Stating in no uncertain terms that Adams School District 14 cannot improve, a state review board recommended that the state close the main high school and reorganize the district. Schools could be consolidated or other districts could step in to manage Adams 14.
“There is evidence of a lack of leadership capacity and stability at the highest levels of the district to effectively direct turnaround work to increase student achievement gains,” the panel’s recommendations state. “Additionally, Adams City High School continues to operate at a low level and lacks a priority plan for the school and its students, who likely have better options geographically close. [to] Their houses.”
The report obtained by Chalkbeat on Tuesday suggests closing Adams City High School, the district’s only comprehensive high school, and possibly other schools, to allow the district to focus on fewer grade levels while the state comes up with a plan of reorganization.
The recommendation suggests that students at Adams City High School could do better if they attended better performing schools in neighboring districts.
The panel included six educators, including a consultant, some current superintendents, and a former assistant superintendent. Colorado’s State Board of Education will consider the recommendations, along with those from Education Department staff, the district’s own proposal and public comments at a hearing next month.
Colorado has never intervened to such an extent in a struggling school district. There are a lot of questions about how it would work.
Adams School District 14 is likely to strongly oppose giving up any autonomy.
The district is working on a proposal to improve by creating at least one community school, which would provide a range of social services to students and families. The State Board of Education has not indicated how receptive it would be to the idea.
District officials did not respond to a request for comment on the panel’s recommendations, but Joe Salazar, an attorney working with the district, said the district sent a rebuttal to the state criticizing the recommendations, particularly for failing to distinguish between the leadership of the district’s former private director, MGT Consulting, and the leadership of the new superintendent.
The district hired Karla Loria as superintendent of Adams 14 in May and she began work in June, but Salazar argues that Loria had no authority until MGT left the district in February, and should not therefore not be held responsible for leadership shortcomings. before that. Under Loria’s leadership, Adams 14 repeatedly locked MGT employees out of the district.
Jason Malmberg, president of the district’s teachers’ union, said the panel should have looked at emails the district tried to provide that show Loria had no authority. Malmberg said he called her often about various issues and was told he needed to speak to MGT.
Malmberg is also concerned that the panel will be made up of people from outside the district who don’t understand all of the local issues facing the students. And he said that when the panel finally held a meeting with parents, technical issues prevented many parents from sticking around to give their thoughts.
Adams’ District 14 serves more than 6,000 students in working-class neighborhoods north of Denver and has received state failing grades for at least a decade.
The state had already made Adams 14 the first district required to turn management over to an outside group to improve student achievement. But the district and its manager, MGT Consulting, abruptly cut ties earlier this year. The State Board of Education therefore held a hearing to decide on a new improvement plan.
As required by law, a state review committee of outside experts visited the district twice in February, interviewed staff and community members, and compiled recommendations.
The panel’s report notes that the group was concerned about district leadership and a division within the community.
Specifically, “the most serious concerns are the reported culture of fear and retaliation, the lack of good financial and human resource practices, and the limited overall improvement in student achievement and growth across many years”.
The state has limited options for running the district. The law allows the state to close a school, turn it into a charter school, grant waivers and autonomy to implement its own plan, and partially or fully hand over management of the school. or district to an outside group. The state can also dissolve or consolidate a district, but it has never done so.
The review panel’s report notes some of the many open questions about taking unprecedented action.
“For consolidation to be an option, the [state review panel] recognizes that there are neighboring districts that show higher levels of performance and may be viable options for students. However, this option would require local school board approval from neighboring districts,” the report said.
State law outlines a general reorganization process that requires a planning committee to develop a plan on how to alter the district’s boundaries. This could include the creation of new districts or the dissolution of existing districts, but must obtain the agreement of the majority of the members of the committee and the approval of the commissioner of education of the state.
As an alternative, the report suggests that neighboring districts instead become partners in supporting Adams 14 in its turnaround work. This idea arose when the panel held a focus group with leaders from nearby districts who were described as having “initial reluctance” to absorb Adams 14 students. But the report questions who would be held accountable in a partnership scenario.
“While the partners have indicated they are willing to provide support to the district, it is unclear if there are local partners who are willing to be held accountable for the work done at Adams 14.”
Before Adams 14 hired MGT Consulting, the district had offered to partner with nearby Mapleton Public Schools. The then-State Board of Education rejected the district’s plan unless the districts agreed to add another group to help Mapleton do the job. But the talks between the districts failed.
The state review board also noted that a reorganization or consolidation would require a transition plan.
“Creating a lack of stability at the school level could be more detrimental to students and families if not done well and without the appropriate expertise,” the report says. The report also suggested the creation of a new council.
“Creating and/or appointing a separate board of local peers/experts to lead and oversee district leadership and its roles and responsibilities…can provide the accountability needed to show improvements,” the report says. “It would also allow any major leadership changes and reorganizations to happen on a smaller scale and begin more quickly and thoughtfully than a district reorganization or consolidation.”
Adams 14 is already suing the state to change the rules for next month’s hearing. The district’s lawsuit challenges in part the state review board and the data it might have considered.
Salazar expressed his willingness to challenge the state’s authority to take control of the locally elected school board and the superintendent he hired.
Next month’s hearing will also consider separate recommendations for Central Elementary, one of the district’s worst-performing schools that could face its own improvement orders outside the district. A separate state review board writes recommendations for the school.
Read city’s response here:
Correction: A previous version of this story included outdated information about the reorganization process. The law does not require an election to approve a plan for Adams 14.