News this week that Adams 14 had lost its accreditation, even if just temporarily, hit hard for many parents, staff, and community members.
“I looked at my kids and cried. I cried that I wasn’t able to do more,” said Luz E. Molina, a parent of two high school students in the district. “They voted without us. They’re making decisions without us,” she said about the State Board of Education, which announced Monday the district’s accreditation was suspended.
With a Thursday deadline looming, Adams 14’s local school board voted Wednesday night to approve a joint agreement with the district’s external manager that is expected to restore its accreditation status. But many issues still remain to be worked out and it’s not clear if the disruptions and chaos will continue.
So far this school year, teachers and administrators describe disorganization in various spheres as Adams 14 and MGT leaders have been at odds in recent months.
Principals and assistant principals still have not signed their annual contracts for the current school year.
Teachers who are placed on quarantine are using their personal leave time while they await clarification from the district about whether they would be paid while on forced leave.
When safety incidents occur — starting with the first day of school at Adams City High School when a bomb threat kept students standing outside for four hours before they were allowed to go home — parents say they get little communication and district staff say there’s been confusion about who is responsible for writing those letters to parents.
“It’s just mass chaos,” one employee with more than 10 years in the district said. “Every day is a scramble lately.”
State officials in 2018 voted to hand over daily management of Adams 14 to an outside company, MGT, in an attempt to raise student achievement that had been lagging for years. This summer, as the district hired a new superintendent, and as she and MGT leaders had to work out how they would share authority, the new leader pointed to problems with MGT’s work and pushed them out of the schools.
Now they’re back — with the district under orders from the State Board of Education — but issues remain.
Angela Alba, a 15-year-old student at Adams City High School, said she has noticed that she couldn’t get help when she needed it.
Two weeks ago, another student threatened to fight her at school, so Angela decided to stay home.
When she and her mom went to the school, the next day, Angela says administrators told them they were busy with lunch duties and asked them instead to call later. It took two days to reach an administrator who agreed to talk to Angela’s mom in person the following day.
So, on her daughter’s fourth day of missed school, Angela’s mom went back to campus to ask for help. But Angela said that the administrator brushed off her mom’s concerns, demanding proof, calling her mom a “bandit,” and using her past criminal record against her.
“How is that making anything better?” Angela asked. “At that point I was very disappointed. My hopes were gone.”
While trying to provide screenshots of her conversation with the girl who threatened her, Angela said she was passed around to three different administrators before one suggested the two girls sign a contract agreeing not to fight. Still feeling unsafe, Angela asked if her schedule could be changed to avoid the other girl. When that request was denied, she ended up walking out of school in tears, again. In total, she’s missed eight days, and she said no one from the school reached out to her to ask why.
Angela can’t help but to remember when she went to a school in the Cherry Creek district while she was being cared for by foster parents. There, she said teachers or counselors would reach out to her as soon as she missed just one class period.
Now she and her mom are seeking to change schools. Angela will be going to Lester Arnold, Adams 14’s alternative high school, but she won’t start until Oct. 18.
“I just feel hurt,” Angela said. “I know it could be better.”
Jason Malmberg, a teacher at the district’s high school and president of the teachers union, said that he believes problems in Adams 14 are more complicated than people — even education experts from other parts of the state — realize.
He points out the facility issues, air quality problems, immigration policies that keep parents away, overworked staff, and understaffed schools.
“We’ve polluted this corner of the metro area for generations. People come in and they just assume everybody has clean air to breathe and clean water to drink so, hey, it must be the teachers’ fault,” Malmberg said. “We didn’t as a state or a county surround this community in need with resources.”
Some district staff say they miss the support they were getting from MGT and its subcontractors. But it seems that it varies by school, department, and for teachers, by what they teach. Some teachers said they haven’t felt the absence of MGT and its partners.
Some administrators who anonymously sent a letter to the State Board of Education this week say they are concerned about the upheaval.
“Teaching is already a hard job, teaching in a turnaround district is even more challenging, and teaching in a turnaround district without consistent leadership is almost impossible,” the letter states. “The stress of this turmoil is most definitely impacting staff, which in turn, impacts students.”
Malmberg says that coaching may have been helpful for some but wonders if the millions spent on MGT’s contract could have made more of an impact instead by reducing class sizes, increasing pay for paras, or addressing mold and facility issues in schools — problems which have at times forced school buildings to close.
“I don’t think we’re going to coach our way out of this,” he added.
Molina also thinks a lot about the environmental challenges for students in Commerce City. Many children, including her own she said, are sick often and miss school either because of their own health problems or because they are helping take care of their sick family members.
“I feel like we’re being punished,” she said.
Margarita Cardoza, a mom of two students, only one that is in Adams 14, said she believes the State Board has failed to act, and expects that this loss of accreditation won’t mean much either.
“It’s like they don’t care about us, I don’t know what they think,” Cardoza said. “A lot of students have lost out on a quality education. The state has had multiple chances and they haven’t done anything.”
Some parents have also said they worry the work that has been happening for the past two years under MGT didn’t take into account the more than half of district students who are learning English as a second language.
“We have kids that speak two languages. They’re smart,” Molina said. “I see that as a wealth. But they take away our biliteracy programs, they bring different programs every year. They’re just taking our resources.
“These laws are not working for us,” Molina said, referring to the accountability laws that put Adams 14 on the state’s radar in the first place for low achievement. “These laws are not designed for people like us. They were not made with my children in mind.”