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.