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Many parents praise — and some criticize — Jeffco superintendent’s statement on Charlottesville

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

Dozens of Jeffco public school parents praised the superintendent’s recent statement on the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Others criticized it, with some voicing concern that teachers might express political opinions in the classroom.

In the Aug. 16 statement, Superintendent Jason Glass said resources would be provided to teachers interested in talking about Charlottesville and that the district will not tolerate threats or harassment. He also invited feedback from members of the community.

In response to a request from Chalkbeat, Jeffco officials provided 63 messages sent to the district after Glass’s statement was posted on the district’s website and sent home as a letter to parents. The district redacted the senders’ names and email addresses. (See all responses below.)

About two-thirds of respondents thanked or otherwise lauded Glass for his statement.

One wrote, “Thank you so much for proactively sending out such an appropriate message. I think it’s fair to say many families with children of all ages have been struggling with this conversation.”

A district staff member, one of three who responded, wrote, “I am so glad we have a superintendent who is willing to address this issue directly!”

But not everyone was complimentary.

One parent wrote, “I’ll continue to teach my kids values. Please place your focus on Math and English. Once you’ve done that well, you can become concerned with civics and ethics. Stop doing a poor job at many things and focus on doing a few things well.”

Another wrote, “This should be a very easy lesson to teach. On racist drove his car into another group of opposing racists. Thats what my kids were taught. No need for you to worry about it.”

But some criticized Glass, who took the district’s top job this summer, for not going further.

One respondent wrote, “Is there a problem with calling Trump out by name? How can this be treated as a learning opportunity without the willingness to approach it with complete honesty? And please don’t tell me that you want to keep politics out of it.”

A couple parents asked for details about what Charlottesville resources district officials planned to share with teachers or students.

Others voiced concern about racist displays or incidents their kids had witnessed at Jeffco schools.

One parent wrote, “There is more than one student over at Arvada West that displays the Confederate Flag out of the backs of their pickup trucks. They are referred to as the “Concrete Cowboys”. My student was upset by their racist behaviors. Why was this type of display tolerated on school grounds last year? Will it continue this year? I hope no.”

Another parent wrote, “My son mentioned many times last year of students using the n word and making anti Semitic statements. I think they need to be told this is not ok or allowed.”

District spokeswoman Diana Wilson said in an email message that the district’s achievement director or school principals have followed up on any specific incidents mentioned in the emails to Glass. In cases where complaints were vague, she said school leaders were informed and asked to be alert for any violations of district policy.

Wilson said district officials have heard the complaint about Confederate flags being displayed in vehicles at Arvada West High School previously. This time, officials discovered the vehicle displaying the flag belonged to a graduate who spends time near the school but not on school property. She said the school’s principal is tracking the situation.

breaking

Double whammy: Indiana schools could see two A-F grades in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students work on an assignment at Decatur Central High School. (File Photo)

Indiana schools could get two A-F grades in 2018 — one official grade based on state requirements, and a separate calculation based on the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The proposal comes as changes in graduation rate calculations and dual credit teacher training have complicated the state’s plan to comply with the new law, which went into effect this school year.

There was an opportunity to make adjustments when the plan was introduced in June, but Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana education officials endorsed it with few major changes. It’s unclear why separate state and federal grades weren’t considered earlier.

The proposal highlights the pressure Indiana and other states face to quickly adjust to ESSA and changing expectations from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education. A number of regulations were either thrown out when she came into office or could not be finished in time by the Obama Administration. Indiana, too, saw a dramatic election that brought in a new schools chief, governor and other key education policymakers.

The idea to create dual standards was revealed tonight when Ken Folks, chief of governmental affairs for the Indiana Department of Education, spoke with educators and community members at Noblesville East Middle School.

Adam Baker, state department of education spokesman, said officials need more time to figure out how to meet the federal rules for graduation rate and new regional rules regarding dual credit teaching. Both factor heavily into high school A-F grades, and the changes could result in lower grades for many schools.

“We are trying to support schools and trying to do what’s best to make this transition a lot smoother,” Baker said.

Read: Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

Here’s how it might look:

About a year from now, after students take the spring 2018 ISTEP test, schools will get a letter grade from the state that won’t encompass any of the changes proposed in Indiana’s ESSA plan.

The state grade would determine where a school falls on the timeline for state intervention — public schools, for example, can only have four consecutive years of F grades before takeover or other serious improvement plans are on the table.

But nothing about the ESSA rules will change or pause. Unlike in 2016, federal officials have no plans to give states a reprieve from accountability sanctions. Every school will still receive a percentage calculation based on federal guidelines using the same 100-point scale that state letter grades are based on, where 90 percent is an A, 80 is percent a B, and so on.

The federal calculation would count under rules for identifying struggling schools and those that govern Title I funding. For example, any high school where the four-year federal graduation rate is lower than 67 percent would be considered under “comprehensive support” from the state.

Conversations around the specifics of the the state/federal split are still happening, Baker said, and the dual system would only be for 2018.

Grades based on 2017 ISTEP tests that are set to come out next month, which schools have already seen, are not part of this change.

This idea was floated a month ago at a state board of education work session that was held to build consensus around the state’s ESSA plan. Board members asked state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and her staff why there couldn’t just be two grades next year.

At the time, Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, McCormick’s chief of staff, told board members that in the past, Indiana did operate two accountability systems, one for state and one for federal.

“The reason Indiana moved from two accountability systems to one was because it was confusing and caused chaos,” she said. “We would have schools that could look very different in the two systems.”

But as the ESSA plan’s due date rapidly approached and diploma and dual credit situations remained in limbo, Baker said the department changed its mind. Keeping the state’s grading system consistent, even if it meant a separate federal piece, ended up making more sense than a series of state grades with big fluctuations.

“The extra time wasn’t like, ‘OK, let’s give ourselves a fifth quarter,” Baker said. “It was more or less like, this is coming down the pipeline — what can we do? Our hope is that things will change.”

See all of Chalkbeat Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.

the race is on

Stand for Children chooses not to endorse in northeast Denver school board race

DENVER, CO - March 16: A Denver Public Schools emblem and sign on the Evie Garrett Dennis Campus that houses five separate schools with 1,600 students in Pre-K through 12th grade in Northeast Denver, Colorado on March 16, 2016. (Photo by Katie Wood/The Denver Post)

Stand for Children Colorado on Tuesday announced its candidate endorsements for this fall’s Denver school board races — and one notable non-endorsement.

The pro-education reform group chose not to endorse a candidate in the three-person race in District 4, which encompasses a diverse mix of northeast Denver neighborhoods. The group said both incumbent Rachele Espiritu and challenger Jennifer Bacon had surpassed the group’s “threshold for endorsement,” and that “Denver’s kids would be well served by either candidate.”  

Recent Manual High School graduate Tay Anderson is also vying for the seat.

With four of seven seats in play, this fall’s election could swing the balance of a school board that unanimously backs the school district’s education reform efforts.

Stand is a significant player in Denver school board elections. It donates money to candidates and helps marshal resources on the ground, including door-to-door canvassing.

Kate Dando Doran, a spokeswoman for Stand for Children Colorado, said in an email the group will not contribute financially to candidates in District 4. She said that families Stand works with in southwest Denver are supporting former teacher Angela Cobián’s campaign in that part of the city, and that Stand would focus its energy and resources there, too.  

Cobián has the support of incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who is not running again. Stand endorsed Cobián in her race against parent Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who has teachers union backing.

Stand for Children’s other endorsements do not come as a surprise: incumbent Barbara O’Brien in the citywide at-large race that includes former Denver teacher Julie Bañuelos and parent Robert Speth; and incumbent Mike Johnson for District 3 in central-east Denver, who is facing English language development teacher Carrie A. Olson.

To be considered for Stand’s endorsement, candidates agree to answer a candidate questionnaire and to be interviewed by a committee of parents. Doran said O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson, Bacon and Espiritu went through the group’s process.

That Stand could not settle on an endorsement in District 4 adds to the drama in the three-person race. Opponents of the district’s reforms haven’t united on a pick, either. The Denver teachers union endorsed Bacon, a community organizer and former teacher. The advocacy group Our Denver, Our Schools and a progressive caucus of the teachers union are backing Anderson.