A highly regarded Denver-based charter school network this fall will begin taking over an Aurora elementary school that has failed to improve despite several attempts.
The school board’s unanimous approval Friday of the move is a major win for Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn’s school improvement agenda and represents a significant shift for a school district once known for not embracing charter schools.
“We believe that converting Fletcher Community School into a charter school is in the best interest of our students and families,” Munn said in a statement. “We are excited that our Board of Education voted to approve Rocky Mountain Prep’s charter application.”
The Rocky Mountain Prep charter school network will begin operating a preschool at Fletcher this fall. Each school year after, the charter will add a grade level. Meanwhile, the district will continue to run its program under new leadership in the grades not being served by Rocky Mountain Prep. The district will also maintain a program for students with autism at the school.
Munn’s proposal was not without critics. Teachers at Fletcher launched a social media campaign and spoke out at school board meetings. They asked for one more chance under new leadership. Some school board members also raised concerns over the rushed process.
Charter schools applications and contracts normally are vetted for a year. Munn first proposed Rocky Mountain Prep takeover Fletcher this spring, giving the district and board three months.
At the board’s June 21 meeting, board member Cathy Wildman opposed Rocky Mountain Prep’s charter application because she believed the Munn’s administration did not engage the community well enough.
Wildman said she voted for the contract Friday because she believes some of her concerns, especially about how Rocky Mountain Prep will serve the neighborhood’s students, were addressed.
“I did ultimately vote yes (for the contract), but I’m going to watch this very carefully,” she said. “I want Rocky Mountain Prep — if they’re going to work with our kids — to be successful.”
Aurora board to consider placing school tax hike on November ballot
Seeking to boost student health and safety and raise teacher pay, Aurora school officials will consider asking voters to approve a $35 million tax plan in November.
The school board will hear its staff’s proposal for the proposed ballot measure Tuesday. The board may discuss the merits of the plan but likely would not decide whether to place it on the ballot until at least the following week.
Aurora voters in 2016 approved a bond request which allowed the district to take on $300 million in debt for facilities, including the replacement building for Mrachek Middle School, and building a new campus for a charter school from the DSST network.
Aurora officials are proposing to use the money, estimated to be $35 million in 2019, to expand staff and training for students’ mental health services, expanding after-school programs for elementary students, adding seat belts to school buses, and boosting pay “to recruit and retain high quality teachers.”
The estimated cost for homeowners would be $98.64 per year, or $8.22 per month, for each $100,000 of home value.
Based on previous discussions, current board members appear likely to support the recommendation.
During budget talks earlier this year, several board members said they were interested in prioritizing funding for increased mental health services. The district did allocate some money from the 2018-19 budget to expand services, described as the “most urgent,” and mostly for students with special needs, but officials had said that new dollars could be needed to do more.
The teacher pay component was written into the contract approved earlier this year between the district and the teachers union. If Aurora voters approved the tax measure, then the union and school district would reopen negotiations to redesign the way teachers are paid.
In crafting the recommendation, school district staff will explain findings from focus groups and polling. Based on polls conducted of 500 likely voters by Frederick Polls, 61 percent said in July they would favor a school tax hike.
Patricia Shaw, an interpreter for Aurora Public Schools, left, shows Indonesia Maye how to use the transmitters during a back-to-school event at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy on August 6. Maye was hired by the district to interpret to Somali students and their families at the event. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)
Top 10 languages in APS by number of parents who have listed it as a preference for communication
Source: Aurora Public Schools
In response, the district last year started working on translating some documents, and training secretaries and school staff to use the district’s system to send out automated calls in various languages. Board members responded by passing a resolution to prohibit educators from relying on children to translate official or formal discussions with parents. And this summer, the district included $200,000 in its 2018-19 budget to centralize language services under the communications office.
“Our families are feeling really excited that their voices were heard,” said RISE Colorado’s co-founder and CEO Veronica Crespin-Palmer.
Now Aurora educators, such as principals and teachers, can use a simplified, common form online to ask the district for help with translations or interpretations for their students’ families.
It’s a change from years past when language help was scattered among various district departments with each department available for only particular purposes. It was a process educators and families said wasn’t easy to understand.
Having all of the district’s expertise in one office now should help in coordinating and filling language requests, said Patti Moon, the district’s chief communication officer.
District officials expect that the simplified process will increase demand for translation or interpretation services this school year, and so the district is preparing to expand its abilities with the allocated money.
In part, that means adding services in more languages. Right now, Aurora has in-house language services for Spanish, but in a district where families have listed 143 different languages as their preferred language, there’s a need for more.
In one step to make more interpreters available, the district has been certifying its own bilingual staff in translation, so they can be available after work to pick up assignments translating or interpreting for school or district events. Currently, district officials say there are more than 120 district-approved interpreters, and officials want to recruit more. District interpreters and other staff can provide interpretation in 14 languages.
The district also has a partnership with interpreters-in-training from the Community College of Aurora.
Aurora also plans to use some of the money to improve quality by providing professional training to language services staff.
But the parents’ work will continue, said the mother, Mlu. Parents requested to continue monthly meetings with the district’s language staff to provide feedback about how the schools are rolling out the changes. The district agreed to continue the collaboration.
In addition to streamlining its internal communications, the district is providing one service designed for parents and the community: the introduction of language identification cards.
RISE parents designed the business-size cards that the district printed in the top 10 languages, with a blank space for people to fill in their name to show school attendants what language they speak. Accompanying one-sheet forms include translations of common requests such as excusing a child from school, requesting a meeting with a teacher, or asking for an interpreter. (See a copy of both below)
The cards will be made available in schools for parents to use and have an easier time communicating simple requests, or asking for an interpreter.
Crespin-Palmer said she hopes the cards, the process, and the changes the district is making can be a model for other districts.
Mlu said she appreciates the significant changes she’s seen so far. But, she said, she’s still wants the district to know she’s watching.
“We are parent leaders, and we keep watching the for the interpretation and translation to improve,” she said. “We’re working toward it too.”