do you hear the people sing?

Jeffco student protests continue; Littleton rally tops 1,000

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Chatfield High School junior Scott Romano lead a protest of students from his school and Dakota Ridge in Littleton. Jeffco students have been rallying against a proposed curriculum committee for four school days.

[Updated] LITTLETON — Stretching on for a fourth school day, students from some of Jefferson County’s largest high schools gathered at a busy intersection here to echo concerns about a proposed curriculum committee they believe could lead to censorship and show solidarity with their teachers.

The rally appeared to be the largest thus far. More than half of the 1,900 students at Chatfield High School, coupled with hundreds of students from Dakota Ridge walked, ran, and drove up and down a stretch of Simms Street shortly after classes were supposed to start at the two schools.

According to the Denver Post, students at Bear Creek High School also walked out this morning. Chalkbeat also confirmed students at Alameda International High School walked out after meeting with Jeffco’s Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Students, as they returned to school,  told Chalkbeat McMinimee wasn’t answering their questions.

“He didn’t listen to what we had to say,” said Regina Rios, a sophomore at Alameda High.

McMinimee told 7News later he wasn’t dodging questions — he just doesn’t have the answers yet.

“I do understand there was some frustration from some of the kids around feeling like I was trying to not answer their questions, but that’s because we’re not there in the process yet — haven’t had the discussion about how this committee might affect AP US History,” McMinimee told 7NEWS after the meeting. “The discussion [among Board members] was about the formation of the committee.”

Including Alameda, students at 13 of the district’s 19 high schools have walked out.

“I’m just so proud of them, the students, the teachers, the parents, for standing up,” said Cindy Heyerdahl, a Jefferson County resident who sent three students to the locals schools. Heyerdahl held back tears as she watched the students chat from a near by gas station.

But not all are impressed with the student-organized action.

“If I was a student, I’d want a day off, too,” said another gentleman at the gas station. “I think that’s why most are out here.”

Unlike earlier protests, the Littleton students, boisterous and sweaty, were under supervision by school administrators, coaches, and teachers. Some of the district’s highest ranking central administrators were also on hand with sheriffs.

The ongoing protests, which are likely to continue through the week, have drawn the attention of the national media and scrutiny of social media. A playful but critical thread of comments, marked by the hashtag “#jeffcoschoolboardhistory” was trending on the social media service Twitter last night.

For previous coverage of the student protests and background on the the proposed committee click here. 

 

Idea pitch

Despite concerns, Jeffco school board agrees to spend $1 million to start funding school innovations

Students at Lumberg Elementary School in Jeffco Public Schools work on their assigned iPads during a class project. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Jeffco school employees can apply for a piece of a $1 million fund that will pay for an innovative idea for improving education in the district.

The school board for Jeffco Public Schools on Thursday approved shifting $1 million from the district’s rainy day fund to an innovation pool that will be used to provide grants to launch the new ideas.

The district will be open for applications as soon as Friday.

The board had reservations about the plan, which was proposed by the new schools superintendent, Jason Glass, in November, as part of a discussion about ways to encourage innovation and choice in the district. The board was concerned about how quickly the process was set to start, whether there was better use of the money, and how they might play a role in the process.

Glass conceded that the idea was an experiment and that pushing ahead so quickly might create some initial problems.

“This effort is going to be imperfect because it’s the first time that we’ve done it and we don’t really know how it’s going to turn out,” Glass said. “There are going to be problems and there are going to be things we learn from this. It’s sort of a micro experiment. We’re going to learn a lot about how to do this.”

During the November discussion, Glass had suggested one use for the innovation money: a new arts school to open in the fall to attract students to the district. He said that the money could also be used to help start up other choice schools. School board members balked, saying they were concerned that a new arts school would compete with existing arts programs in Jeffco schools. The board, which is supported by the teachers union, has been reluctant to open additional choice schools in the district, instead throwing most of their support behind the district-run schools.

Board members also expressed concerns about what they said was a rushed process for starting the fund.

The plan calls for teachers, school leaders and other district employees to apply for the money by pitching their idea and explaining its benefit to education in the district. A committee will then consider the proposals and recommend those that should be funded out of the $1 million.

Board members said they felt it was too soon to start the application process on Friday. They also questioned why the money could not also help existing district programs.

“I think a great deal of innovation is happening,” said board member Amanda Stevens.

Some board members also suggested that one of them should serve on the committee, at least to monitor the process. But Glass was adamant.

“Do you want me to run the district and be the superintendent or not?” Glass asked the board. “I can set this up and execute it, but what you’re talking about is really stepping over into management, so I caution you about that.”

Glass later said he might be open to finding another way for board members to be involved as observers, but the board president, Ron Mitchell, said he would rather have the superintendent provide thorough reports about the process. The discussion is expected to resume at a later time.

Stevens said many of the board’s questions about details and the kind of ideas that will come forth will, presumably, be answered as the process unfolds.

“Trying is the only way we get any of that information,” Stevens said.

year in review

A new superintendent and a new vision for Jeffco schools in 2017

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Jeffco Public Schools started the year making big news when its board of education decided to open a search for a new superintendent. Former Superintendent Dan McMinimee left the role in March before a new leader had been hired.

Just before he left, McMinimee proposed to the Jeffco school board a plan to close five schools as a way to save money so the district could raise staff salaries as the board had directed.

The schools recommended for closure served a disproportionate number of low-income students and housed several centers for students with special needs. They also included a high-performing school. Officials said they did not consider academic achievement in selecting the schools.

In addition to closing five schools, the proposal suggested cuts to other programs, including one for helping students develop social and emotional skills and one that helped students struggling with reading.

But in a last-minute move, the superintendent altered the proposal during a school board meeting just before the board was set to vote. In the end, the board voted to close one elementary school and spare four others as well as the programs.

A few months later, the school board selected Jason Glass as the district’s new superintendent. Glass, who was a superintendent in Eagle County at the time, had a history as a reformer helping create pay-for-performance systems. But he changed his support of some reforms after learning about education systems around the world.

One of the first changes Glass announced in Jeffco was a timeout on any school closure recommendations while district officials review and create a new process for deciding if school closures are necessary and if so, which schools to close.

Glass also published his vision for Jeffco, which will have the district take a closer look at inequities and outside factors that affect students, such as poverty. At least one school was already experimenting with that work by moving to a community school model. And the district was already considering outside factors as they were rolling out restorative practices, which change how school leaders respond to student discipline issues.

More recently, Glass asked the board, which will remain the same after the November election, to consider an expansion of school choice in Jeffco with proposals to create new options schools such as an arts school to help attract new students to the district. District officials may release more information about that plan and other changes, like a study on high school start times, in the coming months.