Election 2016

Establishment candidates win State Board of Education primaries with double-digit leads over upstarts

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
The Colorado Department of Education.

Establishment candidates emerged victorious Tuesday night in two races for the State Board of Education, setting the stage for a November election that could tilt the balance of the board.

As of 9 p.m., Democrat Rebecca McClellan, the former mayor pro-tem of Centennial, held a 25-percentage point lead over her opponent Ilana Spiegel, an activist and former educator, in the state’s 6th Congressional District.

“I’m pretty relieved,” McClellan said. “It was a well-run campaign by both of us. I feel honored.”

Spiegel said she’ll continue to advocate for the issues she and her supporters care about.

“Our message about what’s best for children and teaching and learning was able to reach and resonate with thousands of people,” she said.

McClellan will attempt to unseat Republican incumbent Deb Scheffel. Scheffel, who lives in Parker, is dean of the School of Education at Colorado Christian University.

The 6th Congressional District race between McClellan and Scheffel will be the one to watch this fall.

Considered one of Colorado’s most competitive districts — voter registration is roughly split evenly among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters — it spans a diverse mix of suburban areas from Highlands Ranch to Aurora, Northglenn and Thornton.

A win by a Democrat in the 6th district could reshape the board, creating new power struggles over some of the state’s thorniest education issues.

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Meanwhile, Republican incumbent Joyce Rankin, who was appointed to her seat last August, held about a 11 percentage point lead late Tuesday over Anita Stapleton, a vocal critic of the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards, in the state’s 3rd Congressional District.

Stapleton, in an interview Tuesday night, acknowledged that she could not defeat Rankin, who had raised nearly $17,000 to Stapleton’s $878. However, Stapleton was optimistic the margin would narrow.

“I want to wait and see how close it does come — because I think that says a lot,” Stapleton said.

Rankin, a former school principal and wife of state Rep. Bob Rankin, did not immediately returned calls requesting comment.

Although Republicans hold a 4-3 edge on the board, votes don’t always fall along party lines. Denver Democrat Val Flores has sided with Republicans on issues such as testing but breaks with them over other issues, including charter schools.

The board faces immediate questions about the search for a permanent education commissioner after Rich Crandall’s sudden resignation in May.

Katy Anthes, who previously served as the education department’s chief of staff, is filling the position on an interim basis.

The board also must oversee the development of the state’s new education plan, required by federal law. Some members, including Scheffel, want the board to have a larger role in developing the plan.

And starting in 2017, the board is expected to begin handing out sanctions to some 30 schools and eight school districts that have failed to improve student achievement on state tests during the last five years.

Rankin will face off against Democrat Christine Pacheco-Koveleski, a lawyer from Pueblo who once served on the city’s school board and unsuccessfully ran for the State Board before.

A third race between Republican chairman Steve Durham and Democratic challenger Jeffery L. Walker Sr. will also take place in November. Neither candidate had a primary opponent.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”