Another try

Adams 14 school improvement plan is back — with revisions — for key State Board of Education vote

File photo of sixth-grade students at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City. (Photo by Craig Walker, The Denver Post)

Officials with the Adams 14 School District in Commerce City will return to the State Board of Education on Thursday with a revised school improvement plan meant to address concerns that the initial proposal wouldn’t do enough.

The board is expected to make a final decision on the plan, which calls for an out-of-state nonprofit group to help improve teaching and make recommendations about possible management changes.

The nearly 8,000-student district is one of several facing state sanctions this year for consistent low performance. For the past several months, the state board has been considering improvement plans drafted by the districts and state officials working collaboratively.

At its meeting last month, the state board asked Commerce City district officials for more clarity around the plan and the role of the nonprofit group, Arizona-based Beyond Textbooks.

State board members encouraged the district to give the nonprofit more management authority, although Beyond Textbooks said that wasn’t how it typically works with districts.

The nonprofit will work with the district at three of Adams 14’s 11 schools the first year, providing teachers a guide to teaching the state standards, helping them track whether students learned the material and training them to help students who don’t get it the first time.

Beyond Textbooks will work with 9th and 10th grade teachers at Adams City High School, which is facing state sanctions of its own for chronic low performance. The school has had six principals in the last six years. Earlier this year, students walked out asking for better leadership and for a voice in the improvement process.

In one new addition to the plan, the district will hire a Beyond Textbooks district liaison and ask the company to provide management recommendations.

The three schools that Beyond Textbooks will work with will have autonomy from some district policies around school day schedules, annual calendars as well as curriculum and district assessments. The company will be asked to make recommendations for those areas and the district liaison, which the district hopes to hire in August, will be in charge of monitoring the work.

District officials report some progress at Adams City High School: After a lengthy process, the district hired a new principal and four of five assistant principals. The new principal, Gabriella Maldonado, has no experience as a principal but has been an assistant principal for several years at Abraham Lincoln High School and most recently at the West Leadership Academy school, both in Denver.

Neither school scores well on Denver’s school rating system. Lincoln’s rate of students who graduate and need remedial education in college is nearly as high as Adams City High School’s.

West Leadership Academy, one of the schools that replaced the now closed West High School, graduated its first class of students in 2016. The school can cite progress: it says 95 percent of students in the graduating class of 2017 were accepted to a post-secondary school.

Maldonado was one of the original applicants for the principal position, but had not been named a finalist among earlier pools of finalists that had been considered.

While the leadership positions are filled at Adams City High School — which was a concern from state officials considering the district’s improvement plan — the district is also experiencing staff turnover including two key district leaders who have resigned this month.

Teresa Hernandez, who worked on the improvement plan as the district’s director of assessment and technology, is leaving the district for a position with the Gilcrest-based Weld County School District RE-1.

Daniel Archuleta, ‎manager of strategy and accountability, is leaving the district at the end of the month to work with the Adams County Youth Initiative and his own consultant company. In a statement he made to the board, Archuleta said he was leaving the district because the district’s priorities have not lined up with his “expertise and skills.”

He left the board with three recommendations: that it create a flexible strategic plan that outlines the district’s goals and how to achieve them,  continue using a system Archuleta created for reviewing schools and tracking their improvement, and create an internal performance evaluation for schools and programs that considers more data than the state.

The system Archuleta referenced for expansion of reviewing schools was created in 2015, when Archuleta started, but has not been widely used recently, Archuleta said.

“A lot of it is just because of the change in administration,” Archuleta said. “There’s a lot to get done. A lot to be done. With the change in priorities, that system just wasn’t as high a priority. But all it requires is a renewed focus. The foundation is there. Everything is there for the district to continue to use and to advance that system.”

An internal performance evaluation of schools and programs, Archuleta said, could easily use existing data from attendance, student behavior, teacher performance or parent surveys to look at schools more broadly than the state does.

“We have all this data,” Archuleta said. “We’re just not using it currently in a holistic, triangulated way.”

Adams 14 superintendent Javier Abrego dismissed many of Achuleta’s concerns, saying that systems for evaluating schools already exist, and that the district’s practice is to map out plans year by year. He said the board will gather at a retreat in July for strategic planning.

awards season

For the first time in two decades, New York’s Teacher of the Year hails from New York City — and West Africa

PHOTO: New York State Education Department
Bronx International High School teacher Alhassan Susso, center, is New York State's 2019 Teacher of the Year.

An immigrant from West Africa who teaches social studies to immigrant students in the Bronx is New York State’s newest Teacher of the Year.

Alhassan Susso, who works at International Community High School in Mott Haven, received the award Tuesday, becoming the first New York City teacher to do so since 1998.

As the state’s Teacher of the Year, Susso will travel the state to work with local educators — and will represent New York in the national competition at a time when federal authorities are aggressively seeking to limit immigration.

A decorated teacher with significant vision impairment since childhood, Susso came to New York from Gambia at 16 and had a rocky experience at his upstate high school, which he chronicled in an autobiography he published in 2016. Assuming that he would struggle academically because he was an immigrant, even though English is the official language of Gambia, his teachers assigned him to a remedial reading class. There, he found a compassionate teacher who was attentive to the diverse needs of her students, who came from all over the world.

Now, Susso is playing that role at his school. International Community High School, part of the Internationals Network for new immigrants, has a special program for students who did not receive a formal education before coming to the United States.

“Alhassan Susso exemplifies the dedication and passion of our 79,000 New York City teachers,” city Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said in a statement. “Using the obstacles he’s overcome and lessons he’s learned in his own life, Alhassan has changed the trajectory of students’ lives and helped them pursue their dreams.”

New York City teachers make up nearly 40 percent of the state’s teaching force but have won the Teacher of the Year honor only six times since 1965, the last in 1998. This year’s winner had a strong chance of ending the two-decade shutout: Two of the three finalists teach in the Bronx. In addition to Susso, Frederick Douglass Academy III chemistry teacher William Green was up for the award.

regents roundup

Regents support a new way of evaluating charter schools and soften penalties for schools with high opt-out rates

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Chancellor Betty Rosa, center, at a recent Board of Regents meeting.

New York’s top education policymakers tentatively approved new rules Monday on two hot-button issues: the penalties for districts and schools where many students opt out of state tests — and how nearly 100 charter schools across the state will be evaluated.

Here’s what you need to know about the new policies that the state’s Board of Regents set in motion.

Potential penalties for high opt-out rates were softened

After criticism from activists and parents within the opt-out movement and pushback from the state teachers union, the Regents walked back some of the consequences schools and districts can face when students refuse to take state exams.

Among the most significant changes, which state officials first floated last week, is that districts with high opt-out rates will not be required to use a portion of their federal funding to increase their testing rates.

“I do not ever want to be the person who takes money away from children,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said.

The regulations are part of the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and stem from a federal mandate that 95 percent of students take the state’s annual reading and math exams.

The Regents tweaked other rules requiring schools to create improvement plans if they fall below the 95 percent threshold. Schools with average or higher test scores will not have to come up with those plans.

Still, some parents who support the opt-out movement and who attended Monday’s meeting said the changes don’t go far enough and that schools with lower test scores should also be exempt from coming up with plans to boost participation rates.

“There’s still so much left to be addressed,” said Kemala Karmen, a New York City public school parent who attended the meeting.

The new regulations will likely not have a major effect in New York City, where opt-out rates have remained relatively low. Although New York State has been the epicenter of the test-boycott movement — with roughly one in five students refusing to take the tests, according to the most recent data — less than 4 percent of the city’s students declined to take them.

The Regents unanimously approved the changes, although their vote is technically preliminary. The tweaks will still be subject to a 30-day public comment period and will likely be brought to a final vote in December.

New criteria for evaluating charter schools

The Regents also narrowly approved a new framework for evaluating the roughly 100 charter schools that the board oversees across the state, 63 of which are in New York City.

The new framework is meant to bring charter schools in line with how the state judges district-run schools. Under the new federal education law, the Regents have moved away from emphasizing test scores as the key indicator of a school’s success.

In keeping with that shift, the new charter framework will require schools to have policies covering chronic absenteeism, out-of-school suspension rates, and other measures of school culture to help decide whether they are successful enough to remain open.

And while the new framework does not spell out specific rates of chronic absenteeism a school must fall below, for example, it does explicitly add those policies to the mix of factors the Regents consider. (Officials said that test scores and graduation rates would still remain among the most important factors in evaluating charter schools.)

At Monday’s meeting, discussion of the charter framework prompted broad complaints about the charter sector from some Regents. The state’s framework for evaluating charters was last updated in 2015; the board has added several new members and a new chancellor since then.

The current board has repeatedly sent mixed messages about the sector, approving large batches of new charters while also rejecting others and raising questions about whether the schools serve a fair share of high-need students.

“We’re giving money away from our public schools to charters,” Regent Kathy Cashin said, emphasizing that she believes the state should more deeply probe when students leave charter schools and survey families to find out why.

Charters receive some freedom from rules governing most district-run schools, but in exchange the schools are expected to meet certain performance benchmarks or else face closure.

State officials said the new framework does not include new standards for how New York judges enrollment and retention. Under the current rules, schools must enroll a similar number of students with disabilities, English learners, and low-income students as other nearby district schools. If they don’t, they must show that they’re making progress toward that goal.

Ultimately, the new framework was approved eight to five in a preliminary vote and will be brought back to the full board for approval on Tuesday.