What if local school boards demonstrated a similar focus on student achievement?
Same topic – How is Aurora Central High School (ACHS) performing? – entirely different responses. The contrast—notably what the Aurora School Board did NOT say when the district presented its reports on ACHS at board meetings this fall, as opposed to what the Colorado State Board of Education DID SAY, repeatedly (see below), at its November 13 meeting—tells us a lot. It might explain why a school district feels little pressure from its board to address such dismal academic results.
I realize the local board has a different purpose from the Colorado State Board. Perhaps especially in a setting like last week’s meeting, when the state board was in a quasi-judicial role. Such encounters are not designed to be either friendly or hostile. They are supposed to be rigorous and fair—as I found it to be.
Moreover, for a district, the relationships with the superintendent, staff, and a number of others in the schools, these are personal. I understand why board members might be inclined to be supportive of the hard work being done by the people they see on a regular basis. And yet I fear a board can be blinded by its very proximity to these men and women. It’s tougher to challenge what the district presents as positive news; it’s easier to be polite. It can even lead to cheerleading, when it is hardly warranted.
No need here for a full summary of the comments or questions from the Aurora School Board in meetings earlier this fall leading up to the district’s presentation to the State Board last week regarding the progress at Aurora Central High School. Addendum A includes comments from APS board members in the official minutes. Not a word on achievement. In listening to both meetings, I heard no tough questions about the decline in SAT scores, last spring, for this year’s senior class. In contrast to what State Board members focused on last week.
Local school boards should take note. If they put a similar focus on achievement, perhaps schools like Aurora Central High would not be in such dire straits—on the 9th year of the accountability clock. If the APS board had taken its role on accountability more seriously these past nine years, perhaps the attention paid by State Board members TO THIS ONE ISSUE would not sound so … well, almost odd. To some, maybe unexpected.
Aurora’s new board members will be sworn in on December 3. Several attended last week’s Accountability Hearing before the State Board on ACHS. They witnessed what the APS school board has failed to do for years. One might blame the school’s chronic failure on Superintendents John Barry (->2013) and Rico Munn (2013-present) and the district, but ultimately our elected officials, the school board members, are accountable.
Below, my transcription of a few statements by members of the Colorado State Board at the Nov. 13 hearing. I do not include numerous compliments they also made regarding positive steps evident from the various reports, so out of context the following passages may seem harsh. I simply want to stress the State Board’s attention to student achievement. Any errors here in the transcription are mine, for which I apologize.
Comments by State Board of Education Members, ACHS Accountability Hearing, Nov. 13 (All bold mine)
Debora Schoeffel: I understand the focus has really been culture and climate… When you look at the achievement, how can you raise the achievement of these students? … but then you look at the achievement scores, and your students – they really need to improve their achievement if they’re going to be able to participate in the culture and have a future that they do dream of… What can you do differently to improve your achievement?
[Speaking to a concern about PLC’s, Professional Learning Communities.]
So I’m wondering how you’re structuring those collaborative opportunities … unless it’s structured on what goes on, it can be great social opportunity, it can be a great professional opportunity, but it may not translate into student achievement, so can you address that?
Rebecca McClellan: I kind of eased into this but I do want to touch on the achievement levels …when I’m looking at the School Performance Framework ratings dipping – help me understand ow we take confidence that we’ll can see some movement going forward … help us know what’s going to happen from here - … so we know if we go forward with the continuation of the innovation plan as is recommended that we’ll take confidence we can see some movement there.
*2019 ACHS results - SAT
READING/WRITING – 407
(state average – 505)
MATH – 400
(state average - 496)
Rating - all student groups
Does Not Meet
McClellan: I am going to concur with the State Review Panel recommendation
for continued innovation, with a very sharp eye toward the achievement levels. I know we all want to move them off of that first percentile [ACHS SAT*/PSAT scores] so that we can make the most of each student’s potential … I’m really hoping that we can turn that into movement on the achievement level.
Steve Durham: Sooner or later the things that sound like improvement need to actually result in improvement, and what we are really responsible for at all levels is closing achievement gaps and to improving overall achievement and that hasn’t happened here and it would appear the last couple of years the numbers are at best mixed.
I’d encourage you … to try to bring some people on the academic side that could perhaps make the same sort of impact you’ve seen on the culture side… I would not give this a two-year extension but a one year that helps you make improvement. … The fact that there has not been any academic progress really doesn’t allow us to give this an extended time frame.
Angelika Schroeder: We want to make sure that you, students in particular, are prepared in high school so that you can have all the options available to you after graduation... However, I’m looking at the students and how little time they have in your school, four years, just four years. Your presentation today … highlights that the day-to-day instruction students receive is still not meeting grade-level expectations… There appears to be a real need… for intensive sustained focus on improving instruction, particularly for English Language Learners … it’s critical that this focus supports them… I will vote you add an academic management partner. You do really need that greater emphasis. We don’t want to wait.
For such a strong focus on student achievement, a sincere THANK YOU to the State Board of Education.
Comments from the Aurora Board of Education on ACHS discussions – from official minutes*
October 1, 2019 – Board of Education Business meeting
Presenter: Superintendent Rico Munn; Office of Autonomous Schools Executive Director Jeff Park; ACHS Principal Gerardo De La Garza
Dr. Armstrong-Romero asked how long and what changes would be seen by continuing the innovation pathway for ACHS. Munn said as a direct result of the innovation transition structure a large staff turnover occurred. ACHS now has a large number of new, young staff leaving the need for professional development. He said there is also a need for a clear college pathway. Class and school intervention strategies for new staff are also areas to focus on, said Park. De La Garza said the ACHS staff focus is around Professional Learning Communities (PLC), Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), and first-year instruction, however, the staff is starting to mark year four at the school.
Director Wildman asked how many veterans are currently on staff. About 20% of staff who have 4-5 years at ACHS are now veteran staff members, said De La Garza. What is a large class size at ACHS, asked Wildman; a large class size is a room with about 35-36 students, said De La Garza. Director Gerkin commented on the hard work at ACHS staff has done. She recognizes it takes time to demonstrate progress and appreciates seeing the overall analysis. Gerkin asked if there was anything needed from the Board. The district would like to engage the Board’s confidence in the recommendation at the upcoming state review panel, and then, provide the best presentation to the State Board on November 13, said Munn.
Director Ivey made note of some of the teacher stresses on slide 57 of the presentation which he found concerning. Ivey asked what the school is doing for staff with the concerns noted. Munn said the school is currently at 97% capacity with 2,020 students enrolled, turning around a comprehensive high school is a difficult task. Teachers reflecting on the challenge is not surprising.
Dr. Jorgensen asked if there were alternative options than the recommendation provided. Munn said the analysis displays there are other options, however, not a viable option that is better for students than the path ACHS is currently on. Director Ivey asked if the four methods have proven to be successful. A study by the Federal Government on the four methods in 2016 resulted in no imperial [sic] proof that any were successful. Execution makes them function, said Munn.
Director Colbert thinks the elementary and high school comparison is valid; the further faster concept makes sense to her. ACHS only has two years of implementation, and in her opinion, starting over is a disservice to the students who have been part of the process. Director Gerkin says she has great hope, because the last two years have shown a tremendous shift in climate and culture. Outlined pieces for upcoming opportunities such as MTSS and second language learner supports are huge. She questioned and supported for ACHS to receive additional funds and experienced teachers placed at the site for extra support. Dr. Jorgensen agreed and suggested placing highly qualified teachers for additional support.
There were no further questions or comments from the board.