Colorado

Denver board hears report on campus sharing

Can two schools with different philosophies happily co-exist in Denver where the term “colocation” has sparked near riots?

Choose North Now protesters hit the sidewalk with signs and chants Thursday before the DPS board meeting when a controversial co-location plan was expected to be approved.
Choose North Now protesters hit the sidewalk with signs and chants before the DPS board meeting when a controversial co-location plan was expected to be approved.

Well, yes, according to a short report by district staff and shared with the school board this week. And that’s important as the district continues to explore shared campus options as a way to maximize efficiencies and promote school choice. There are now 15 campuses in DPS that house 42 schools attended by more than 12,000 students, or 14 percent of the district’s student population.

“Schools on a shared campus that have intentional events to get staff together have expressed greater collaboration between the two schools,” said Liz Mendez, director of operations and support services.

Key components of a happy marriage, according to interviews by staff with people at several shared campuses in the district, include:

  • Frequent communication between school leaders through regular team-building meetings;
  • Including all schools – especially if there are more than two  — in communications regarding the campus;
  • Providing each principal with equal say in building use, regardless of school size or tenure 
on campus.
  • Planning intentional events for all campus staff and students so collegial relationships can be forged.
  • Sharing behavioral support staff, such as school deans, to create a fair and balanced campus culture with consistent behavior expectations for all students regardless of school affiliation.
  • Dedicated areas for each school, such as wings, pods, hallways and  floors so that the school can build identity and culture.

Of the schools on shared campuses, most – or 34 – are at the secondary level.

Mendez told the board that the arrangements save the district money.

For instance, it would have cost the 350-student Creativity Challenge Community elementary school $11 million to buy land and build a school. It only cost $680,000 to renovate Merrill to accommodate the school.

sharedSimilarly, renovations at Gilpin Montessori Public School cost $107,000 compared to an $11 million price tag had Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High had to buy land and build a school, or the $1.5 million cost for a three-year lease in another facility.

But board member Arturo Jimenez pointed out that it would cost the district less if charter schools provided their own facilities.

Board member Jeannie Kaplan also raised concerns about how the district helps charter schools secure locations.

“We’re building new facilities for a lot of our charter entities,” she said. “It’s something I really struggle with. I appreciate trying to be equitable, but I think we’ve leaned over the other way and it’s more equitable for the charter schools.”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said schools like Merrill would not have gotten the facelifts they needed and additional educational resources without the impetus of the shared campus and a robust student body to glean efficiencies.

There’s no doubt the school mergers are not always harmonious – especially at the time of proposal.

The community at North High School was not pleased with the idea and ultimate approval by the school board of a new STRIVE Prep High School joining them in the fall 2013. But Mendez said work is underway to ensure a smooth transition. She said the sports teams will be merged with coaches from both schools. A joint booster club is also in the works. The schools will also share a nurse. STRIVE will use the North gym only for special events. STRIVE’s physical education classes will occur in their own multi-purpose room, Mendez said.

The board will take up possible changes to its campus sharing policy at its regular  meeting Thursday. Board member Happy Haynes said she would like to see more information and data from campuses shared by different age groups.

Cole Arts & Sciences Academy Principal Julie Mergel said things have worked out well between her school and DSST at Cole. Cole serves elementary school students; and DSST is a middle school.

“We, from the beginning, have structured [the campus] around the language of one not two schools,” she said. “It’s one school with two programs.”

The two school leaders meet once a month at a minimum, but usually more.

The schools have worked hard to make a harmonious lunchtime since elementary school students are mixed with middle-schoolers. Eighth-graders eat on their own.

However, school leaders acknowledged they could have done more in the beginning to bring staff together.

“It would have been more powerful and created more ownership among the team,” DSST Cole Middle School Director Jeff Osborne.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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