The state Board of Education Monday approved new autonomy for two struggling Greeley middle schools as part of its work this spring to turn around chronically low performing schools.
Under Colorado law, the board is required to intervene after schools have failed to boost test scores for more than five years.
If the board gives final approval next month, Franklin and Prairie Heights middle schools in School District 6 will use their newly gained innovation status to change the way students are taught. On Monday the board gave unanimous approval to the plans.
First, students will receive personalized instruction from a teacher, assisted by learning software. Second, students will also work either individually or in teams to solve “real-world problems.”
The 21,000-student school district has already contracted with an organization called Summit to provide the digital curriculum and a cache of projects, and begin training the principals and teachers. The Summit contract is free for the district because the company raised money to work with schools as part of its bid to expand outside of California.
The district also recently changed the attendance boundaries for both schools to decrease their enrollment, making school changes more manageable.
Board members asked district officials about Summit’s track record with schools serving large number of at-risk students, about how the district plans to fund the schools to help their reforms succeed and about earlier concerns about a lack of leadership in the schools.
Board members also voiced concerns that there is no formal vetting process for companies such as Summit, that will be working with struggling schools, and that the company, in this case, won’t have formal authority over work in the schools.
The innovation plans presented by the district include specific goals to achieve within two years around attendance improvements, decreases in suspensions and measures of student achievement.
The district will monitor the schools regularly and will provide quarterly updates to state officials.
State officials said they recommended the new flexibility because of community support for the plans, although they noted that turning the schools over to a charter school would have also worked.
But district officials noted that the district already has six charter schools, including five serving middle school grades. They said the previous superintendent had reached out to the KIPP charter network to consider taking over a struggling school, but the network officials told the district at the time that they could not replicate their model in Greeley with the district’s low per-student funding.
“They are not coming,” said Deirdre Pilch, the district’s superintendent. “The work is on us. It is our job to take care of our kids.”
Officials also said that because there is a newcomer center for immigrant students at Prairie Heights Middle School, the students there may not easily be served at other schools if the middle school closed.