New Arrivals

New programs for teen parents on the way in Aurora

The Aurora school district's Early Beginnings building on the campus of Jamaica Child Development Center.

Over the next 12 months, pregnant and parenting teens in Aurora will see big changes in local educational options for themselves and their young children.

These include Tuesday’s opening of the new $2 million “Early Beginnings” center, which will provide up to 72 child care and preschool slots for the babies and young children of teen parents enrolled in Aurora Public Schools. The district is also replacing its underutilized teen parent outreach program with a new mobile team of advocates.

In addition, a new charter school serving pregnant and parenting teens in Aurora and northeast Denver is set to open in the fall of 2015. That school, called New Legacy Charter High School, will accommodate up to 100 high school students—teen fathers included—plus 70 young children at its on-site child care center to be run by Mile High Montessori. While the exact location has yet to be determined it is likely to be in the 80010 zip code.

Quick facts on Early Beginnings center
      District-run child care center at William Smith High School


      On the campus of Jamaica Child Development Center, 820 N. Jamaica St.


      6 classrooms with up to 72 spots for infants, toddlers and preschoolers of teen parents in the district.

Project cost:

      $2 million


      Donor-advised fund at the Denver Foundation, Foundation for Educational Excellence, Gates Family Foundation, Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation and Qualistar Colorado

First day:

      Tues., August 5

Grand opening:

      Wed., August 20, 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Administrators involved in the development of the new facilities and programs say the offerings reflect the need for more centrally-located facilities and responsive interventions to ensure pregnant or parenting teens stay in school and ultimately graduate.

“We have so many young mothers and young fathers,” said Deputy Superintendent William Stuart. “They need opportunities to remain engaged in school.”

Indeed, statistics shows that teen pregnancy and parenthood don’t bode well for school success. According to a brief from the advocacy group Colorado Youth Matter, 53 percent of Colorado young women who gave birth in 2011 didn’t finish high school or obtain a GED. In addition, nearly one-third of female students who dropped out of school cite pregnancy or parenthood as the primary reason for their decision.

“What are they going to do if they have no high school education?” asked Shirley Algiene, principal of Denver’s Florence Crittenton High School, which serves pregnant and parenting teens. “How are they going to take care of the baby?”

Need despite declining teen birth rates

Perhaps ironically, the development of Early Beginnings, New Legacy and the new teen parent outreach model over the last few years has coincided with gradual decreases in teen birth rates. In Colorado, the teen birth rate among youth ages 15-19 dropped 56 percent since 1991.

While advocates for teen pregnancy prevention herald such declines, they say there are still plenty of teenagers having babies, particularly in certain counties and demographic groups.

“It’s still not going down across the board,” said Lisa Olcese, executive director of Colorado Youth Matter.

For example, in Adams County, where part of the Aurora school district lies, there were 44.5 births per 1,000 females 15-19 during 2010-2012, compared to the Colorado average of 28.4.

Jennifer Douglas, the founder and principal of New Legacy, has drilled even deeper into local data as she’s planned the new school. She found that while there has been an overall decrease in the number of teens giving birth over the last decade in four zip codes in northeast Denver and northwest Aurora, the numbers actually increased slightly in 2013. A total of 182 teens, ages 14-18, had babies that year, up from 169 in 2012.

“Yes, there really is a need,’” said Douglas, who was formerly the director of new school development at the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

“At this point, even with the drop [in teen pregnancy] there are still of hundreds of students giving birth that need an educational option to help them finish school.”

Dwindling enrollment

For decades, Aurora’s “Young Parenting Program” was housed at William Smith High School, a small alternative high school that for many years was centrally located where Peoria Elementary School is now.

Enrollment by teen parents gradually dwindled after the school moved to a new building on the district’s east side in 2004 and a few years later adopted an expeditionary learning focus. At the end of last year, only three children of teen parents were enrolled in the 40 slots available at the school’s on-site nursery.

“Transportation was a big issue,” said Anita Walker, the district’s early childhood coordinator. “It was so far east it was challenging for parents to get to.”

In contrast, the Early Beginnings center is closer to the heart of the district on the same campus as Jamaica Child Development Center. It’s also less than a mile from Central High School, one of the district’s comprehensive high schools.

“A significant number of young parents reside in the north and northwest part of our district,” noted Stuart who helped oversee the former Young Parenting Program when he was principal of William Smith 15 years ago.

Administrators say the new center, which has two infant rooms, two toddler rooms and two preschool rooms, may not fill up immediately with children of teen parents, but the new four-member mobile outreach team is working on recruitment. Operating under the moniker “Young Parent Support Program,” the team includes two student engagement specialists, a health care specialist and a child care specialist.

The engagement specialists, who Stuart said may go door to door at times, will help pregnant or parenting teens re-connect with some type of educational program, whether it’s a traditional high school, New Legacy, an online high school or an alternative program focused on obtaining a GED or entering community college.

“We will reach far more young parents through the new format,” said Stuart.

In addition to the mobile team, there will be a family liaison and a nurse serving the campus where Early Beginnings is located, and eventually maybe a mental health professional as well.

Special schools for teen parents

Douglas first got the idea for New Legacy more than a decade ago when she visited Passages Charter School in Montrose. She was impressed with the school, which served pregnant and parenting teens, and realized that if the need existed in a small community like Montrose, it probably also existed in the much larger north Aurora and Denver region.

While Denver already has Florence Crittenton High School in the city’s southwest quadrant, Algiene is well aware that its quite a trek for some students. The school’s 130 high schoolers come from Denver and all corners of the metro area, including Aurora, Northglenn, and Jefferson County.

Algiene said three-quarters of her students rely on public transportation, facing the daily challenge of toting babies, diaper bags, back packs and strollers on buses or trains.

“I know it’s an issue to get over here,” she said. “I’m glad Aurora is opening up something.”

Coincidentally, Florence Crittenton will also be getting a new building next year, right across the street from its current location. The new space will include a school-based health center, room for 250 high school students and an on-site child care facility that will serve children from 6 weeks to four years old. (The school’s current child care facility only goes up to three years old.)

Despite the burst of new facilities coming over the next year, there’s a sense among the various administrators that the programs are complementary and will help fill a chronic gap. Douglas said she appreciates the new supports APS officials are putting into place for teen parents.

“I think the district recognized that that’s been a need and I’m really excited that they’re doing so much now,” she said. “We’re not in competition; we’re just options for students.”

For their part, APS administrators believe the planned opening of New Legacy next year coordinates nicely with their new programming.

“We want to demonstrate to our community that we have a commitment to these young students,” said Stuart.

This article originally misspelled the name of Aurora Deputy Superintendent William Stuart. We apologize for the error.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.


Struggling Aurora elementary must decide next steps on recommendations

Teachers at Lyn Knoll Elementary should get more than 20 minutes per day for planning, school officials should consider switching to a district-selected curriculum for literacy, and the school should find a way to survey neighborhood families who send their children to school elsewhere.

Those are some of the recommendations for improvement presented to Aurora’s school board this week by a committee overseeing the work at Lyn Knoll.

But because the school has a status that allows it more autonomy, those recommendations cannot be turned into mandates, committee members told the school board this week. Instead, school officials must now weigh these suggestions and decide which they might follow.

Bruce Wilcox, president of the Aurora teachers union and member of the joint steering committee, said he doesn’t expect every recommendation “to come to fruition,” but said whether or not each recommendation is followed is not what’s important.

“It really will come down to, is improvement made or not,” Wilcox said.

Rico Munn, the superintendent of Aurora Public Schools, had recommended Lyn Knoll for turnaround after the school fell to the state’s lowest quality rating last year. Enrollment at the school has also dropped. But the Aurora school board voted instead to wait another year to see if the school itself can make improvements.

Munn Thursday suggested that the board may still make part of that decision contingent on approval of the school’s action plan.

The union-led joint steering committee that wrote the recommendations offered to monitor and guide the school during the 2018-19 school year as it tries to improve, but it’s a role the group has never taken on before. Part of that role has already started with committee members visiting the school for observations.

“The purpose of the joint steering committee is to be a place the schools can go to and ask for guidance,” Wilcox said. “This is where it’s doing well.”

Lyn Knoll is one of three district-run schools in Aurora that have pilot status, which was created about 10 years ago when the district worked with its teachers union to create a path for schools to earn autonomy.

This was before Colorado passed the law that allows schools to seek innovation status, which is a state process that grants schools waivers from some state, district, and union rules as a way to try new ideas.

“At the time that pilot schools came in, our district was very lockstep,” Wilcox said. “What was done at one school was done at the other. That was the framework.”

Schools that wanted to try something different or unique could apply to the district for pilot status if they had a plan with school and community support. Each pilot school also had to create a school governing board that could include teachers and community members that would help the school make decisions.

At Lyn Knoll, one of the popular innovations involved letting students have physical education every day of the week, something not common in many schools.

Another of the district’s pilot schools, William Smith High School, uses its status to lead a school unlike any other in the district, with a project-based learning model where students learn standards from different subjects through real-life scenarios and projects.

The Aurora district, like many districts around the country, now has created more ways beyond pilot status for principals to make specific changes at their school.

In Aurora, Munn said the current structure of the district, which now has “learning communities,” is meant to be responsive to the differences between groups of schools.

“We’re really trying to strongly connect different parts of the district and be flexible and there are different ways of doing that,” Munn said.

Schools can come to the district and request permission to use a different curriculum, for instance, or to change their school calendar so students can be released early on certain days for teacher planning time. There’s also a district application process so that schools that need specific help or resources from the district can request them. And more recently, schools that want several, structured, waivers are more likely to apply for the state’s innovation status, which provides “a stronger framework,” Munn said.

The district said current pilot school principals could not speak about their school model for this story.

Lyn Knoll currently has no principal for next year. Officials at Thursday’s board meeting suggested waiting until a new principal is identified or hired so that person could work with the school’s governing board on a plan for change. It was unclear how soon that might happen, although finalists are being scheduled for interviews next week.

Clarification: The story has been updated to reflect that the need for a principal at Lyn Knoll is for next year.