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Adams 14 parents and community organizers want the school board to replace the superintendent or face consequences

A first-grade student uses his finger to guide himself as he reads in Spanish in a biliteracy classroom in Adams 14.
A first-grade student reads in Spanish in a biliteracy classroom at Dupont Elementary in Adams 14.
Yesenia Robles/Chalkbeat

A group of parents and community members have called on the school board for Adams 14 to remove the superintendent or face recalls, walkouts, and test boycotts.

“It’s really important for the board members to hear what the community is saying,” said Janet Estrada, an Adams 14 mom who attended a recent community meeting. “I haven’t been involved in the district in the past, but I think at this point it really is a community effort. What do we need to do to ensure that we have equity in the district?”

The Commerce City-based district has faced criticism this year, in part over changes the district has implemented as it tries to improve student performance under a tight deadline. The parent concerns raised at a community meeting Friday night touched on some of those changes, but also broader concerns about school climate.

All five board members were invited and attended the meeting, organized by a group called ACABE. About 50 parents attended the meeting, though not everyone stayed the entire time. Parents shared concerns about a lack of counselors at Adams City High School, about high teacher turnover, and about desires to have the district continue the biliteracy programs past third grade. Some also said the superintendent had created a “culture of fear” in the district.

Parents repeated a call for board members to “step up or step down,” and at the end of the meeting organizers told the board they would wait a week for the board to meet their demands — which also included a request to replace the principal at Monaco Elementary and the external management company the district is working with, said Joanna Rosa-Saenz, one of the organizers of the meeting. If the demands aren’t met, she said the community is prepared to file petitions for a recall, specifically for Connie Quintana, David Rolla, and Timio Archuleta.

The targeted board members did not respond to a request for comment. Rolla said only that the meeting represented “the same people and the same complaints” the board has heard before.

Bill Hyde, a board member who has been more supportive of the some of the district’s critics, said the superintendent has a hard job, but turning the schools around also requires community support.

“I don’t think it’s an easy task at all, but if you want it to be successful, you have to have buy-in,” Hyde said. “If they’re starting to turn against you, it becomes problematic.”

Superintendent Javier Abrego said in a statement Tuesday that he could not respond to the demands made at the meeting because he was not there.

Adams 14 is under a short timeline to show improvement or the state may “take further action.” Their 2018 ratings will be based in large part on results of state tests students will take this spring.

Districts and schools must have a 95 percent participation rate on state tests. It’s one of the factors considered in the state’s ratings of schools and districts so organizers said they may be able to hurt the district and push the state closer to taking over Adams 14 by opting out. But according to state officials, if students don’t take state tests because parents excuse them, those students would not count against the district’s participation rates.

The superintendent did include in his statement that he is encouraging all students to do their best on tests.

“We’re letting them know we have strong confidence in their ability to do well,” Abrego said. “I know teachers are conveying that message as well as administrators around the district.”

Among the criticized changes intended to raise academic achievement this year was a decision to cancel parent-teacher conference days, to shorten recess times, and to stop the district’s rollout of a biliteracy program at third grade.

Estrada, who is also a teacher in Denver, said she sought out her son’s school in Adams 14 for its biliteracy program and would like it to be there past third grade.

“English-only programs show fast growth now, but in the long run it’s detrimental to our students,” Estrada said. “The superintendent wants to see growth now, but then you’re running the students into a wall instead of preparing them to leverage their first language. We want our students to succeed in the long-run, not just on one assessment.”

The superintendent and district officials have said they support bilingual education, but also said it is only the district’s responsibility to teach students English.

The school board has faced criticism before. Community members attempted to recall Adams 14 board members in 2016. The county clerk’s office approved the petitions that were to be circulated, but signatures were never turned in, said Jami Gaultney, a manager in the county clerk’s elections office.

This year, to get a recall election on the ballot, Gaultney said the clerk’s office would need to receive and verify 1,634 signatures to recall board president, Archuleta; 1,634 signatures to recall Harvest Thomas; and 426 signatures to recall Rolla. Board members Quintana and Bill Hyde, who were elected in November, cannot be recalled until at least six months after their elections. The number of signatures is based on a percentage of votes cast in the last election.

Hyde said the board has not discussed taking any action as a result of Friday’s meeting. It’s the board that ultimately should be held accountable, he said.

“I think the finger should be pointed at the board,” Hyde said. “The superintendent is the symptom, not the cause.”

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