Who Is In Charge

Mascot bill likely to raise hackles

A bill introduced Wednesday would require public and charter high schools to get state approval to use Native American-themed nicknames.

Basically, Senate Bill 10-107 would mandate that any public or charter high school “that uses an American Indian mascot to either cease using the American Indian mascot or obtain approval for the continued use of the American Indian mascot or another American Indian mascot from the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.”

The deadline for doing that would be July 31, 2013, and any school that ignored the law after that date would be fined $1,000 a month.

Lamar High School mascot logo
Lamar High School Savages logo

No count was immediately available on how many schools have such mascots. Colorado does have several teams named the Indians. La Veta High School’s teams are named the Redskins, and Lamar High School uses Savages.

Brace yourself for lively committee and floor debates about cultural sensitivity, political correctness, legislative meddling, local control and school traditions.

The measure is sponsored by Sen. Suzanne Williams and Rep. Nancy Todd, both Aurora Democrats, along with nine Democratic cosponsors in both houses.

Wednesday was a lively day for introduction of education-related bills. Here’s a rundown:

• Senate Bill 10-108: This expected proposal by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, would allow non-public colleges and universities to participate in the state system of common core courses, which are transferable among institutions. Higher education interests are expected to oppose this strongly.

• Senate Bill 10-101: The measure would allow Colorado Mountain College to offer bachelor’s degrees “in areas that meet the needs of the communities within its service area.” CMC receives some state support and is a local district college with several campuses in the central mountains. It currently offers two-year degrees. The bill has broad bipartisan sponsorship, led by Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

• Senate Bill 10-091: This is the Republican version of a proposal to require school districts to post their financial information online. Sponsors are Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, and Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument. A Democratic version, House Bill 10-1036, is already in the hopper. It’s backed by school districts, whose lobbying helped kill a GOP version of the idea in 2009.

• Senate Bill 10-089: Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, is proposing that the State Board of Education be required to issue a “religious bill of rights” protecting the religious expression of students, parents and school employees. School districts would be required to follow the document, would have to allow religious opt-outs of classes and course materials and school board members could be individually sued if they didn’t follow the law. The conservative Schultheis has an unsuccessful track record with these kinds of bills in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

• Senate Bill 10-088: The measure would allow community college students to choose majors when pursuing their associate degrees. It’s seen as a way to help ease course transferability between community and four-year colleges. Sponsors are Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, and Massey. The community college system is behind this bill.

• House Bill 10-1157: This measure would allow counties, with voter approval, to levy sales or property taxes to help support a state four-year or community college located within the county. Sponsored by Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, the bill is the 2010 version of an idea floated late in the 2009 session but which died when a larger bill was defeated.

• House Bill 10-1153: Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Lakewood, is proposing  changing the composition of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association board so that a majority are not PERA members (beneficiaries). For instance, there would be two members from the School Division instead of the current four. Such a big change proposed by a solo member of the minority party has little chance. The bipartisan PERA overhaul, Senate Bill 10-001, wouldn’t make any changes in the board.

A couple of new education bills popped up Tuesday. House Bill 10-1136 by Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, would require schools to hold two “safety protocol” drills a year, in addition to plain old fire drills. (King earlier introduced House Bill 10-1054, which would impose safety training requirements on colleges.) A King safety proposal failed last year in the face of complaints about cost.

Scanlan (and a host of other lawmakers) introduced House Bill 10-1131, which would set up grants in the Department of Natural Resources for programs designed to get kids outdoors. This one reportedly is a project of Lt. Gov. O’Brien. Funding? You guessed it – “gifts, grants and donations.”

The lieutenant governor and sponsors will tout the bill at an 11:15 a.m. news conference Thursday on the Capitol’s west steps, or inside the west doors if the weather’s bad.

Get the easy ones out of the way first

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday quickly gave 8-0 approval to Senate Bill 10-018, which would set up a fund to buy banners and trophies for schools that are recognized by the state’s three school awards programs.

“I think history is being made today by the sponsors of this bill. I don’t believe I’ve ever sponsored a bill with Rep. Merrifield,” said King, the Senate prime sponsor. The House sponsor is Rep. Mike Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat. King is a staunch supporter of charter schools; former teacher Merrifield is a vigorous defender of traditional public education.

Since the state has no spare cash these days, the program would be funded by the usual “gifts, grants and donations.” King said, “Rep Merrifield and I will help out and go out annually and raise the money.” Estimated annual cost of the awards is $4,200.

Tax study resolution moves to House

A resolution that would commission the University of Denver to conduct a comprehensive study of state and local tax structures won final Senate approval on a 34-1 vote.

The cost, estimated at about $750,000, would be covered by private donations.

“We have not looked at the tax structure of this state since 1958,” noted sponsor Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. That’s when DU and CU-Boulder did a joint study. The legislature was still considering some of those recommendations into the 1980s.

“We live in a completely different world now,” noted Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.

The only no vote on Senate Joint Resolution 10-002 was cast by Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

Wednesday roundup
– Banner bill OK’d
– Tax study advances

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: