Monday Churn: Calling for safer schools

Updated – An advocacy group and several education associations are calling on elected leaders to create a statewide Safe Schools Task Force to reduce bullying in Colorado schools.

One Colorado, which works on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals and their families, issued the call today in an open letter to newly elected Gov. John Hickenlooper, members of the 2011-12 General Assembly and others.

“In recent months, young people all across the country have taken their own lives after suffering from anti-LGBT bullying,” said Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado. “We must head off the crisis in Colorado by addressing this problem immediately.”

In addition to Clark, representatives of the Colorado Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, Colorado Association of School Executives and Colorado Association of School Boards signed the letter.

You can read the letter here and the press release here. Learn more about One Colorado at their website.

Also today, the Colorado Department of Education announced the state is one of eight selected by the U.S. Department of Education to participate in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study or TIMSS.

“It’s important that we know how Colorado students are performing in math and science in comparison with the world’s strongest students,” said Dwight Jones, the state’s education commissioner, in a news release.

In Colorado, some 50 schools in 28 districts will administer the test to a sample of 8th-grade students beginning April 4. Read the release here.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning

The unpaid members of the State Board of Education have a pretty busy workday ahead of them today. They’ll first meet from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the boardroom at the Department of Education, 201 E. Colfax Ave., to review bids submitted by search firms vying to help the board find a successor to Commissioner Dwight Jones.

Jones’ last day at work is Dec. 13, and the board has named Robert Hammond as interim commissioner. The board hopes to have a search firm selected and ready to go by its January meeting, but a new commissioner isn’t expected to be selected until spring.

After that session, board members will walk down the hill to the Department of Higher Education at 1560 Broadway, where they have a 2-4 p.m. joint meeting with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The two panels are supposed to adopt a framework and “a joint vision” for a new state testing system. Action by the two boards, required by the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, is one step in a long process, as a new state testing system isn’t expected to be in place until 2014. (Get more information here.)

Public Employees’ Retirement Association Executive Director Meredith Williams is one of five finalists to head the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, according to Pensions & Investments, an industry news service. The Texas system, at nearly $95 billion, is about three times larger than PERA.

What’s on tap:

The Adams 12-Five Star school board convenes a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. this evening to vote on charter applications from the Global Village Academy and the Goals Charter Academy. The board returns to work at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday for a regular board meeting. Both sessions will be held in the Aspen Room of the Training Center at the Educational Support Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton, and you can see both agendas here.

The annual higher ed marathon kicks off at 9 a.m. Tuesday when the Joint Budget Committee holds its budget hearing for the Department of Higher Education. The format includes presentations by leaders from each of the state’s systems and institutions, so a full day is scheduled. Hearing room A in the Legislative Services Building, 200 E. 14th Avenue, is expected to be packed with college presidents, trustees, DHE officials and CCHE members and the ever-present higher ed lobbyist corps.

No decisions are made at such affairs, but the session will give presidents a chance to pitch their colleges, and committee members have the opportunity to ask about touchy issues such tuition rates and how colleges might tolerate various levels of state budget cuts.

The annual convention of the Colorado Association of School Boards opens Thursday at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, running through Sunday (get more information here).

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education meets at 1 p.m. Thursday with a heavy agenda, including approval of the higher education master plan and votes on tuition flexibility proposals from the CU System, the Community College System, the University of Northern Colorado and Adams, Mesa and Western State colleges. The panel previously approved plans from the CSU System, Metro State and Fort Lewis college (see story).

The meeting will be held on CU-Boulder’s East Campus at 4001 Discovery Drive (see agenda).

The Joint Budget Committee will hear a staff briefing Friday on the Department of Education’s proposed 2010-11 budget from 9 a.m. to noon in the third-floor committee room at the Legislative Services Building, 200 E. 14th Ave. Outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed a very modest increase in K-12 spending, but not enough to cover inflation and enrollment growth (see background story).

The State Council on Educator Effectiveness meets from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday in the Hershner Room at the Wells Fargo Center, 1700 Lincoln St. The meeting will be preceded by a 9 a.m. presentation on educator effectiveness sponsored by the Colorado Legacy Foundation. Theodore Hershberg of the University of Pennsylvania and Claire Robertson-Kraft of Operation Public Education who will discuss the framework for school reform contained in the 2009 book “A Grand Bargain for Education Reform: New Rewards and Supports for New Accountability.”

Good reads from elsewhere:

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”