First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

iPads given to every student at Elizabeth charter

ELIZABETH, Colo. — In a time of shrinking budgets for education one small town school has found a way to give each student an iPad. Read more at 7News.

College bound students getting admission offers, rejections

Boulder High senior Rosa Baum earned a prestigious merit-based Boettcher scholarship that will give her a free ride if she enrolls at a Colorado college. Read more in the Daily Camera about this time that can be pretty anxiety-producing for students and parents alike.

Biggest school in Colorado says size does matter

GREENWOOD VILLAGE – Every day Adam Gardner walks across the Cherry Creek High School campus, he knows that he can meet a new face at anytime, and it might be someone he’s been classmates with for four years. Watch this 9News report.

Boulder Valley schools work to include special-needs students

Kohl Elementary first-grade teacher Racheal Edmonds was nervous when the parents of a girl with Down syndrome first approached her about fully including their daughter in her classroom. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Overland principal not blocking student paper over content, district says

A spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District said today that Overland High School principal Leon Lundie has not stopped publication of the school’s student newspaper over the content of a story. Read more in the Denver Post.

Hard work begins to remake D-49

Stacks of proposals on how to remake Falcon School District 49 await teachers, staff and parents when they return from their two-week spring break in April.

A flurry of community and staff meetings were held across the district in February and March as ideas were  collected and debated. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Colorado schools begin to write off cursive handwritingcursive letters

Twenty-three second-graders file into Virginia Edwards’ technology classroom at Grant Ranch School, take a seat at their iMacs, pull on headphones and launch a program whose graphics and audio prompts teach them crucial keyboarding skills. Read more in the Denver Post.

Denver celebrates National Library Week

First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association and libraries across the country each April 10-16. The Denver Public Library has an exciting line-up of activities for adults and kids of all ages, including “Thunder Loves to Read” where kids can meet the Denver Broncos mascot, get a free book, autographed picture.

In addition to these events, the library also offers free story times at 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday at various branches, and After School is Cool programs. Visit the Denver Public Library for more information.

93 percent on track to graduate at reopened high school

Nearly four years after Manual High School reopened, school officials are getting ready to graduate their first class of seniors from the reoganized school. Check out this 7News report.

Parents come out for DPS’s school turnaround plans

Parents and reform-minded activists gathered outside DPS headquarters Thursday to support school turnaround and to encourage administrators to continue making changes. Read more in the Denver Post.

Schools receive many state honors and kudos

The Colorado Department of Education announced that 153 schools in Colorado have been recognized with the “Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Awards” and 151 schools received the “John Irwin Schools of Excellence Awards.”

The Colorado Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Awards recognizes the top 8 percent of public schools that demonstrate the highest rates of student longitudinal growth, as measured by the Colorado Growth Model. A list of schools is available here.

The John Irwin Schools of Excellence Awards recognizes the top 8 percent of public schools that demonstrate the highest achievement on statewide assessments. See a list of 2009-2010 award-winning schools.

Colorado State Library announces summer reading grants

The Colorado State Library announced that 71 public library sites across the state will receive statewide summer reading program mini-grants. Each participating library site will receive $200 to put toward purchasing books related to the 2011 themes: “One World, Many Stories” (children) and “You Are Here” (teens).

The Summer Reading Program consists of weekly public library activities for children and teens during June and July and covers new books on the annual theme, crafts and ways to have fun at the library. Many children and teens set a goal such as reading a book a week or for 20 minutes each day. Young children participate by being read to by parents or siblings. Adults also join in and set their own goals for reading. In 2010, a total of 213,905 Colorado residents participated in summer reading programs in public libraries. Of these readers, 155,563 were children, 42,690 teens and 15,652 adults.

See a map of the mini-grant libraries. For more information on summer reading programs, visit the Colorado State Library.

Online school pilot program planned

A new online school pilot program is set to begin next school year in Trinidad. The online school is designed to help students make progress with their learning, while working by means of their computer at home. Read more in the Trinidad Times.

Mentors, teens connected through Colorado Youth at Risk

It took a trip into the mountains last year to permanently change the lives of James Dill and Salvadore Cortez. Cortez, then a 15-year-old freshman from Aurora Central High School, had signed up for the trip through Colorado Youth at Risk as a way to escape the pattern of bad grades and poor attendance. Dill, an adult who had signed up as a mentor through the same program, wanted to make a difference in the life of an at-risk teen. Read more in the Aurora Sentinel.

More schools consider retention key to achievement

Last year, Kailee Stites was not happy to hear that she would be held back in 5th grade at James Irwin Elementary School. “I was afraid I would miss my friends,” she says. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Denver fifth-grader wins state spelling bee

When 10-year-old Dhivya Senthil Murugan finally heard the word that she needed to spell to become Colorado’s spelling champion, one thing went through her mind. Read more in the Denver Post.

Dougco considers “voucher charter”

With interest flourishing in the Douglas County voucher pilot, school district officials are working to create the funding mechanism that will allow public dollars to flow through parents to private schools.

Robert Ross, the district’s attorney, said the creation of a district charter school for voucher students is the most likely of three possible options that have been considered, largely because of the flexibility of the state’s charter laws. Read more in Education News Colorado.

District 6 teacher investigated for possible CSAP improprieties

Greeley-Evans School District 6 officials are investigating allegations that a teacher cheated on the Colorado Student Assessment Program test.

Roger Fiedler, communications director for the district, said district officials received a report Friday of possible improprieties by a Chappelow K-8 Arts and Literacy Magnet School teacher. The report was made by students. Greeley students in grades three through 10 took the tests in math, reading, writing and science this past week. Read more in the Greeley Tribune.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.

First Person

I was an attorney representing school districts in contract talks. Here’s why I hope the Supreme Court doesn’t weaken teachers unions.

PHOTO: Creative Commons / supermac1961

Many so-called education reformers argue that collective bargaining — and unions — are obstacles to real change in education. It’s common to hear assertions about how “restrictive” contracts and “recalcitrant” unions put adult interests over children’s.

The underlying message: if union power were minimized and collective bargaining rights weakened or eliminated, school leaders would be able to enact sweeping changes that could disrupt public education’s status quo.

Those that subscribe to this view are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. At issue is the constitutionality of “agency” or “fair share” fees — employee payroll deductions that go to local unions, meant to cover the costs of negotiating and implementing a bargaining agreement.

In states that permit agency fees (there are about 20), a teacher may decline to be part of a union but must still pay those fees. If the Supreme Court rules that those agency fees are unconstitutional, and many teachers do not voluntarily pay, local unions will be deprived of resources needed to negotiate and enforce bargaining agreements.

Based on my experience as an attorney representing school districts in bargaining and contract issues, I have this to say to those hoping the Court will strike down these fees: be careful what you wish for.

Eliminating fair share fees (and trying to weaken unions) represents a misguided assumption about bargaining — that the process weakens school quality. To the contrary, strong relationships with unions, built through negotiations, can help create the conditions for student and school success. Indeed, in my experience, the best superintendents and school boards seized bargaining as an opportunity to advance their agenda, and engaged unions as partners whenever possible.

Why, and how, can this work? For one, the process of negotiations provides a forum for school leaders and teachers to hear one another’s concerns and goals. In my experience, this is most effective in districts that adopt “interest-based bargaining,” which encourages problem-solving as starting point for discussions as opposed to viewing bargaining as a zero-sum game.

Interest-based bargaining begins with both sides listing their major concerns and brainstorming solutions. The touchstone for a solution to be adopted in a bargaining agreement: Is the proposal in the best interests of children? This important question, if embedded in the process, forces both sides to carefully consider their shared mission.

For example, some districts I worked with paid teachers less than comparable neighboring districts did. It would have been unreasonable for unions to insist that their pay be increased enough to even that difference out, because that would mean reducing investments in other items of importance to children, like technology or infrastructure. At the same time, it would have been untenable for management to play “hard ball” and deny the problem, because to do so would likely lead to a disgruntled workforce.

Instead, both sides were forced to “own” the issue and collaboratively craft plausible solutions. That made unions more agreeable to proposals that demonstrated some commitment by the district to addressing the issue of pay, and districts open to other things that they could provide without breaking the budget (like more early release days for professional development).

To be sure, many school administrators could get frustrated with the process of bargaining or having to consult the negotiated agreement when they want to make a change. Some districts would very much like to adopt an extended school day, for example, but they know that they must first consult and negotiate such an idea with the union.

Yet, in districts where school administrators had built a reservoir of goodwill through collective bargaining, disagreement does not come at the cost of operating schools efficiently. Both sides come to recognize that while they inevitably will disagree on some things, they can also seek agreement — and often do on high-stakes matters, like teacher evaluations.

How does this relate to the Supreme Court’s pending decision? Without fees from some teachers, unions may lack the resources to ensure that contract negotiations and enforcement are robust and done well. This could create a vicious cycle: teachers who voluntarily pay fees for bargaining in a post-Janus world, assuming the court rules against the unions, will view such payments as not delivering any return on investment. In turn, they will stop contributing voluntarily, further degrading the quality of the union’s services.

Even more troubling, if fair share fees are prohibited, resentment and internal strife will arise between those who continue to pay the fees and those who refuse. This would undercut a primary benefit of bargaining — labor peace and a sense of shared purpose.

Speaking as a parent, this raises a serious concern: who wants to send their child to a school where there is an undercurrent of bitterness between teachers and administrators that will certainly carry over into the classroom?

It is easy to see the appeal of those opposing agency fees. No one wants to see more money going out of their paycheck. The union-as-bogeyman mentality is pervasive. Moreover, in my experience, some teachers (especially the newer ones) do not recognize the hidden benefits to bargaining contracts.

But, obvious or not, agency fees help promote a stable workplace that allows teachers to concentrate on their primary responsibility: their students. Removing the key ingredient threatens this balance.

Mark Paige is a former school teacher and school law attorney who represented school districts in New England. He is currently an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth.