State Board concerned about Adams 14’s pause to work with TNTP, but some members are encouraged by improvements

Students stand outside a school building.
Adams 14, a school district north of Denver, has had the most years of low performance ratings of any other in the state. (Yesenia Robles / Chalkbeat)

State Board members Wednesday expressed concern that Adams 14 has not yet resumed work with a partner helping with improvement efforts, even as some also praised achievements that have already been made.

Adams 14, a school district north of Denver, has had the most years of low performance ratings of any other in the state. Because of those continued low ratings, the State Board of Education last year ordered the district to work with a partial manager on its improvement plan. 

The state had also ordered the district to begin reorganization, which could have closed schools or split up the district, but has since cleared Adams 14 of that obligation.

The district signed a contract to work with New York-based nonprofit TNTP, formerly called the New Teacher Project, for three years on things like teacher training, coaching of leaders, and reviewing employee policies. But last month, after one year of the contract, the district and TNTP paused the work, unable to reach a new agreement for how the work in the second year should go. 

In an update to the State Board Wednesday, Colorado Department of Education staff told the board that the pause has not been as disruptive as when the district also stopped its work with the previous external manager, MGT Consulting. Some professional learning planned for schools was put on hold, but the pause was less disruptive because TNTP did not hold district administration positions the way MGT had, staff told the State Board.

Still, State Board member Karla Esser said she was concerned that this pause in the work meant more inconsistency in a district that has had a lot. 

“It feels to me very disruptive to be on this path,” Esser said. “It’s very disappointing.”

District leaders have pointed to budget problems as a reason for needing to scale back.

State Board member Steve Durham pressed department staff for more details on where the disagreements were, and whether they had to do with how much authority or control each party had.

Staff said they had not heard any discussions or disagreements about that.

“It was more about the scope and where we’re reducing services and what outcomes can we expect with TNTP expressing some concern,” said Lindsey Jaeckel, executive director of school and district transformation. “We didn’t hear a discussion over authority. We’ve seen them work collaboratively.”

In an effort to help pay for the contract, the Colorado Department of Education has agreed to give the district more money than it planned this year. Instead of the expected $850,000 in grants for its improvement work, the state will offer an extra $350,000, for a total of $1.2 million. But an agreement has still not been reached. 

A vote on a TNTP contract was on the agenda of the Adams 14 school board meeting on Tuesday night. The board instead tabled the item.

The contract with TNTP originally called for $5 million over three years, with the cost going up slightly in the second year. From September through June this school year, the district was to have paid TNTP $1.8 million, up from $1.6 million it paid in the last year.

State Board member Kathy Plomer thanked department staff for their work with the district. She said that while people may want to see “astronomical growth,” the smaller improvements the district is making are good news.

“For a district that’s struggled for so long, I’m encouraged,” Plomer said.

“We are all eager for this work to continue,” Andy Swanson, director of accountability pathways for the Colorado Department of Education told the State Board. “I think we’re hopeful this resolves sooner rather than later.”

Department staff told the State Board that depending on the agreement the district might reach with TNTP, a request for an amendment to the State Board improvement order may come next month.

Correction: Due to an editing error, this article incorrectly identified State Board member Karla Esser as representing the Adams 14 school district. The article has been updated to remove the reference.

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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