The first DSST charter school that will open in Aurora will be located on the Fitzsimons Innovation Campus, district officials announced Thursday.
Thursday’s site announcement and a presentation prepared for the school board do not include any new details about how the new building will be paid for. When Aurora Public Schools invited DSST to Aurora, Superintendent Rico Munn offered to use money from the recently approved bond to pay for half of the building. DSST officials said they would help fundraise, but they did not commit to paying for the other half.
“Fundraising efforts are underway in partnership with DSST,” said Corey Christiansen, district spokesman.
Originally, the district was pursuing a site adjacent to Fletcher Community School. The purchase of the site, however, has been tied up in legal proceedings. In a memo the superintendent prepared to present to the board on Tuesday, Munn says the district will stop the proceedings to acquire the land next to Fletcher unless the board objects.
The new location would cost less and would present opportunities for the charter school.
“Thanks to its proximity to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, students will also have increased access to internships, externships, and job-shadowing opportunities,” the district’s announcement states.
The site change also places the charter school in the northwest area of Aurora that has the highest concentrations of poverty.
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.”