kindergarten clash

Jeffco board majority inches toward expanding kindergarten options

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
A Jefferson County resident demonstrates in front of Bear Creek High School in Lakewood Thursday. The rally was of about 400 individuals was organized largely by the Jeffco teachers union. The union and the district are in the midst of tense contract negations.

LAKEWOOD — Despite their best efforts, dozens of supporters of a plan to expand free full-day kindergarten in Jefferson County did not convince the conservative school board majority of the program’s benefits.

But at least one member of that majority — which so far has blocked a modest expansion of the program — said at the board’s Thursday meeting he’d be interested in exploring alternatives to provide the program for free to more of Jefferson County’s neediest students.

John Newkirk, secretary of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education, said he’d entertain the possibility of expanding the district’s offering of free full-day kindergarten to all students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, a proxy for poverty.

He asked the district’s staff to provide him with the estimated cost of doing so.

“We still have 60 days,” he said, referring to the amount of time before the board must finalize the district’s budget, which must be approved by June 30. The first day of the fiscal year is July 1.

Newkirk made the request during discussion on a motion made by board member Lesley Dahlkemper to fund 13 additional kindergarten classes at 5 campuses. It was her second attempt of the evening to have the board approve the $600,000 line item. Both times, the majority blocked the request.

District staff first suggested the expansion at an April 3 meeting.

Officials believe expanding the program would have a positive impact on student achievement and would provide the resources to students and teachers to meet the boards academic goals.

But the board’s majority didn’t buy it.

Board president Ken Witt last night reiterated his concerns about how the program’s expansions targets specific schools, not students, and that the district had no local data to illustrate the benefits of full-day kindergarten.

Under the current proposal, Jeffco would offer full day kindergarten for free to all students, regardless of their parents’ income, who attended a school that’s total population included at least 35 percent of students at or below the poverty line.

That means in some instances, 65 percent of students whose parents could otherwise afford to pay the $300 for a second half-day of instruction would get the program for free, goes Witt’s logic.

Witt said creating a sliding scale for kindergarten tuition could be an plausible option.

Jeffco currently offers free half-day kindergarten to all students. And about 40 full-day kindergarten classrooms across the large suburban district are also free because those schools have at least 36.8 percent of its students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. None of the classrooms are in jeopardy of being closed.

photo 2
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jeffco board member Lesley Dahlkemper, left, speaks with parents during a break at the board’s May 2 meeting at Bear Creek High School.

Dahlkemper’s push for the board to expand the free kindergarten program came during a report from district staff on writing achievement goals.

While Jeffco students meet or exceed the state’s proficiency scores on average, middle school growth scores, or how the state measures how much a student learns year-to-year, are slightly below the state’s requirement.

Dahlkemper wondered out loud if expanding the kindergarten program could help the district boost scores.

Earlier in the evening one group of parents presented data they had collected showing greater positive outcomes for students of full-day kindergarten.

“Your goals focus on mastery of content standards at every grade level and each student achieving at least one year’s growth every year,” said Tina Gurdikian during her group testimony. “Additional board goals focus on academic achievement as measured by testing. It is your duty and obligation to provide funding towards meeting those ends. The research and body of evidence supports the educational benefits of full-day kindergarten over half-day kindergarten.”

Funding free full-day kindergarten is just one of many politically charged conversations in Jeffco.

Dozens of parents, teachers, and students spoke out Thursday in support of their teachers.

Prior to the meeting more than 400 teachers and the supporters rallied outside Bear Creek High School where the board meeting was held.

The union and district are in the midsts of tense negotiations. The union is concerned its teachers will not be given the raises they’ve been promised — despite nearly $12 million being earmarked in the budget to do so. The union declared an impasse last month.

The board’s majority is also trying to equalize funding between its district run schools and charters. A few charter supporters thanked the board’s work to provide them with more money.

Parent presentation to the Jeffco board

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.