Amidst lawsuit, Everitt Middle works to ‘reinvigorate the perception’

Area parents discuss their differing views of Wheat Ridge schools

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/24/20

Becca Shramek, whose eighth-grade daughter attends Everitt Middle School in Wheat Ridge, has seen firsthand the positive effects of the school’s recent improvement efforts, particularly those …

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Amidst lawsuit, Everitt Middle works to ‘reinvigorate the perception’

Area parents discuss their differing views of Wheat Ridge schools

Posted

Becca Shramek, whose eighth-grade daughter attends Everitt Middle School in Wheat Ridge, has seen firsthand the positive effects of the school’s recent improvement efforts, particularly those focusing on social-emotional health.

“They have two emotional support dogs, they do gratitude journals,” Shramek said. “My daughter’s only sadness about middle school is that her time at Everitt was so short.”

But amid an attempt to change what some have called a negative reputation, the school has been involved in several controversies, causing other parents in the community to say Everitt’s improvements have a long way to go — and causing Superintendent Jason Glass and the schoolboard to “look at a new vision for that school,” Glass said.

The proposal comes at a time when the school has received significant local media attention for a lawsuit surrounding the school, filed last November. A Jeffco mother, on behalf of her daughter, filed a complaint against Jeffco Public Schools, Glass and two prior Everitt administrators, former principal Jeff Gomez and former assistant principal William Carlin.

The complaint alleges that in 2017, the woman’s daughter told the principals she’d been harassed and groped dozens of times by two male classmates. It further alleges Carlin investigated the allegations, ignored evidence corroborating the claims and did nothing to discipline the two accused classmates.

The lawsuit also claims school officials have long overlooked a “culture of sexual harassment and assault (that) dates back to at least 2010.”

According to the complaint, “on Tuesdays, boys would touch girls’ breasts in the hallways … (and) on Fridays, boys would touch girls’ buttocks in the hallways.” The complaint goes on to say that students viewed the occurrences as tradition and commonly referred to them using profane nicknames.

The school district, in collaboration with its outside counsel, conducted a preliminary investigation that “determined many of the allegations are without merit, however our investigation continues,” said Craig Hess, district chief legal counsel. “Our complete response will be contained in our answer” to the complaint, which will be filed no later than March 3, he said.

Hess and the school’s current principal, JoAnn Euler, did not reply to further questions regarding the case.

Community reactions

For some community members, the lawsuit didn’t come as a surprise. Sara Hood, who attended Everitt, has a 22-year-old stepson who also attended Everitt and an 11-year-old son who currently attends, said that when she heard the news, she recalled stories she’d heard from her stepson years ago.

Checking in with him again, he said he remembered Everitt classmates engaging in the weekly occurrences of harassment a decade ago.

“That was going on when he went there. It’s the same stuff,” Hood said.

But for others, the news didn’t resonate with what they know about the school now.

“Of course, hearing that is concerning. It’s an upsetting thought,” said Leslie Weinstein, whose son began attending Everitt this year. “But it was confusing. I wanted to know more because of the fact that our experience has been so positive there.”

Last fall, a call for change

While the lawsuit has stirred up community conversations, efforts to affect change at Everitt date back before the complaint made headlines.

In October, parents of the school accountability committee at Golden’s Maple Grove Elementary presented to the board of education. Maple Grove feeds into Everitt Middle School.

The parents’ data showed that only four students who graduated from Maple Grove in 2019 — 8.2% of the 49 graduates — enrolled at Everitt that fall.

Parents requested the school board give Maple Grove students priority enrollment into nearby option school, the Manning School, as a possible alternative to Everitt.

The request was primarily “to build the connection with Manning,” which sits adjacent to Maple Grove, said Brian Hansen, a Maple Grove parent and president of the Applewood Property Owners. “Manning makes sense for us.”

That said, “we had heard rumors and concerns about Everitt that have always circled in the background,” mostly related to general safety issues for students, he said.

“Everyone wants Everitt to be a successful school,” Hansen said. “But if I were in the position of having to send my kids to middle school next year, I would not consider Everitt.”

One of the school accountability committee’s concerns has been Everitt’s academic performance, he said.

On state standardized test Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), Everitt’s 2019 scores showed 28% of students met or exceeded expectations in English; 13.9% in math; and 20.3% in science.

Districtwide, those numbers were 51.7% for English; 39.8% for math; and 37.3% for science.

In discussions around test scores, Glass and other district leaders have pointed out that the scores alone don’t indicate how successful a school may be.

The Everitt PTA highlights several other indicators of success, while also stating that in the parents’ experience, “it is evident that our teachers and staff are invested and committed to helping kids reach their full potential,” said a PTA statement.

“Everitt’s emphasis on social-emotional development helps students feel heard and connected in a safe, supportive environment,” the statement said.

Even so, parents weren’t satisfied when they were told Maple Grove children would not receive priority enrollment into Manning.

After another meeting with Glass, the group and superintendent compromised: Maple Grove students will receive priority enrollment into nearby Bell Middle School for one year; and the district will work to “reinvigorate the perception of Everitt,” Glass said.

Potential examples of this, he said, would be the creation of a STEM pathway or project-based learning curriculum.

District spokeswoman Cameron Bell provided Colorado Community Media information on student support programming the school already has in place. Everitt runs CREW classes, in which students work with an adult and peers on relationship building, academic progress and character development. Another program, Sources of Strength, is a student-led suicide prevention program.

Glass added Everitt is in the process of hiring a principal for the 2020-2021 school year, with Euler currently serving as interim principal., 

The changes line up with what groups like the Maple Grove school accountability committee are asking for.

“We want to see the district put more resources into Everitt: money, teachers, staff and support services,” Hansen said.

The committee has offered to lend a hand however it can, he said. “We’re all willing to put time and commitment toward helping Everitt become successful.”

Opposite experiences

Two months after the committee reached its compromise with Glass, the community learned of the lawsuit against the district.

Some Everitt parents, like Hood, felt compelled to ask their children if they had experienced similar harassment at school.

Hood said her 11-year-old son has never witnessed any sexual harassment at Everitt. But he himself has been bullied: In December, a student pushed him down a hill at school, leading to a fight between the two boys, Hood said.

Despite phone calls and meetings between her and school administrators, the classmate was never disciplined and was not removed from the classes he shares with her son, she said.

Additionally, Hood says her son has told her of multiple fights, students being expelled for bullying, and students kicking, tripping and pushing one another every day in the halls.

“He says it’s so unsafe. He hates it,” she said. “Every morning he tells me he doesn’t want to go to school because the only place he feels safe is at home.”

She has considered removing her son from the school and said she is more likely to enroll him in online school than to let him continue to attend Everitt.

Euler and the district did not respond for comment regarding Hood’s statements.

Like Hood, Weinstein asked her son about some of the details described in the complaint, she said.

“I have no idea what happened in these instances. But the concepts of these things were completely foreign” to her son, she said. “When I’ve asked him specifics, like how the hallways are, he told me he has not observed any fights.”

Shramek likewise said that her daughter has told her she feels safe at school.

“Everitt is very quiet about all the positive things going on at the school,” she said.

What several parents could agree on: Community members need more opportunities to exchange their stories about the school. Parents who have enjoyed their experience say this could potentially destigmatize the school, while those with concerns say it could pave the way toward new solutions.

“For our whole community, it can only help to have some sort of collaborative effort,” Weinstein said.

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