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Changing course, State Board orders reorganization of Adams 14 district

Flags fly outside the Adams 14 school district headquarters. The district logo sits prominently in front of the building. The sky is a clear blue.

The reorganization of the Adams 14 school district could take time and be subject to legal challenges.

Erica Meltzer / Chalkbeat

The Adams 14 school district must be reorganized, leading to possible dissolution or takeover by neighboring districts, the State Board of Education ruled Tuesday afternoon.

This makes the district north of Denver the first in the state to be required to start a process for reorganization. Adams 14 already was the first district that Colorado ordered to relinquish management to an outside entity, because of persistent low achievement. 

The decision was a major change in direction after last month’s hearing, when State Board members expressed some trust in the district and its new leaders and allowed them to flesh out their plan to hire an outside manager to assume only partial authority.

But Tuesday, the three-year turnaround plan presented by Adams 14, which was still not finalized, fell flat for State Board members. Primarily, they said they didn’t see it truly giving any authority to the selected management partner. They were also disappointed that Adams 14 did not bring representatives from the management group to speak directly to the state.

The board voted 4 to 3 in favor of reorganization. Board Chair Angelika Schroeder, a Democrat, joined the three Republican members, Steve Durham, Joyce Rankin, and Debora Scheffel, in support of reorganization. Democratic State Board members Lisa Escárcega, Karla Esser, and Rebecca McClellan voted against reorganization.

The vote also immediately pulls the district’s accreditation. The state board has done that once before but it should not affect students or daily operations, a state website notes and the district’s attorney said.

In addition to beginning that reorganization process, the State Board also voted unanimously to require Adams 14 to continue under full outside management, as described in 2018 orders, but with a new partner, the non-profit TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project. In the new iteration, the state will now allow financial responsibilities to fall under the district’s purview instead of the external manager.

Adams 14 leaders had previously told the state that TNTP might not be interested in full management responsibilities. 

Reorganization had been recommended by a review panel prior to the state’s hearing. No Colorado school district has gone through reorganization, and the end result for the district could be a number of things.

The process for reorganization is laid out in state law and requires a committee made up of people from Adams 14 and neighboring districts to create a plan to change district boundaries, which could include creating new districts or dissolving existing districts.

Specifically, the State Board requested Mapleton, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, and the 27J district participate. The plan must be approved by a majority of the committee and by the state’s education commissioner. 

Creating the plan would take time and could be slowed by legal challenges.

Attorney Joe Salazar, who began representing the district a few months ago, has made clear that the district will challenge any state decision that takes away local district authority or control. As state board members were about to adjourn, Salazar argued with them to allow him to state his objections “for court review.”

He told the state that the district has followed all of the asks from the state, and that “punishing” the district for not having brought representatives from TNTP was “arbitrary and capricious.”

Robert Lundin, a district spokesman, said that district leaders are “disappointed and puzzled,” after the hearing. He said the superintendent was busy in meetings and could not respond to questions. 

Lundin said that the district feels the rules were changed on them and that the district’s turnaround plan had as much detail as it could have at this point, without having signed a contract with the partner yet. He said the district is exploring all next steps.

Last month the State Board hearing was packed with community members showing their support for the district and hoping the state wouldn’t close schools or order reorganization. The district had provided busing to parents who wanted to attend, and an interpreter was on hand.

Tuesday’s hearing on the other hand was empty except for three local board members and a handful of other observers. 

There was little discussion after the motion for reorganization was presented, and board members who voted against it seemed conflicted. Esser, who represents the area of Adams 14, had said that she would have to “deliberate in my own head.”

“I also have fear that a partial manager would not be allowed to be independent and do what they needed to do without blowback,” Esser said. “This is a very difficult place for this board to be in.”

Rankin said that with the urgency required, she wanted to have seen more substantial changes in the proposed turnaround plan.

“I do think we need something better than what we have,” Rankin said. She particularly singled out a portion of the district’s turnaround plan that calls for hiring new staff members including more interventionists and coordinators for math and English at each school.

“That’s a lot more people to pile on to watch the teachers do what they should know how to do,” Rankin said. “They should be trained in what to do. Adding more people I don’t think is going to be the answer. I don’t think we’re on the right path now.”

Board Chair Schroeder said that unless TNTP “does magic” they would be unlikely to pull the district out of turnaround status.

“I know you’d like us to trust you,” Schroeder said. “You feel very strongly about having control, but it hasn’t served your families — it simply hasn’t served your families well enough.”

Read the district’s submitted turnaround plan here.


Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at yrobles@chalkbeat.org.

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