First Person

Week of 10/18/10: Teaching & learning wrap-up

Education Nation Scorecard unveiled

As part of its Education Nation summit, NBC has teamed with school performance evaluators GreatSchools to create a website allowing parents to get an appraisal of a school they’re sending their child to, or one they’re considering. In addition, the school profiles show how a district measures up to others in a state based upon test scores and graduation rates, and how one state compares to the other 49 – including what it expects out of its students relative to other states – and even provides steps parents can take to help move a school’s performance upward. Check it out.

Latest update on Colorado schools making adequate yearly progress

preschool and kindergartenThe number of Colorado schools making the federal benchmark of Adequate Yearly Progress grew every so slightly in 2010 – up 2 percentage points, from 60 percent in 2009 to 62 percent in 2010.

Five schools showed substantial academic progress and moved off the School Improvement watch list, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The five are North Elementary School in Brighton, Centennial High School in the Centennial School District, Wyatt-Edison Charter in Denver, Highland Elementary School in the Garfield RE-2 District and Adventure Elementary in Mapleton.

Another 54 schools on School Improvement met their AYP goals this year, meaning they’re off the watch list if they can repeat that feat in 2011. By comparison, only 17 schools on School Improvement in 2009 reached their AYP targets for the first time. Schools get placed on improvement status if they receive federal Title 1 money, aimed at leveling the playing field for kids in poverty, but their scores do not make AYP targets in the same content area for two years running.

“The trend is upbeat and reflects extraordinary focus by principals and teachers at these schools,” Patrick Chapman, who oversees federal programs for CDE, said.

Look up more schools.

Jeffco receives $32.8 million to pay incentives for teachers

Jeffco Public Schools, in collaboration with the Jefferson County Education Association and the Jefferson County Administrators Association, has received a five-year federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant to pilot strategic compensation for licensed staff in high-needs schools.

The grant of $32.8 million includes 20 schools and allows Jeffco to be at the forefront of developing new ways to compensate educators here and across the nation. The district will test the impact of strategic compensation on increasing student achievement, and attracting, retaining and rewarding top educators.

Strategic compensation is a cultural shift in how educators are paid, and how they navigate their career paths. Instead of paying teachers solely based on years of experience and more education, they will be rewarded for outstanding performance.

Jeffco’s plan is based on three pillars of educational excellence – student learning, teacher learning and teacher leadership. Educators are rewarded for meeting individual, team and school student achievement goals as well as receiving successful evaluations and taking on leadership roles.

Some Jeffco teachers to lose jobs

At the same time its teachers could be getting paid based more on performance, some may not be around to take advantage of the news system. 9News reports on district plans to slash more jobs. The Jefferson County School Board called a special meeting Thursday night to discuss the first look at the 2011-2012 budget.

Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis says the district may need to cut at least $26 million dollars for next year. That includes 196 positions, 95 of them are teachers.

Going into this current school year, Jeffco Schools faced a $50 million budget shortfall. The district pulled $36 million out of its $100 million in reserves to offset the reduction.

In the end, the district had to cut $14 million going into this school year, which included eliminating 136 jobs.

Expanded Learning Opportunities Commission announced

Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones this week announced the formation of the Expanded Learning Opportunities Commission, which is working to expand the vision for the entire learning experience for students in ways that transcend the traditional school day and traditional classroom models.

The goal is to create a vision for student learning that incorporates a blend of traditional and online learning, expands the school day and standard yearly calendar and re-thinks the traditional school experience.

To garner public input and support, the commission is embarking on a statewide tour to listen to educators, program providers, parents and others about the challenges and successes of expanded learning time and to discuss ideas for improving programs and strengthening community partnerships. The first stop in the tour is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25, at the Doubletree Hotel, 743 Horizon Dr., in Grand Junction.

Future meetings are scheduled for Monday, Nov. 8, in Limon; Wednesday, Nov. 10, in Fort Collins; and Thursday, Nov. 11, in the Sheridan School District. Locations will be announced. The Sheridan meeting will start at 3 p.m.; the meetings in Limon and Fort Collins will begin at 4 p.m.

Parents and and community members who plan to attend the meetings in person are asked to RSVP to Vanessa Roman at CDE [email protected]. Those who cannot attend the meetings may provide feedback via an online survey.

Life after CSAPs

Education News Colorado tackles the future of standardized testing in Colorado.

“The experts have done their work; now it’s up to Colorado’s two education boards to figure out what the replacement for CSAPs should look like. Members of the State Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education met together Thursday to be briefed on the recommendations of a panel of experts that has been developing a plan to replace the CSAP system.

The 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids called for adoption of new state content standards and selection of a new state testing system. The standards have been developed and adopted, and the two boards were supposed to adopt a new testing system by Dec. 15.

But, the 2010 legislature, wrestling with budget cuts and fretful about the possible price tag for new tests, delayed adoption of a CSAP replacement “until fiscally practicable.”

The Colorado Department of Education now estimates that a full set of new annual tests won’t be administered until 2014 at the earliest.

2011 Colorado Teacher of the Year finalists announced

The Colorado Department of Education announced today three finalists for the Colorado Teacher of the Year.

The finalists for the 2011 Colorado Teacher of the Year are:

  • Kristin Donley, Boulder Valley School District. A high school science teacher at Monarch High School, Donley is inspired by her students’ excitement for learning. Donley believes in giving more choice to students. She recently piloted a forensic science biotechnology class that taught students the basics of forensic science. The final project involved using iPods to film the crime scene and interview suspects.
  • Amy L. Nichols, Aurora Public Schools. As a high school mathematics teacher at William C. Hinkley High School, Nichols says students need safe educational environments, rigorous curriculums and opportunities to excel. She believes that providing students with immediate access to college level courses creates a sense of purpose in their learning and has the potential to increase their level of achievement.
  • Michelle Line Pearson, Adams 12 Five Star Schools. As a social studies and technology teacher for grades six through eight at Hulstrom Options School, Pearson says that her greatest accomplishments in education have not been what she has done alone, but the work she does with students, families, colleagues and the community. Pearson relishes the discussions she holds in class with her students in which students can infer, synthesize and analyze what they are reading and learning.

The winner will be announced in November and is chosen by a six-member committee comprised of individuals from state-level education agencies. The recipient becomes the Colorado nominee for National Teacher of the Year honors and serves as a teaching ambassador to communities and organizations around the state and nation. The Colorado Teacher of the Year represents the entire teaching profession in Colorado. The 2010 Teacher of  the Year, Justin Darnell, is an EdNews Parent expert. Ask him a question.

Nominees are judged on their ability to inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities. They are expected to play an active role in the community and to have earned the respect and admiration of students, parents and colleagues.

Mom wins grant to train teachers on dyslexia

9News reports on mom Jennifer Blair-Cockrum, who wanted to help other kids after she struggled with her son’s dyslexia. Knowing that the Jefferson County School District didn’t have the money for extra training, Blair-Cockrum took it upon herself to find the money for her school. She applied and won grants totaling around $22,000 to bring in instructors from the Dyslexia Center for the sake of her son and others.

Heritage and Gypsum elementary schools honored

The Colorado Department of Education has announced the selection of Heritage Elementary School and Gypsum Elementary School as Title I Distinguished Schools of the year.

Heritage Elementary School is located in Pueblo City Schools and Gypsum Elementary is part of Eagle County School District. The award recognizes these two Title I schools—one for achieving academic success, and one for making progress in closing achievement gaps associated with race and poverty.

Heritage Elementary was selected for the exceptional student performance award. In 2010, the percentage of students who were at or above the NCLB proficient level in reading and math (as determined by the CSAP) was 98.21 percent. Heritage principal Gina Gallegos says the school works to ensure that each and every student is learning and growing to the best of their ability in meeting standards and expectations.

Gypsum Elementary School was selected as a distinguished school for its work in closing the achievement gap. Gypsum, a high-poverty school, increased the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch who were at or above the proficient level on the reading and math CSAP from 85.89 percent in 2009 to 94.44 percent in 2010.  The achievement gap between students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch and those ineligible for free and reduced-priced lunch decreased by 4.4 percent. Gypsum principal Mitch Forsberg attributed the school’s success to “multiple short interventions for students, data-driven instruction and a school wide culture of achievement.”

First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk