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Students prepare for statewide testing in Michelle Mugatha’s eighth-grade language arts class at Columbia Middle School in Aurora in 2014.

Students prepare for statewide testing in Michelle Mugatha’s eighth-grade language arts class at Columbia Middle School in Aurora in 2014.

As Aurora district is crafting next year’s budget, coaches who turn new technology into engaging lessons are going away

In one Aurora school, a personalized learning coach helped teachers guide students in starting their own Google websites to use as digital binders — to save and display all of their projects.

In another school, a coach showed a teacher how to use Spotify, and helped him create an assignment in which students wrote and recorded songs about the Bill of Rights.

“That was a really cool experience, not only for me, but for my kids,” said Patrick Hogarty, an Aurora teacher, now a dean at a different Aurora school. “That type of activity, if I wasn’t being coached, wouldn’t have happened.”

Personalized learning partners, also known to teachers as EdTech coaches, help teachers in Aurora schools learn to use new technology, and more importantly they say, come up with new ways to use it in class. But the same district-level help may not be around come fall.

Aurora Public Schools officials told the team of six coaches that their department was being cut as the district creates next year’s budget.

The district, like many across the state, may see an increase in funding per student next year, but with enrollment in Aurora continuing to drop, and with a new board and new priorities to pay for, the district is still looking at cuts to some programs.

District officials say teachers will still get help, just in a different form. But the decision is causing an uproar among teachers, who have posted on social media, called and emailed board members, and spoken to the board during public comment. Some called the cuts a social injustice, one they say might create new inequities in the district.

The issue seems particularly relevant for some staff this year as the district has been rolling out new technology as part of a $20 million investment approved by taxpayers in the 2016 bond package. At the same time that most schools are moving toward a one-to-one technology model where each student has one device, this year the district is switching from Outlook to Google email systems. The EdTech department helped teachers with both transitions this year.

“The assumption is that when teachers are hired, they’re already familiar with how they use technology,” said Gwynn Moore, a teacher speaking at a school board meeting last week. “When you utilize technology in a classroom, it is a whole different ball game. You need training. You need to have guidance and modeling.”

At that meeting, the school board also scolded Superintendent Rico Munn for making the decision without letting them know about it first — one of their policies requires a six-month notification before cutting a program — but Munn told the board the district is just shifting how it helps teachers, not eliminating any programs.

Board members also raised concerns in the same discussion about cuts they heard were happening to another centralized team that provides professionals to help teachers try interventions on students that need extra attention. That help will still be there, Munn said, but within schools, not centralized the same way it is now.

“This is still a significant decision being made without any notification to us,” said board member Dan Jorgensen. “As long as I’ve been on the board, I’ve never seen anything like that where a whole group like that just disappeared and then I find out through a bunch of emails.”

Jorgensen said the lack of information meant the district used a poor process.

District officials declined an interview request to elaborate on the changes, saying that the district is “still in the preliminary stage of the budgeting process.”

The district also declined to provide a dollar amount for the estimated savings that cutting the department would produce. The elimination of the team, as the department described it on its Facebook page, means the six members will be out of a job this fall.

One reason for the lack of clarity is that some of the help the personalized learning coaches are now giving to schools and teachers may be incorporated in new ways next year. Right now, one personalized learning coach is assigned to each learning community — a group of up to 12 schools — and operated centrally.

“Personalized learning will be embedded in the professional development for teachers and leaders,” district officials said in a prepared statement. “Personalized learning will be embedded in our instructional coaching roles and professional learning. Previously, it only lived in personalized learning. Our shift is meant to strengthen supports for all schools district wide in a more equitable manner.”

Board members requested that the changes be a topic of discussion at another meeting soon. More details about how that would work may surface then.

Board president Marques Ivey said the concerns come down to whether more work will “fall on the teachers.”

Teachers, like Hogarty, also have that concern. But if the help is still there, and more site-based within schools, teachers said that could potentially be an improvement.

“Teachers are overwhelmed and underpaid,” Hogarty said. “At the end of the day all teachers want is help.”