Sept 7 Jeffco School Board meeting summary

The Jeffco School Board held its first regular meeting of the the 2017-18 school year. This was a quiet one as meetings go, but there are a few highlights we want to share:

Study Session: Strategies to Support Student Success

The study session focused on the work that had been done to improve student achievement at five different Jeffco Schools. Each of these schools had shown a marked improvement in their growth scores on the 2017 CMAS, and each principal had time to talk about the strategies their school used to produce better results.

So what works?

  • Support systems, both within the school and with outside community organizations
  • Collaboration at every level. This ranges from student learning approaches to the work done in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where teachers, instructional coaches, interventionists, and other staff can collaborate to pinpoint the best approaches to engaging individual students.
  • Time. Staff need a structured time that supports collaboration and data-driven instruction, schools need time to implement and evaluate new approaches to learning, and time is needed to see improved results. There are no magic shortcuts.
  • Strong, stable, and consistent leadership to recognize issues and target appropriate resources to address issues and support staff and students.

Superintendent Glass has also summarized this study session discussion and his takeaways on his Advance Jeffco blog. We encourage you to read his post and thoughts about what this means for the rest of the district.

We’d also like to emphasize the collaboration theme again. It’s one we’ve heard before, back when Jeffco Schools received a $39 million, five-year Teacher Incentive Fund grant to do a strategic compensation study that compared the impact of merit pay and the impact of additional resources and collaboration.  There were three different presentations given to the Jeffco School Board as that study progressed; resources, support, and collaboration were repeatedly mentioned as the most effective elements in boosting student achievement. Some of the 2016 findings are summarized in this Denver Post article:

Data in Jefferson County’s schools also is being watched at a national level. The district is near the end of a federally funded pilot program that tested performance incentives and changes to how teachers are supported.

So far, analysis of the project shows that the supports provided to teachers — such as creating leadership opportunities, professional learning communities with coaches and a system for constructive feedback — have increased student performance. Financial incentives are not showing a strong link.

Jefferson County officials say they believe the best and fastest results will happen with both components.

Aswege, who taught at one of the schools in the pilot program, said bonuses for school or team goals didn’t remove collaboration, but she said the money is still more necessary for the coaching resources.

“When you have a healthy culture in a school, you don’t think about the pay,” Aswege said. “You don’t think about anything else but helping children.”

Why is that important? Because too often, the argument goes something along the lines of “any kid can learn in any condition, including a cardboard box, so long as they have a great teacher.”

What the data actually shows is that while great teachers make a difference, collaboration and resources for a team of great teachers makes a much bigger, school-wide difference. And then we need to give it time to work rather than rushing off in search of a different quick fix.

Superintendent’s Report

We’ve sat through a lot of superintendent’s reports over the years, but this is the first time we’ve been completely blown away. First, he had a slide presentation that summarized the various groups he’s met with and meetings he’s attended in the past few weeks. It also included a list of future events and meetings.

We are thrilled to see our superintendent out getting to know people in all parts of Jeffco so he can hear about what’s working, what’s not, and issues we need to address going forward. We’re also thrilled to see it documented, so that anyone who wants to know what our superintendent is doing can see it, too.

Don’t forget to also check out his Advance Jeffco blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed, where he regularly posts about what he’s doing and issues that affect the education of our Jeffco students.

Ends Discussion: CMAS Spring Results

Once again, Jeffco Schools students outpaced the state on the 2017 CMAS tests–and in some cases hit new academic highs. Student growth scores also outpaced the state and often did so by an increasing margin over previous years.

Now before anyone jumps in to argue that many or most of our students are failing, etc, we’d like to remind our readers of these very important points:

  • Spring 2017 marked the third year that students took CMAS (also known as PARCC), and increasing numbers of families have chosen to opt out of testing.
  • The bar was raised with CMAS, with students being pushed to higher academic expectations. Students have been expected to meet those expectations, despite the reality that the years since 2009-10 have been marked by larger class sizes and fewer resources. Despite these challenges, student achievement continues to improve.
  • In middle and high school, the CMAS math tests students according to the math they are taking rather than their grade level, which leads to a bit of confusion. Eighth grade students who take Algebra I are counted in the algebra results rather than the “8th grade math” results, and the same is true for 7th grade students enrolled in Algebra I or 8th grade students enrolled in Geometry. “Seventh grade math” only includes those students not enrolled in algebra rather than all 7th graders, and the same is true for 8th graders. What this shows most clearly is a math divide between students who are already excelling in math (and thus taking algebra in 7th or 8th grade), and those students who were already struggling and continue to do so. We hope this allows Jeffco staff to keep working to better address struggling students and bring them up to grade level, but also want to make it clear that the 7th and 8th grade math categories only feature a subset of students.

The report also summarizes some of the elements that are pushing student achievement higher, as well as the areas that need improvement.

Also keep in mind that “churn” is a key word in understanding Jeffco’s student achievement scores in the past several years, as Chalkbeat makes clear:

Colorado has already changed math and English testing twice in the past decade, making comparing past results extremely difficult — if not impossible. Officials say it won’t be the case now because this is essentially a contract change. However, more significant test changes may need to be considered after the state’s academic standards revision process is completed in 2018.

Yes, a new set of tests (though supposedly comparable to CMAS) and yet another academic standards revision are already on the way. It seems like we barely have time to adjust to one change before another is headed our way, and that’s hardly a process that benefits our students’ learning.

Other items of note

The rest of the meeting largely consisted of policy reviews, and few of those required changes. Any policies with changes are listed on Board Docs.

Also of note: for the first time we can remember in years, no one signed up for agenda-related public comment. We found that odd, particularly because student achievement has reliably been one of the most popular topics for citizens. Only one person signed up for the non-agenda-related section as well, making for a very quiet (and quick!) meeting. Curiouser and curiouser? Quite possibly.

With that in mind, we owe our readers a post about the upcoming school board election. We’ll post that soon. Until then, we remain

JeffCo Proud!

 

Budget Proposal for Jeffco Schools (1.26.17 meeting summary)

UpdateAs you’ve undoubtedly heard on the news by now, the budget recommendations from Jeffco Schools staff caught a lot of people by surprise, including the board members who had only received the recommendations a day earlier. A lot took place at the Jan. 26 Jeffco School Board meeting, and we’ll summarize this information as efficiently as possible.

Budget Proposal — School Closings

After voters said “no” to 3A and 3B this fall, Jeffco School Board members asked district staff to find funds to invest in compensation, with a target number of $25 million. As we’ve mentioned many times, teachers make about 10 percent less in Jeffco than they could in neighboring districts, which means we’re not competitive in the labor market for teachers or other resources like speech pathologists and more.

Staff presented those recommendations tonight, including a number of far-ranging cuts to resources and staff, in addition to closing five schools, relocating one school, and reconfiguring some articulation areas to a K-5, 6-8 model a year earlier than planned.

The facilities presentation recommended closing these schools:

  • Peck Elementary
  • Pennington Elementary
  • Pleasant View Elementary
  • Stober Elementary
  • Swanson Elementary

In addition, Long View High School would be relocated from its current location, presumably to McClain High School.

In order to close the above schools, the Arvada and Wheat Ridge articulation areas would need to change to a K-5, 6-8 configuration for the 2017-18 school year rather than for the 2018-19 school year as planned. This means current 5th graders in those two articulation areas would be 6th graders in middle school this August, while the remaining areas wouldn’t reconfigure until 2018-19.

The Chatfield articulation area is also included for reconfiguration for 2017-18, but that reconfiguration has been planned for more than a year, and the community has been working through that process for some time now.

Staff also noted that school performance was not a criteria in the closure recommendations. The criteria used are detailed on the slides, and we’ll post more about the facilities recommendations in a few days.

Budget Proposal – Other Cuts

The budget presentation explained the state funding picture (bleak) and suggestions for various funding scenarios. It also discussed one-time funds.

A separate document details the budget cuts recommended by Superintendent McMinimee’s cabinet. These would be implemented in four phases, with some requiring BOE approval, and others falling under “staff action.” Here’s a summary, but we encourage you to read through the details at this link.

  • Phase 1A: Increase athletic fees and activity card fees, eliminate quarterly financial audit review (external quarterly audit would remain), reduce National School Board membership, increase community building use fees, and close five elementary schools. Total savings: $4,508,410.00
  • Phase 1B: Reduce utility, fuel, sick and personal payout and contingency budgets; reclassify educational research and design staff to other funds or grants; reduce achievement directors, support staff, educator effectiveness staff, and GT teachers; reduce security budget; cut superintendent, technology and human resources staff. Total savings: $7,987,008.00
  • Phase 2: Reduce custodial staff and clean only 60 percent of buildings nightly (vs. 80 percent currently); reduce literary interventionists, content specialists, support personnel and substitute expenses for professional development; reduce achievement directors; reduce central social emotional support; reduce GT resource teachers; eliminate superintendent community relations budget, including administrator welcome; eliminate student device home filtering and reduce technology supply budget; eliminate option school and Outdoor Lab busing. Total savings: $4,554,204.00
  • Phase 3: Eliminate literacy interventionists; eliminate MAP testing in K-2 and mastery content; eliminate social emotional learning specialists. Total savings: $1,815,030.00
  • Phase 4: Reduce assessment coordinator and technician, reduce library coordinator and secretarial support; eliminate 14 social emotional support staff funded to student-based budgeting. Total savings: $1,534,299.00

Total savings: $20,398,951.00

Board members would need to approve Phase 1A, which includes the school closures. The other steps could be taken by the district without needing further approval from the board.

Board Discussion about the Budget Proposal

Board members were surprised by some of the recommendations and immediately emphasized the importance of connecting with the community to do this work in collaboration, particularly regarding school closures. Three of the five schools on the closure list have not been discussed in recent facilities conversations, so this is brand-new information for those communities, board members cautioned.

They also asked staff, “Why the rush?” in regard to the proposed school closures and accelerated reconfiguration schedule for the Arvada and Wheat Ridge articulation areas.

“We have a little bit of an integrity issue here,” board President Ron Mitchell commented, noting that board members have spent months reassuring parents and the community that the K-5/6-8 reconfiguration would be a two-year process.

The closures and reconfiguration would save the district $3.5 million dollars, and Brad Rupert suggested that they could use $3.5 million in one-time dollars to fill the compensation hole and have extra time to plan.

Ali Lasell said she would rather respect and honor the timeline presented to the community with the reconfiguration taking place in Fall 2018 as planned. This would allow all schools and families adequate time to plan and allow communities could make that transition at the same time.

Rupert noted that one of the goals last spring was to create a deliberate process for moving sixth graders to middle school and for any school closures. “This is the opposite of that,” he pointed out.

School-family partnerships are our job, Lasell added.

“Our communities have great memories if we don’t keep our word,” Mitchell added.

Susan Harmon noted that there are costs everywhere, which makes this challenging. Not addressing the compensation issues will mean Jeffco continues to lose ground in attracting and retaining teachers, but the cuts and closed schools have a big cost as well.

Amanda Stevens pointed out that once a school is on a closure list, it impacts enrollment, even if the school stays open. Prolonging closures can also have a negative impact overall.

“We need to get this process right,” Mitchell said. “This is not the end but the beginning, so we need to do it well, do it right.” He also said that he thought the state budget picture would likely mean more school closures down the road, which makes it even more important to have a good process.

Lasell worries that the Wheat Ridge area seems to be taking the brunt of the cuts, and wants to make sure that the district talks with the city manager and mayor if they decide to head in that direction.

Staff is asking board members to be ready to vote on these issues at the Feb. 9 meeting.

Bottom line: Board members need your input, quickly. Please email them with your thoughts at board@jeffco.k12.co.us or feel free to contact individual board members using these links.

Other BOE Updates

Superintendent Search

Staff updated board members on the superintendent search. Jeffco Schools sent a request for proposals to five known superintendent search organizations and posted the proposal request online. Jeffco received three responses.

A committee consisting of Ron Mitchell, Amanda Stevens, Kathleen Askelson (Jeffco chief financial officer), Amy Weber (chief human resources officer), and Betty Standley (director of purchasing), evaluated the proposals on cost, approach, experience, and qualifications. They unanimously selected Ray and Associates, which yes, is the search firm that the Jeffco School Board used in 2014.

The next step is to hear from Ray and Associates about the search procedure, and that will most likely be on the agenda for the Feb. 9 meeting.

Jeffco 2020 Vision

The Jeffco 2020 presentation focused largely on a growing interest in implementing project-based learning (PBL) in schools to meet the goals of Jeffco 2020. About 20 percent of Jeffco’s schools are currently implementing PBL in some fashion. For some examples of what PBL looks like in action, check out this video and the other videos on the Jeffco 2020 page.

Performance-based assessments also provide an alternative to traditional testing and are better aligned with the PBL approach. The district is currently working to redesign curriculum to include the 2020 competencies in addition to the state standards. Staff and teachers are collaborating and expect that to be ready for Fall 2017.

Multiple pathways to graduation and college and career readiness are also in development. New this year: apprenticeship programs for students interested in that pathway.

Contract Negotiations

Jeffco met with the teachers association, JCEA, on Jan. 19 (that meeting can be viewed by clicking the link), and will meet with the classified staff association, JESPA, on Feb. 1.

JESPA has a contract with Jeffco through August 2019 and will negotiate salary and benefits, plus three items that can be brought to the table by each team.

JCEA has a contract through August 2021, and will negotiate salary and benefits, two items that can be brought by each team, and items of mutual interest.

Amy Weber noted in the presentation that compensation will be a major issue, not least because 3A failed. Issue 3A included $12.6 million for compensation that we won’t have, but mill levy overrides in neighboring districts like Boulder, Cherry Creek, and Denver all passed, meaning they’ll have more money available for raises for their staff.

Bottom line: we’re not competitive in the marketplace and we continue to lose ground. Consider this:

Comp

Cost of living has gone up 17.8 percent, but salary increases have only kept up with half of that. Two notable facts:

  1. In 2010, a Jeffco Schools teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience earned $52,330. In 2017, that same Jeffco Schools teacher only earns $49,839. In neighboring districts, that teacher can earn $57,733.
  2. A Jeffco Schools entry-level assistant principal was paid $72,589 in 2010, is paid $73,540 now, but could earn $78,854 in a neighboring district.

Comp2Staff asked the board to commit to funding at least $12 million in compensation increases and proposes funding that through Phase I cuts, as detailed in the budget presentation.

Great Works Montessori charter school application

This was a recent addition to the agenda. As you’ll recall, the board denied the Great Works Montessori School charter school application in November due to concerns about the sustainability of their proposed enrollment numbers and budget figures. GWMS appealed to the state school board, who sent the application back to Jeffco with an order to reconsider it.

The school and staff worked together to address some of the issues, but at the January meeting there was still a lot of confusion about whether the budget would be sustainable. Board members didn’t feel comfortable with the funding model that substantially funded the K-8 students through preschool tuition and were concerned it would lead to immediate funding shortfalls. Enrollment numbers also continued to be an issue. Board members considered a conditional approval, but weren’t sure of the numbers needed. In the end, they voted to deny the application a second time.

GWMS could have appealed to the state board a second time, but their lawyers contacted the district, and they were able to work out a compromise. Amanda Stevens said they agreed to add another 45 letters of intent to the condition, which could make the budget more sustainable and less reliant on the preschool budget.

The conditional approval was unanimous, and GWMS has until April 1 to fulfill the conditions set forth in the approval in order to open for Fall 2017.

We’ve given you a lot of information to absorb, and encourage you to read through the presentations and make your voices heard. The school board members want to make decisions that benefit our entire Jeffco community and need your feedback to do that. Again, please email your thoughts to board@jeffco.k12.co.us.

Despite these challenges, we remain

JeffCo Proud!