a new face

Welcome to Chalkbeat Colorado, your new home for education news

Dear readers,

You might have noticed some changes around here. After more than five years as EdNews Colorado, we have changed our name to Chalkbeat Colorado — the latest step in our efforts to serve you the most relevant news about education policy and practice in the loveliest possible package.

Since first announcing the creation of the Chalkbeat network in October, we have opened bureaus in Tennessee and Indiana, grown our staff in Colorado, and added a new community editor to grow our relationships with readers. Now, we’ve also redesigned our website to improve your reading experience.

CO.Chalkbeat.org is pretty different from the evolutions of EdNews Colorado you’ve seen over the years. You can still see the top stories here, as well as stories on the issues you’re most interested in — now organized by topics and narratives. And you will still get our email newsletters.

We’ve also built tools to help you understand the context behind the stories you read. You can now look for “The Backstory” beside articles or navigate by narrative rather than by date. And we’re publishing detailed guides about the big issues in Colorado schools, from the Common Core standards to teacher evaluation to school funding and finance. More “href=”/topics/”>Chalkbeat Explains guides are coming soon.

An exciting year ahead

This is a period of significant change for Colorado. In fact, some observers have described this school year as among the most challenging for districts in recent memory. School officials across the state are managing a tricky balancing act as they implement initiatives like Common Core standards and new teacher evaluations while trying to minimize the impact of budget cuts to their instructional programs. We plan to cover the rhetoric, action, and inaction, and keep policymakers and education professionals accountable.

To do that, we have selected several areas of focus that each of our reporters will cover for the year:

  • School finance and funding:  In the wake of voters’ rejection of Amendment 66, which would have poured nearly $1 billion into the state’s public school districts, policymakers and district and school leaders are now facing a choice. Do they press for money to simply backfill large budget cuts that the state has made since the start of the recession? Or do they try to enact some of the specific policy proposals that the amendment contained, like an expansion of early childhood education or more programs for English language learners? We’ll follow these questions over the course of the year, paying extra attention to effects on classrooms.
  • Implementation of new teacher evaluations: As new teacher evaluations roll out throughout the state this year, we’ll take a look at the new system’s effectiveness at helping individual teachers improve their performance. Are the evaluations being used as professional development tools or as incentives to elicit better performance? We’ll also examine how the new evaluations and implementation of new standards throughout the state intersect. We’re beginning to evaluate teachers just as we task them with changing the way they teach. Is that fair?
  • Common Core and new standards implementation:  In Colorado as across the country, schools are in the process of implementing new standards for what students should know to be prepared to succeed in college and beyond. In addition to Common Core standards, which are being adopted around the country, Colorado is also adopting new standards in social studies and science. How is the roll-out process going? And are challenges that schools run into due to lack of oversight, lack of training or because of a fundamental policy objection to the idea of shared content standards? We’ll also take a look at how much schools are paying to introduce the standards and what the consequences of those costs are.
  • Turnaround/school improvement: Under Colorado’s school accountability system, schools and districts that receive low ratings are given five years to show significant improvements or face what could be radical interventions from the state. Some schools and districts facing the deadline are calling the state’s bluff about how drastic interventions will be. We will be taking a look at the methods schools and districts around the state are using to improve and what they could mean for efforts statewide. We’ll also be taking a close look at school improvement efforts in Denver, where tensions have arisen over whether the district should try to improve its comprehensive neighborhood schools or offer parents choices among a variety of schools across the city.

How to get involved

Our stories will be strongest with your help. Here are a few ways to pitch in:

First, meet our community editor, Tiffany Montaño, who will be creating more opportunities for you to interact with our reporters, share your experiences, and help deepen our coverage of public schools. To start, please consider submitting to our First Person section, which highlights the experiences of teachers, administrators, students, policymakers, and parents. To find out more or pitch an idea, e-mail Tiffany.

Another way to share your experiences and thoughts with us is through our comments section. Here is a look at our new comments policy, which we will be enforcing aggressively with the help of our engagement director, Anika Anand. We want Chalkbeat Colorado to be a place where educators, policymakers, and families can come to voice their concerns, talk to one another and ultimately, act in a way that leads to better schools for everyone. So please, be courteous and respectful in your comments so that we can all learn something from each other.

Here are some other ways to stay up to date on our reporting and help us make our reporting the best it can be:

New commenting policy and system

One big change that loyal readers of our site in Colorado will notice is that we will be using a new commenting system and, along with that, a new commenting policy for the site. We are proud of the respectful, productive conversation that our readers conduct in our comments section now and we have been searching for ways to make that conversation more inclusive of all of our readers.

To that end, we’re now accepting comments from readers anonymously, although we’re simultaneously building new ways to moderate comments thoroughly—including by enlisting the support of our readers, who can use our new system, Disqus, to promote an especially constructive comment or flag a contribution that was inappropriate. You can read our full comments policy here.

Happy reading,

Maura Walz, Chalkbeat Colorado bureau chief

Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat editor-in-chief

Student count

Aurora school enrollment continues sharp decline, but budget woes not expected

A kindergarten teacher at Kenton Elementary in Aurora helps a student practice saying and writing numbers on a Thursday afternoon in February. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

The number of students enrolled in Aurora schools this fall dropped by almost twice as much as last year, part of a trend district officials have blamed in part on gentrification as housing prices in Aurora climb.

This year, as of Oct. 2, the district has enrolled 41,294 students from preschool through 12th grade. That’s 867 fewer students than last year — and almost twice the number of students lost between 2015 and 2016.

Last October, staff told the board that district enrollment had dropped by a historic amount. At the time, enrollment was 41,926, down 643 from 2015. By the end of the 2016-17 school year, the district had enrolled almost 200 more students.

But in Colorado, school districts are given money on a per-student count that’s based on the number of students enrolled on count day, which this year was Oct. 2.

The district expects to see a similar decline in students again next school year, but expects that new developments start bringing more children to the district in the future.

The good news, provided in the update given to the Aurora school board Tuesday night, is that district officials saw it coming this time.

“The magnitude of the impact is not the same as last year,” said Superintendent Rico Munn. “This kind of decline is now something we will predict and budget to.”

Because enrollment numbers are higher than what officials predicted, the budget that the board approved over the summer should not need adjustments for the current year.

Last year, Aurora Public Schools had to cut more than $3 million in the middle of the year. District officials also worked on gathering input and finding ways to shrink the 2017-18 budget by up to $31 million, but better than expected funding from the state meant the district didn’t end up cutting the full $31 million.

The district may look for ways to trim the budget again next year in anticipation of another anticipated enrollment decline.

Board members asked about other factors that may be contributing to enrollment declines, such as school reputations, and asked about how staff predict future enrollment.

Superintendent Munn told the board that the enrollment decreases are changing several conversations in the district.

“APS was not in the business of marketing our schools,” Munn said. But this year, the district launched an interactive map with school information on the district website to help feature all schools, their programs and their performance measures, and has been doing outreach to the approximately 4,000 Aurora students who leave to attend neighboring districts.

Three schools also received district-level help in creating targeted marketing.

One of those three schools was South Middle School, a low-performing school in the northwest part of the district where enrollment declines are especially drastic.

This year, after receiving some marketing assistance, South was one of few schools in the district that saw enrollment increased. The school’s Oct. 2 enrollment was 825, up from 734 last year.

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.”