the choice

Denver school board picks district-run programs to take over low-performing schools

PHOTO: Eric Gorski
Parents pick up their children at Amesse Elementary, one of two schools that will be restarted.

Low-performing Amesse Elementary in far northeast Denver will be taken over next fall by leaders from nearby McGlone Academy in an effort to improve academic achievement.

In a rare split vote, the Denver school board voted 6-1 Monday to place a program called the Montbello Children’s Network at Amesse starting in fall 2018. Proposed by McGlone leaders with input from Amesse teachers and families, the network would seek to replicate the success that once-struggling McGlone has had in boosting its own students’ learning.

McGlone and Amesse are located less than a mile apart in the Montbello neighborhood and serve a similar demographic. Nearly all of Amesse’s 470 students this past school year were low-income children of color, and 63 percent were English language learners.

Board member Rosemary Rodriguez was the sole no vote. She said that while she believes the Montbello Children’s Network will be successful, her vote was meant as encouragement for local charter school network STRIVE Prep, which was also vying to take over Amesse.

Other board members also praised STRIVE, which currently operates 11 schools in the city. But they noted the high level of community support for the Montbello Children’s Network, including the blessing of a community group assembled to review the options for Amesse.

“We’ve made some tough decisions on this board over the years and this ranks right up there for me, but for very different reasons,” said board member Happy Haynes. “This is one of those tough decisions where you describe it as a good problem to have.”

Board member Lisa Flores said she suspects some will see the board’s vote as an endorsement of district-run schools like McGlone over charter school networks like STRIVE. But she said that would be a mistake in a school district that embraces collaboration alongside competition; in her view, she said, charter schools and district-run schools have pushed each other to be better.

In a separate vote, the board unanimously chose to place at low-performing Greenlee Elementary in west Denver next fall a program called the Center for Talent Development at Greenlee. It was proposed by the current principal and seeks to continue recent gains.

The votes bring to a close a process outlined in a new school closure policy that calls for using a strict set of criteria to either close for good or “restart” chronically low-performing schools. The rollout of the policy was rocky, and concerns about fairness and community involvement surfaced during the competition to take over the schools designated for restart.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said at Monday’s meeting that the district will learn from its first experience with the policy, which is among the strictest in the country. But in a sentiment echoed by several board members, he said the process showed that for students in long-struggling schools, “there are exceptional opportunities” waiting for them.

Future of Schools

Spike in refugee students fuels increase in English language learners at two adult charter schools

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Two charter schools serving adults saw Indianapolis’s largest spike in students learning English this year, fueled by a rise in the refugees seeking high school diplomas, officials said.

Excel Center-University Heights and Christel House DORS South, charter schools serving adult students, saw their enrollment of English language learners jump to 44 percent and 63 percent of all students, respectively.

The campuses are less than two miles apart. The south side neighborhood they serve is close to a large population of Burmese refugees, said Jeff Hoover, Senior Director of The Excel Center Network and Operations.

Excel, which has 359 students, overwhelmingly attracts students by word-of-mouth, said Hoover, so enrollment at University Heights has gained momentum among refugees as students graduate and spread the word in their communities.

“They really created a real family type of atmosphere,” he said. “Being in a different country, and feeling that sense of community within a school is certainly … something that would attract me.”

Indiana has a mixed history when it comes to welcoming refugees. Indianapolis has one of the largest Burmese communities in the U.S., and about 14,000 Burmese-Chin refugees now live on the south side of the city, the Indy Star reported last year. Indiana admitted 1,893 refugees in 2016, according to Exodus Refugee Immigration, a nonprofit that works with refugees in Indiana. But under the Trump administration, that number was dramatically cut. At an Indianapolis school dedicated to serving students who are new to the country, enrollment declined in part because of the policy change.

State lawmakers allocated an extra $250 per student this year for schools to help educate students who are English language learners. At schools that have particularly high populations of students learning English, even more money is available.

International students who go to Excel may have high school diplomas or even college or advanced degrees from their home countries, unlike the U.S.-born students there, Hoover said. But Indiana employers and universities don’t always recognize those credentials, so the immigrants go to Excel to earn recognized diplomas.

Students who are English language learners often go through the same program as their peers who are fluent, but it may take them longer to complete diplomas, Hoover said. At the University Heights campus, there is an instructor who can speak some of the dialects spoken by Burmese refugees.

As charter school targeted at serving adults, Excel offers flexible scheduling and onsite childcare.

These 10 Marion County schools saw the number of English language learners enrolled jump over the past year.

  1. Excel Center – University Heights — 44 percent of students are English language learners, up 20 percentage points from last year.
  2. Christel House DORS South — 63 percent of students are English language learners, up 17 percentage points from last year.
  3. James Allison Elementary School in Speedway — 29 percent of students are English language learners, up 12 percentage points from last year.
  4. Homecroft Elementary School in Perry Township — 36 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  5. Southport Elementary School in Perry Township — 46 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  6. Westlake Elementary School in Wayne Township — 34 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  7. Arlington High School in Indianapolis Public Schools — 11 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  8. James Whitcomb Riley School 43 in Indianapolis Public Schools — 8 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  9. Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Perry Township — 35 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  10. Global Preparatory Academy at School 44 in Indianapolis Public Schools — 23 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.

Making history

Watch Chalkbeat’s first-ever Great American Teach-Off here

Participants in the first-ever Great American Teach-Off Tim Livingston, left, Eleanor Vierling, Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Terrance O’Neil. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

On March 7, two teams of educators met in Austin to teach a math lesson — and make history.

The teachers, Eleanor Vierling and Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Tim Livingston and Terrance O’Neil, taught a 20-minute lesson called “contemplate then calculate.” The teachers were participating in Chalkbeat’s first-ever Great American Teach-Off, an event at the SXSW EDU conference.

The goal of the Teach-Off, inspired by some of our favorite TV shows that celebrate the hidden craftsmanship in other professions, was to elevate the craft of teaching.

After both teams of teachers presented their lessons, there was a robust conversation on stage and on Twitter about the best moments.

Watch the entire Teach-Off here and then tell us your favorite moment using the hashtag #teachoff.