Future of Schools

Dougco delays decision on resolution

CASTLE ROCK – Douglas County school board members on Tuesday night postponed consideration of a resolution that states former employees should not seek a seat on the board for at least a year after leaving the district.

Susan Meek at a school board canddiate forum in September.
Susan Meek at a candidate forum in September.

The motion is generating criticism from those who see it as a direct attack on Susan Meek, the former district communications director who ran for school board in last month’s election, and on the rights of employees.

Brenda Smith, the president of the Douglas County teachers’ union who has largely stayed out of the district’s heated voucher battles, issued a news release condemning the proposed resolution.

“Not only is this abuse of power, it shows how misguided the work of the board has become,” Smith said. “Our district has been nationally recognized for collaboration on behalf of children, but the current board seems more focused on electioneering than the issues that will help all children in the Douglas County Schools at this critical time.

“Our members have focused on improving the education of our students for years, but this board is more concerned with making sure their position is secure.”

Meek, whose campaign criticized the board’s focus on vouchers during a budget crisis and who questioned the partisanship of Republican-backed board candidates, issued a letter to the community Tuesday that said board members “are looking to limit your personal liberty and quash the voice of the very people they oversee.”

Meek attended Tuesday night’s meeting but did not address the board after members announced they were delaying consideration of the resolution until January, after board president John Carson returns from vacation.

A board resolution is not legally enforceable and is instead considered a public statement, said Robert Ross, the district’s attorney. School boards across Colorado pass various resolutions each year to express their support for – or disapproval of – proposed laws or to weigh in on other topics.

Dougco’s school board, for example, is one of the few in the state to pass resolutions opposing the plaintiffs’ arguments in the Lobato school funding lawsuit.

Dan Gerken, the board’s vice president, said he does not remember when board members first discussed the proposed resolution, now dubbed the “anti-Susan Meek resolution” by some.

But he said it is part of an overhaul of board ethics and not an attack on any individual.

“We’re certainly not accusing Susan Meek of having done anything wrong,” Gerken said. Instead, he said, “I don’t think we want to have a person employed by the district who has one foot in the district and one foot in campaign mode.”

A proposed policy that would prevent board members from working for the district for one year after they leave the board also was delayed Tuesday night. The proposed policy, which would be enforceable if adopted, also would apply to a board member’s immediate family.

Meek was one of three candidates who sought to represent District A on the board. She eschewed political backing during her campaign and filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office questioning the Republican Party’s endorsement of three candidates, including one of her opponents, Craig Richardson, in the non-partisan race. Richardson won the seat.

When Meek left the district in March, months before she announced her candidacy, she was publicly praised by school board members at her last board meeting as a staff member. But words were considerably sharper during the campaign when Meek discussed her stance against vouchers.

“Former employees who choose to continue to serve the Douglas County schools, students and the community have every right to do so,” Meek said Tuesday in her letter to the community. “Employees and former employees have every right to have a voice and to be heard.”

Partial text of proposed board resolution on former district employees

  • WHEREAS, the Board of Education acknowledges that the appearance of a “revolving door” between district employment and service on the Board of Directors undermines the public’s trust and confidence …
  • WHEREAS, the Board of Education, in wanting to provide a “safe harbor” for former employee participation on the Board expresses itself now, outside of an election season, and nearly two years before the next election, by providing a normative guideline …
  • THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest during periods of employment by employees later seeking to serve on the Board, and in order to provide the greatest level of trust, confidence and integrity in the decisions of the Board of Directors, the Board expresses its support for the proposition that, as a norm of ethical conduct, no employee should file with the Colorado Secretary of State a candidate affidavit indicating an intention to run for the Office of Director of the Board of Education for at least one year immediately after termination of the employee’s service to the district.
  • BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that if a district employee fails to comply with this normative expectation, the Board encourages opponents of any such former employee in any race for office of Director of the Board of Education to cite this resolution in future campaigns …

Text of proposed board policy on former board members

  • “The District shall not consider an application for employment from any former director of the Board of Education or spouse or immediate family member living with such former director, within a period of one year immediately after termination of the director’s service on the board.
  • “In addition, no former director of the Board of Education or spouse or immediate family member living with such former director shall receive compensation or fees for services directly from the district, or indirectly from a person or entity doing business with the district, within a period of one year immediately after termination of the of the director’s service on the board.”

Full text of proposed resolution and full text of proposed policy

hurdle cleared

Indiana’s federally required education plan wins approval

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Indiana Department of Education
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick greets elementary school students in Decatur Township.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signed off on Indiana’s federally required education plan, ushering in another era of changes — although not exactly major ones — to the state’s public school system.

The U.S Department of Education announced the plan’s approval on Friday. Like other states, Indiana went through an extensive process to craft a blueprint to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015.

“Today is a great day for Indiana,” state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said in a statement. “Our ESSA plan reflects the input and perspective of many stakeholders in communities across our state. From the beginning, we set out to build a plan that responded to the needs of Hoosier students. From our clear accountability system to our innovative, locally-driven approach to school improvement, our ESSA plan was designed to support student success.”

The federal government highlighted two aspects of Indiana’s plan. One is a pledge to close achievement gaps separating certain groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, from their peers by 50 percent by 2023.

Another is a staple of other states’ plans, as well: adding new ways for measuring how ready students are for attending college or starting their careers. Indiana education officials and lawmakers have made this a priority over the past several years, culminating in a new set of graduation requirements the Indiana State Board of Education approved late last year.

Under Indiana’s plan, high schoolers’ readiness will be measured not just by tests but also by performance in advanced courses and earning dual credits or industry certifications. Elementary school students will be measured in part by student attendance and growth in student attendance over time. Test scores and test score improvement still play a major role in how all schools are rated using state A-F letter grades.

In all, 35 states’ ESSA plans have won federal approval.

Advocates hope the law will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked — including English-learners and students with disabilities.

Indiana officials struggled to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, such as graduation requirements and diplomas.

Under the state’s ESSA plan, A-F grades would include these measures (see weights here):

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Test score improvement.
  • Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
  • At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.

The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and, in the case of chronic absenteeism, attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.

Because the Indiana State Board of Education passed its own draft A-F rules earlier this month — rules that deviate from the state ESSA plan — it’s possible Hoosier schools could get two sets of letter grades going forward, muddying the initial intent of the simple A-F grade concept parents and community members are familiar with.

The state board’s A-F changes include other measures, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of  the state’s federal plan. The state board plan also gets rid of the test score improvement measure for high-schoolers.

While that A-F proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.

The state can still make changes to its ESSA plan, and the state board’s A-F draft is also expected to see revisions after public comment. But the fact that they conflict now could create difficulties moving forward, and it has led to tension during state board meetings. Already, the state expected schools would see two years of A-F grades in 2018. If both plans move forward as is, that could continue beyond next year.

Read: Will Indiana go through with a ‘confusing’ plan that could mean every school winds up with two A-F grades?

Find more of our coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act here.

turnaround

Aurora recommends interventions in one elementary school, while another gets more time

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Aurora school district officials on Tuesday will recommend turning over management of some operations at one of their elementary schools to an outside management company.

The school, Lyn Knoll Elementary, is located in northwest Aurora near 2nd Avenue and Peoria Street and serves a high number of students from low-income families, with 4 percent of students identified as homeless. The school was one of three Aurora schools that earned the lowest rating from the state in 2017.

That rating automatically flags the school under a district process for school interventions. The process directs district officials to consider a number of possible improvement plans, including closure or turning the school over to a charter school.

Lyn Knoll has had good rankings in recent years before slipping dramatically in the past year, a change that put it on the turnaround list. The district did not recommend intervening at Paris Elementary, even though that school has been in priority improvement for years and will face state sanctions if it has one more year without improvement.

Annual ratings for Lyn Knoll Elementary

  • 2010: Improvement
  • 2011: Improvement
  • 2012: Performance
  • 2013: Improvement
  • 2014: Priority Improvement
  • 2016: Performance
  • 2017: Turnaround
Colorado Department of Education

The board will discuss the recommendation on Tuesday and vote on the school’s fate next month. In November, four union-backed board members who have been critical of charter schools won a majority role on the district’s school board. This will be their first major decision since taking a seat on the board.

In September, Superintendent Rico Munn had told the school board that among January’s school improvement recommendations, the one for Paris would be “the most high-profile.” A month later the district put out a request for information, seeking ideas to improve Aurora schools.

But in a board presentation released Friday, district officials didn’t give much attention to Paris. Instead, they will let Paris continue its rollout of an innovation plan approved two years ago. Officials have said they are hopeful the school will show improvements.

The recommendation for Lyn Knoll represents more drastic change, and it’s the only one that would require a board vote.

The district recommendation calls for replacing the current principal, drafting a contract for an outside company to help staff with training and instruction, and creating a plan to help recruit more students to the school.

Documents show district officials considered closing Lyn Knoll because it already has low and decreasing enrollment with just 238 current students. Those same documents note that while officials are concerned about the school’s trends, it has not had a long history of low ratings to warrant a closure.

In considering a charter school conversion, documents state that there is already a saturation of charter schools in that part of the city, and the community is interested in “the existence of a neighborhood school.” Two charter networks, however, did indicate interest in managing the school, the documents state.
The district recommendation would also include stripping the school’s current status as a pilot school.

Lyn Knoll and other schools labeled pilot schools in Aurora get some internal district autonomy under a program created more than 10 years ago by district and union officials.

Because Lyn Knoll is a pilot school, a committee that oversees that program also reviewed the school and made its own recommendation, which is different from the district’s.

In their report, committee members explained that while they gave the school low marks, they want the school to maintain pilot status for another year as long as it follows guidance on how to improve.

Among the observations in the committee’s report: The school doesn’t have an intervention program in place for students who need extra help in math, families are not engaged, and there has not been enough training for teachers on the new state standards.

The report also highlights the school’s daily physical education for students and noted that the school’s strength was in the school’s governance model that allowed teachers to feel involved in decision making.

Read the full committee report below.