Nov. 15, 2018
Colorado State Board of Education directs Adams 14 School District to turn over management to external group
Two low-performing Pueblo schools to be fully managed by external organization
DENVER - The Colorado State Board of Education on Thursday directed Adams 14 School District to turn over full management of the district to a public or private external organization, an action authorized for chronically low-performing districts under the state’s accountability law.
The unprecedented move by the board is intended to spur dramatic improvement of student outcomes for the 13-school, 7,500-pupil district in Commerce City. Adams 14, along with the district’s high school, has received the lowest two ratings - Priority Improvement or Turnaround - in the state’s accountability system for eight straight years, requiring intervention by the State Board of Education under state law.
The ratings are the result of student achievement on tests, academic growth and postsecondary measures, such as graduation rates, dropout rates, college matriculation and scores on college entrance exams.
In 2017, facing similar low marks, the state board directed Adams 14 to partner with an external organization to help improve teaching and learning. Beyond Textbooks, an Arizona nonprofit, was chosen. But the district again received a rating of Priority Improvement for 2018, setting up a return visit for an accountability hearing before the board.
On Wednesday, the board heard from Adams 14 district leaders, who brought forward a plan for external management. The board listened to testimony, including emails and letters, from the community. And it considered the recommendation from a state review panel, an independent entity that reviewed the district and advocated that full management is the appropriate accountability action.
State board members indicated they would like the management entity to fully manage the district and have formal decision-making authority. Additionally, the board decided not to address the high school at this time and instead give oversight of the high school to the selected district-level external management operator.
Although the board has directed other districts to bring in management partners to help support various turnaround efforts, it has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of a district.
The board will vote on an order within the next two weeks that will provide further detail and requirements for the management arrangement. If the district does not enter into an acceptable contract within 90 days of the order being approved, then the district’s accreditation will terminate and the district will be unaccredited. Adams 14 said it will launch a search to find an external management organization. The department and the district will ensure the management organization uses research-based strategies and has the expertise and capacity to take on this role.
“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the students of Adams 14 have access to high quality instruction and opportunities as soon as possible,” said Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes. “CDE stands ready to continue supporting the district in urgently implementing the directives of the State Board of Education."
“We recognize that while everyone agrees more urgent action must be taken in Adams 14 for the sake of our students, there is not consensus within the community on exactly the actions to take,” Anthes said. “It is my sincere hope that at this time, the district, local board and community can come together with open minds and hearts to work together to implement impactful improvement strategies that immediately support our students.”
Pueblo City schools directed to find a full management operator
The state board directed Pueblo City Schools to find an external organization to wholly manage two middle schools - Heroes Middle School and Risley International Academy of Innovation - that have struggled with low performance.
Heroes Middle School serves about 270 students in grades six through eight, connected with a K-5 elementary school. Risley International Academy of Innovation is a stand-alone middle school serving about 325 students.
In 2017, the state board directed the two middle schools, along with a third school - Bessemer Elementary - to implement an innovation plan and contract with an external partner, the Achievement Network, to support instructional practices. Since then, Bessemer Elementary increased student performance and received an Improvement rating and is no longer on the Accountability Clock. Risley and Heroes, however, received low ratings on the 2018 school performance frameworks and had to return to the state board to discuss their accountability actions.
The direction to find an external organization for both schools aligns with a proposal Pueblo City Schools presented the board on Wednesday, during which the district said it is planning to contract with a management organization by March. Per the state board’s motion, if the district fails to enter into an acceptable contract, the state board may take further action, including conversion of the schools to charter schools or closing the schools.
“We look forward to working in partnership with the district to implement the State Board’s directive and ultimately see dramatic improvements for the students in Pueblo,” commented Commissioner Anthes. “The district has already put in hard work, and we know they will continue to work relentlessly to improve student outcomes.”