Turning the tables

Sheridan Schools will appeal accreditation rating to state board

A southwest-Denver suburban school district has asked the Colorado State Board of Education to raise its accreditation rating, which would effectively take the district off the state’s “accountability clock.”

Superintendent Michael Clough officially sent the district’s position to the Colorado Department of Education today, after receiving the blessing from the district’s board of education Tuesday. Department staff will issue its position later this month. The two parties will meet with the state board March 11, Clough said.

Clough has flirted with the idea to appeal since last fall when Sheridan Schools was once again ranked among the lowest-performing districts in the state. Clough and other Sheridan officials believe the turnaround efforts of the last four years have been enough to stave off the loss of accreditation and a drastic intervention from the state.

He said after several conversations with his board and district partners, he was strongly encouraged to seek the appeal.

“I don’t believe we have anything to lose,” Clough said. “I’m always looking forward to talk about the good things that are happening in our Sheridan district. I can’t see the downside — other than the time it takes to be prepared.”

Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.

No school district has lost its accreditation — yet. But Sheridan Schools is one of 11 districts entering either year four or five of the accountability timeline.

Sheridan’s appeal is only the second of its kind. Mapleton Public Schools unsuccessfully pleaded with the state board to raise its accreditation rating last year.

In his appeal, Clough will make the case to the board that his district is preparing students for career and college at a higher rate than the state’s average. But given his district’s demographics — 80 percent of student qualify for free or reduced lunch and nearly 40 percent are English language learners — it takes more time and the methods used by Sheridan may not neatly match a limited the definition of “graduation.”

“At the end of the day, the formula doesn’t work for us,” Clough said. “And that’s why we’re asking for a consideration.”

Sheridan Schools offers three levels of diplomas: vocational, standard and advanced. Students who seek an advanced “21st Century Diploma” are those who have already met enough credits to graduate like other Colorado high school students but are still enrolled — taking college classes.

Those students may stay enrolled as Sheridan High School students up until the age of 21.

Clough believes those students, at the least, should be counted toward his districts graduation rate, even though they are still enrolled.

“Why do you have to use the word graduation?” Clough said. “We’re asking the board to look at it a little bit differently. We could have clicked the graduated box, but that would have ended our students’ educational opportunities.”

The state calculates a district’s graduation rate by numbers provided by the district, a spokeswoman for the department said. The decision of who has graduated from a Colorado high school — and therefore no longer qualified for free-public education — is left to the district.

Further, the state uses a district’s best graduation, up to seven years, from the previous school year. Sheridan clocked a 71 percent graduation rate at the seven-year mark. The state’s expectation is an 80 percent graduation rate.

Clough said Sheridan’s graduation rate has been historically low because it offered the high-school alternative program SOAR for its neediest students. That program has since become its own school and is evaluated separately from the district’s overall performance.

The state board previously invited districts furthest along on the clock to discuss their efforts at meetings scheduled for March, April and May.

Sheridan’s turn with the state board is scheduled for May 5. Clough, confident in his appeal, believes he won’t need to keep that appointment.

Sheridan School’s Appeal Position Letter


Sherdian 2014Appeal Position (PDF)

Sherdian 2014Appeal Position (Text)

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”