do you hear the people sing?

Jeffco countywide protests continue; Lakewood Tigers roar against curriculum review

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Lakewood High School students left their homerooms this morning to protest a proposed curriculum review committee they believe could lead to censorship. Unlike earlier protests at other stchools, most students returned to class 20 minutes later.

LAKEWOOD — As expected, hundreds of high school students left their homeroom this morning to join a week’s long protest against a proposed curriculum review committee they believe could lead to censorship.

But unlike the other protests that have unfolded across the sprawling suburban county, most Lakewood  students returned to class after about 20 minutes.

By 9:40 a.m., more than half of the protesters were headed back to class. Some students are expected to return to the busy street throughout day during off periods.

Student organizers at Lakewood, who took great lengths to both showcase their concerns but not interrupt classroom learning, said they were happy how their peers were behaving.

As the protests, which began last Friday, have grown, it’s become apparent that a growing number of students have used the opportunity to ditch class than familiarize themselves with the issues.

“We wanted to find a way to do without actually missing school,” Ana Fairbanks-Mahnke, a Lakewood junior, told Chalkbeat Wednesday. “All of us really value our educations.”

Other schools expected to protest today included Bear Creek and Columbine high schools, The Denver Post reported this morning.

Of the Jefferson County neighborhood high schools, only Jefferson High School has not led some action against the proposal. A Facebook page indicates students there will walkout Sept. 29.

If formed, the proposed panel, which came out earlier conversations among board members regarding standards and assessments, would start its work by reviewing the new Advanced Placement U.S. history course. Architects of the new framework believe teachers should spend more time teaching major arcs and themes of U.S. history and spend less time on memorization of key dates and figures. Conservative critics, like Williams, believe the course is revisionist history and portrays the nation in a negative context.

The proposal, which was first presented earlier this month, was tabled at the same Jeffco school board meeting.

Williams, in a statement earlier this week, said critics of the proposal are misinterpreting her intention.

It’s unclear when the board, which has been at odds with the Jefferson County community for nearly a year, will take up the issue again.

CPR education reporter Jenny Burdin tweeted there are currently no plans for the board to take up the issue at its Oct. 2 meeting. The same students rallying throughout the week have pledged to be at the meeting to more formally voice their concerns.

While Jeffco officials confirmed the topic isn’t on the Oct. 2 agenda yet, that could change, they said.

Update: This post has been updated to clarify that it appears a growing number of students walking out of schools have used the opportunity to simply miss class than lodge participate formally in the student led protests.  

Idea pitch

Despite concerns, Jeffco school board agrees to spend $1 million to start funding school innovations

Students at Lumberg Elementary School in Jeffco Public Schools work on their assigned iPads during a class project. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Jeffco school employees can apply for a piece of a $1 million fund that will pay for an innovative idea for improving education in the district.

The school board for Jeffco Public Schools on Thursday approved shifting $1 million from the district’s rainy day fund to an innovation pool that will be used to provide grants to launch the new ideas.

The district will be open for applications as soon as Friday.

The board had reservations about the plan, which was proposed by the new schools superintendent, Jason Glass, in November, as part of a discussion about ways to encourage innovation and choice in the district. The board was concerned about how quickly the process was set to start, whether there was better use of the money, and how they might play a role in the process.

Glass conceded that the idea was an experiment and that pushing ahead so quickly might create some initial problems.

“This effort is going to be imperfect because it’s the first time that we’ve done it and we don’t really know how it’s going to turn out,” Glass said. “There are going to be problems and there are going to be things we learn from this. It’s sort of a micro experiment. We’re going to learn a lot about how to do this.”

During the November discussion, Glass had suggested one use for the innovation money: a new arts school to open in the fall to attract students to the district. He said that the money could also be used to help start up other choice schools. School board members balked, saying they were concerned that a new arts school would compete with existing arts programs in Jeffco schools. The board, which is supported by the teachers union, has been reluctant to open additional choice schools in the district, instead throwing most of their support behind the district-run schools.

Board members also expressed concerns about what they said was a rushed process for starting the fund.

The plan calls for teachers, school leaders and other district employees to apply for the money by pitching their idea and explaining its benefit to education in the district. A committee will then consider the proposals and recommend those that should be funded out of the $1 million.

Board members said they felt it was too soon to start the application process on Friday. They also questioned why the money could not also help existing district programs.

“I think a great deal of innovation is happening,” said board member Amanda Stevens.

Some board members also suggested that one of them should serve on the committee, at least to monitor the process. But Glass was adamant.

“Do you want me to run the district and be the superintendent or not?” Glass asked the board. “I can set this up and execute it, but what you’re talking about is really stepping over into management, so I caution you about that.”

Glass later said he might be open to finding another way for board members to be involved as observers, but the board president, Ron Mitchell, said he would rather have the superintendent provide thorough reports about the process. The discussion is expected to resume at a later time.

Stevens said many of the board’s questions about details and the kind of ideas that will come forth will, presumably, be answered as the process unfolds.

“Trying is the only way we get any of that information,” Stevens said.

year in review

A new superintendent and a new vision for Jeffco schools in 2017

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Jeffco Public Schools started the year making big news when its board of education decided to open a search for a new superintendent. Former Superintendent Dan McMinimee left the role in March before a new leader had been hired.

Just before he left, McMinimee proposed to the Jeffco school board a plan to close five schools as a way to save money so the district could raise staff salaries as the board had directed.

The schools recommended for closure served a disproportionate number of low-income students and housed several centers for students with special needs. They also included a high-performing school. Officials said they did not consider academic achievement in selecting the schools.

In addition to closing five schools, the proposal suggested cuts to other programs, including one for helping students develop social and emotional skills and one that helped students struggling with reading.

But in a last-minute move, the superintendent altered the proposal during a school board meeting just before the board was set to vote. In the end, the board voted to close one elementary school and spare four others as well as the programs.

A few months later, the school board selected Jason Glass as the district’s new superintendent. Glass, who was a superintendent in Eagle County at the time, had a history as a reformer helping create pay-for-performance systems. But he changed his support of some reforms after learning about education systems around the world.

One of the first changes Glass announced in Jeffco was a timeout on any school closure recommendations while district officials review and create a new process for deciding if school closures are necessary and if so, which schools to close.

Glass also published his vision for Jeffco, which will have the district take a closer look at inequities and outside factors that affect students, such as poverty. At least one school was already experimenting with that work by moving to a community school model. And the district was already considering outside factors as they were rolling out restorative practices, which change how school leaders respond to student discipline issues.

More recently, Glass asked the board, which will remain the same after the November election, to consider an expansion of school choice in Jeffco with proposals to create new options schools such as an arts school to help attract new students to the district. District officials may release more information about that plan and other changes, like a study on high school start times, in the coming months.