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Jeffco board approves changes, shuffle for Jefferson and Alameda schools

A student at Lumberg Elementary School in Jefferson County.
A student at Lumberg Elementary School in Jefferson County.
Nicholas Garcia

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County school board Thursday night approved plans to overhaul two clusters of schools that serve mostly low-income and Latino students.

The board, in a series of rare unanimous votes, approved the plans to overhaul and shuffle schools in the Jefferson and Alameda neighborhoods.

The schools in the Jefferson area border Denver’s west side and have been struggling academically for several years.

The Alameda neighborhood schools serve most of Lakewood. Its elementary schools are significantly overcrowded. Most of the students in the Alameda area are also academically behind their peers in other parts of the county.

At the meeting, several teachers and parents from schools in the Jefferson and Alameda neighborhoods spoke in favor of the plans.

“The Jefferson plan presents local solutions instead of district solutions,” said Joel Newton, a Lumberg elementary school parent and director of the Edgewater Collective, a nonprofit that serves schools in the Jefferson area.

Under Colorado law, the district would have been forced to make drastic changes at one of the Jefferson area schools — Wheat Ridge 5-8 — at the end of the school year because the middle school has been on the state’s accountability watch list for five years.

The board’s action tonight, which included shutting down Wheat Ridge 5-8, will keep state intervention at bay.

One group of teachers said they supported the plan and were anxious to work through the details.

“There are still numerous questions and concerns about the logistics, jobs and placements, student concerns, and future plans, but we know that the reconfiguration committee is currently working on answering these questions and ironing out the details,” said Rhiannon Wenning, a Jefferson High School teacher. “We are appreciative of the committee’s and our administrators’ work so far and would like it if their work be allowed to continue.”

The teacher group suggested that teachers be paid for additional time, principals share the same information at every building, and open positions be filled as soon as possible.

During an earlier portion of the meeting, Amy Weber, Jeffco’s head of human resources, suggested the district pay teachers at many of the schools in the Jefferson and Alameda areas an additional $3,800 on top of their current salaries.

The teacher group also asserted that the Jefferson schools don’t need to seek innovation status from the state. Such a status allows schools to opt out of some state and district policies as well as any collective bargaining agreement.

The discussion around innovation status has been one of the more contentious parts of the discussion around the Jefferson reform plan. At a board meeting last month, Jeffco’s Chief Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliott said the district would not seek innovation status for at least one more school year and would do so only after receiving approval from a majority of teachers, parents, and students at Jefferson schools.

The board’s votes didn’t come without some last minute fireworks.

Board member John Newkirk proposed an additional shuffle of schools in the Wheat Ridge area. The additional changes had been lobbied by an organization known as the Wheat Ridge Education Alliance. That resolution was tabled pending further community engagement.

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