do you hear the people sing?

At Lakewood High, students wrestle with whether to walk

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at Chatfield High School Wednesday morning walked out of class to protest a proposed curriculum review committee they believe could lead to censorship.

LAKEWOOD — Anna Tiberi hasn’t decided whether she’ll join her classmates Thursday morning, when hundreds  of students are expected to leave their desks and head toward a nearby avenue to become the latest Jefferson County school to partake in a week’s long protest.

“I love that we’re doing something,” said the Lakewood High School senior. But, she said with a sigh, “I don’t think it’s the right thing.”

To be clear: Tiberi, like many of her classmates who are preparing to rally in the streets, is adamantly opposed to a controversial curriculum review committee, proposed by a Jefferson County school board member. Many believe Julie William’s proposal could lead to censorship; it has sparked nearly a week’s worth of student protests.

But Tiberi isn’t convinced the students’ message — essentially, “back off our classrooms” — is getting across. She’s actually concerned the walkouts may backfire.

“Just the idea behind [the panel] is so primitive and dictatorial,” she said. “But if they’re trying to stop us from being — in their words — ‘rebels,’ I think by [walking out] it furthers their cause.”

Williams’ proposal specifically requests that the yet-to-be-formed committee review an advanced history class to ensure it teaches a positive view of American history and discourages students from breaking laws.

Because some of Tiberi’s classmates share her concern, and because student leaders here have been debating for days about how best to make their opinions known, the student protest at Lakewood High might look very different from those earlier in the week.

“We wanted to find a way to voice our concerns without actually missing school,” said Ana Fairbanks-Mahnke, a Lakewood junior, previewing tomorrow’s plans. “All of us really value our educations.”

Since Friday, students from 13 of Jeffco Public Schools’ 17 traditional high schools have rallied in opposition to the proposed community curriculum review panel. Lakewood High, the county’s largest high school, is expected to be the 14th.

Each day’s subsequent protests have grown — from about 100 at Standley Lake High on Friday to 1,000 at Chatfield High today. The students have gotten louder and rowdier. And while student organizers have done their best to maintain the activist spirit of the walkouts, it’s becoming clear that some students are just out for a day off.

So, even though Lakewood is a school known for its grandiose school spirit, elaborate YouTube videos, and one-of-a-kind Katy Perry concerts, the student body may keep things pretty subdued tomorrow.

Instead of an early-morning mass exodus with no specific end time, students are being encouraged to rally for about 20 minutes during their homeroom at 9:20 a.m., be back for class at 9:40 a.m., and only return to the demonstration if they have a free period.

“To clarify the intent of this is not to ‘walk out’ in the sense that other schools have done,” Lakewood High organizers posted on Facebook. “We will in no way promote kids walking out of classes. This will be classier and show that we value our education.”

Organizers have also posted a detailed list of appropriate behavior and rules for tomorrow on social media.

To prepare, student leaders have met with school staff and Lakewood police department. And 650 students met with the county’s superintendent Dan McMinimee earlier in the week.

“Our students are well-informed,” said Lisa Ritchey, Lakewood High’s principal.

Lakewood students who participated in the meeting with McMinimee said they believe they have a grasp on the issues, even though there are still not a lot of answers about what’s next for the school district, which seems to be in a continuous frenzy.

Many upperclassmen at Lakewood, and throughout Jefferson County, said they’ve noticed their teachers have become increasingly frustrated.

“It’s unfair how they’re being treated,” said Liz Crosland, a senior.

What’s worse, students said, is that their teachers are trying their hardest to not bring their personal feelings into class.

“They’re not allowed to talk about it,” several students said.

The most specific advice any teacher at Lakewood High has given, students said, is “make sure you know what you’re walking out for.”

That’s advice that Daniel Torres, a senior, and Brayan Meza, a sophomore, are heeding.

“A couple of friends were talking about it this morning,” Torres said, “But I’m not planning on walking out.”

“I’m not sure what it’s all about,” Meza said. “And I won’t walk out until I do.”

Whether Lakewood High’s walkout will be more civil remains to be seen.

“We’re trying to keep it as controlled as possible while making sure everyone can be involved,” said Thomas Sizemore, another student organizer at Lakewood.

Tiberi, the senior struggling to find another way to make her voice heard, said Thursday can go either way.

“They’ve locked us into the corner,” Tiberi said, referring to the school board’s conservative majority. “We don’t want to be the rebels they’re trying to paint us as. We’re just frustrated and don’t know what to do.”

 

planning ahead

New superintendent’s vision for Jeffco: It’s not just what happens in school that matters

Jason Glass, the sole finalist for the superintendent position in Jeffco Public Schools, toured Arvada High School in May. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

In a vision document meant to guide Jeffco Public Schools for the next several years, Superintendent Jason Glass is underscoring the importance of boosting student learning by addressing issues that reach beyond the classroom.

Glass took the top job in the state’s second largest school district this summer. The new vision document, released Wednesday, has a strong focus on equity, improving students’ learning experiences and working with outside groups to help create “a Jeffco where no child suffers from hunger, preventable illness, lack of dental care or lack of mental health supports.”

Though the plan draws on previous district planning documents, it is more specific in parts and carries a strong emphasis on addressing out-of-school issues, a big emphasis of Glass’s since before he assumed the role.

“This was not intended as some jarring change,” Glass said in an interview. “But I think it provides greater clarity.”

The structure of the plan divides the work into learning, conditions for learning and readiness for learning. The first two sections focus on work happening inside schools, while the third section points to “decades of education research which confirms that the biggest indicators of student success are related to out-of-school factors and the student’s environment. ”

Some of the work under the readiness for learning section — such as expanding social and emotional support and parent and community engagement — is not new. But using schools as “community hubs,” and having a section on expanding early childhood education is new compared to the existing Jeffco Vision 2020 authored by former superintendent Dan McMinimee.

The two vision documents share similarities.

Both suggest the use of so-called “multiple pathways” to offer students a variety of ways to learn and reach graduation. But Glass gets more specific, mentioning apprenticeships, internships and partnerships with community colleges to increase early college credit options.

Both documents also mention the need to incorporate technology for student learning and the need to hire and retain high quality educators. Glass goes further by suggesting the district must commit to paying teachers and staff “a fair, livable and reasonable wage.”

Glass’s vision also notes that the district must find a balance between giving schools flexibility and having district-wide direction. Several metro-area districts have been moving for years to give school leaders more autonomy to make decisions, especially through innovation status.

In an interview Tuesday, Glass said that flexibility in Jeffco schools already exists, and that he would allow principals to keep flexibility in hiring and budgeting. But, he said he’ll have to evaluate whether more or less flexibility is better, saying, “both or neither” are possible.

But in keeping with a new value he’s adding in the document for having an entrepreneurial spirit he adds that innovative thinking toward the same district goals, will be encouraged.

“So long as there is a north star we’re all looking toward,” Glass said.

The former vision document included a strategic plan that laid out a rubric with goals, such as having all students completing algebra by the end of ninth grade by 2017. Other metrics were not as detailed, only pointing to certain reports, like attendance or discipline reports, to look for progress.

The Jeffco district will contract with a consultant, Deliver-Ed, that will evaluate the district’s ability to execute the new vision plan.

The group is then expected to provide some recommendations and help the district create a more detailed strategic plan with clear performance metrics and ideas for how the budget will affect the district’s work. Glass said he expects the detailed action plan to be completed by March or April.

Asked whether the plan is also meant to lay out the need for more local funding through a future ballot measure, Glass said that work is separate. He said the work laid out in the vision plan will happen regardless of more or less funding.

“We’re going to take whatever resources we have, at whatever level, and we’re going to execute what’s in this plan,” Glass said.

Glass has toured the district holding public meetings to gather input for the document. Now that it is created, the components of the vision plan must still be vetted by the community, Glass said.

It will start with Glass hosting a Facebook live event at 11 a.m. to discuss the vision document.

different voices

Jeffco superintendent extends listening tour through event targeting multilingual community

Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass talks to community members at Arvada K-8 during a Many Voices event. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

In an extension of his district tour, new Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass on Monday answered questions about biliteracy, equity gaps and school financing in the first of three “many voices” events.

The events are meant to give the multilingual and non English-speaking community an opportunity to speak out on issues. About 35 people showed at the auditorium at Arvada K-8 Monday, including a handful who listened to Glass through a translator on a headset.

Glass said he heard more questions about equity and language issues than he had on previous stops on his tour to get acquainted with different parts of the sprawling, 86,000-student district. Roughly 10.5 percent of Jeffco residents speak a language other than English at home, according to Census data.

When Glass was hired, and as he moved into the position, he said he would make equity issues a priority. He often talks about disparities in Jeffco school buildings, with some in desperate need of updates and others that are “fantastic” — and did again Monday.

He also answered a question — familiar to many Colorado superintendents — about why marijuana tax revenues aren’t helping with significant building needs.

One man asked if Glass was interested in offering Jeffco students a biliteracy seal, an endorsement that proves graduates have mastered two languages. Glass, as leader of Eagle County schools, helped that district become one of the first in the state to offer the seal.

“I think it has a positive aspect, just cognitively,” Glass said. “And I think it’s a huge advantage when kids go out into the workforce. I think we should move this forward.”

Glass also mentioned he’s looking into different ways schools might address students’ differing needs. He cited community school models, which bring in community organizations to help provide health care and other services to students and student-based budgeting, which involves allocating more or less money to certain students depending on need, following them to whichever school they attend. But Glass said the key is not to lower expectations.

When a woman asked what he’s noticed visiting Jeffco schools, Glass said he’s seen a lot of hard work and professional talent. But he said he has also seen a lot of worksheets.

He told the group he’d like to see better student engagement through more hands-on learning.

A mom of a kindergartener told Glass she wanted more school communication to know what her student is learning and how well he is doing. Glass agreed.

“That needs to be a priority for us is how we view our partnership with our parents,” Glass said.

At the end of the event, Glass noted similarities in the hour-long discussion and previous ones he hosted.

“The thing that we keep coming back to, that can unite us, is the student experience,” Glass said.

Glass said that although many things can be done in different ways, if student experience doesn’t change, reforms won’t make much of an impact.

The next two multilingual events are scheduled for: 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2 at Jefferson Junior-Senior High School and 6 p.m. Tuesday, October 10 at Alameda International Junior-Senior High School.