Future of Schools

Thursday Churn: Board contribution limits

Updated 1 p.m. – The House State Affairs Committee this afternoon delayed a vote on House Bill 12-1067, which would limit campaign contributions in school board and RTD races.

Chair Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Lakewood, said he wanted to wait until the full committee was present. Only seven members were in the room as the meeting ended over the lunch hour. (See background below.)

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The first education bill out of the box this session is House Bill 12-1067, which would limit contributions to school board candidates. It’s set for a hearing this morning in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

The measure would set a $500 limit on individual contributions and a $5,000 limit on small donor committees. The bill also would apply to RTD elections.

The background for the bill, of course, is the high spending in recent Denver Public Schools board elections. In 2011, at-large candidate Allegra “Happy” Haynes raised and spent more than $230,000 to win her citywide seat while in 2009, at-large winner Mary Seawell raised more than $240,000  (see story).

Sponsors of the bill are Denver Democrats Reps. Beth McCann and Lois Court and Sen. Irene Aguilar.

McCann got an amended version of a similar bill out of committee last year, but the measure was killed on the House floor.

One education lobbyist, asked about the bill recently, indicated that the measure is a solution in search of a problem for most districts but sighed and said, “When Denver sneezes, other districts reach for the tissues.”

The committee hearing starts this morning after floor adjournment in room 0112 of the Capitol. EdNews will be there.

What’s on tap:

Denver school board members meet at 5 p.m. at district headquarters, 900 Grant St. The agenda includes three new innovation school proposals, as well as a possible change to the 2012-13 academic calendar. A public comment session is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

Jeffco school board members meet at 5 p.m. at district headquarters, 1829 Denver West Drive in Golden. The agenda includes the renewal of the contract for Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.

Ed research in the news:

Charter lawsColorado ranks seventh in the nation based on the quality of its laws governing charter schools, according to an annual report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. That’s actually down from a previous rank of fourth, a decline the group says is because Colorado “was surpassed by states that made substantial changes to their charter laws.” Recent actions such as the State Board of Education’s approval of new standards for charter school authorizers were not included in new calculations, however. Maine ranks number one with 158 points out of 208; Colorado was given 130 points. The report prompted a response from the Center for Education Reform, which disagrees with the rankings.

Child obesity – An article in this month’s issue of the journal Sociology in Education details a study finding no link between the increase in childhood obesity – at least for middle school students – and the availability of junk food in schools. “We held back from publishing our study for roughly two years because we kept looking for a connection that just wasn’t there,” said the lead author of the study. You can read the New York Daily News report on the study and learn more about the study itself.

Dropout costs – A report analyzing the financial burdens of 16- to 24-year-olds who are neither in school nor working estimates taxpayers will lost $1.6 trillion over the lifetime of this cohort while the social costs will amount to $4.7 trillion. Researchers at Columbia Teachers College and CUNY’s Queens College looked at the lost earnings, lower economic growth and higher government spending resulting from the estimated 3.4 million Americans in this age bracket, described as “chronic opportunity youth.” They also estimated an additional 3.3 million are “under-attached,” or only partially engaged in work or school. Read more about the study in this Education Week report and see the study.

Value-added – Much has been made of a recent study showing the lasting impact good teachers can have but a New York Times columnist cautions the data precedes the current testing emphasis.

Good reads from elsewhere:

A tense school board meeting turned into a “mini riot,” according to the board president, over a vote to non-renew the contract of superintendent Terry Ebert in Ellicott School District 22. The Colorado Springs Gazette reports stepped-up security at future meetings may be the result.

The dropout rate in Boulder is approaching zero, the Boulder Daily Camera reports ahead of the official statewide release of dropout and graduation rate data. The district’s overall dropout rate has fallen from from 1.5 percent in 2009 to 0.8 percent in 2011.

Sweeping education reforms in Louisiana were forwarded by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is seeking approval of private school vouchers, an easier path for charter school creation and an end to job protections for teachers under the state’s tenure law, according to the Times-Picayune.

The EdNews’ Churn is a daily roundup of briefs, notes and meetings in the world of Colorado education. To submit an item for consideration in this listing, please email us at EdNews@EdNewsColorado.org.

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.

First Person

From ‘abandoned’ to ‘blessed,’ Newark teacher sees herself in her students

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Jennifer Palumbo

As I sit down to write about my journey to the USA, all I can think of is the word “blessed.”

You see my story to become Ms. Palumbo started as a whole other person with a different name in a different country. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but my parents either could not keep me or did not want me. I was, according to my adoption papers, “abandoned.” Abandoned is defined as “having been deserted or cast off.” Not a great start to my story, I know.

Well I was then put in an orphanage for children who had no family. Yes at this point I had no family, no home, not even a name.
I spent the first 10 months of my life in this orphanage. Most children at 10 months are crawling, trying to talk, holding their bottles, and some are even walking. Since I spent 10 months laying in a crib, I did none of those things.

Despite that my day to be chosen arrived. I was adopted by an Italian American couple who, after walking up and down rows of babies and children, chose to adopt me. My title just changed from abandoned to chosen.

But that wasn’t the only thing about to change. My first baby passport to leave Colombia is with the name given by the orphanage to an abandoned baby girl with no one. When I arrived in America my parents changed that name to Jennifer Marie Palumbo and began my citizenship and naturalization paperwork so I could become an U.S. citizen.

They tried to make a little Colombian girl an Italian American, so I was raised speaking only English. Eating lots of pasta and living a typical American lifestyle. But as I grew up I knew there was something more — I was something more.

By fourth grade, I gravitated to the Spanish girls that moved into town and spent many after-schools and sleepovers looking to understand who I was. I began to learn how to dance to Spanish music and eat Spanish foods.

I would try to speak and understand the language the best I could even though I could not use it at home. In middle school, high school, and three semesters at Kean University, I studied Spanish. I traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Honduras to explore Spanish culture and language. I finally felt like the missing piece of my puzzle was filled.

And then the opportunity to come to Hawkins Street School came and as what — a bilingual second-grade teacher. I understood these students in a way that is hard to explain.

They are like me but in a way backwards.

They are fluent in Spanish and hungry to obtain fluency in English to succeed in the world. I was fluent in English with a hunger to obtain it in Spanish to succeed in the world. I feel as a child I lost out.

My road until now has by far not been an easy one, but I am a blessed educated Hispanic American. I know that my road is not over. There are so many places to see, so many food to taste, and so many songs to dance too.

I thank my students over the past four years for being such a big part of this little “abandoned” baby who became a “chosen” child grown into a “blessed teacher.” They fill my heart and I will always be here to help them have a blessed story because the stars are in their reach no matter what language barrier is there.

We can break through!

Palumbo is a second-grade bilingual teacher Hawkins Street School. This essay is from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.