GOLDEN — Building and curriculum changes at schools serving most of Jefferson County’s low-income and Latino students are taking hold and working, the school board heard Thursday.
Early anecdotal evidence suggests the changes, which include combining four schools into two and developing a dual language program in primary schools, are resonating with teachers, students and parents, district leaders said.
But there are long-term building needs that the district will need to tackle and it’s still too early to know whether an emphasis to improve students’ vocabularies will be enough to boost achievement for those who are chronically behind.
“We’re in a good place,” said Susie Van Scoyk, principal of the reconfigured Alameda International Junior-Senior High School.
As part of the changes the school board approved last spring to schools in the Lakewood and Edgewater portions of Jefferson County that border Denver, Alameda High and O’Connell Middle schools merged to create the new grades 7-12 school.
Traffic congestion persists at the school, which now enrolls more than 1,300 students, 300 more than anticipated, Van Scoyk said. And classroom and meeting space are at a premium.
But, “it is really exciting to say, we’re full — we’re at capacity,” Van Scoyk said.
Alternatively, elementary students and teachers at the new Stein Elementary at O’Connell school are relishing their new digs, said Principal Samantha Salazar.
“We’re all under one roof,” Salazar said.
At the school’s former campus, kindergarteners were in mobile classrooms. Precious time was lost shuffling them in and out of the building for lunch or a trip to a library, especially during winter months, Salazar said.
And teachers now have a space to meet and plan together, Salazar said.
“No longer are we in a custodial closet to do our professional learning community,” she said.
At Jeffco’s second reconfigured junior-senior high school, Jefferson, older students have taken the lead to welcome the middle school students from the shuttered Wheat Ridge 5-8 school, said Karen Quanbeck, a Jeffco achievement director who oversees the schools in Edgewater.
“They feel a deep responsibility to mentor the junior-high students,” she said.
District officials believe the instructional changes at schools in the Edgewater area, including a push for stronger vocabulary skills and designing classes around projects, will boost student learning where it has traditionally fallen behind the more white and affluent district.
Jefferson has bounced on and off the state’s academic watch list for years.
No school in the area is on that list now. But student test scores across all grade levels in Edgewater continue to lag. Only about four of every 10 students at Lumberg Elementary could read at grade level in the third grade, according to state tests issued in 2014. At the same time, seven of every 10 Jeffco third graders were reading at grade level.
Given a switch in state assessments, it will be difficult in the near future to gauge whether the changes are effective. However, the schools will be using local benchmark assessments as a barometer.
Principals at both Alameda and Jefferson Junior-Senior High schools told the board a nascent concern is their aging buildings that are now “bursting at the seams” with students.
“We’re in our 60th year at Jefferson,” Principal Michael James said. “We can feel that in our building.”
School board members praised both communities for their work.
“We’ve come a long way from last year,” said board member Julie Williams. “We had parents lined up for public comment with many different concerns.”