Who Is In Charge

Lobato 8/23: Trial tone set to shift

The plaintiffs in the Lobato v. State school funding lawsuit ended presentation of their case with another story of a struggling school district, just hours before lawyers for the state will begin presenting their case with testimony from Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.

Lobato v. State illustrationMapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio was the final witness presented by the plaintiff-intervenors in the case, a group of parents from four districts, including Greeley, Mapleton, Rocky Ford and Sheridan. The districts aren’t plaintiffs.

The larger original group of plaintiffs in the case includes parents and several school districts, including Aurora and Jefferson County. Both sets of plaintiffs share the central claim that the state’s school funding system doesn’t meet the constitutional requirement for a “thorough and uniform” system of schools, as detailed in the education standards set in law by the legislature.

The second group of plaintiffs, represented by lawyers from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also are stressing the inadequacy of state funding for English language learners, poor students, early childhood education and school buildings.

Ciancio’s testimony followed a now-familiar pattern set by superintendents of other districts. Lawyers walk a witness through a detailed list of questions about district poverty rates, percentages of English language learners, achievement statistics, budget challenges, aging computers and crumbling buildings, invariably ending with a question that requires a superintendent to acknowledge that with current resources he or she can’t ensure that all students in the district will meet state achievement requirements.

The final piece of the pattern is cross-examination by lawyers for the state, who ask each witness glass-half-full questions about awards won by the district, achievement gains, new buildings, tax increases approved and the like.

Mapleton is an 8,000-student (including online) district in southwest Adams County, next to Thornton and north of Denver. Its students are 72 percent Hispanic, 37 percent English language learners and 61 percent free lunch, according to exhibits shown during Ciancio’s testimony.

Mapleton Public Schools

Those percentages have grown significantly in just a decade.

Ciancio said the combination of those characteristics “creates a very complex environment for classroom teachers.”

She said that with appropriate resources “I know … that all of them (at-risk) students would reach proficiency” but that “there’s just not enough to go around.

“I’m proud of the fact that we are able to do so much with so little.”

Other witnesses

Earlier in the day, Mary Wickersham, chair of the state Capital Construction Assistance Board, testified at length about school building needs around the state. Wickersham, who helped write the legislation that created the Building Excellent Schools Today grant programs, said, “it has not” solved the state’s school building needs.

She noted that the statewide building survey done after the BEST law passed found nearly $18 billion in school renovation and construction needs.

On Monday, MALDEF lawyers tried to paint a broader picture of demographic changes in the state’s schools through the expert-witness testimony of Steve Murdock, a Rice University professor and former director of the U.S. Census.

Murdock testified about a report he compiled for the plaintiffs, a document that notes the growing Hispanic population in Colorado, especially in younger age groups.

“Our overall conclusion is that the state of Colorado is undergoing very dramatic changes in its population … and unless steps are taken to ensure that all people” receive an adequate education, “We’re looking at the potential for Colorado to be a poor and uncompetitive state,” Murdock said.

Highlights of the day:

QUOTE: “The most expensive education is one that kids drop out of.” – Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio

MANEUVERING: Trials like the Lobato case are elaborately scripted events, which lists of potential witnesses and the nature of their testimony traded by the lawyers long before trial starts. Lawyers typically take depositions of opposing witnesses and research their claims.

So there was some surprise Tuesday when Assistant Attorney General Nick Heinke got up to say the state wanted permission to call former state Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, as a rebuttal witness. She had not previously been on the state’s list of potential witnesses.

Lawyers for both sets of plaintiffs raised all sorts of objections, and District Judge Sheila Rappoport told Heinke the state would have to submit a formal written request and other documents before she would rule. He has until Thursday to do that.

Heinke said Anderson recently approached the attorney general’s office, saying she wanted to testify to rebut previous witness testimony about the school finance act of 1994. The plainspoken Anderson is generally respected as someone who knows her way around school finance.

DOCUMENTS: Read Mapleton’s three-year performance report and take a look at its improvement plan.

UPCOMING: Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is expected to be the headline witness as the state opens its defense case.

According to a disclosure filed by the attorney general’s office before the trial started, “The lieutenant governor may testify that while financial resources are necessary in the delivery of quality education opportunities, other factors also impact the successful delivery of quality education opportunities to K-12 students, such as effective classroom teachers and school building leaders. The lieutenant governor may also testify that additional funding for K-12 education does not necessarily equate to improved quality education opportunities, and that additional money alone may not close achievement gaps or increase graduation rates.

“He may testify that, even so, the current budgetary limitations on K-12 funding must not excuse districts from delivering quality education opportunities to Colorado’s school children.”

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: