Students, teachers and voters raise voices for eduction in 2018

A look back at the top stories around education in Jefferson County

Posted 12/26/18

The education story of the year in Jefferson county was undeniably the outcome of the November 2018 general election, specifically, the county’s school district getting voter approval for a $567 …

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Students, teachers and voters raise voices for eduction in 2018

A look back at the top stories around education in Jefferson County

Posted

The education story of the year in Jefferson county was undeniably the outcome of the November 2018 general election, specifically, the county’s school district getting voter approval for a $567 million bond to improve facilities throughout the district.

The bond proposal by Jefferson County Public Schools was listed on the ballot as 5B. It was down by more than 8,000 votes on election night. However, the votes that were counted after Election Day helped tip the scales back in the bond’s favor. The final tally had 5B winning, 54.9 percent to 45.1 percent.

The district put $341.4 million in municipal bonds up for sale on Dec. 12, to begin the work.

This was the fifth bond proposed for Jeffco schools since 2004, when the last major bond for facility improvements ($323.8 million) was passed. Voters approved a $99 million bond for repairs related to keeping schools warm, safe and dry in 2012. But they rejected a $535 million bond in 2016 and a similar request in 2008.

The bond will raise area property taxes, to help bring outdated district buildings up to structural and educational standards, to address continuing population growth and improve school security measures.

According to the capital improvement plan attached to the bond, all schools in the district, with the exception of Sierra Elementary in Arvada, which just completed a two-phase $16.5 million upgrade, will benefit with improvements. A common thread among the majority of schools is updating security cameras and locks as well as creating secure entries and office locations.

The bonds counterpoint, 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, was also passed by voters, earning 54 percent support. About half of the mill levy override will provide money to give teachers raises. Roughly $3 million will go to charter schools. The other $15 million is split for student safety improvements, programming in career and technical resources and STEM options, technology, and to expand full-day early childhood education.

Students rally, schools look to improve safety and security

In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida On Feb. 14, in which 17 people were killed, schools across the country responded to reports and tips regarding potential school violence.

In the days following the shooting in Florida, Jeffco Public Schools responded to threats at Arvada West, Dakota Ridge and Columbine high schools.

All threats were deemed unfounded by local law enforcement and the district’s security team. But these events intensified community attention on school safety and security. In the weeks that followed there were student walk-out protests for safety, a community forum and the establishment of the district’s safety and security task force.

In March, students in Jeffco schools participated in the organized #Enough National School Walkout to End Gun Violence organized by Women’s March Youth, as well as a county-wide rally organized by local high school students.

The rally was the first of many events held by the student-created and led organization Jeffco Students United for Action, which is committed to ending gun violence in the community. Many of those students marched in the March for our Lives protest held in Denver later that month.

To inform parents and the community on security and safety practices within Jeffco schools, the district held a forum in late March.

In April, the evening before the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, Jefferson County students held the Vote for Our Lives Rally aimed at educating people about voting, getting them registered to vote, and remembering the thirteen students killed April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School.

Jeffco students were joined by 60 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as well as gun-safety activists from throughout the state.

Throughout the summer, the district’s community safety and security task force worked to created recommendations for improving security throughout all Jeffco schools. The report brought to the board of education in the fall called for a proactive approach to the safety and security of students and staff.

Increased mental health supports and school security personnel, training for school staff and security and building improvements were threads woven throughout the recommendations made to the board.

Facility upgrades that will improve security are planned as part of the bond project rollout in early 2019. Some mill levy override dollars will also be used for increased mental health support.

Sixth-graders join middle schools throughout Jeffco

In Spring 2017, Jeffco Public Schools leaders made the decision to transition sixth-grade students to the middle schools in articulation areas where the middle schools were seventh and eight grades.

The mountain-area schools started the 6-8 model in the mid-1990s and various schools throughout the district have enrolled sixth-graders throughout the years to deal with overcrowding at feeder elementary schools and to offer specialized choice-in programs, such as STEM.

In August of this school year, 12 district middle schools welcomed sixth grade students for the first time.

Leading up to the implementation, the shift concerned some parents who were concerned about their student’s interactions with older kids. Some critics also voiced concerns about the plan, saying that the millions of dollars spent to implement the transition would result in a questionable benefit for students’ educations.

Some schools did need additions to make this happen. Drake Middle School in Arvada received a new eighth grade wing before the year started to make room for sixth-graders moving up from elementary school this year.

Additionally, Creighton, Ken Caryl and Summit Ridge Middle Schools are under construction to be able to accommodate sixth graders for the 2019/20 school year.

In August 2019, these three middle schools will welcome sixth-grade students to complete the systemic K-5/6-8 model district-wide.

Teachers rally, demand more money for schools

In April, Jefferson County teachers joined the groundswell of teachers protesting for increased education funding throughout the state.

More that 1,600 Jeffco educators descended on the capitol April 26 alongside educators from Douglas County to send the message to legislators. Outdated resources, textbooks, building conditions and low salaries were some of the issues teachers hoped to draw attention to.

The state of Colorado ranks in the bottom five in the nation for K-12 education funding.

Following the Great Recession in the late 2000s and early 2010s, educators and administrators came together in order to cut millions of dollars from the Jeffco budget. There were pay cuts and freezes for almost a decade.

With a now booming economy, educators from around the state were hopeful that something could be done about TABOR and the Budget Stabilization Factor (BS Factor) which the Jefferson County Education Association said is “shortchanging Colorado students to the tune of $830 million a year.”

Jeffco’s share of that shortfall is roughly $83 million; about 10 percent of the district’s overall yearly budget.

In June the board of education put value on its educators in its proposed 2018-19 budget with increased pay and cost of living increases for teachers and an increase to long-term substitute teacher pay for the 2018-19 school year.

The board also included teacher compensation in its mill levy override plan, which was passed by voters in November. About half of the $33 million mill levy override will provide money to give teachers raises in the future.

The board also supported Amendment 73, a statewide education funding measure that would have brought about $1.6 billion to school districts throughout the state. Voters rejected this measure that would have instituted a graduated income tax increase on individuals earning more than $150,000 a year and increased the corporate income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 6 percent.

Board funds innovations

In January, the Board of Education for Jeffco schools approved $1 million for a new innovation grant program. The idea was proposed because the Jeffco Generations vision launched in October 2017 by Superintendent Jason Glass encourages entrepreneurial efforts as a way to “keep the main thing, the main thing,” — learning.

The fund offers an incentive for staff to look for innovative ways to improve learning, conditions for learning, and readiness for learning for Jeffco students and encourages the organizational value of “entrepreneurial spirit.”

In March, the first recipients of this fund were announced and 10 projects were funded. They were a Tinker Lab at Stott Elementary; a STEAM makerspace at Golden High; academy programs for the Green Mountain articulation area; career explore programs at Dakota Ridge High and Wheat Ridge High; an upgrade to the adapted daily living program at Fletcher Miller Special School; a mechanical engineering and robotic program at Van Arsdale Elementary; a wellness and emotional health initiative at North Arvada Middle; a safe school environments initiative for all schools through Jeffco security; school-based health centers through Jeffco health services; and a GED/post secondary accelerator program at all high schools.

Over 100 applications were submitted, with requests totaling $9.3 million. That was narrowed to 51 applications, which scored above a 24 on the rubric, and were invited to pitch their ideas in round two. The total monetary ask of those invited to pitch was $6.2 million. The applications were again scored and the top 10 projects were funded.

Applications for the second year of the innovation grant are now under review and will be announced next year.

A change considered for school start times

A community task force is currently examining the logistics and impacts of changing school start times across Jeffco.

Research says that a later school start time positively impacts alertness, mental health, wellness and behavior in high school and middle school students, which means students are better prepared to learn.

That and the decision for other Denver metro are school districts to shift to later school start times for middle and high school students, sparked the creation of the Jeffco schools task force in February.

As part of its information gathering process, the group conducted an online survey.

The group is scheduled to present their findings to the Board of Education in February.

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