into the schools such as food pantries, parents classes, or after-school care, to address external factors that impact learning, is being rolled out first at Central Elementary, one of the lower-performing schools in the district. Malmberg said he and other leaders applied this summer for some grant funding to try to pay for the work to roll out the model districtwide. 

“There’s a model that pretends race and class and poverty have no impact on education,” Malmberg said. “We are trying to do a different model, a model that elevates the voice of the community, that responds to the needs of that community.”

Malmberg, along with district and community leaders, believe the state’s performance ratings ignore the impact that the high concentration of poverty and other social and environmental challenges have on the ability for students in Adams 14 to be able to learn or demonstrate learning on a standardized test. They’re interested in having the school district address some of those challenges first and believe that over time, that may lead to some academic improvements. 

“We really feel like this is the answer: investing in the community. But it’s not a quick fix.”

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at yrobles@chalkbeat.org.

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