long live p.e.

DPS approves new graduation requirements that continue to mandate P.E. and art

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
A McGlone Elementary student testifies in favor of expanding the school.

The class of 2021 will be the first to abide by new high school graduation requirements approved Thursday night by the Denver school board that mandate students demonstrate proficiency in English and math in addition to earning a certain number of credits.

The board also passed several other measures at Thursday’s well-attended meeting, including the expansion of a rising turnaround school in far northeast Denver and the termination of more than 40 teachers who fell short of performance expectations.

Denver Public Schools will continue to require high school students take a year of physical education and a year of arts-based or career and technical education classes after public outcry caused the district to scrap a recommendation to eliminate those requirements.

Board members said they never meant to diminish physical education. In proposing to make electives optional, they said their intent was to allow students to choose what interests them.

“Even though this got a little messy, sometimes when things get messy, that’s when we can do a great job,” said board president Anne Rowe. “And I think we can.”

The new graduation criteria will require students take four years each of English and math, three years each of science and social studies, one year each of physical education and art or career and technical education, and eight electives. That’s similar to the current criteria.

What’s new is that students will also have to demonstrate “college and career readiness” in English and math to graduate. There are 11 different ways they can do that, from earning a C or better in a concurrent enrollment college-level class to completing a project.

Students will also be required to make Individual Career and Academic Plans, or ICAPs. The plans are partly meant to help them map out the courses they will take.

DPS is one of many districts revising its graduation requirements to match Colorado’s first uniform set of expectations for earning a diploma. The shift toward homogeneity grew out of a 2008 education reform law called the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, or CAP4K, although districts still have considerable leeway in determining the specifics of their requirements.

School expansion

McGlone Elementary in far northeast Denver is set to begin serving sixth graders next year as part of a three-year expansion unanimously approved by the board.

The school, which currently houses preschool through fifth grade, will eventually add seventh and eighth grade, too. That will fulfill a district need for up to 270 more middle school seats in that region of the city, where a growing population has led to crowded schools.

Dozens of McGlone teachers, students, their parents and a few of their baby siblings packed the board meeting, filling the chairs and standing around the edges of the gymnasium. They wore red T-shirts emblazoned with the school’s new name — McGlone Academy — and its de facto mantra: “#HappyKidsLearnMore with the #McGloneFamily.”

Several students testified in favor of the expansion. A first-grade girl wearing bows in her pigtails, bobby socks and shiny black shoes stood on a chair so she could reach the microphone, reading a statement full of words like “narrative” and “growth” without a hiccup.

“We are Montbello,” she said. “We are the McGlone family.”

Added fifth-grader Janneyla Martinez, “McGlone should have a middle school because the longer we’re here, the stronger we will become.”

Board members were enthusiastic about the plan.

“You are why I’m here,” said new member Rachele Espiritu, who represents northeast Denver. “I’m proud to be wearing a red shirt with you.”

While the school will squeeze the 60 additional sixth graders into its current building next year, it will need additional space to serve seventh and eighth graders. The board committed to providing that space, which the district estimated could cost $6.5 million to build.

Teacher terminations

The board also voted unanimously to terminate the contracts of 141 probationary teachers who work at district-run schools. Probationary teachers have fewer than three years of being rated effective — essentially, they don’t have tenure.

Chief Human Resources Officer Debbie Hearty told the board about two-thirds of the 141 teachers were being terminated because of factors such as declining student enrollment at their schools, which can result in the schools needing fewer teachers next year.

Even though those teachers’ contracts must be formally non-renewed, Hearty said the district is “actively supporting them to find new positions in DPS.” She noted she expects many will.

However, she said 43 of the teachers were terminated because they did not meet performance expectations, despite what she described as “significant support.”

Two teachers whose contracts were not renewed addressed the board, expressing concern with the way they were rated and questioning the terminations in light of DPS’s teacher turnover rate, which was 22 percent this school year, according to state statistics. When they finished speaking, several union members in the audience clapped loudly.

The board approved the terminations without comment.

Hearty noted that the number of non-renewals was lower than last year and the year before, when there were 156 and 161, respectively.

She also said the district “confirmed that there was not disproportionality with respect to the representation of racial and ethnic subgroups in the non-renewal process,” though she did not specify how many non-renewed teachers are members of those groups.

Districtwide, 74 percent of teachers this year are white. Seventeen percent are Latino, 4 percent are black, 3 percent are categorized as “multiple ethnicity” and 2 percent are Asian.

Other approvals

— The board unanimously approved a $929 million district budget for the 2016-17 school year that includes the elimination of 157 central office jobs.

— The board unanimously approved co-locating the Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design high school at Morey Middle School starting in fall 2017.

— The board voted unanimously to increase the price of school lunches by 10 cents next year. The increase does not apply to students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.

parent voice

It’s not enough just to stay open, say Memphis parents of their struggling elementary school

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Sonya Smith, a longtime community organizer in Memphis Frayser, speaks to parents at Hawkins Mill Elementary School on Thursday during a community meeting about state intervention plans.

For six years, Hawkins Mill Elementary School has been on the state’s radar because of students’ low scores on standardized tests — an issue cited again last month when Tennessee officials urged local leaders to close the Memphis school.

Shelby County Schools is passing on that recommendation, but agrees with the state on one thing: Hawkins Mill faces big challenges, including declining enrollment and a mostly impoverished student population.

Now the question is what to do about it. Among the issues is whether Principal Antonio Harvey should stay on for a sixth year, and if the district’s first $300,000 investment in Hawkins Mill went toward the right interventions this school year.

During a Thursday evening meeting, about 50 parents and community members got their first opportunity to ask questions about competing visions for their Frayser school.

What parents like

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Principal Antonio Harvey, front, and parents listen to a Shelby County Schools presentation on the state’s new accountability model.

Parents applauded the district’s stance to keep Hawkins Mill open, in defiance of the state’s recommendation, in order to give their school a fair chance to improve.

Many also spoke in favor of Harvey, describing him as a stabilizing and nurturing force who has ushered in new opportunities in the arts, sports, and other extracurricular activities. The school’s suspension rate also has declined in recent years, except for a slight uptick last year.

“I saw how he took unruly, disrespectful kids and they shake his hand now. He sits down and talks to them. … We’re constantly adding programs,” said PTA member Sharanda Person. “Doing things that way makes me think he cares about the kids.”

Several spoke favorably of their children’s school experience.

“Since she’s been here, I’ve seen exponential growth,” said Tonyas Mays, who transferred her daughter from a state-run school last August. “My child’s potential has been recognized here and she’s testing out of (special education) now.”

What parents didn’t like

A presentation on the low percentages of students on grade level in reading and math drew moans from parents as the data was explained by Antonio Burt, the district’s assistant superintendent for its lowest performing schools.

Notes: 2013-14 science and 2014-15 social studies test scores were not listed in the state report card. Elementary students did not take TNReady in 2015-16. The 2016-17 social studies test did not count toward school accountability measures.

But some questioned the validity of the state’s new test called TNReady, which has been marred by technical glitches in administration and scoring during its first two years.

“The state of Tennessee has made excuses as to why the test wasn’t ready. They get a pass while our children don’t,” said Sonya Smith, a community organizer. “Every time our children meet the test, they tell us that test was no good.”

Another disappointment is declining enrollment. Hawkins Mill had 357 students when Harvey started in the fall of 2013. Last month, enrollment was at 314.

What parents aren’t sure of

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Antonio Burt, assistant superintendent for low-performing schools, speaks to parents.

Burt said some assessments and attendance data show “some positive trends” this school year.

His presentation was void of nitty-gritty detail on progress as outlined under the school improvement plan that went to effect this school year. However, information provided to Chalkbeat on Friday showed that student growth this school year was higher than average in reading and math — a measure key to showing whether students can catch up. Also, the school’s suspension rate so far this school year is about 4 percent of students, compared to almost 13 percent at this time last year.

Several parents asked whether Harvey would remain as principal, worrying that a new leader could set the school back because of the adjustment in getting to know the students and faculty.

Burt responded that leadership is being reviewed, but that no decisions have been made. “To be completely transparent, we have to reassess everything,” he said.

Because Hawkins Mill is a priority school on track for state intervention, the state Department of Education must approve any plan outside of its recommendation to close.

The school is slated to continue under Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them. District leaders are still discussing the amount of new funding and where to invest it.

Burt thinks the district’s plan has a “50/50 chance” of state approval since it’s new.