Future of Schools

High schools could start later, but Indianapolis families see practical problems

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Students in Indianapolis’ largest district will likely start and end school at different times next year. But when it comes to choosing a new schedule, the district is facing tension between research supporting later start times for high school students and the practical challenges facing families.

At a series of community forums this week, Indianapolis Public Schools asked parents to weigh in on a new school schedule for next year. One of the essential questions facing families is whether the district should have elementary school students start earlier in order to allow high schoolers to begin school later. Currently, most high schools start first at 7:20 a.m.

Having later start times for high school students could have a broad range of benefits. A federally funded study found that when school started later, students did better on several measures, including mental health and attendance, and at some schools, scores on standardized tests rose. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that high schools delay their start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. Citing that research, some members of the Indianapolis Public Schools board have urged the district to consider changing its high school start times.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee highlighted his own experience as the parent of a 13-year-old.

“I can definitely see the difference in how we wake him up in the morning now, and what that experience was like when he was a 5- or 6-year-old,” Ferebee said. “He would pop up in the morning then.”

In addition to the possibility of moving high school start times later, the district may change school and bus schedules for practical reasons.

Many students will likely travel farther under a high school plan that will close nearly half the district’s campuses and allow students to select their schools based on academic focus rather than neighborhood. To make bus rides shorter for high schoolers, the district is considering increasing how far they might walk to stops and reducing the number of stops each bus makes, said transportation director Manny Mendez.

The district is also grappling with a shortage of bus drivers that makes it difficult to sustain the current schedule, which has three different start and end times. A new contract approved by the board last week, which raises the base pay for bus drivers to $19.10, would help with that issue, Mendez said.

“We just do not have enough drivers,” Mendez said.

Since the same buses have to serve both high school and elementary school routes, any shift could present practical problems. If high schools start later, that would push elementary school schedules much earlier.

For several parents at the community meeting Thursday, that was a deal breaker.

Miki Hamstra, who has three sons in elementary school in the district, said if her children went to school earlier, it would put her in a childcare crunch in the afternoon.

“I totally support the sleep studies, but the problem is we don’t have a real option for that that would benefit the whole district,” said Hamstra, a doctoral student studying the science of learning. “Research is awesome, but we don’t have the resources to benefit from that.”

But Derrick Gant, a parent at Crispus Attucks High School, said he wants his daughter to continue going to high school early because it will prepare her for the workplace.

“We are prepping our children to be young adults,” Gant said. “So if we are pushing back the time for them to start school, that means we are pushing back the time they can go into work.”

Gant’s daughter Jerrice, who is a junior, said she is concerned about elementary school students walking to buses when it is still dark out, and she wants high schoolers to get home first to watch over their younger siblings.

“I want to keep it exactly how it is now,” she said.

Proposed start times

Option one

High, middle, and innovation schools start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m.

Elementary schools start at 9:55 a.m., and end at 4:30 p.m.

Option two

High, middle, and innovation schools start at 9:55 a.m. and end at 4:55 p.m.

Elementary schools start at 8:05 a.m. and end at 2:40 p.m.

Option three

High, middle, and innovation schools start at 8:00 a.m. and end at 3:00 p.m.

Elementary schools start at 10:25 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m.

For more information, visit the district website.

Vision

Lawmakers pledge to ‘put some legs’ to new Colorado education plan

PHOTO: Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat
Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes stressed that a new education blueprint respects local control, as state Rep. Bob Ranking, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, and Gov. John Hickenlooper look on.

With just a few weeks left in office, Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled an educational blueprint for Colorado that he hopes his successor, governor-elect Jared Polis, will take to heart.

The proposals range from increasing teacher pay and making training opportunities more relevant to the classroom to forging partnerships between business and education. They urge policy makers to build on ideas that have already worked at the school or district level. They also suggest revamping the school finance formula, a challenging task that has eluded lawmakers so far.

The legislators who served on the Education Leadership Council that wrote “The State of Education” praised the final product and promised it wouldn’t languish on a shelf. State Sen. Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat and former teacher who will chair the Senate Education Committee, said she was committed to “put some legs on it.”

State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale who served as co-chair of the Education Leadership Council with Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes, said that a common refrain during his years in the legislature has been that the state lacks a broad vision for education. That’s made it difficult to move forward on thorny questions.

“The State of Education” provides that vision, Rankin said, and can serve as an “anchor” for lawmakers drafting bills and district leaders looking for new ideas. It’s also a way to show the public how Colorado could be a national leader in education, starting in preschool and continuing all the way through retraining for workers changing careers, he said.

Anthes stressed that the report is not a new set of mandates for school districts and that the plan respects Colorado’s principle of local control.

“We recognize that local context matters,” the report summary reads. ”While the subcommittees came to consensus on the principle and strategies for their components of this plan, we know that not every improvement strategy is right for every community.”

Even as the plan lays out ways to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, it also highlights the state’s acute need for many of those students to choose careers in education. Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who was heavily involved in the project, noted that the “talent pipeline” for early childhood teachers in particular needs to be larger and that pay and opportunities for advancement will have to increase if more workers are to enter and stay in the profession.

The report calls for higher base compensation for teachers, for financial incentives like loan forgiveness and paid student teaching, and for evaluating and improving the working conditions in “hard-to-staff” schools.

It also calls for maintaining a high bar through teacher licensing and for alternative certification programs — used by many to enter teaching as a second career or after majoring in something other than education — to have equivalent standards.

At the same time, the report said the state should monitor licensure policies that may disproportionately discourage teachers of color as Colorado seeks to have a teacher workforce that looks more like the students it serves.

In contrast to earlier pushes for school improvement that focused on test-based accountability for schools and teachers, this report frequently mentions flexibility, collaboration, support, respect, and empowering educators.

The report calls for schools to provide a greater diversity of learning experiences for students, to be more flexible in where learning occurs, and to pay more attention to the challenges students face outside the classroom. It calls for deeper exploration of the community schools model, which involves greater collaboration between parents and teachers and a wide range of services not just for students but also for parents and younger siblings.  

“The State of Education” was developed by the Educational Leadership Council, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, educators, business and community leaders, and heads of state agencies convened by Hickenlooper in 2017. Members used input from more than 6,000 people who took an online survey about their education priorities, some 500 people who attended more than 70 roundtable discussions, and 100 people who served on four subcommittees.

Lawmakers will be weighing these ideas without a major new revenue source after the failure of the Amendment 73 school tax increase. Polis campaigned on a platform that included funding full-day kindergarten and significantly expanding access to preschool, while some lawmakers have suggested special education needs more attention.

Rankin said the state budget has money for targeted programs — Hickenlooper’s proposed 2019-20 budget already includes $10 million to fund ideas developed by the Education Leadership Council — but he also stressed that districts and local communities don’t need to wait for the state to pursue the ideas in the report.

“There is significant money going into education even after the failure of Amendment 73,” said Rankin, who also serves on the Joint Budget Committee. “There’s always room for new initiatives, whether they happen out in rural Colorado or in Denver Public Schools. I think it’s going to be up the districts themselves within their budgets to take up some of these priorities.”

Members of the incoming Polis administration have been briefed on the plan, and Hickenlooper said he hopes the plan will prove useful. A spokesperson for Polis declined to comment on the report.

Hickenlooper said providing all students with a good education is essential to maintaining Colorado’s strong economy.

“We will not stay No. 1 if we do not invest in our kids,” he said.

Read the full report here.

growing enrollment

Denver Green School is the district’s pick for a new middle school in growing Stapleton

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Workmen frame the walls in new affordable housing units in Stapleton in August 2018.

To serve a growing number of middle school students in the family-focused northeast Denver neighborhood of Stapleton, district administrators have recommended opening a middle school replicating the popular Denver Green School.

The seven-member Denver school board is set to vote on the recommendation Thursday night. Should the board approve it as expected, a second location of Denver Green School would open next fall on a shared campus north of I-70 in the area of the neighborhood known as Northfield. The campus is already home to Inspire Elementary School.

Enrollment in Stapleton schools is expected to increase as new home construction brings more families to the area. The new middle school would start with sixth grade next year and add a grade each year. The district has requested the school eventually be able to serve as many as 600 students.

A committee of parents, community members, and district employees reviewed applications from three schools interested in filling the district’s need for a new middle school. Committee members said they chose Denver Green School because of its stellar academic track record; its success with serving a diverse student population, including students with disabilities; and the fact that the person who would be its principal is an experienced leader.

Denver Green School is rated “blue,” the highest district rating. The original Denver Green School is a K-8 but the Stapleton school would be solely a middle school.

High Tech Elementary School in Stapleton also applied to fill the need by adding middle school grades. The third applicant was Beacon Network Schools, which already has two middle schools in Denver.

All three applicants are district-run schools, not charter schools. Denver Green School is part of Denver Public Schools’ first “innovation zone.” Being in a zone gives Denver Green School more autonomy over its budget and operations than a regular district-run school has.

The new Denver Green School would be one of six middle schools that families who live in the Stapleton, Northfield, and Park Hill neighborhoods can choose from.

Thursday’s vote will bring to a close a process the district calls the “call for new quality schools.” Instead of simply building and operating new schools, Denver Public Schools puts out a request for proposals, inviting anyone with an idea for a new school to apply. The district then facilitates a competitive selection process. The school that’s chosen gets to open in a district building — a prize in a city where school real estate is at a premium.

In this case, some Stapleton parents were disappointed that the district’s most requested middle school, McAuliffe International, didn’t apply. McAuliffe already has one replication — McAuliffe Manual Middle School — and Principal Kurt Dennis said the timing was not right for another.

“We have several excellent leaders in our pipeline that would love to open a new school, but the timing didn’t work for them in terms of where they are both in their careers and with their families,” Dennis wrote in an email to Chalkbeat. “If opportunities were to open up in the future, we would be interested, but not for the fall of 2019.”