early results

Most Memphis students who went to district’s first summer academy show early growth

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Principal Debra Martin, asks Alton Elementary students at the start of the summer who will be attending Superintendent Dorsey Hopson's new summer learning academy.

Students in every grade level of Shelby County Schools’ first summer academy grew in math and reading skills over the summer months, district leaders announced Tuesday.

The six-week voluntary program, open to any district student who was not required to go to summer school, hosted 6,200 elementary students at 26 schools across Memphis.

Assistant Superintendent Joris Ray called the program a complete success. Students were tested in literacy and math comprehension at the start and end of the summer, and a majority showed double-digit gains in every grade level after six weeks, Ray said.

“We kept the rigor high but wanted our kids to have fun while learning,” Ray said. “This was about creating an environment where both teachers and students wanted to be.”

Students, on average, jumped 19 Lexile points, a framework for measuring reading skills. They also saw gains in math skills, with fifth-graders gaining the most, 4.8 months of grade-level equivalency.

Teachers who led the summer learning academies said though attendance was not consistent, the benefit of teaching small groups without the pressure of impending state tests made for a positive environment they thought would translate to student growth.

From the outset of the summer learning academy, Shelby County Schools leaders said if students showed significant growth, the results would foster conversation about switching the district’s calendar to year-round schooling. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the switch would address a critical problem of students forgetting lessons during the long summer break, which forces teachers to spend weeks on reviewing the previous year’s lessons in the early weeks of the school year.

“Clearly there’s a huge need here. The research shows the summer learning loss is real,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said during a radio broadcast in May.

Ray said conversations about year-round schooling are happening, but they are preliminary. He added that the district hasn’t even decided yet if they will continue the summer learning program next summer, though the initial results make it a likely choice.

“We’re pretty confident by the results we have,” Ray said. “They are a compelling argument to continue this initiative for next year.”

While all students can fall behind academically during the summer break from school, students from low-income families are affected disproportionately. In Memphis, where economically disadvantaged students comprise 60 percent of the district and third-grade literacy has lagged, the school district sees summer instruction as a combative force.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, low-income students lose two to three months in reading achievement over the summer and two months of grade-level equivalency in math skills.

Ray said the district will continue to monitor the academy students throughout the school year to see how they perform against their peers.

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Changing fortune

Late votes deliver a narrow win for Jeffco school bond measure

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Voters in Jefferson County narrowly approved a $567 million bond request that will allow the school district to improve its buildings.

Jeffco Measure 5B, the bond request, initially appeared to have failed, even as voters supported Measure 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, a type of local property tax increase, by a comfortable margin. But as late votes continued to be counted between Election Day and today, the gap narrowed — and then the tally flipped.

With all ballots counted — including overseas and military ballots and ballots from voters who had to resolve signature problems — the bond measure had 50.3 percent of the vote and a comfortable 1,500 vote margin.

In 2016, Jeffco voters turned down both a mill levy override and a bond request. Current Superintendent Jason Glass, who was hired after the ballot failure, made efforts in the last year to engage community members who don’t have children in the district on the importance of school funding. This year’s bond request was even larger than the $535 million ask that voters rejected two years ago.

“We are incredibly thankful to our voters and the entire Jeffco community for supporting our schools,” Glass said in a statement. “The 5A and 5B funding will dramatically impact the learning environment for all of our students. Starting this year, we will be able to better serve our students, who in turn will better serve our communities and the world.”

The money will be used to add new classrooms and equip them, improve security at school buildings, and add career and technical education facilities.