First Person

Voices: What CITE 2.0 means for Dougco students

Douglas County School District board President John Carson says district staff and teachers have spent countless hours developing CITE 2.0, a new way to evaluate teachers based on performance.

The changes to teacher evaluations demanded by Colorado Senate Bill 10-191 have caused varying levels of discomfort for teachers in school districts across the state and that is understandable. In a very short amount of time, beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, all Colorado districts must evaluate teachers on how effective they are in the classroom. The law requires that 50 percent of teacher evaluation be based on student growth and achievement.

Dougco school board president John Carson discusses board policy changes at a September board meeting. (EdNews Colorado file photo)

Defining what that looks like and then implementing it systematically is a challenging process. In Douglas County we have taken this mandate very seriously because we know that the most important factor in our students’ success is the quality of the teachers in our classrooms.  We also know that well-intended legislation that is poorly implemented has a lasting, negative impact on our students and our schools.

Even before SB 10-191 the Douglas County School District was working to reinvent its own teacher evaluation instrument – CITE, which stands for Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness. CITE is the Douglas County School District evaluation tool that not only satisfies the requirements of SB 10-191 but exceeds those requirements.

In the Douglas County School District (DCSD) everything we do is centered on one single thing – what is best for our students. From budgeting to facilities to professional practices, it’s our goal to do everything we can to improve the educational experience for our students. The development of CITE is no different.

We know that excellence in teaching and leading must be our highest priority, as they have the most significant impact on the success of our students. To that end, in collaboration with our teachers and leaders, we developed CITE, an evaluation tool for teachers that measures what matters most for our students.

Three important things to note about CITE are:

• CITE is the result of extensive collaboration with teachers and leaders across the district;

• CITE goes above and beyond state requirements and is built on assessments that measure the most important outcomes we teach;

• CITE is one component of the DCSD system performance framework that provides students, parents, employees and the community with consistent information and reporting on how we are doing regarding the most important outcomes in our system.

CITE 2.0 is the result of hundreds and hundreds of hours of work and collaboration with DCSD teachers and administrators. Nearly four years ago, CITE started with a large teacher committee that provided feedback about the development of a new teacher evaluation instrument.

In the midst of our CITE development, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed SB 10-191. A major piece of that law requires school districts to evaluate teachers with a standard tool by the 2013-2014 school year – a very short timeline for development and implementation.  The law requires that 50 percent of teacher evaluation be based on student growth and achievement.  The law also gave birth to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) rules committee which made many decisions about the implementation of SB 10-191, including producing the current teacher evaluation posted on the CDE website.

At the same time the state was developing a tool, DCSD was continuing to collaborate with teachers to develop CITE into an instrument that would align with our strategic plan, measure what matters most to our students and satisfy state requirements.

Some have asked the question, “Why develop a tool unique to DCSD rather than use the state instrument?” That is a great question, with a simple answer: the state evaluation did not meet the quality criteria we hold for assessments in our district, and therefore, we did not feel it was appropriate to ask our teachers or leaders to use it.  The final state instrument is 37 pages long and includes many ambiguous terms and redundancies. The DCSD CITE model is streamlined and clearly defines our expectations for our teachers – expectations grounded in the best practices for our students that are found in educational research and literature.

CITE is also an important component in the DCSD pay-for-performance system.  The system celebrates amazing educators and employees for their great work. Ultimately, teachers who are effective and highly effective will have opportunities for pay increases. Those who are not effective will receive feedback and training to improve their skills. Opportunities for professional development through coaching and training will, however, be available to all employees, ensuring that even those employees who are exemplary become examples for others in their field.

We know that there is a work yet to be done to fully complete the project in time to comply with the timeline established by SB 10-191.  While some have expressed trepidation that the system is not completely built, the feedback we are receiving from many teachers is that they are excited to be part of the development process. We are doing this the right way given the timeline we have under SB 10-191. We know that our efforts will make CITE a better, more intelligent teacher evaluation system that will benefit our students.

In DCSD, we are measuring the most important things teachers teach, and we are using a body of evidence that includes student work to measure teacher performance.

About the author

John Carson and his wife Eileen have three children and have lived in Highlands Ranch since 2002. John Carson is vice president and general counsel for Cherry Creek Mortgage Company in Greenwood Village. He formerly served as the Rocky Mountain regional director for the U.S. Development of Housing and Urban Development under President George W.Bush. Carson attended Green Mountain High School in Lakewood.

First Person

I’ve been mistaken for the other black male leader at my charter network. Let’s talk about it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I was recently invited to a reunion for folks who had worked at the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was a privilege for me to have been part of that work, and it was a privilege for me to be in that room reflecting on our legacy.

The counterweight is that only four people in the room were black males. Two were waiters, and I was one of the remaining two. There were definitely more than two black men who were part of the work that took place in New York City during that era, but it was still striking how few were present.

The event pushed me to reflect again on the jarring impact of the power dynamics that determine who gets to make decisions in so-called education reform. The privileged end up being relatively few, and even fewer look like the kids we serve.

I’m now the chief operating officer at YES Prep, a charter school network in Houston. When I arrived at YES four years ago, I had been warned that it was a good old boys club. Specifically, that it was a good old white boys club. It was something I assessed in taking the role: Would my voice be heard? Would I truly have a seat at the table? Would I have any influence?

As a man born into this world with a black father and white mother, I struggled at an early age with questions about identity and have been asking those questions ever since.

As I became an adult, I came to understand that being from the suburbs, going to good schools, and being a lighter-skinned black person affords me greater access to many settings in America. At the same time, I experience my life as a black man.

Jeremy Beard, head of schools at YES, started the same day I did. It was the first time YES had black men at the leadership table of the organization. The running joke was that people kept mistaking Jeremy and me for each other. We all laughed about it, but it revealed some deeper issues that had pervaded YES for some time.

“Remember when you led that tour in the Rio Grande Valley to see schools?” a board member asked me about three months into my tenure.“That wasn’t me,” I replied. I knew he meant Jeremy, who had worked at IDEA in the Valley. At that time, I had never been to the Valley and didn’t even know where it was on the map.

“Yes, it was,” he insisted.

“I’ve never been to the Valley. It wasn’t me. I think you mean Jeremy.”

“No, it was you, don’t you remember?” he continued, pleading with me to recall something that never happened.

“It wasn’t me.”

He stopped, thought about it, confused, and uttered, “Huh.”

It is difficult for me to assign intent here, and this dynamic is not consistent with all board members. That particular person may have truly been confused about my identity. And sure, two black men may have a similar skin tone, and we may both work at YES. But my life experience suggests something else was at play. It reminds me that while I have the privilege of sitting at the table with our board, they, as board members, have the privilege of not having to know who I am, or that Jeremy and I are different black dudes.

It would be easy to just chalk this all up to racial politics in America and accept it as status quo, but I believe we can change the conversation on privilege and race by having more conversations on privilege and race. We can change the dynamics of the game by continuing to build awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can also advocate to change who has seats at the table and whose voices will be heard.

I remain hopeful thanks to the changes I have witnessed during my time at YES. The board has been intentional in their efforts to address their own privilege, and is actively working to become more diverse and inclusive.

Personally, I have worked to ensure there are more people of color with seats at the table by mentoring future leaders of color at YES Prep and other black men in this work. Jeremy and I also created Brothers on Books, a book club for black men at YES to find mentorship and fellowship. Through this book club, we can create a safe space to have candid discussions based on literature we read and explore what it means to be black men at YES.

When I think about privilege, I am torn between the privilege that has been afforded to me and the jarring power dynamics that determine who gets to have conversations and make decisions in so-called education reform. White people are afforded more voices and seats at the table, making decisions that primarily impact children of color.

It is not lost on me that it is my own privilege that affords me access to a seat at the table. My hope is that by using my role, my voice and my privilege, I can open up dialogue, hearts, minds, opinions, and perceptions. I hope that readers are similarly encouraged to assess their own privileges and determine how they can create positive change.

Recy Benjamin Dunn is YES Prep’s chief operating officer, overseeing operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy for the charter school network. A version of this piece was first published on YES Prep’s blog.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.