Colorado

Adams 12 goes inside for new supt.

StockAdams12LogoThe Adams 12 Five Star Schools board Friday chose Chris Gdowski as sole finalist for superintendent. He currently is district general counsel.

Gdowski’s starting date will be announced after contract negotiations are completed, according to a district statement.

The selection caps a two-month search that included staff and public input and use of a search firm. According to the district statement, the board was seeking a superintendent “with solid leadership skills, knowledge of academic best practices, effective communication skills, a strong vision for 21st century learning and the ability to build community partnerships.”

Gdowski has been district general counsel for three years. He was in private practice before that, including with Semple, Miller & Mooney, a Denver firm which provides legal services to more than 40 Colorado districts and boards of cooperative educational services. He is a product of Adams 12 schools and hold bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Candidates were interviewed Wednesday and Thursday. The other candidates were:

  • Rod L. Blunck, superintendent of the Brighton Schools and former superintendent in Elizabeth and Julesburg.
  • James Q. Hammond, superintendent in Davis, Calif., and formerly a superintendent in Washington State.
  • Peg M. Kastberg, community superintendent for the Jefferson County Schools and a former administrator and teacher in Summit County.
  • Joseph J. Redden, a retired Air Force general and education consultant from Georgia who formerly was superintendent in Cobb County, a suburban Atlanta district with more than 100,000 students.
  • Robert K. Webber, the Adams 12 assistant superintendent for business services.

Current Superintendent Mike Paskewicz resigned in August after six years to take a superintendent job in his home state of Michigan.

Adams 12 is Colorado’s fifth largest school district with about 40,000 students from Broomfield, Federal Heights, Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster. Enrollment has grown more than 10 percent since 2004.

According to an EdNews analysis of 2009 CSAP results for Adams 12, the district’s reading growth has remained at the 52 percentile for three years; writing has been stable at the 51st and math growth went from the 53rd percentile in 2007 to the 50th in 2008 and the 55th this year.

Minority and non-minority students are both at the 52nd percentile in reading, the 51st in writing and the 55th in math. The ACT average composite score rose to 18.91 in 2009 from 18.7 in 2208. The district enrollment is 39.8 percent minority and 29.7 percent free and reduced lunch.

Last year district voters narrowly approved a $9.9 million mill levy override but defeated an $80 million bond issue. None of the district board seats on the ballot this year are contested.

Elsewhere in the state, the Douglas County board is preparing a superintendent search to replace Jim Christensen. There is a contentious campaign this fall for board seats in the district. The Pueblo City school board earlier this month promoted Assistant Superintendent Kathy West to the top job.

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.