deja vu

Manual High School principal departs, replacement to be named

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High School in northeast Denver.

The principal of Manual High School — the once-promising school whose struggles with low performance Chalkbeat Colorado documented last week — left the school abruptly Thursday, telling staff it was at the behest of the district.

“With great sadness I must announce that the district has decided that I will no longer be the Principal at Manual,” Brian Dale told his staff in an email obtained by Chalkbeat Colorado. “I heard today, effective today. Thank you all for the incredible work that you have done to create possibilities for our scholars. It has been a great pleasure, every day! Best wishes to all of you. Brian”

A district representative confirmed Dale was leaving but not that he had been fired.

It’s unclear how the decision will affect the rest of the school year for Manual.

“We will work with the Manual community starting tomorrow on a short-term and long-term transition plan,” Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief innovation officer and Dale’s immediate supervisor, said of the leadership shuffle. “Our focus is on kids — students first.”

Assistant principal Vernon Jones said he was “still processing” the information.

During Dale’s tenure, the school saw a dramatic drop in student performance on state exams. Last year, the school posted the lowest scores on the tests since the school was closed in 2006 and re-opened a year later.

Dale became principal of the school in 2011, four years after district officials re-started the school with promises that they would rebuild a premiere high school for its mostly impoverished student body. Dale was hired after the school’s first turnaround principal, Rob Stein, resigned over conflicts with district administration.

The downward trend in academic proficiency and growth coincided with Dale’s implementation of a new school model which sent students across the nation to historic social justice landmarks like Little Rock, Ark. and Memphis, Tenn. The goal was to foster student engagement and provide examples of “social revolutionaries” whom the students could model.

Additionally, Dale and his team overspent the school’s budget by $600,000 after they failed to raise enough money to pay for the trips. Part of school’s plan to repay the district included Dale taking a 92 percent budget cut.

Asked if Dale’s exit was due in part to any situation other than what Chalkbeat Colorado reported, Whitehead-Bust said: “I doubt it.”

Throughout its history, Manual, the city’s oldest high school, has been the center of education reform in the city. The school has educated some of the city’s most active civil servants and activists including former Mayor Wellington Webb and current Mayor Michael Hancock. When the Denver school board decided to close the school in 2007, it was met with public outcry. The school would reopen and be the envy of the nation, then-superintendent Michael Bennet said.

call for more

Almost half of Detroit district schools don’t have a gym teacher. Next year, that may change.

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Since 10-year-old Hezekiah Haynesworth moved to his new school in the Detroit district, he’s always up out of his seat, talking to classmates and getting into trouble.

His mother, Victoria, says he wasn’t always like this. She believes he has nowhere to burn off excess energy because Bagley Elementary doesn’t offer students enough time for gym class or recess.

Bagley Elementary is one of 49 schools in the district without a gym teacher. Out of the 106 schools in the district, only 57 have at least one certified, full-time physical education teacher, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat.

The district employs 68 certified full-time physical education teachers for its student population of 50,875. More than 15,000 Detroit schoolchildren attend a school without a full time physical education teacher.

In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified, which means some kids, like Hezekiah, might only go once a month or less.

“He’s had behavior issues, but if he had the gym time there’s different activities he would do to burn off energy,” she said. “They would get that anxiety and fidgetiness out of them.”

Haynesworth might get her wish. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced earlier this month that there’s money in the budget to put gym teachers back in schools, along with art and music teachers and guidance counselors next school year, though the budget plan has not yet been approved.

“Not every student is provided an opportunity for physical education or gym” right now, Vitti said at a meeting earlier this month.

The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one.

But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works, like more recruiting trips and better hiring practices, to address the difficulties of finding and bringing in new employees.

Detroit is not the only district that has cut back on physical education teachers in recent years. At a time when schools are heavily judged by how well students perform on math and reading exams, some schools have focused their resources on core subjects, cutting back on the arts and gym and cutting recess to make more time for instruction and test prep. But experts say that approach is short-sighted.

Research on the importance of physical activity in schools has reached a consensus — physical education improves children’s focus and makes them better students.

“Available evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the academic topics that are most influenced by physical activity,” according to a 2013 federal report.

The link between physical education and improved reading is especially important for the Detroit district. Educators are working in high gear, in part pushed by Vitti, to prepare for the state’s tough new law that will go into effect in 2020, requiring third-graders who don’t read at grade level to be held back.

This year, the Michigan Department of Education has started to include data on physical education in schools into its school scoring system, which allows parents to compare schools. A separate score for physical education might push schools to hire physical education teachers.

Whether the state’s new emphasis on gym class or Vitti’s proposal to place a gym teacher in each district school is enough to put physical activity back in the schools is unclear, but Hezekiah’s mom Victoria desperately hopes it happens.

Hezekiah is given 45 minutes to each lunch, and if he finishes early, he’s allowed to run with the other children who finished early. If he doesn’t eat quickly enough to play, Victoria says she can expect a call about his disruptive behavior.

“I used to think that my son was just a problem — that it was just my problem,” she said. “But it’s a system problem. They don’t have the components they should have in the school.”

See which schools have gym teachers below.

Out of the game

The businessman who went to bat for apprenticeships is out of Colorado’s governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Noel Ginsburg, an advocate for apprenticeships and a critic of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, has withdrawn from the Democratic race for governor.

Ginsburg, a businessman who had never run for office before, always faced a tough road to the nomination. He announced Tuesday that he would not continue with the petition-gathering or assembly process after his last place finish in the caucus, where he got 2 percent of the vote.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Ginsburg said, “I don’t believe I have the resources to be fully competitive.”

Just last month, Ginsburg released an education platform that called for the repeal of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, the signature legislative achievement of former state Sen. Mike Johnston, also a candidate for governor.

Ginsburg runs CareerWise, an apprenticeship initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper that allows students to earn money and college credit while getting on-the-job experience starting in high school. His platform called for expanding apprenticeship programs and getting businesses more involved in education.

He also promised to lead a statewide effort to change the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow the state to retain more revenue and send much of it to schools. He said that schools, not roads, should be the top priority of Colorado’s next governor.

Ginsburg will continue at the head of CareerWise, as well as Intertech Plastics, the company he founded.

Johnston, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne have all turned in signatures to place their names on the ballot. Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the endorsement of two teachers unions, is not gathering signatures and will need at least 30 percent of the vote at the assembly to appear on the ballot. Kennedy finished in first place at the caucus earlier this month.