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Adams City High School in Commerce City, Colorado.

Adams City High School in Commerce City, Colorado.

Adams 14 community selects four applicants as finalists for managing the district

One school district and three consulting groups were selected as finalists to become external manager of the troubled Adams 14 school district.

The finalists — Mapleton Public Schools, Schools Cubed, MGT with the University of Virginia, and a joint application with Empower and the charter organization Third Future Schools — will be asked to participate in interviews with the community next month.

Adams 14 community members scored nine applications the district received. District officials said the scores of the applications are not being made public for now, but said the finalists do represent the highest scoring applicants.

In November, the Colorado State Board of Education required that Adams 14 become the first district in the state to hand over much of its authority to an external manager following eight years of low performance. The state ordered that the manager have authority over instruction, teacher training, and evaluations and that it make recommendations to the board about district policies, among other duties.

The group of 31 people that scored the nine applications included nine district employees, nine parents, two students, and five education advocates. Some people had overlapping roles, such as employee and parent.

One person, Manuel Escamilla, who was first identified as part of the review team later dropped out because he is one of the leaders who applied to run the district as part of the Kingdom group.

The review team was divided into smaller groups, with each responsible for scoring different sections of the application using a rubric based on factors identified through community meetings. Among those: having an established track record with positive outcomes in similar communities. The Adams 14 district serves about 7,500 students of which about half are learning English as a second language, and about 86 percent qualify for subsidized lunch.

Part of the team was also tasked with checking if each applicant was capable of complying with state orders. State officials on Saturday ruled out two of the nine applicants because they would not meet the state’s standards for being a “full service provider.” The community team ruled out one other for the same reasons.

The group then also deliberated looking more completely at each application to decide if it should proceed to an interview phase. Originally, district plans called for naming two or three finalists.

Kevin Clark, a senior in the district who was part of the review team, said it has been a difficult, but good process. As one of two students, he is looking at how the applicants will focus on student culture.

“One of the biggest problems in Adams 14 is the student culture,” Clark said. “But culture is rooted in so many different aspects of district performance. Culture comes from staff retention, it comes from curriculum, it comes from leadership, and all of those things have to be satisfied by the external manager. We need a manager ready to understand the context of our schools and take the initiative to really create transformative change and show that Adams 14 has potential and that it can meet state expectations.”

For the next step in the process, the 15 members of the review team who live within Adams 14 boundaries will conduct small group interviews with the finalists. Many of those excluded represent employees or advocates who don’t live in the district.

The school board will then use feedback from all groups to choose an external manager at its Feb. 12 meeting.

The State Board of Education will also have to approve the selection before a contract can be drafted and signed.

Ariel Smith, a founder of Transform Education Now and one of the members of the review team, said she still has concerns about whether the finalists have the capacity to take on all the work that the state is asking them to provide for the district. But, she said the process has still been healthy for the community.

“The thing that really stood out to me in the whole process is this spirit of collaboration in disagreement,” Smith said. “We disagree on some things, but we can all agree we all have the interest of students at heart.”

These are the four finalists, with links to their full applications:

  • District Renaissance Partners, a joint application by Empower Schools and Third Future Schools
    Empower Schools is a nonprofit founded by leaders of the turnover of the school district in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Third Future Schools is a nonprofit, charter school network run by Mike Miles, a former superintendent of the Dallas school district and the Harrison School District in Colorado Springs.
  • Mapleton Public Schools
    A neighboring school district of about 8,900 students, in which about 60 percent of students qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. Eighty-six percent of Adams 14 students fit that description.
  • MGT Consulting with the University of Virginia
    MGT worked with Aurora Public Schools on a strategic planning project recently and is serving as the emergency manager of the Gary Community School Corporation in Indiana. The university’s Partnership for Leaders in Education has worked on leadership training for several local districts, including Denver, Aurora, and Englewood.
  • Schools Cubed
    An educational consultant out of Arvada. This group is already working with Adams 14 on improving early literacy.