year in review

Teaching in Colorado in 2016: Debate intensifies over how to find, keep and pay good teachers

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
A Relay resident practices giving directions to her peers, who pretend to be students.

An urgency to improve teaching and attract more people to the profession grew this year as schools and districts increasingly had trouble finding teachers for some jobs and debates continued about performance pay and how to increase teacher diversity.

The discussions started early this year at the legislature with a bill that was passed to help rural districts recruit more teachers by hiring a statewide coordinator and by providing stipends to students wanting to go into teaching.

This year’s annual report from the state showed the shortage does start in college and the numbers of students enrolling in teaching programs dipped once more. Superintendents from several school districts discussed the problem at an annual forum and said teachers need to get paid more but must also feel respected.

Officials in rural districts have also said this year that their big challenge in recruitment is often salary, but they are directing some efforts to find teachers who are drawn to the benefits of being in a small town.

Even in the larger urban districts, improving teacher pay and experience was a topic of discussion this year. The advocacy nonprofit A-Plus Colorado released a report in September with suggestions to improve the performance pay model in Denver Public Schools.

Denver teachers did get a slight raise this summer under new agreements with the teachers union, as did some teachers in Jeffco Public Schools.

Besides looking at pay, Denver schools are also getting a chance to expand a coaching program for teachers after voters passed a bond measure in November. DPS is also looking at the possibility of providing affordable housing for teachers, as some districts are already doing.

Another group looking to increase the number of teachers is the Relay Graduate School of Education, which opened an office in Denver this year and started a local teacher residency program.

The city of Denver also stepped into the field by joining DPS to target teacher recruitment to increase diversity in the classrooms where the majority of students are racial minorities but most teachers are white. Among the new teachers that joined DPS this fall, that didn’t change much. Three of the teachers that participated in the targeted recruitment from DPS, and were still working in the district this year, shared the experience of being recruited with Chalkbeat.

Next year, discussions about recruitment, diversity and improving teacher quality are sure to continue. One decision to look for is a state Supreme Court ruling on teacher job guarantees under the 2010 teacher evaluation law. Educators will also be watching the legislature and other advocacy groups as they look at solutions to teacher shortage issues through school funding changes.

year in review

State leaders took a hard look at the teacher shortage in 2017

Retired English teacher Peggy Allen, center, speaks with Otis Principal Michelle Patterson, left, and Superintendent Kendra Anderson at Mama's, the town's lone restaurant. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

The problem of teacher shortages has plagued some Colorado school districts for years, but it reached a tipping point of sorts in 2017.

With a growing trove of anecdotes about teachers who can’t afford housing, who work second jobs to make ends meet or who leave the profession early, state education officials hit the road last summer. They conducted a series of town halls to learn more about the problem, which is particularly acute in the state’s rural areas and in certain grades and subjects.

The input they collected informed a sweeping strategic plan mandated by legislation passed during the 2017 session. It included recommendations ranging from student loan forgiveness to exploring the possibility of a minimum salary for teachers tied to the cost of living.

Some school districts also attacked facets of the teacher shortage issue with their own initiatives over the past year. Denver Public Schools considered converting an old elementary school into teacher housing, though it may not follow through, in part because of neighborhood opposition. In Aurora Public Schools, officials have partnered with a local university to give teacher prep students paid jobs at one elementary school while they take college classes.

The teacher shortage problem — and potential solutions — also came up at a recent panel discussion sponsored by the Denver-based Public Education and Business Coalition. A half-dozen superintendents weighed in on the issue, with several calling out Colorado’s failure to adequately or equitably fund schools.

year in review

How President Trump’s immigration policies made waves and stoked fears in Colorado schools in 2017

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver students walk to a rally September 5, 2017 to protest President Trump's decision to end DACA.

President Trump’s hard-line immigration policies had a profound effect on Colorado’s education community in 2017, with students taking to the streets, teachers recasting lesson plans, and school boards seeking to calm fears.

At a gathering at Denver’s South High School, a group of teenagers whose families fled persecution and war in their native countries decried Trump administration actions they say betray American values they hold dear.

Denver Public Schools took a number of steps this year as fears spread in immigrant communities about enforcement crackdowns under Trump, assuring families that the district will protect students’ constitutional rights. The state’s largest school district also joined with the Mexican consulate in those efforts and promised to build on their longstanding partnership.

Students made their voices heard loud and clear. In February, several Colorado school districts reported a spike in absences among students and staff during a “Day Without Immigrants,” a demonstration of  immigrants’ contributions to society.

At northeast Denver’s Bruce Randolph School, sixth and seventh graders in an English language development class spent an afternoon tweeting to President Trump about their experiences, pride, and fears.

Trump’s plans to roll back protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children generated a whole new wave of protest and concern.

Denver schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg predicted that repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, would prove “catastrophic” for the school district and the city.

Not all superintendents were so vocal. Across Colorado, officials in districts with large numbers of immigrant students took different approaches to support kids without over-promising security they may not be able to guarantee.

In September, students from more than 20 Denver schools walked out of class and converged on a downtown college campus to protest President Trump’s order to end the DACA program.

The Aurora school board grappled with heightened concerns about immigration policy, too. Dozens of Aurora students and parents pressed the board to adopt a proposed resolution for “safe and inclusive” schools. The board ultimately adopted a resolution, but not before fault lines emerged over the intent.