Here we go again

Manual High learns of transition plans after principal exit

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

This post has been updated to add new information about Roy’s introduction to the school.

The principal of a Hilltop middle school has been named the new leader at Manual High School, a decision that appears to have been made late last year.

The announcement comes a day after the troubled high school’s principal, Brian Dale, abruptly announced his immediate departure in an email to his staff. It also comes a week after a series of articles chronicling Manual’s descent from reform promise to lowest-performing high school in the city were published by Chalkbeat Colorado.

Don Roy, who resigned the principalship of Hill Campus of Arts and Sciences on Dec. 20, has also previously served as an assistant principal and language arts teacher at Montbello High School, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Roy spent Friday morning visiting classes, some student leaders and staff at the school, and formally introduced himself to the student body and some parents at a meeting on Friday afternoon.

Introducing himself to Manual

Before Roy spoke, Manual’s assistant principal, Vernon Jones, welcomed him to the school and urged students to stay stalwart through the transition.

“We know change can be good,” Jones said. “The school has reason to be excited. We’re going to be T-Bolt Strong. And kick butt for the rest of the year.”

Roy then told the students that he was “so glad and proud” to be assuming leadership of the school.

“I want to tell you what’s important to me,” he said. “Getting kids ready for college and career. I believe in students. I believe in hard work. I believe in teachers. Where it happens is in the classroom.”

He told students to expect to see him regularly in the hallways and in their classrooms, and promised to learn their names quickly. “I know transition can be hard,” he said.

Dale’s abrupt departure and the district’s quick appointment of Roy has left many at the school feeling skittish, some students, parents and staff said in interviews.

After Roy was introduced at the assembly, sophomore Losseny Kone stopped the new principal and asked him what would make him perfect for the students of Manual. “He told me he wasn’t perfect, but to have the best school, to be the best leader, he’d listen and observe,” Kone recalled later.

Kone said that the reaction to the swift change among students was mixed. Dale was well-liked among the student body and the transition was very abrupt, he said. 

But with exits comes blessings, he said, and he wished the best for Dale.

“I feel like we’re [going to] move in a positive direction,” he said.

Denise Hubbard, whose daughter is a senior at the school, was even more skeptical of the new leader and critical of how the school district handled the switch.

“The board took away the voice of the parents,” said Hubbard, who learned of the leadership change from a phone call from the school at 7:30 a.m. Friday morning. “They didn’t consult us.”

One staff member, who requested to speak anonymously so as not to damage her relationship with the incoming principal, said that Dale’s departure had shaken the school.

“The building is nervous,” she said. “Students feel abandoned.”

Some students, she said, spent Friday morning crying. Few were able to concentrate on class.

She said that being able to count on the steady presence of known adults is important to students at Manual who may not have stable relationships outside of the school with adults.

“You need to build trust and love with students here before they’ll ever learn,” she said.

She argued that Dale’s swift disappearance and replacement would leave students without the the time they need to process. “It’s just another adult, gone,” she said. “As quiet as Dale was, the kids could still depend on him.”

And some observers worried that the leadership transition will be yet another disruption for a school that has struggled over the last seven years to find stability.

“It’s another change at Manual,” said Jim McNally, the school’s historian and board member of Friends of Manual. “Just what it didn’t need.”

A swift change, but a month in the making

Although Dale’s departure was finalized on Thursday, multiple sources confirmed to Chalkbeat Colorado that district officials have had a new leader in mind for the school since mid-December.

Roy sent a letter to his staff, students and community on Dec. 10 announcing that he was leaving. The letter, which is posted on the school’s website, did not explicitly say that he would be moving to Manual but says that he would “pursue another leadership opportunity within Denver Public Schools.”

District officials said that Roy’s departure from Hill was in fact planned last school year — though at that time officials did not intend for him to move to Manual — and that Roy originally planned to stay at the middle school while he prepared his replacement. However, Roy’s successor at Hill was ready to take the reins there early, freeing Roy to move on mid-year.

Roy began his tenure at Hill in 2001. Hill Middle School has consistently met district’s expectations, according to annual performance reports the district began issuing in 2008. The school’s proficiency rates have also outpaced the district’s since 2011, according to state data.

However, the school has historically had a wide achievement gap between students who qualify for free and reduced lunch — who make up almost 55 percent of the school’s students — and the rest of the student body. Those gaps range from 22 percent in writing to 32 percent in reading.

Manual’s student body is almost entirely minority and qualify for free or reduced lunch, a measure of poverty.

Dale’s tenure 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.

Roy will be the school’s fourth principal in the seven years since it was rebooted. The school’s first principal after the school re-opened, Rob Stein, resigned over conflicts with district administration. After a disjointed effort to find a replacement, Stein was succeeded first by a temporary principal and then by Dale, who assumed leadership of the school in 2011.

hurdle cleared

Indiana’s federally required education plan wins approval

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Indiana Department of Education
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick greets elementary school students in Decatur Township.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signed off on Indiana’s federally required education plan, ushering in another era of changes — although not exactly major ones — to the state’s public school system.

The U.S Department of Education announced the plan’s approval on Friday. Like other states, Indiana went through an extensive process to craft a blueprint to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015.

“Today is a great day for Indiana,” state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said in a statement. “Our ESSA plan reflects the input and perspective of many stakeholders in communities across our state. From the beginning, we set out to build a plan that responded to the needs of Hoosier students. From our clear accountability system to our innovative, locally-driven approach to school improvement, our ESSA plan was designed to support student success.”

The federal government highlighted two aspects of Indiana’s plan. One is a pledge to close achievement gaps separating certain groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, from their peers by 50 percent by 2023.

Another is a staple of other states’ plans, as well: adding new ways for measuring how ready students are for attending college or starting their careers. Indiana education officials and lawmakers have made this a priority over the past several years, culminating in a new set of graduation requirements the Indiana State Board of Education approved late last year.

Under Indiana’s plan, high schoolers’ readiness will be measured not just by tests but also by performance in advanced courses and earning dual credits or industry certifications. Elementary school students will be measured in part by student attendance and growth in student attendance over time. Test scores and test score improvement still play a major role in how all schools are rated using state A-F letter grades.

In all, 35 states’ ESSA plans have won federal approval.

Advocates hope the law will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked — including English-learners and students with disabilities.

Indiana officials struggled to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, such as graduation requirements and diplomas.

Under the state’s ESSA plan, A-F grades would include these measures (see weights here):

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Test score improvement.
  • Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
  • At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.

The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and, in the case of chronic absenteeism, attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.

Because the Indiana State Board of Education passed its own draft A-F rules earlier this month — rules that deviate from the state ESSA plan — it’s possible Hoosier schools could get two sets of letter grades going forward, muddying the initial intent of the simple A-F grade concept parents and community members are familiar with.

The state board’s A-F changes include other measures, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of  the state’s federal plan. The state board plan also gets rid of the test score improvement measure for high-schoolers.

While that A-F proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.

The state can still make changes to its ESSA plan, and the state board’s A-F draft is also expected to see revisions after public comment. But the fact that they conflict now could create difficulties moving forward, and it has led to tension during state board meetings. Already, the state expected schools would see two years of A-F grades in 2018. If both plans move forward as is, that could continue beyond next year.

Read: Will Indiana go through with a ‘confusing’ plan that could mean every school winds up with two A-F grades?

Find more of our coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act here.


Aurora recommends interventions in one elementary school, while another gets more time

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

Aurora school district officials on Tuesday will recommend turning over management of some operations at one of their elementary schools to an outside management company.

The school, Lyn Knoll Elementary, is located in northwest Aurora near 2nd Avenue and Peoria Street and serves a high number of students from low-income families, with 4 percent of students identified as homeless. The school was one of three Aurora schools that earned the lowest rating from the state in 2017.

That rating automatically flags the school under a district process for school interventions. The process directs district officials to consider a number of possible improvement plans, including closure or turning the school over to a charter school.

Lyn Knoll has had good rankings in recent years before slipping dramatically in the past year, a change that put it on the turnaround list. The district did not recommend intervening at Paris Elementary, even though that school has been in priority improvement for years and will face state sanctions if it has one more year without improvement.

Annual ratings for Lyn Knoll Elementary

  • 2010: Improvement
  • 2011: Improvement
  • 2012: Performance
  • 2013: Improvement
  • 2014: Priority Improvement
  • 2016: Performance
  • 2017: Turnaround
Colorado Department of Education

The board will discuss the recommendation on Tuesday and vote on the school’s fate next month. In November, four union-backed board members who have been critical of charter schools won a majority role on the district’s school board. This will be their first major decision since taking a seat on the board.

In September, Superintendent Rico Munn had told the school board that among January’s school improvement recommendations, the one for Paris would be “the most high-profile.” A month later the district put out a request for information, seeking ideas to improve Aurora schools.

But in a board presentation released Friday, district officials didn’t give much attention to Paris. Instead, they will let Paris continue its rollout of an innovation plan approved two years ago. Officials have said they are hopeful the school will show improvements.

The recommendation for Lyn Knoll represents more drastic change, and it’s the only one that would require a board vote.

The district recommendation calls for replacing the current principal, drafting a contract for an outside company to help staff with training and instruction, and creating a plan to help recruit more students to the school.

Documents show district officials considered closing Lyn Knoll because it already has low and decreasing enrollment with just 238 current students. Those same documents note that while officials are concerned about the school’s trends, it has not had a long history of low ratings to warrant a closure.

In considering a charter school conversion, documents state that there is already a saturation of charter schools in that part of the city, and the community is interested in “the existence of a neighborhood school.” Two charter networks, however, did indicate interest in managing the school, the documents state.
The district recommendation would also include stripping the school’s current status as a pilot school.

Lyn Knoll and other schools labeled pilot schools in Aurora get some internal district autonomy under a program created more than 10 years ago by district and union officials.

Because Lyn Knoll is a pilot school, a committee that oversees that program also reviewed the school and made its own recommendation, which is different from the district’s.

In their report, committee members explained that while they gave the school low marks, they want the school to maintain pilot status for another year as long as it follows guidance on how to improve.

Among the observations in the committee’s report: The school doesn’t have an intervention program in place for students who need extra help in math, families are not engaged, and there has not been enough training for teachers on the new state standards.

The report also highlights the school’s daily physical education for students and noted that the school’s strength was in the school’s governance model that allowed teachers to feel involved in decision making.

Read the full committee report below.