Adams 14 parents and community organizers want the school board to replace the superintendent or face consequences

A first grade student reading in Spanish in a biliteracy classroom at Dupont Elementary in Adams 14. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A group of parents and community members have called on the school board for Adams 14 to remove the superintendent or face recalls, walkouts, and test boycotts.

“It’s really important for the board members to hear what the community is saying,” said Janet Estrada, an Adams 14 mom who attended a recent community meeting. “I haven’t been involved in the district in the past, but I think at this point it really is a community effort. What do we need to do to ensure that we have equity in the district?”

The Commerce City-based district has faced criticism this year, in part over changes the district has implemented as it tries to improve student performance under a tight deadline. The parent concerns raised at a community meeting Friday night touched on some of those changes, but also broader concerns about school climate.

All five board members were invited and attended the meeting, organized by a group called ACABE. About 50 parents attended the meeting, though not everyone stayed the entire time. Parents shared concerns about a lack of counselors at Adams City High School, about high teacher turnover, and about desires to have the district continue the biliteracy programs past third grade. Some also said the superintendent had created a “culture of fear” in the district.

Parents repeated a call for board members to “step up or step down,” and at the end of the meeting organizers told the board they would wait a week for the board to meet their demands — which also included a request to replace the principal at Monaco Elementary and the external management company the district is working with, said Joanna Rosa-Saenz, one of the organizers of the meeting. If the demands aren’t met, she said the community is prepared to file petitions for a recall, specifically for Connie Quintana, David Rolla, and Timio Archuleta.

The targeted board members did not respond to a request for comment. Rolla said only that the meeting represented “the same people and the same complaints” the board has heard before.

Bill Hyde, a board member who has been more supportive of the some of the district’s critics, said the superintendent has a hard job, but turning the schools around also requires community support.

“I don’t think it’s an easy task at all, but if you want it to be successful, you have to have buy-in,” Hyde said. “If they’re starting to turn against you, it becomes problematic.”

Superintendent Javier Abrego said in a statement Tuesday that he could not respond to the demands made at the meeting because he was not there.

Adams 14 is under a short timeline to show improvement or the state may “take further action.” Their 2018 ratings will be based in large part on results of state tests students will take this spring.

Districts and schools must have a 95 percent participation rate on state tests. It’s one of the factors considered in the state’s ratings of schools and districts so organizers said they may be able to hurt the district and push the state closer to taking over Adams 14 by opting out. But according to state officials, if students don’t take state tests because parents excuse them, those students would not count against the district’s participation rates.

The superintendent did include in his statement that he is encouraging all students to do their best on tests.

“We’re letting them know we have strong confidence in their ability to do well,” Abrego said. “I know teachers are conveying that message as well as administrators around the district.”

Among the criticized changes intended to raise academic achievement this year was a decision to cancel parent-teacher conference days, to shorten recess times, and to stop the district’s rollout of a biliteracy program at third grade.

Estrada, who is also a teacher in Denver, said she sought out her son’s school in Adams 14 for its biliteracy program and would like it to be there past third grade.

“English-only programs show fast growth now, but in the long run it’s detrimental to our students,” Estrada said. “The superintendent wants to see growth now, but then you’re running the students into a wall instead of preparing them to leverage their first language. We want our students to succeed in the long-run, not just on one assessment.”

The superintendent and district officials have said they support bilingual education, but also said it is only the district’s responsibility to teach students English.

The school board has faced criticism before. Community members attempted to recall Adams 14 board members in 2016. The county clerk’s office approved the petitions that were to be circulated, but signatures were never turned in, said Jami Gaultney, a manager in the county clerk’s elections office.

This year, to get a recall election on the ballot, Gaultney said the clerk’s office would need to receive and verify 1,634 signatures to recall board president, Archuleta; 1,634 signatures to recall Harvest Thomas; and 426 signatures to recall Rolla. Board members Quintana and Bill Hyde, who were elected in November, cannot be recalled until at least six months after their elections. The number of signatures is based on a percentage of votes cast in the last election.

Hyde said the board has not discussed taking any action as a result of Friday’s meeting. It’s the board that ultimately should be held accountable, he said.

“I think the finger should be pointed at the board,” Hyde said. “The superintendent is the symptom, not the cause.”

progress report

Slow progress, many challenges: How Colorado schools on improvement plans are doing

First grade students practice reading in Spanish in their biliteracy classroom at Dupont Elementary School in Adams 14. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A new report on Colorado schools operating under state-approved improvement plans shows mixed academic results and slow progress getting all the necessary pieces in place.

State education department officials on Wednesday briefed the State Board of Education on schools and districts halfway through their first year on the plans.

State staff praised Aurora Central High School, noting that leadership in Aurora’s innovation zone and the consultant hired to help are providing good feedback to teachers as they focus in on improvements to the school. The data also show Aurora Central is making “small increases” in academic progress and more significant progress in attendance numbers.

The report also highlights problems that have come up in other schools or districts working on their plans. One example: Administrators in the Aguilar school district realized their language arts curriculum was not aligned to state standards. The report, however, noted that the district “moved immediately to work to adopt new materials,” mid-year with help from its consultant.

Colorado Department of Education

Adams 14 and its high school, Adams City High School, along with three schools from Pueblo City Schools, will be required to return to the state board for an evaluation if they do not earn an “improvement” rating or higher this year. The preliminary ratings will be available in August and finalized later in the fall.

Other schools and districts that were put on state-approved improvement plans last year, including the Westminster district and Aurora Central High School, have until 2019 to show improvements.

State officials are monitoring the progress of the schools and districts through site visits, data reviews, and grants. The state board next will be updated when the preliminary ratings are available.

Officials report that schools and districts are seeing a slower rollout of their plans than expected. In many cases, officials say, schools or districts have not built out the infrastructure and routines required to make their plans work. In other cases, other community issues are distracting educators from the work of the improvement plans.

“There’s some common themes,” Alyssa Pearson, an associate education commissioner, said during the presentation to the board. “But how it plays out… it’s different everywhere.”

Both are true in Adams 14. Community members have criticized the district for changes to recess, parent-teacher conferences, and more. The district has also been slow to learn to use its new school monitoring systems, the report said.

“While progress monitoring data is being collected, it is not routinely analyzed and discussed by school staff,” the state’s report notes. “For example, elementary data meetings are scheduled after school and staff attend on an optional basis.”

The mid-year report also notes that the Adams 14 data does not show the district meeting targets in math or literacy, although the middle schools were noted to be showing the “most consistent growth.”

At Adams City High School, a “lack of a valid interim assessment makes it difficult for the school, district and state to determine overall academic progress in the school” is a problem, the report concludes. According to the report, the district and school “have agreed” to use a valid interim assessment next year.

Read the mid-year progress summaries here:

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that officials in the Aguilar school district discovered the problem with their language arts curriculum on their own, rather than state officials notifying them.

learning curve

Westminster school will reopen as a Marzano lab school ‘to take on problems we haven’t solved yet’

Teacher Amy Adams walks around her classroom checking on students working independently on math at Flynn Elementary School in Westminster. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

An extended day and school year, new extracurricular activities including martial arts and lacrosse, and new uniforms are all part of what students can expect at a new Westminster school this fall.

The district plans to close Flynn Elementary School in north Westminster and re-open it as a Marzano Academy, only the second school in the country designed by local education researcher Robert Marzano. This is part of the district’s improvement plan approved by the state last year as it tries to change years of low performance.

The board of education for Westminster Public Schools Tuesday night approved the closure of Flynn Elementary along with an innovation plan to reopen the school as a Marzano Academy.

Flynn Elementary, near the corner of 88th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard, currently serves about 275 students of which 75 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch, a measure of poverty. The school’s teachers will lose their jobs, but students will automatically be re-enrolled to stay in the building when the school reopens in the fall.

The Marzano Academy model will be used to help the school’s teachers — and others across the district — improve their use of the district’s competency-based learning model. It’s an approach that calls for students to be grouped and to advance based on what they have proved they learned, not based on their age or how long they’ve been in one grade level.

Westminster schools have been using the model for about seven years, but the majority of the district’s students have not performed well on annual state ratings. District officials have argued that the state’s way of testing students isn’t fairly tracking their progress, but state officials haven’t excused the district. Now after years of low ratings from the state, the district is on a timeline to show students making improvements, or it could face more action from the state.

District officials worked with Marzano this year to write the school’s innovation plan which details a five-level framework for high quality that starts with creating a safe culture.

The plan was not made public until after the board vote Tuesday night. In it, there are details about the school’s plan to personalize learning, including requiring that every student complete a project every year. There are also specifics about teacher coaching and evaluation.

The Marzano Academy will be run as a lab school where teachers will be coached on using the best strategies to teach students so they can then model those strategies for other educators in the district or across the country. Marzano said being a lab school also means studying problems.

“The lab part is to take on problems we haven’t solved yet such as how do you teach kids at a developmentally appropriate level but make sure on some external test they are performing well,” Marzano said. “There’s no easy answer to that. There will be some very interesting things to discover.”

The school will open as a pre-kindergarten through fifth grade school, just as it is now, and will expand to include sixth through eighth grades, or levels as they are called in the district, in fall of 2019. This fall, all students currently at Flynn will be automatically enrolled to stay at the school when it opens as the Marzano Academy, but in the future, the school will no longer be a neighborhood-boundary school.

Principal Brian Kosena said that even though the school will become an open enrollment school without boundaries, students will not be hand-picked, although there will be caps on the number of students accepted each year.

“The idea of these research-based practices are that they should make a difference no matter what school or student population you serve,” Kosena said. “It benefits us, and it benefits Marzano if the school represents the neighborhood that the school is in. We want to maintain a neighborhood feel.”

The school is seeking to open as an innovation school to allow it to be free from laws and rules created for the traditional education model, according to the plan. The status must next be approved by the State Board of Education.

“Currently, local policies limiting the length of the school year, the school day, and school choice are all barriers to realizing the full potential of the plan,” the document states. “State regulations and policies regarding teacher qualifications currently prohibit or limit the use of otherwise competent individuals in the teaching process.”

Colorado’s innovation law, which grants schools flexibility from state laws, and district or union rules, states that as part of the process to convert a school into an innovation school, staff must vote and a majority must approve the plan. But in this case, because the current school — Flynn Elementary — will close, and because the Marzano Academy will open in the fall as a new school, no staff vote will be required.

Denver Public Schools followed a similar process between 2010 and 2012. The local teachers union sued the district, but last year, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the district and stated that the process was allowed.

All teachers currently at Flynn Elementary will be out of a job at the end of this school year. Those who want to work at the school when it reopens as a Marzano Academy must apply for positions. District officials say the current Flynn teachers will be guaranteed an interview, but will not have any other preference in the hiring process.

Asked if teachers will be placed in other district schools if they aren’t hired at Marzano, Kirk Leday, the district’s chief of staff and human resources director said in a statement, “We are confident that all of our non-probationary teachers will secure a position in our district for next year.”

Read the full innovation plan: