Colorado

Boasberg to recommend later start date

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg told school board members Monday he will recommend a later start to the school year in response to complaints about uncomfortably hot buildings.

Change to the DPS calendar could take effect as soon as next year, if approved by the board.

“We have feedback from thousands and thousands of our parents, and we’re going to take that feedback into account,” said Boasberg. “A majority of folks would like school to start later, and we’re going to take that feedback very seriously.”

He added, “It would be our intention to come up with changes to the calendar as currently scheduled to the 2012-13 school year. We do not intend to recommend that we stick with the 2012-13 calendar.”

Boasberg made his comments following a presentation to board members from the Start Date Task Force, which studied the DPS calendar in the wake of record-breaking August heat that led to several students requiring treatment for heat-related illnesses.

Of the 153 schools owned by the district, 83 – or 54 percent – lack central air conditioning. Estimates to equip those facilities with air conditioning total about $400 million.

An online survey conducted last month by the Start Date Task Force, which saw more than 7,100 parents, DPS staff, students and community members respond, found that roughly two-thirds believe the year should start later.

The 2011-12 school year started Aug. 18 and the 2012-13 school year is set to begin Aug. 16.

Although nearly 66 percent of the survey respondents supported a later start date, they were split on what the calendar should be.

The greatest number, 37.6 percent, thought the year should start the first week in September and end the second week in June. However, another 28.5 percent supported a year starting the fourth week in August and ending the first week in June. The remaining 33.8 percent said it should begin the third week of August, running to the last week of May, as it does currently.

“Strong majorities did favor a later start date, and a strong majority did favor continuing to start in August,” Boasberg said.

Board members expressed support for addressing the problem, although many conceded a wide range of issues will need to be balanced, from coordination of athletic teams’ practice schedules to allowing preparation time for assessments such as Advanced Placement testing. The College Board, not the district or schools, determines the AP testing schedule.

“Having walked into South High School in the middle of August, I question how much learning is going on when the classrooms are 95 degrees.”
— Board member Jeannie Kaplan

“Having walked into South High School in the middle of August, I question how much learning is going on when the classrooms are 95 degrees,” said board member Jeannie Kaplan.

Board member Andrea Merida said, “I’ve had a lot of conversations with people on this topic. There are a lot of strong emotions on this issue, with people getting angry because their children are getting sick in schools.”

Boasberg said that whatever changes are proposed, expected after the winter break, they will be made in consultation with the district’s calendar review committee.

“This is a subject where people have very strong opinions, and there is no easy answer,” he said. “We can guarantee that not everyone will be happy with whatever decision is made, but I do think the feedback is very, very important and we will act on it.”

Board president Mary Seawell said board members are unlikely to limit their discussion to the school year’s start and end dates. The task force emphasized the larger issue of hot buildings still needs to be addressed, through installation of air conditioning where financially feasible, declaring “hot” days just as snow days are occasionally announced and possibly adjusting the hours of the school day.

“You wouldn’t leave a dog in a car on a hot day, so why would we do that with our children?”
— Board member Mary Seawell

“Even if we move the start date, we can still have an incredibly hot day in September, or in June, and we don’t want children in those buildings in those conditions,” Seawell said during the board’s dinner break.

“It’s like someone on the task force said – you wouldn’t leave a dog in a car on a hot day, so why would we do that with our children? So if (the solution) is a combination of things, that’s fine.”

In other business Monday, the board received an update from the Northwest Community Committee on its work over the past 18 months. Committee members have met 13 times over the past year to formulate recommendations for the 24 schools in the North High School Feeder pattern.

Recommendations from the committee included building a school culture that emphasizes the value of diversity, supporting heightened academic rigor, providing opportunities to study multiple world languages with an emphasis on Spanish, and increasing elective offerings such as arts and physical education.

Additionally, the committee said all students should be given access to a wide range of digital resources. It also found that improvements are needed in communication by the district to parents, from teachers to parents, from school to school and from teacher to teacher.

The committee, co-convened by the district and the Institute on the Common Good at Regis University, was formed after a resolution that was passed by the board in June 2010.

“Parents recognize that the value and need for students who can participate and compete on an international level and the need for multiple languages, for feeder patterns within a neighborhood, high rigor, and the whole child are not separate concepts,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents Northwest Denver.

The board is expected to consider a resolution at its Thursday meeting that recognizes the committee’s recommendations.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.