Steel City Turnaround

New Pueblo leader pledges to go through TCAP scores “child by child” in order to make gains

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at the Pueblo Academy of the Arts participate in a science lesson in April 2014.

Pueblo City Schools’ new superintendent Constance Jones got some really bad news earlier this month, but she isn’t looking back.

The bad news: Pueblo students made no progress on the state’s reading, writing or math tests last spring.

But instead of worrying how the district reached those results, the new leader said her mission is to work with principals to understand the academic needs of each of the district’s 18,000 students as the state begins to administer new, more rigorous assessments in the spring.

I’m not going to focus on the drops nor try to go back and track and analyze programs,” Jones, who began her tenure as superintendent July 1, said. “The most important thing I can do is to help principals and teachers use the information we have today and break it down to the individual child. What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses to the standards? Until we do that, we aren’t going to see significant gains across the board. We’re going to go child by child.”

While school district’s across the state had similar outcomes, Pueblo is near the end of the state’s accountability clock and has a deadline to improve or face state sanctions.

The school district’s struggles were the subject of a three-part series published by Chalkbeat last week.

The slight dip in proficiency scores coupled with slow academic growth, or how the state measures how much students learn each year, does not bode well for the district.

While the district as a whole did meet its reading goals, several of the city’s neediest schools, including Roncalli Middle School, the Bessemer Academy, and Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, still lag far behind.

The state is still months away from publicly releasing its official ratings of schools and school districts, careful observers would note there isn’t much good news in Pueblo’s recent data.

Jones, who joined the school on July 1, replaced Maggie Lopez, who retired after leading the district for four years.

Before leaving, Lopez — and other school officials — defended their four years of school improvement efforts and were confident Pueblo students would continue to make enough progress on state tests to beat the state accountability clock.

One of Lopez’s key strategies was to build alignment throughout the district in curriculum and evaluations. Jones said she’ll use those systems to build upon.

“There are systems in place,” Jones said. “But public education is a continuous improvement process. You’re never to the pinnacle, it will never be perfect.”

One example of an initiative Jones plans to rollout this year is a new literacy program that is closely aligned to the new standards will be implemented this year in as many grades as financially possible.

“We’re going to be very focused and we’re going to be very purposeful in our teaching and learning,” Jones said. “And if we are, each individual child will make the gains.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.