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Will Adams 14 lose autonomy to outside overseer? Here are the state’s options.

File photo of sixth-grade students at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City.
File photo of sixth-grade students at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City.
Craig Walker/The Denver Post

For the first time in Colorado, the State Board of Education will weigh how to step in when schools or districts are underperforming even after they have tried state-approved plans to improve.

The State Board first directed action for schools and districts that had been underperforming for more than five years — as measured by annual state ratings, highly dependent on state test scores — in the spring of 2017. The State Board approved improvement plans with deadlines for meeting goals.

Next week, the board will decide the fate of a handful which have already failed to meet those deadlines. That includes the Adams 14 school district and its high school, Adams City, and two Pueblo schools: Heroes Middle School and Risley International Academy.

Legally, the state lacks authority to take over a district or school, and has limited options in what it can order a district or school to do. The board will consider recommendations from a state review panel, progress reports from the Department of Education, and proposals from school districts.

The board also will accept written public comment until noon Monday.

Below are the options for State Board action, and comments from the state review panel on each option. The board may mix these options as it chooses.

External management
This option would allow a third party, either public or private, to manage a school, a set of district operations, or the entire district. The managing group could have varying levels of authority to make decisions.

Panel recommendations:
Adams 14 district: Recommended. “The current cabinet-level leaders are showing some signs of increased awareness around the need for dramatic change; however, it is clear they need the support and guidance.”

Adams City High School: Recommended. “ACHS needs an external partner that will provide leadership development and support, coaching, ongoing professional development, and talent management, in addition to increasing the instructional support BT is providing. Currently, there is no structure to support the development of leadership capacity to effectively lead the turnaround work at ACHS.”

Heroes Middle School: Continue an existing partnership and add another. “The partnership with [Achievement Network] has not been implemented with fidelity as directed by the State Board. Additional clarity around the role of the partner and the district is needed.” The current partnership is not sufficient, the panel wrote.

Risley International Academy: Continue an existing partnership and add another. The current partner, Achievement Network, does not have decision-making authority, and the school’s leadership is “demonstrably lacking.”

The state can direct a school or district to submit a plan to grant them “innovation” status that frees them from some state laws, district rules or union contracts — to remove barriers to improvement or to execute creative ideas. A school must have a plan for what it will do if given freedom not to follow those rules, and the school’s community must approve the plan.

Panel recommendations:
Adams 14 district: Not recommended. “The district has neither adequate leadership capacity nor the infrastructure to support innovation.”

Adams City High School: Not recommended. Innovation could provide some benefits to alleviate constraints the teacher contract currently poses, but “there is minimal evidence” to indicate that the school “has a readiness for innovative approaches or practices that would result in benefits.”

Heroes Middle School: Recommended. Innovation status has created time for group planning time by extending the teacher workday and adding professional development days.

Risley International Academy: Recommended. The district’s group of innovation schools meet monthly and provide support for each other.

Conversion to a charter
The State Board may choose to order one or more schools to be converted to a charter school, which are public schools run by independent boards.

Panel recommendations:
Adams 14 district: Not recommended. The district is not interested in a charter school. “Although a charter would provide options for students, which parents and community members have expressed they would like, the lack of consistency in leadership would make it challenging to adequately plan, implement, and support a charter.”

Adams City High School: Not recommended. “There is limited support for this from the district and the community because ACHS is the only comprehensive high school in the district.”

Heroes Middle School: Not recommended. “Leadership is developing and beginning to create positive change,” and there is no evidence the community would support a charter.

Risley International Academy: Not recommended. Although strongly considering this option, the panel felt “a charter school may be divisive to the community and would not result in more effective outcomes.”

School closure
The State Board may require one or more schools to close, gradually or immediately. The board also can ask that a school stop serving, for instance, just a specific grade level. A closure can be combined with a requirement to open a new school.

Panel recommendations:
Adams 14 district: Not recommended. Because seven of the 11 schools are underperforming, closing them would leave many students without other school options. Schools are already over capacity.

Adams City High School: Not recommended. This is the district’s only comprehensive high school, so there would be no other place for students to attend high school nearby.

Heroes Middle School: Not recommended. “It does not appear that there are better options for middle school students within a reasonable distance.”

Risley International Academy: Not recommended. “There are no other viable options for students that would likely lead to better outcomes.”

District reorganization
For school districts, this state option would change their boundaries and merge it with neighboring districts. One or more neighboring districts could take take over portions of the district being dissolved.

Panel recommendations:
Adams 14 district: Not recommended. The panel gave “serious consideration” to this
option, but because district reorganization procedures are less clear, the panel felt the district would need help from an outside partner to achieve this.

This is not an option for individual schools.

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