No Official Voting at Study Session but Plenty of (Wink-Wink, Nod-Nod) Opinion Votes

2015_09_13_backroom_dealsThe Jeffco school board is not supposed to vote at study sessions unless they have previously notified the community that there is a critical issue which will require a vote. What we saw at the Tuesday night’s board meeting certainly looked like voting to us.

The first “non-vote” vote came when Superintendent McMinimee asked the board to provide direction on whether the district should move 6th graders into middle school everywhere except Alameda, Jefferson, and D’Evelyn. Board President Ron Mitchell reminded the board they wouldn’t vote but they would each individually answer the question. Each board member proceeded to share why they supported K-5 elementary schools with the move of 6th graders to middle schools. The Superintendent took that as permission to proceed with the facility plan, moving 6th graders to middle schools. There was no conversation about how any of this will improve student achievement. Nor was there any recognition of how difficult it might be for those families who stay in a K-6 school to opt into a 7th grade at the middle school of their choice. Again, how these were not official votes is beyond us.

Alameda Area

The next non-vote came in whether to close Patterson and Kendrick Lakes and build a supersized school on the Kendrick Lakes’ property, or whether to do deferred maintenance at Patterson and build a replacement school on the Kendrick Lakes’ site. Each board member again weighed-in, preferring not to close both schools and build a super-sized school. Instead, they determined (again not with votes), that there should be a new 576 student school built on the Kendrick Lakes’ site and that Patterson would get deferred maintenance.

Arvada Area

In the Arvada area, new to the plan is moving all 6th graders in Arvada to middle school. That’s right, those parents west of Wadsworth who didn’t know they should be paying attention to this process because there were no changes suggested for their schools, should have been attentive. Since there was no input from those parents, the board did their non-voting vote and directed to move all 6th graders to middle school. There is one exception; Mr. Rupert suggested that Foster elementary keep 6th grade in support of the dual language program. The board also nodded to building an auxiliary gym and turf field at Arvada high school. Arvada K-8 will be getting 6 classrooms and Foster will get 4 new classrooms.

Arvada West

The non-voting vote for the Arvada West area was not to close Allendale and Campbell. Instead, the board did their non-voting vote to do major renovations at Campbell elementary and deferred maintenance at Allendale. They also directed a new school be built as a K-5 at Table Rock or Lyden Rock site as phase one of the bond. Drake will be getting 16 additional classrooms. No…there was no vote on going for a bond either (wink-wink, nod-nod).

Bear Creek

In the Bear Creek area the board directed staff to add the cost of replacing Green Gables elementary instead of doing deferred maintenance.

Chatfield

There was no conversation about boundary changes (sorry Stoney Creek families, no decisions for you yet.) The board directed artificial turf be put in at Chatfield High School.

Columbine

Columbine will also get an auxiliary gym and turf field. Ken Caryl will get 12 new classrooms to add 6th graders (no, there was no conversation about what the costs would be, but the non-vote approval happened anyway.)

Conifer

The high school, middle school and Elk Creek elementary will all get turf fields. Marshdale will be torn down and rebuilt.

Dakota Ridge

The high school will get a turf field and 12 classrooms will be built at Summit Ridge middle school. Four classrooms will be added to Powderhorn. Again, there were no boundary change discussions.

Evergreen

A new item was added to the facility plan in the Evergreen area. You might remember recall leader Wendy McCord was at the Conifer facility meeting and was very upset that the elementary school her children attend was not getting any upgrades. This new plan now has a four classroom addition at Parmalee. Can anyone say “thank you payback”? And as in the original plan, Wilmot phase two was approved as was Evergreen Middle School updates despite a single digit FCI.

Golden

Bell Middle school will get four new classrooms to support the move of 6th graders. Pleasant View will stay open!

Green Mountain

Dunstan will get 8 new classrooms. Green Mountain High school will get needed updates.

Jefferson

Lumberg, and Molholm will all get 8 additional classrooms, with Edgewater getting a new preschool wing and an architect is developing a plan for the high school.

Lakewood

The board decided not to close Glennon Heights and will consider a boundary change to have more kids home schooled to Glennon Heights. 8 new classrooms will be added to Creighton Middle School, and Eiber will get 6 new classrooms.

Pomona

The high school will get a new gym, weight room and turf field. Parr and Little will stay open and a new larger school will built on the Parr site.

Ralston Valley

The high school will get 10 new classrooms, bringing its capacity to over 2000 students. Oberon gets 8 new classrooms, and the brand new Candelas school will also get 8 additional classrooms.

Standley Lake

The high school gets a new gym and turf field.

Wheat Ridge

The high school and middle school get an upgrade. Kullerstrand and Prospect Valley stay open, and a new 576 building will be built on the Prospect Valley site. Stober and Vivian also stay open with major renovations to be done at Stober, and deferred maintenance happening at Vivian. The board will also get a price for building a 576 student school on the Stober site. Maple Grove will get four new classrooms.

Option Schools

Manning will get four new classrooms to be able to take 6th graders. The Long View decision was deferred to the fall and board president Ron Mitchell suggested maybe Long View and Brady could be consolidated.

Other thoughts

There was lots of conversation throughout the evening about helping schools that have high choice out populations get those students back. There was no recognition that in an environment of declining enrollment, if those students moved back to their neighborhood school, there would be other schools that are significantly under enrolled.

In each conversation where a title one school was on the chopping block to be closed, the board said over and over that they had not heard from the community. We wonder what more the board should have done to get the word out in the most at risk communities?

In addition, there was no conversation about how many buildings could have gotten investments if the board had allocated the $420 million across all schools. With $520 million dollars in facilities deficiencies, the money could have been allocated to upgrade nearly all of the buildings in the district instead of adding capacity with a declining enrollment.

Again, the board’s non-votes gave staff direction. On Thursday evening June 16th, the board will be voting and WILL BE TAKING PUBLIC COMMENT. So if you’d like to give the board your opinion sign up to speak.

Charter School Parent Responds to Journalist

charterThis article from a charter school parent ran in the Colorado Independent.

“The Colorado Independent’s website says their mission is to “produce the most important, most informative, most intelligent, most provocative, most entertaining and fairest journalism in Colorado.”

Marianne Goodland’s article “How charter schools are dodging Colorado laws” misses those goals by a mile.

The article is riddled with inaccuracies, and while it may be provocative, it does so at the expense of fair journalism. As a parent committed to seeing the local control of public education maintained in Colorado, I was disappointed to read her biased article.

The story perpetuates the myths that charter schools don’t follow federal, state and local laws and don’t serve all children. Goodland attacks the waivers given to charter schools but makes no mention of the waivers district-run schools can apply for. She attacks parents who govern and choose public charter schools, insinuating we are all uninformed. Goodland is sorely mistaken, and I would like to set the record straight.

First, her title suggests that charter schools are dodging Colorado laws, when those very laws allow charter schools to apply for and operate under waivers. District run schools can and often do apply for waivers, some state waivers and some waivers from district policies. Often those waivers give schools the ability to experiment with new learning strategies that schools without waivers can’t try.

What Goodland did not report is that charter schools must adhere to the same laws and regulations as all other public schools, and cannot waive-out of any laws covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee’s criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information and generally accepted accounting principles. The waivers charter schools get give them autonomy on issues surrounding staffing, curriculum, textbooks, facilities, governance and operations.

That means Colorado charter schools where parents choose the curriculum come the closest to fulfilling the Colorado constitution, which provides for local control of curriculum.

Colorado legislators, including Rep. Crisanta Duran, may wish the Colorado legislature could determine a statewide curriculum, as happens in Texas and most other states in the country — but not here in independent Colorado.

In fact, Article 9, section 2 of the Colorado constitution limits the legislature’s authority over public education to the “maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public school…” Section 15 of Article 9 of the Colorado Constitution states that local school boards “shall have control of instruction in public schools in their respective districts.”

The waivers grant more local authority to the parent run boards which govern charter schools. They in no way make that charter school any less accountable to the board which authorizes the school, or to the state.  Because charter school applications must be renewed and reviewed by local school boards, many believe charter schools are significantly more accountable than district run schools.

When was the last time any school board reviewed the curriculum choices for district run schools? Do parents of district run schools know 100 percent of their school’s curriculum and the internet resources brought into each classroom?

Goodland fails to mention all charter schools must give state assessments, meet state and federal laws and undergo financial audits. The school leaders are held accountable by the parents and school boards.

Charter schools are also subject to the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards set by the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) and must meet accreditation standards set by the State Board of Education.

Goodland says charters can “get out of laws regarding equal opportunity in hiring, equal education opportunity, and who can visit the school.” This is untrue. Every employer must comply with these laws.

Charter schools also cannot waive out of providing “equal education opportunities” for students.  Goodland insinuates charter schools don’t serve students with special needs.

According to the Charter Schools Act [C.R.S. 22-30.5-104 (3), charter schools are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of need for special education services. As a public school, a charter school must comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) rules and any state special education laws. And according to Colorado State Board Rule, 1 CCR 301-88, Sections 2.02(D) & (E) which prohibits discrimination based on academic ability, students whose academic needs can be met by a charter school must be accepted.

Goodland assails charter schools for obtaining waivers from having to hire “certified teachers.” She quotes Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman as saying, “Parents should be aware of the astounding number of teachers in charter school classrooms today who do not hold the basic state certification to teach. Waiving schools from this statute isn’t good for kids.”

Dallman fails to mention that there is no statewide certification for Montessori teachers and would lead you to believe that a rocket scientist teaching physics is a bad thing. She fails to mention the hundreds of district-run schools where certified teachers aren’t meeting the bare minimum statewide academic standards. In fact, all charter school teachers must be highly-qualified and have a bachelor’s degree. Many have graduate degrees, and at GVCA, which Goodland takes delight in assailing, most of the teachers are content-area experts.

Goodland takes a shot at Compass Montessori in Golden, stating that the school has a district low of 27 percent certified teachers, but she conveniently fails to include those teachers who have a Montessori certification.

The flexibility that public charter schools have to make personnel decisions allows them to draw from a wider candidate pool—including content area experts who may not have followed a traditional teacher certification path. It also allows charter schools to recognize and reward highly effective teachers, which many district-run schools cannot do because their collective bargaining agreements provide the same compensation for partially effective and highly effective teachers, and base compensation solely on education and experience.

Goodland takes particular umbrage with GVCA’s curriculum waivers from the state statute of how to teach the sex-ed curriculum. Her source is a reference from before our charter was approved. If Goodland had honoredThe Independent’s mission to provide unbiased journalism, she might have mentioned that the GVCA’s handbook states, “We will teach the Core Knowledge Sequence in the fifth grade, which includes a discussion on the reproductive organs and reproduction,” and “…as mandated by the state, sex education must be taught in the high school in the context of human health. Just as in the elementary school, sex education will be taught in a gender-separated environment.”

Finally Goodland assails charter schools ability to educate students. Again, she quotes the Colorado teacher’s union president, Dallman in saying, “In fact, there’s not any research that waiving out of any of these laws improves student achievement.”

Goodland again misses the mark of providing good unbiased journalism. There is research that shows that charter schools, which are governed by local parents and YES operate with waivers, get waivers, do improve student achievement.

Between 2010 and 2013, 15 of 16 independent studies found that students attending charter schools do better academically than their peers in district run schools. Goodland does not mention in her article that Liberty Common School, a classical charter school in Ft Collins, recently set the all-time ACT record in Colorado, and does not have a single “licensed” teacher. Nor does she mention the great work of hundreds of charter schools around the state.

From New America which serves new immigrants, English Language Learners and academically underserved; to Denver School of Science and Technology; to Montessori schools and those which offer a classical education, Colorado charter schools provide parents and students opportunities not available in district run schools.

The public charter school model gives teachers the flexibility to use their talents and abilities to design programs which meet the needs of their students. They provide parents an alternative to the curriculum which should be chosen by local school boards but is often directed from Denver or other centralized groups. They provide the ultimate in local control, granting governance to the parents at the school, and yes, in fact many, many Colorado charter schools provide great academic alternatives to district run schools.

We should all be grateful for the lawmakers and State Board of Education members who have set up a system which gives students, parents and teachers choices.”

Floyd Borakove 

Golden View Classical Academy parent

 

Will $800 Million Improve Student Achievement?

800 millionEighty people took time from their Saturday morning to come to Dakota Ridge High School to hear about the $800 million dollar facility plan the new school board is trying to sell. Over eighty percent of the people in the auditorium (yes, a mom asked) were parents from Governors Ranch who came to express their dismay that once again, their community was being threatened with a change in articulation areas. They like being part of the Columbine family and don’t want that to change, especially for some seemingly elusive “transportation savings”.  These parents reminded staff that the very long and strong community involved facility process the board underwent in 2009-10 to maximize facility usage, is a far cry from this two month rushed process that the new board seems to have put in place.

Many times throughout the two hour presentation, with questions and answered sprinkled in, community members said they didn’t trust the district and that it would be better if there was a longer process that allowed for community engagement, not during the summer but during the school year (eight of the twelve meetings currently scheduled will happen after schools release for the summer).

Sitting in the auditorium, one would not have known that funding in Jeffco has increased year over year over the last four years. One would also not have known that Jeffco taxpayers in 2012 agreed to increase annual spending by $39 million a year to keep Jeffco programming and agreed to $99 million in debt to invest in facilities (the district ended up getting $117 million dollars from the bond issue). One would have thought that as Coloradans, we don’t care about education, as we refuse to invest in per pupil spending, because we rank so low compared to other states (at least that is what board wants you to think.)

What we didn’t hear is that when they talk about national comparisons for per pupil spending, they use an income based method (yes, they think every individual should spend the same amount of their income on public education, no matter if that person makes $30,000 a year or $3,000,000 a year.) So due to the higher percentage of Colorado’s wealthy residents, our state ranks lower than other states when looking at how much of our incomes we spend on a per pupil basis. But if you look at the actual dollars spent per child in public education, Colorado ranks about middle of the pack.

We did hear “We need more money!”  We heard the suggestion that “we only love our children if we agree to support over a billion dollars in new debt to improve facilities in Jeffco.”  And we heard that “because of the “Negative Factor”, Jeffco has lost over $400 million in funding.”

Listening to the board, one would have thought that every Jeffco student is educated in a building with holes and leaks, and that never before has the Jeffco community weighed in on facility plans.  One might have gotten the impression that a brand new building magically makes public education better and that educating students in larger elementary schools is a much better environment for students and staff.

Not one board member addressed how spending over a billion dollars will in any way improve student achievement. There are a total of 12 community meetings about spending over a billion dollars, and yet none of the conversation is about how to invest those dollars to improve student achievement.

The facilities team presented plans for moving 6th grade from elementary schools to middle schools, but there was no conversation about how much money teachers will have to spend in order to become qualified so that they are able to teach in a middle school. Yes, that is right, teachers teaching 6th grade in a middle school require more education than they do teaching in an elementary school.

But the facilities team did not explain that moving 6th grade out of elementary schools will make elementary schools smaller, giving them less money. How many schools will lose their full time librarian? How many will have to share specials teachers? What other losses will elementary schools feel as a result of losing 6th grade students? How many great 6th grade teachers won’t move to middle schools?

We heard plans to change the Governor’s Ranch boundaries so that those students would no longer go feed into Ken Caryl Middle School and Columbine High School.  That produced an outcry from angry parents and community members that are in angst that the new school board has created a facility plan with absolutely no community input and scheduled community meetings with four days’ notice.  Some of these people remembered the board in 2008-09 that created a district wide community committee, which provided thousands of hours of input into potential facility changes.

It was extremely difficult to determine which parts of the plan the district is proposing to begin with and how each component will affect students in neighboring articulation areas. It was clear the plan is being driven solely by the facilities team and is very disconnected from the actual education happening in our schools.

While it may be a comprehensive facility plan, it is far from the reality that families in Jeffco live. Maybe it is time this new progressive board goes back to the drawing board and starts with a community conversation that actually seeks to maximize the educational opportunities for students.

Feel free to share your thoughts with the board by filling out the Survey Monkey questionnaire on the district’s website.

Teachers’ Union About To Get Its Payoff From The New Jeffco Board

recall pays off picThe new Jeffco school board is getting ready to payback the teachers union for putting them in office by approving compensation increases of over $26 million or 5%. The board is overturning the staff’s recommendation for compensation increases of three and a half percent, which included two and a half percent in “on-going” compensation increases of $12,425,000 ($10,400,000 and $2,025,000 in PERA increases) and a “one-time” increase of $5,200,000. The new board raised the increases to 5%, approving over $26 million for compensation increases to include $16,119,405 in on-going increases, and one-time increases of $10,400,000. That is a total of over 5% compensation increases despite the rate of inflation being just a little over 1.5%.

Are you getting a 5% raise this year? Is your employer making a 19% contribution to your retirement account? Because it looks like that is the payoff rate for the union supporting the “clean slate” board.

Where in the world did the board find over $26 million to fund compensation increases when the community surveys said there would be an additional $6 million in new funding in 2016-17? Did Steve Bell, a campaign contributor to some of the “Clean Slate” candidates inaccurately project cost increases last year only to “find” that money this year so the union bought board could give large increases?

Some of the one-time money is coming from the $15 million that was supposed to be used to build the new school in Northwest Arvada. You may recall the W-N-W board set aside the 2014-15 underspend to prevent us from have to finance the new school. The new progressive board quickly undid that decision committing us to pay over $70 million in principal and interest for the new school and an update to Sierra elementary. Mr. Bell was excited this board decided to use debt which sent hundreds of thousands to his buddies who sell bonds. Was Mr. Bell also excited because he knew this new board would turn those funds into raises which would find their way into his compensation increase?

Because that is just what this board did. They took that $15 million and put it in the general fund making it available for spending in 2016-17. But instead of investing in textbooks or technology which are needed in many schools this year, or putting more money in the classrooms through student based budgeting, the union bought board will be allocating those funds to raises. Amanda Stevens even suggested that teachers get higher increases than the rest of Jeffco staff members. (Hey teachers’ aides, landscape folks, secretaries and others in the classified union and administrators – Amanda Stevens thinks teaches deserve higher raises than you do.) Superintendent Dan McMinimee quickly advocated for all Jeffco’s staff members to receive equivalent compensation increases, which the rest of the board quickly agreed was a good idea.

Some of the on-going money is coming from funds that were budgeted to cover health care costs increases but won’t need to be spent as the district has revaluated the health care needs. . You may remember that three years ago under Cindy Stevenson, estimates were the district would be increasing costs because of the new healthcare mandates included in Obamacare; the district estimated increases of over $8 million. About $4 million of those increases have already happened and another $4 million were supposed to kick in next year in 2016-17. The staff is now saying that won’t happen. That is about a 1% compensation increase. When did staff know this expense would not increase? Did they know last year and fail to let the W-N-W board know so that  their union backed friends could claim the W-N-W board didn’t give large enough compensation increases? Did staff save this information for this new board so they would have more on-going money to allocate and if that is true, why wasn’t the $4 million included in the community surveys? For that matter why hasn’t the community weighed in on spending priorities for $26 million?

How can this board whine about needing more money when they just approved $26 million dollars or about 5% compensation increases? We all remember it was less than four years ago when the board threatened thirty and forty million dollars in cuts if they didn’t get a tax increase. And this new progressive board, from the day they were sworn in, had been complaining about needing more resources. In fact, the board is scheduled to talk about the possibility of a bond and mill-levy on the ballot this November at their upcoming April 21st study session.

The board approving the money for over 5% compensation increases is exactly what the teachers union had asked for in their negotiating sessions. After the board gave the financial go ahead, the last two negotiating sessions focused more on how the dollars would be allocated.

District negotiators gave into the union demand to eliminate any pay-for-performance compensation plan, and move back to the steps and levels type grid that was in place under former superintendent Cindy Stevenson. The two teams also agreed to remove any differentiation in compensation for teachers rated effective versus highly-effective on evaluations.

In addition, the union continues to put road blocks in the way of attracting highly effective teachers to Jeffco.  Based on the proposed union agreement, no new educator, no matter how stellar they are in the classroom, or how well they performed in their last school district, will be hired at a higher salary level than a teacher that has been in Jeffco for the same number of years, with the same level of education.  The union is proposing a contract that will prevent any “leap-frogging” of incoming teachers to the district.

Is it fair to our children that our district is hamstrung by a union contract that prevents our schools from hiring the best and the brightest? If attracting the best talent to Jeffco means paying them more money than another teacher in Jeffco, isn’t that what we should be doing for our students? Is it fair to Jeffco teachers that have outstanding results, and who go above and beyond what is expected, to compensate them just like the teachers who fall short of these things?  How does that improve student achievement or help make sure that the best teachers want to come to Jeffco?

One of the union’s negotiators Don Cameron repeatedly explained that the union simply wants to make sure their members would be able to keep up with the historical annual rate of about 2% inflation, and suggested that the pay for performance structure didn’t do that. But at the negotiating session a few weeks ago, Executive Director of Human Resources, Amy Weber, asked the negotiating team members around the table to engage in an exercise. She asked them to take the salary they were making 2 years ago, and to then give themselves increases from the old steps and levels table. Next, they were asked to compare what their salary would have been today if they had stayed with the old structure versus what their salary is now based on the W-N-W merit-based pay system. Ms. Weber’s own research showed that 2/3 of educators in Jeffco were in a higher salary position based on that merit-based pay system than they would have been on the former pay grid.  Not surprisingly, no one from the union would share their results from the exercise.

And the 5% increases the board proposed still aren’t enough for the union. During negotiations, as Kathleen Askelson was reviewing Jeffco’s annual budget, JCEA Director of Bargaining and Field Operations, Lisa Elliot, asked about the “underspend” in the budget, and why this line item isn’t available for on-going compensation increase? Ms. Askelson explained that the underspend amount changes from year to year, and that it is scraped together from several departments where monies that were projected to be spent were not spent.  The union proposed that all the underspend be directed toward members’ salaries.  Don’t they get that if the underspend is allocated, cuts will have to made elsewhere?

So not only does the union want the 5% the board allocated now they want an additional $13 – $15 million in on-going increases. This would take us back to the 2007-08 level of increases which led to threats of cuts in 2011-12. Does anyone else see a pattern here? Taxpayers pick up all the increases in retirement costs, give teachers raises that are twice or three times the rate of inflation while teachers work 187 days and all teachers get the same increases no matter how effective they are in the classroom. Anyone feel like they are back in the middle of the Cindy Stevenson era, the decade of lack of student achievement growth seems to have been bought by the union. In other words, a million dollar investment in the recall is looking like it has a 25 times return on that investment for the union. For Jeffco students and families….not so much.

Choices, Choices, Choices

board pic budgetWith the new state budget indicating that Jeffco’s budget will be increasing again for the fifth year in a row, we are looking forward to the upcoming board meeting on April 7th, when the new board will give their initial recommendations on budget priorities and on allocating the one billion dollar budget that the Jeffco school district spends.

At the study session on March 17th, the board heard a presentation from the new parent-led District Accountability Committee (DAC) on their research of the root causes across the district that have prevented student achievement from seeing significant improvement.

At the top of the list of concerns is the percentage of 3rd graders that are not proficient in English Language Arts. The new DAC did a thorough analysis, sharing multiple measures which are incredibly alarming. While it is true that expectations where raised last year, it is also true that nearly every measure shows over half of Jeffco third graders have significant deficits. The 2015 PARCC scores showed 56% of 3rd graders did not met or exceed the state performance expectations in English Language Arts. In addition, nearly every sub group of students from Hispanics, to free and reduced lunch students performed significantly below average. Furthermore the district’s new MAP assessments, which were given at the beginning of the school year and the end of the first semester, showed growth of only 5.4 when the expected growth was 7.2 and only 39% of 3rd graders showed the expected growth.

The District Accountability Committee also identified several root causes for this lack of student achievement. Problems range from the professional development not providing the skills necessary for teachers to match interventions to students’ needs, to not enough schools using evidence based instructional practices to promote literacy skills. District leaders are developing plans to address these deficiencies. Clearly these plans will need funding. Whether that is identifying those teachers using best practices and then developing plans to replicate them,  or whether it is spending more time to research professional development that will be more effective….the bigger question is will the new board fund the plans that will actually improve student achievement?

Similar root cause problems were identified for two other priority performance challenges, the second of which was the percentage of 8th grade math students that were “on or above grade level”.  For math, the 8th grade scores were the lowest math scores of all grade levels.  The third priority challenge is that only 28% of Jeffco juniors are meeting the ACT college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects measured.

In both of these areas, the DAC used several different data points to support there being a true need for fast and large improvements. For 8th grade math, the DAC recognized that only 16% of 8th graders taking the 8th grade math PARCC assessment were at or above grade level (this doesn’t include those 8th graders that took the Geometry or Algebra tests). In addition, the MAP assessment showed only 42% of 8th graders made the growth they were expected to make in the first semester and there were gaps in performance for all subgroups except gender. Again, root causes indicate that throughout elementary schools there is a lack of systemic instruction, assessment and grading practices that focus on high level math concepts. The DAC also identified a lack of commitment across the district to ensure consistent differentiated teaching and learning practices which are matched to student needs.

On a related note: Does this mean too many Jeffco teachers are still expecting all students to “get” what they are teaching and therefore don’t modify instruction to fit the needs of their students?  Isn’t that one of the major differences between highly effective and effective teachers?  Maybe that is why the union doesn’t want to differentiate compensation for those exceptional teachers?

The third priority challenge recognized that after spending 13 years in Jeffco schools and having over $250,000 invested in their public education, only 25% of Jeffco juniors met the ACT benchmark for college readiness in all four subjects tested. The DAC also recognized that over 1000 Jeffco students aren’t graduating in four years and of those that do graduate, over 26% needed to take a remedial class before being ready for a freshman level college class. The root causes for these issues mirrored those of the other critical challenges, including a lack of system wide commitment to ensure classroom practices and program choices that give every student the opportunity to successfully complete their Jeffco education.

Again, the big question is, will the board fund the plans and programs that the district and DAC recommend to solve these critical failings, or will they return to the Cindy Stevenson era of investing money in their favorite program of the day or allocating funds to things that feel good but don’t actually help improve student achievement?

You may remember that back in 2014, after a decade of math scores not growing as expected, the former board decided to unanimously set higher math achievement goals. In order to achieve the goals, district staff recommended a change in math curriculum, and the minority report from the SPAC committee strongly suggested the board make investments that would support improving student achievement. After the district evaluated several new math curriculum options, a new math curriculum was adopted and the board allocated millions to purchase the resources and professional development for teachers to use the recommended new program.  This new curriculum had well-documented achievement growth expectations, so the new board can measure if the new curriculum and professional development is producing the expected results.

Similarly in 2014, when the former board voted to focus on increasing the number of 3rd graders who were proficient at reading, district staff recommended investing $2 million in hiring literacy coaches and additional teachers who would work with smaller groups of 3rd grade students to help improve their reading skills.   As a result, that board did invest $2 million in new literacy teachers, coaches and resources that would increase third grade reading scores.

Will this new board take a similar approach and allocate new funding to fix what the district and DAC identify as key factors to improving student achievement? Or will they appease the teachers union by throwing more and more money toward teacher compensation? Or will they fund their pet projects which have no research showing how they will improve student achievement?

With another year of increasing funding expected, will the board continue to say they need even more money and plan for a November ballot measure to increase taxes? Or will they evaluate which programs aren’t working, stop funding things that aren’t helping students, and fund expanding those programs that are working?

Obviously the unions will be asking for increases in teacher compensation and as we have seen from the most recent round of negotiations, the union wants to return to treating teachers as widgets. But as is indicated in the root cause analysis, clearly more highly effective teachers are needed in Jeffco to assure every student has access to lessons which meet their needs. Will the union change their tune and support higher compensation for those teachers truly going above and beyond to meet students’ needs? The previous board allocated over 8% increases to compensation over the last two years and provided highly effective teachers twice the take home increases as effective teachers.

Additionally, the previous board raised compensation for new teachers and teachers who had been in Jeffco for less than six years as research showed those teachers compensation levels were significantly below neighboring districts. Will this board follow that lead and make sure that Jeffco continues to offer competitive salaries so we can attract the best teachers to Jeffco?

If this board is seriously vested in helping students to reach their on-target grade level goals, then Jeffco must have a highly-effective educator in every single classroom, and the board must invest in the resources which actually improve student achievement.

Let’s see if this board is serious about a strategy that puts all of the focus and resources on the goal of improving student achievement.  Or will they be loyal to the financial backers and supporters of their recent election?