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Adams 14 is off track and out of compliance, state’s progress report says

Young children in masks and winter coats line up to enter an Adams 14 school building on a snowy day.
About half of Adams 14 students returned to in-person learning in the spring.
Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post

Adams 14 is not on track to meet performance goals set by the state and has been out of compliance with state orders, a state official told the school board at a meeting Tuesday.

The district hasn’t done enough to support struggling readers and hasn’t maintained a consistent presence by MGT, the outside company managing day-to-day operations, according to Colorado education officials. The poor report comes just a few months after the district hired its own superintendent for the first time in two years.

Lisa Medler, executive director of accountability and continuous improvement for the Colorado Department of Education, told the school board that Adams 14 has seen some improvement, including its work to resolve disputes with the Office for Civil Rights in creating a plan for English language learners who make up about half of the students in the district.

But she also said the district had shown a lack of leadership in addressing literacy issues.

“Given the high number of READ Act plans in this district, we’re really concerned about the lack of attention that was going to the literacy programing,” Medler said. READ plans are developed for students who are identified as having serious reading struggles.

The district had a contract with Schools Cubed to help improve literacy instruction in the district, but that contract ended at the end of last school year.

In a draft report to the State Board of Education presented at Tuesday’s meeting, officials also noted contract problems with MGT, the for-profit district manager.

“At the beginning of the new school year, a contract dispute disrupted the flow of services from MGT within the district,” the draft report states. “Without an MGT presence in the district, the State Board Order is currently not being implemented.”

Adams 14, based in the working-class suburbs north of Denver, is the first and only district in Colorado ordered to give up management of daily operations to an external partner in an attempt to improve student outcomes after years of low performance.

MGT Consulting has been managing the district for two years and is under order to manage the district for another two years.

During the first two years of MGT’s management, the district had no superintendent of its own, and MGT hired a local veteran superintendent to take on the role. But this summer, the district hired its own superintendent. It was always part of MGT’s plan to slowly give more control back to Adams 14 officials so that they were in a position to be successful when the four years were up.

Karla Loria, the district’s new superintendent, started the job over the summer. She and MGT officials have been trying to work out what roles each will have in the next two years.

After the grim presentation from Medler, Loria told the board that her intention coming to the district has never been to disobey the state order, and she told the board that the district has now been in compliance in the most recent weeks.

“Although I agree with her report — with the fact that in some areas we’re off track — I would disagree that it’s due to recent events,” Loria said. “I came to the district with every desire to make it work. My whole desire is to continue to abide by the State Board order.”

Eric Parish, executive vice president of MGT Consulting, said the district and the company have had a good relationship until recently.

“The contract dispute mentioned at this evening’s board meeting is an unfortunate development in what otherwise has been an exemplary partnership over the last two years,” he said in an emailed statement. “No issues were raised about our partnership from the Adams 14 board of education or other engaged stakeholders for two years, and the path ahead was bright; there’s even a new elementary school being built.

“The bottom line is that students in Adams 14 are benefiting from this partnership, and we are committed to working with all relevant parties to make sure it continues.”

Loria said that in talks with state officials, both she and the state agreed to have an evaluator make recommendations about how to organize years three and four, “to ensure we continue having progress in every area.”

The progress report also notes that the district’s strategic plan still remains unfinished.

“We didn’t get the direction from our leadership at the time to try to move on that. I think now we have the direction from our new leadership and can get that done,” said Ramona Lewis, the district’s board president.

Medler also noted that “current local data” shows that students in Adams 14 have plateaued or decreased in academic performance, but noted that state and national trends show the same happening elsewhere.

Pati Montgomery, the founder and CEO of Schools Cubed, which ended its contract in Adams 14, said her organization was working in many schools across the country and had already been in Adams 14 for several years.

“We’ve gotten so busy, we just decided they could probably do it without us,” Montgomery said.

Still, the district has “very much, lots of work,” left to do to improve literacy for its students, she said.

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