Jeffco Interrupted

U.S. ed department issues new guidance to schools on student privacy

In an apparent response to growing concern from parents about student data collection, the U.S. Education Department this morning announced new “user-friendly” student data and privacy guidance for schools and districts.

The new guidance makes several recommendations including schools and districts share with parents what information they are collecting about students, how is the information protected, and if they share personal information with third parties.

The department also launched a new website that includes resources and information for parents regarding the federal student privacy laws.

“Now more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “At the same time, parents need assurance that their children’s personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two.”

Parents across the county — and in Colorado — have become increasingly anxious about student privacy as more schools are collecting more data points.

Locally, parents in Jefferson County have raised concern about student privacy in two separate matters: inBloom, a now expired project of the Gates Foundation that would have created a super-dashboard for teachers to find student information with just a few clicks, and TS Gold, a school readiness assessment. Earlier this year, the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education dropped the district’s use of Gold in kindergarten but kept the tool in its preschools in order to continue to receive funding from the state’s preschool program.

Full release from U.S. Education Department

The U.S. Department of Education today announced new guidance for schools and districts on how to keep parents and students better informed about what student data is collected and how it is used.

In the guidance issued by the Department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center, schools and districts are urged to be proactive in communicating how they use student data. Information should be available to answer common questions before they are asked.

“Now more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “At the same time, parents need assurance that their children’s personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two.”

The Department’s Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) also announced a new companion website that includes a variety of resources and information regarding the federal laws FPCO administers, and to help keep the public informed about the privacy and use of student records.

The new site, http://familypolicy.ed.gov, is aimed at being more user-friendly to help school officials, parents and students find the information they are seeking. In the coming months, the Department will post decision letters from prior complaints handled by FPCO, which administers the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The website will also feature an online “community of practice” for school officials to share best practices, information, templates and other resources.

The new guidance recommends that schools and districts provide parents with information, such as:

· What information are you collecting about students?
· Why are you collecting this information?
· How is the information protected?
· Do you share any personal information with third parties? If so, with whom and for what purpose(s)?
· Who should parents contact if they have questions about your data practices?

To respond to parental inquiries, the guidance recommends that schools :

· Keep the lines of communication open.
· Review parental questions, concerns and suggestions in a thoughtful and careful manner.
· Respond to parental or student requests in a timely manner.
· Periodically review old inquiries and resolutions to evaluate and improve communication and transparency efforts.

The guidance also advises schools to make information about their student data policies clear, consistent and easy to find on their public website. Members of the community should periodically review the site for ease of use, comprehension and completeness.

Today’s announcement addresses the increasing need for schools and districts across the country to collect data about students, including their test scores, grades, credits earned, and other related information, such as demographics, enrollment, discipline, and special education status.

Education agencies use this information to identify student talents and special requirements, check academic progress and develop successful learning plans. The guidance encourages schools and districts to take a hands-on approach in communicating with parents to help alleviate confusion and misunderstandings about the use of student records.

The Department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center is a one-stop resource for education stakeholders to learn about data privacy, confidentiality and security practices related to student data. The center provides information and updated guidance on privacy, confidentiality and security practices through a variety of resources, including training materials and technical assistance.

Besides FERPA which protects the privacy of student education records, FPCO also administers another law related to the use of student personal information. Known as the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), the statute addresses, among other matters, the use of personal information collected from students for marketing purposes and the administration of certain surveys and evaluations to students.

For more information on the work of the Family Policy Compliance Office, see its website here.

first shot

Jeffco district giving charter school district status and district building, while letting it maintain autonomy

A 2013 image from Free Horizon Montessori Charter School in Golden. (Denver Post file).

In a rare deal, a Jeffco charter school will become a district-run school but keep much of its independence — and also secure a long-sought campus.

For its part, the Jeffco school district wins a stable school in a Golden neighborhood that lost its own elementary school last year.

Free Horizon Montessori in the Jeffco district will still be run by its own board and is requesting the same waivers from state education law that it has now. But instead of getting them by being a charter school, it will become a district-run innovation school. Innovation schools, which are popular in Denver and several other districts, can win waivers from certain state and district rules. Those waivers grant them more sovereignty than traditional district-run schools. Free Horizon will be the first school in Jeffco Public Schools to earn the status.

Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass called it a “win-win-win.”

District officials had been considering what to do with the building that was emptied this year after the school board voted to close Pleasant View Elementary in 2017. Officials said feedback showed the community favored keeping the building as a school.

The charter school, now located about a mile away from the school building, just south of U.S. Highway 6, was looking for a new location. In its current space, configured more for an office than a school, the charter would have had to spend about $7 million for the changes it wanted.

Under the plan, the charter will get a rent-free campus at Pleasant View, which will still be owned and managed by the district. The community will again have a school in the building — one which officials believe will have more stable enrollment than the elementary school the district closed — and the plan would give Pleasant View-area students a priority at the charter school, if they choose to go there.

Finding a place to house a school is one of the most common challenges facing charter schools in the metro area, especially as market rates go up. Jeffco has no policy on how to choose to lease, give, or sell a district building to a charter school, but it has done so a few times. Last year, for instance, the school board reluctantly approved a lease for Doral Academy to temporarily move into a district building.

Glass said that after seeing how Free Horizon works out, he’d consider a more consistent way of sharing available district space with charter schools, provided they accept all Jeffco students equitably and serve the community’s interests.

“Free Horizon certainly meets the bill,” Glass said. “This is sort of our first shot at this.”

Free Horizon Montessori, a preschool through eighth grade school, has about 420 students, including 21.6 percent who qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. Currently, about 20 students from the Pleasant View neighborhood attend Free Horizon.

Miera Nagy, the charter’s director of finance and advancement, said after the move, the school will likely shrink its preschool, which has 75 students, to be able to fit in the building.

When arguing to close Pleasant View, Jeffco officials had cited necessary and costly building repairs. Now, they say it was decreasing enrollment that was the primary reason that made the school unsustainable.

In talking about Free Horizon’s plans, Nagy said, the school building won’t allow the school space to grow much. Instead, the school wanted the Pleasant View campus for “dedicated space for our specials.” As an example she said, the school’s physical education class is located in a room without a field or things like basketball hoops.

“This expands those services and those programs,” Nagy said.

The school board approved the school’s proposed innovation plan last week and it now heads to the State Board of Education. Jeffco officials, meanwhile, are working to delineate in a new document what responsibilities their school board will have, and which ones will be left to the school’s board.

Glass is seeking to keep the school intact.

“What he asked us to do was find a way that we could do this without designing any changes to the program that Free Horizon has,” said Tim Matlick, Jeffco’s achievement director of charter schools at a board meeting last week. “Free Horizon has a very successful program.”

The charter school meets state academic growth goals and falls slightly short of standards for achievement. According to state test results from 2016-17, 41.7 percent of the charter’s third graders met or exceeded standards for language arts. That’s slightly lower than the district’s average of 45.4 percent for the same group.

As a charter school, Free Horizon hires custodial services and buys school lunches, but as a district-run innovation school, Jeffco will provide those services. In exchange, the school will get less money per student than it does now as a charter school.

“Some of those things will actually be under the district’s umbrella, allowing the team at Free Horizon to really focus on the educational process,” Matlick said

The plan will also include a way for the district or the school to terminate the agreement by allowing the school to revert to a charter school if things don’t go well.

“We know that we’re going to learn more as we continue to go down the path,” Nagy said. “We’re going to be figuring this out together.”



outside the box

Program to bring back dropout students is one of 10 new ideas Jeffco is investing in

File photo of Wheat Ridge High School students. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Jeffco students who drop out will have another option for completing high school starting this fall, thanks to a program that is being started with money from a district “innovation fund.”

The new program would allow students, particularly those who are older and significantly behind on credits, to get district help to prepare for taking a high school equivalency test, such as the GED, while also taking college courses paid for by the district.

The idea for the program was pitched by Dave Kollar, who has worked for Jeffco Public Schools for almost 20 years, most recently as the district’s director of student engagement.

In part, Kollar’s idea is meant to give students hope and to allow them to see college as a possibility, instead of having to slowly walk back as they recover credits missing in their transcripts.

“For some kids, they look at you, and rightfully so, like ‘I’m going to be filling in holes for a year or two? This doesn’t seem realistic,’” Kollar said. “They’re kind of defeated by that. As a student, I’m constantly looking backwards at my failures. This is about giving kids something like a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Jeffco’s dropout rate has decreased in the last few years, like it has across the state. At 1.7 percent, the rate isn’t high, but still represents 731 students who dropped out last year.

Kollar’s was one of ten winning ideas announced earlier this month in the district’s first run at giving out mini-grants to kick-start innovative ideas. Kollar’s idea received $160,000 to get the program started and to recruit students who have dropped out and are willing to come back to school.

The other ideas that the district gave money to range from school building improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act at Fletcher Miller Special School, from new school health centers to a new district position to help work on safety in schools. One school, Stott Elementary, will create a “tinker lab” where students will have space and supplies to work on projects as part of the school’s project-based learning model.

The Jeffco school board approved $1 million for the awards earlier this year. It was an idea proposed by Superintendent Jason Glass as a way of encouraging innovation in the district. This spring process is meant as a test run. The board will decide whether to continue investing in it once they see how the projects are going later this spring.

Officials say they learned a lot already. Tom McDermott, who oversaw the process, will present findings and recommendations to the board at a meeting next month.

If the board agrees to continue the innovation fund, McDermott wants to find different ways of supporting more of the ideas that educators present, even if there aren’t dollars for all of them.

That’s because in this first process — even though educators had short notice — teachers and other Jeffco staff still completed and submitted more than 100 proposals. Of those, 51 ideas scored high enough to move to the second round of the process in which the applicants were invited to pitch their ideas to a committee made up of Jeffco educators.

“We’re extremely proud of the 10,” McDermott said, but added, “we want to be more supportive of more of the ideas.”

McDermott said he thinks another positive change might be to create tiers so that smaller requests compete with each other in one category, and larger or broader asks compete with one another in a separate category.

This year, the applicants also had a chance to request money over time, but those parts of the awards hang on the board allocating more money.

Kollar’s idea for the GED preparation program for instance, includes a request for $348,800 next year. In total, among the 10 awards already granted, an extra $601,487 would be needed to fund the projects in full over the next two years.

Awards for innovation fund. Provided by Jeffco Public Schools.

The projects are not meant to be sustained by the award in the long-term, and some are one-time asks.

Kollar said that if that second phase of money doesn’t come through for his program, it should still be able to move forward. School districts are funded per student, so by bringing more students back to the district, the program would at least get the district’s student-based budget based on however many students are enrolled.

A similar program started in Greeley this fall is funded with those dollars the state allocates to districts for each student. So far, eight students there already completed a GED certificate, and there are now 102 other students enrolled, according to a spokeswoman for the Greeley-Evans school district.

But, having Jeffco’s innovation money could help Kollar’s program provide additional services to the students, such as a case manager that can help connect students to food or housing resources if needed.

And right now Kollar is working on setting up systems to track data around how many students end up completing the program, earning a high school equivalency certificate, enrolling in a college or trade-school, or getting jobs.

Helping more students on a path toward a career is the gold standard, he said, and what makes the program innovative.

“It’s not just about if the student completes high school,” Kollar said. “It’s are we making sure we are intentionally bridging them into whatever the next pathway is?”