cause and effect

Why did suspensions go up in New York City last year? Carranza draws a link to fatal school stabbing

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said Tuesday that a fatal stabbing inside a New York City school could explain an uptick in suspensions last school year — the first increase since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office.

“Last year we had an incident in one of our schools where a student was killed, and I think that that became really, really important for the system to understand that you report everything,” Carranza said in a brief interview after kicking off an implicit bias training session in Queens.

“Part of it is that people are actually now reporting everything, which I think is a good thing. That’s going to lead to a recalibration of what the baseline is,” he added.

In September 2017, Abel Cedeno, a student at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation stabbed two of his classmates, according to police, leaving one student dead. In the months surrounding the killing, student suspensions jumped roughly 21 percent compared with the same period during the previous school year. Overall, suspensions jumped 4 percent last school year, according to city data released last week.

Carranza’s comments were his first remarks on the uptick in suspensions since the new statistics were released, and suggest that he believes educators issued more suspensions to address student misbehavior after the stabbing. (The incident was the first time a student was killed in a New York City public school in roughly two decades.)

More broadly, the de Blasio administration has encouraged schools to adopt less punitive approaches to student misbehavior by favoring “restorative” approaches such as mediation, in which school adults or peers encourage students to talk through conflicts. And the city has also made it more difficult to suspend students, requiring approval from administrators outside of the school in certain circumstances. Those changes have been controversial, with some educators arguing they have made it harder to maintain order in schools.

Carranza suggested that more reforms to school discipline policies are in the works. During a conversation Tuesday at the Queens Library with former Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Carranza specifically pointed to suspensions as an area in need of reform, noting that black students are more likely to be suspended and receive longer suspensions for the same infractions as students in other racial groups.

“If we’re satisfied with what our system produces then we’re not looking at the data,” he said.

Asked what specific policy changes might be coming, Carranza said the city is considering capping the length of suspensions, which can currently run for an entire school year, something Mayor de Blasio said last week he would discuss with his schools chief after a caller raised the idea during his weekly appearance on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show.

“The data that was released is jarring,” Carranza added. “It should make every single New Yorker ask the question: What is going on? We’ve actually been asking that question, we’re working on a series of things that we’re going to do to address the disproportionality.”

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.