Wednesday churn: Westwood on probation

Updated 10 a.m.The Colorado Commission on Higher Education has placed Westwood College on probationary accreditation because the college is on probation with a national accreditation group.

While the Tuesday action doesn’t affect the for-profit college’s ability to enroll, teach and graduate students, some commissionners and Department of Education staffers felt that action necessary to inform students and potential students about the college. (See staff briefing paper.)

Westwood is a career, business and technical school with two campuses in Denver. In September its north campus was placed on probation by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

That agency concluded Westwood needed to properly demonstrate student achievement, show that it has proper management and administrative procedures, provide its policy for handling complaints, comply with standards for student recruiting and demonstrate it has the administrative capacity and procedures to meet accreditation requirements.

State law allows the CCHE to put an institution on probation if it has been placed in that status by an accrediting agency. The agency reconsidered the Westwood case in November and decided to keep the institution on probation because it hadn’t provided adequate documentation on student achievement outcomes.

The CCHE delayed action on Westwood at both its Oct. 7 and Dec. 2 meetings because commissioners wanted to see what the accrediting commission would do. Mike Feeley, a lobbyist for Westwood, had urged the state delay until after the commission had acted.

For-profit colleges have been under congressional, regulator and media scrutiny for months because of problems with high-pressure student recruitment, low graduation rates, high levels of student loan defaults and other issues.

(See story about October CCHE discussion of Westwood.)

Daily Churn logoHigher education employees who are covered by the Public Employees’ Retirement Association could continue contributing a bigger chunk of their pay to the pension system, if legislators take up a recommendation by outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter.

This issue came up Tuesday during a Joint Budget Committee staff briefing on the state Department of Personnel and Administration’s 2011-12 budget. Earlier this year, legislators passed a law that increased employee pension contributions to 10.5 percent of salary, up from 8 percent. The state’s contribution was cut to 7.65 percent from 10.15 percent. Total contributions to the pension program were the same, but the move was made to help balance the state’s 2010-11 budget. (Both the state and employees also pay additional, “supplemental” contributions.)

The Ritter administration has proposed that the shift continue in 2011-12, but that will require legislative approval next year. The move would cover only the 57,000-some employees in PERA’s State Division, which includes 23,394 higher ed employees. Members of PERA’s Schools and DPS divisions, which include teachers, would not be affected.

Depending on what the legislature does, continuation of the policy also could affect overall state support of colleges and universities. This year, because federal stimulus rules required a minimum state level of higher ed support, colleges and universities got to keep the money that was saved by reduction of the employer pension contribution. Those federal rules don’t apply in 2011-12. So, if the legislature continues the lower employer contribution, the higher ed system could face a cut of $18 million.

(See pages 22-24 of the JBC staff briefing paper for details on this issue.)

Stand for Children, an education advocacy group, has announced a contest to recognize and reward outstanding teachers. Dubbed “Our Heroes,” the contest will award $1,000 each to up to 10 public school teachers. You can get more information and make nominations on Stand’s website. The effort is supported by the Daniels Fund. Winners will be chosen by a panel including current and former teachers and announced Jan. 17.

What’s on tap:

The Average Daily Membership Advisory Committee holds its second meeting from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Colorado Association of S chool Boards, 1200 Grant St. (more information about meeting and background story).

The Adams 12 Five Star school board convenes at 7 p.m. in the Aspen Room of the Educational Services Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton. The board’s agenda includes a public hearing on a disputed site development plan from Prospect Ridge Academy charter school. The school’s charter was initially denied by the Adams 12 board but that denial was later overruled by the State Board of Education. Tonight, Broomfield city officials will present their concerns about the charter site, followed by a presentation from charter officials and public comment.

Good reads from elsewhere:

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”