Who Is In Charge

Literacy, ASSET vie for attention

Revisions to the early childhood literacy bill, expected to be offered in committee Wednesday, would give more flexibility to school districts in carrying out the program, and the amendments also include $16 million in funding.

Legislature 2012 logoThe hearing on House Bill 12-1238 is in the Senate Affairs Committee at 1:30 p.m. – the same time at which the House Finance Committee convenes to take up Senate Bill 12-015, the undocumented students tuition bill.

The overlapping hearings come as the pace of events is getting faster at the Capitol, given that lawmakers face a May 9 deadline to adjourn for the year.

Other big bills are also stacked up, including House Bill 12-1345, the 2012-13 school finance act. It passed the House Tuesday on a 63-1 final vote and now must make its way through the Senate.

Crucial hearing for literacy bill

The Colorado Early Literacy Act, House Bill 12-1238, has drawn a lot of attention since the idea surfaced last year, pushed by business and education reform groups and modeled on a Florida law.

The main lightning rod was a proposal to require holding back third graders who are significantly below grade level in reading. Faced with widespread criticism, mandatory retention never made it into the bill. But the bill has been subject to intense scrutiny by – and jockeying among – education interest groups since it was introduced Feb. 7.

The House Education Committee spent seven hours on the bill, and House floor debate lasted two hours.

As passed by the full House on March 21, the bill’s original “preference” for retention of struggling third graders was softened. (See this story for details on the bill’s provisions as it left the House.)

The measure faced an uncertain future in the Senate, given a skeptical Democratic leadership and lobbying from school district interests who saw the bill as too restrictive and underfunded. The bill was assigned not to the Senate Education Committee but to State Affairs, sometimes used as a “kill committee.”

But key Democratic senators – sponsor Mike Johnston of Denver, State Affairs chair Rollie Heath of Boulder, vice chair Bob Bacon of Fort Collins and other senators – have been working on amendments. House sponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and staff from the governor’s office also were in on the talks.

Proposed amendments were circulated to lobbyists and interest group leaders at midday Tuesday. Key features of the proposed changes include:

• A focus on students with a “significant reading deficiency” (to be defined by the State Board of Education). The House version of the bill also covers students with “reading deficiencies,” defined as those reading below grade level but above the level of significant deficiency.

• Use of interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund to provide about $16 million in per-pupil funding (about $700 per student) to districts working with students who have significant reading deficiencies. The House version of the bill included about $5 million in funding. Proposed changes in the bill’s legislative declaration specifically note the need for financial resources.

As in the House bill, additional funds, about $4 million, would be available for a grant program for districts who need help implementing the program.

• Easing of some of the more detailed requirements for parent consultation and notification contained in the House version.

• While the proposed amendments still have specific references to retention as an option for struggling readers, the language is somewhat softened compared to the House version. Superintendent review of retention decisions for third graders remains in the bill.

• Addition of specific interventions, such as enrollment in full-day kindergarten, summer school and tutoring, for K-3 students with reading problems.

The State Affairs hearing on the bill will be in the Old Supreme Court Chambers on the second floor of the Capitol.

At the same time the House Finance Committee will hear the ASSET tuition bill in room LSB-A of the Legislative Services Building, across the street from the Capitol at 200 E. 14th Ave. The measure passed out of the House Education Committee Monday night on a 7-6 vote (see story).

The measure, freighted as it is with arguments over illegal immigration, faces tough prospects in the Republican-controlled House. Some observers believe House Finance is where it will die this year.

Testing costs last stumbling block to budget deal?

The Joint Budget Committee Tuesday started – but didn’t finish – trying to reconcile House and Senate amendments to House Bill 12-1335, the 2012-13 state budget.

The main stumbling point appears to be restoration of $5.7 million that the JBC originally included in the budget for development of new state science and social studies tests. The Senate stripped that money and put it in the budget for state economic development efforts.

Committee members seem inclined to restore the testing funding but couldn’t agree Tuesday on other sources for the economic development budget. The six-member panel had to break off discussions because Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, had to leave at 4 p.m., reportedly for President Obama’s speech in Boulder. Chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, was not happy.

Houses send each other fresh bills

Both houses voted final passage for several bills Tuesday, including:

House

  • House Bill 12-1345 – School finance act (63-1)
  • House Bill 12-1306 – Reimbursement of school districts for mid-year enrollment increases (43-21)
  • House Bill 12-1069 – Creation of a three-day sales tax holiday in August for school supplies and clothing (44-20)
  • House Bill 12-1331 – Western State name change to Western State Colorado University (60-4)

Senate

  • Senate Bill 12-047 – Requiring skills tests, such as Accuplacer, for all students at least once during high school (34-0)
  • Senate Bill 12-164 – Regulation of for-profit colleges that award bachelors and graduate degrees and establishing consumer protections for students (25-8)

Lawmakers can’t help themselves

Sure, the session enters its 106th of 120 days Wednesday, and things are already getting a little nutty. But that doesn’t prevent lawmakers from introducing new measures. New this week are resolutions for proposed constitutional amendments on initiative petitions, use of lottery revenues for education and PERA transparency, plus a bill to allow resident tuition rates for some military dependents.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

How I Lead

This Memphis principal says supporting teachers and parents helped pull her school out of the bottom 10 percent

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Principal Yolanda Dandridge has led Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary for the last two years, and was previously the academic dean.

Here, in a series we call “How I Lead,” we feature principals and assistant principals who have been recognized for their work. You can see other pieces in the series here.

Principal Yolanda Dandridge walks almost 14,000 steps a day — double the national average.

It takes a lot of walking to manage two schools. Dandridge has led Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary for the last two years and was previously the academic dean. She temporarily took over Frayser Achievement Elementary when the schools had to share space this year because of maintenance issues at Georgian Hill’s original building.

“I am constantly on the move,” Dandridge said. “How else can you keep up with elementary students?”

Both schools are part of the Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state’s lowest-performing schools but has struggled to accomplish the task.

This year, Georgian Hills not only left the bottom 5 percent but moved out of the bottom 10 percent. In 2016, before Dandridge took charge, Georgian Hills was in the worst 2 percent of schools.

Dandridge was honored by the achievement district for her work.

“She is a real standout among our principals of someone who understands what it takes to turn things around,” said interim achievement district leader Kathleen Airhart.

Dandridge talked to Chalkbeat about how she gets to know her students, her efforts to motivate teachers, and why school buildings are important.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

What was your first education job and what sparked your interest in the field?

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Dandridge walks almost 14,000 steps a day — double the national average.

I tell my teachers to always stay focused on the “why” behind their careers. For me, my “why” was the fact that my little brother got all the way through elementary school without learning to read. He wasn’t able to read until the fifth grade. He came from a family of educators, and he still slipped through the cracks. If that could happen to him, it could happen to so many kids.

I started teaching in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, and I taught in that state for more than a decade. I came to Memphis as a teacher, I was asked later to consider taking on the principal role at Georgian Hills. I said, “You want me to do what?” Now, I’m grateful for all those years in the classroom and as an academic dean to prepare me for this role.

How do you get to know students even though you don’t have your own classroom?

Any chance to get into the classroom, I will. If a substitute teacher doesn’t come, which does happen sometimes, I will teach the students in that classroom for a day. I love getting to know students by helping out in the classroom.

I am also constantly walking the hallways of both schools. That’s how I start the morning — I greet students and their parents by name when they walk into the school. I walk students to their classrooms. I’m constantly monitoring the hallways.

When a new student registers for classes, the first thing the office staff knows to do is call me down so I can meet them.

How do you handle discipline when students get into trouble?

I really prefer to always consider the experiences that a child may have had prior to entering our building.  When you approach discipline with a keen awareness of the types of situations a child might have or experience, it really makes you a better educator.  And you understand that the best thing for us to do is to ensure that students know and understand that we have their best interests in mind. When children connect with you and other teachers in this way, discipline is less challenging.

What is an effort you’ve spearheaded at your school that you’re particularly proud of?

I’m very proud of what we’ve done at Georgian Hills and now at Frayser to really focus on our teachers.

Every Wednesday after school, we’ll have a period of professional development. I try to be attentive to what my teachers tell me they want to learn more about. There is a lot of coordination on lesson plans in particular. Teachers work together on their lesson planning, and I also will personally give feedback on a teahers’ lesson plans. My biggest, driving question is “What do my teachers need most?” They don’t need to be spending hours everyday lesson planning when they can collaborate. We can help there.

Tell us about a time that a teacher evaluation didn’t go as expected — for better or for worse?

Evaluating teachers has always provided me with the opportunity to hear and see the creativity and passion that our teachers bring to the classroom.  My thought on evaluations is to take the anxiety out of it and ensure that teachers are comfortable and understand that the overall process is about improving their skills and enhancing the tools in their toolbox.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
This year, Georgian Hills not only left the bottom 5 percent but moved out of the bottom 10 percent of schools in Tennessee.

When I was early in my teaching career in Mississippi, I had a student with a single mom. Her mom was an amazing support system for me and my classroom. She was always wanting to volunteer at the school. But she struggled to provide basic needs for her daughter — she was struggling to get a job. But she was trying so hard. There’s a stigma of parents, especially in low-income communities, not participating or caring about their child’s education. This mom was giving her all, and it changed my view of parental support. The school needed to find ways to also support her.

And so as a principal, I’m always thinking about how I can support my parents and invite them into the school. So that they feel welcome and wanted, and also so they are encouraged in their own role in their child’s education. We hold math and science nights, where parents learn how to do math games or science experiments at home with their kids. We provide them with materials and knowledge so that they can provide enrichment in their own home.

What issue in the education policy realm is having a big impact on your school right now? How are you addressing it?

We, like many schools in Memphis, don’t have the facilities we need for our students. Georgian Hills had to vacate our school building due to an issue with the roof. That created a hard environment for this school year — moving to a new building where we share space, and then me taking on that school as its school leader when the principal left. Honestly, I thought this year could break me as a school leader. But it didn’t, and it didn’t break our school either. We had a culture in place where our teachers felt supported among the chaos of the start of the year. After a year of repairs, we’re planning on moving back to our original building this fall.

But the issue here is that we don’t have the school buildings we need. Schools should be palaces in a community.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

You have to mobilize people’s efforts to “win.” The first secret to this is to love your people. They are here for a purpose and you have to help them understand the higher purpose that they are here to serve.  You have to have the right people in place, be responsible for developing them, and have the courage to let them go when student’s needs aren’t being met. Finally, transparency rules.

oversight

Aurora school board to consider one-year charter contract for school with conflict of interest

PHOTO: Andrea Chu

Aurora’s school board is set to decide Tuesday whether to renew the charter of a well-rated school that long has served children with special needs — but that also has become caught up in questions over conflicts of interest and opaque finances.

Aurora district administrators, concerned about operations of Vanguard Classical School, are recommending just a one-year charter extension rather than the usual five-year contract.

District staff members told the school board earlier this year that they were unsure about the school’s relationship with Ability Connection Colorado, the nonprofit that started the school and provides services through a $350,000 agreement. Not only does that contract lack specifics, but also the nonprofit’s CEO, Judy Ham, serves as the president of the charter school’s board and has signed agreements between the two organizations on behalf of Vanguard.

“You can see the clear conflict of interest concern that arose for us,” Lamont Browne, the district’s director of autonomous schools, told the school board in February.

The charter school board president disputes the findings of the conflicts of interest, but said the school is going to comply with all of the contract’s conditions anyway.

Vanguard, which first opened in 2007, was created to serve students with special needs in an inclusive model, meaning, as much as possible those students are blended into regular classrooms. Currently, the charter operates two campuses. One, near Lowry, enrolls about 500 K-8 students, and the second, a K-12 campus on the east side of the city, enrolls about 745 students. More than half of the students at each campus qualify for free or reduced price lunches, a measure of poverty.

In reviewing Vanguard, the district found it has a higher percentage of students who perform well on some state tests than the district does. The school also has a good rating from annual state reviews.

But the unclear relationship between the school and its founding nonprofit have raised doubts.

Although the relationship and service agreements the school has with the nonprofit aren’t new, Aurora’s concerns came up during an interview step that was added to the charter renewal process this year. Last time Vanguard went through a review from the district, five years ago, the district’s office of autonomous schools that now oversees charter schools did not exist. Staff describe previous reviews as compliance checklists.

Ham told district reviewers in that new step during the review process, that she never recused herself from board votes involving her employer.

But Ham now says that she misspoke, and meant that she has never recused herself officially because she just doesn’t vote on matters involving Ability Connection Colorado.

“It felt like (it was) a loaded question” Ham said. “But I don’t recuse myself because I don’t ever vote. It’s almost like a foregone conclusion.”

Browne also told the board he was concerned with the lack of detail about the $350,000 service agreement.

“Considering the amount that that contract was for, we were very concerned about the lack of detail regarding those services,” Browne said. He also pointed to school staff’s “lack of clarity with regard to what they were paying for and what they were receiving.”

Ham said the charter school has rewritten and added more detail to the agreements about what Ability Connection Colorado does for the school, which she said includes payroll services, human resources, building management, and risk assessments for students. The school’s west campus also shares a building with the nonprofit.

“We are on-call 24-7,” Ham said. “We wanted to provide everything so that the school could focus on being able to do the most important thing which is educating the children, knowing that inclusive education is hard to do.”

But what the functions of the nonprofit are aren’t clear, according to Aurora administrators.

“The school should not be wondering what services they are or are not receiving from the company,” said Mackenzie Stauffer, Aurora’s charter school coordinator.

Administrators recommend a renewed contract include stipulations such as governance training for the school’s board, meant to address conflicts of interest.

Ben Lindquist, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, said that there are laws that could apply to give charter school authorizers like Aurora authority over conflict-of-interest issues.

“It should be within the purview of an authorizer to inquire into conflicts of interest if it perceives they are there,” Lindquist said. “But there’s not just one way to remedy that.”

Among the contract’s conditions, the district will also ask that Vanguard’s board be more transparent about recording board votes on significant decisions. Initially, district staff also said they considered asking Vanguard to remove the current board and replace all members, but officials said they ran into some problems with what they were allowed to ask the school to do.

“There’s a very interesting place we are in where we are the authorizer — we don’t run the school and we want to maintain that delineation,” Browne said. “However if we feel like there is something that could be a potential challenge for the school, we feel like it’s our duty to do what we can to suggest or recommend those changes.”