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Newly Released TCAP Scores Show Slightly Fewer Colorado Students Proficient in Core Subjects

The Colorado Department of Education this week released the results of the 2014 Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, or TCAP, for reading, writing and math. The new results indicate that the percentage of Colorado students scoring proficient or above declined slightly across all three subjects, continuing a decade-long trend of relatively flat student achievement.

According to the new results, 68.9 percent of Colorado students in grades three through 10 were proficient in reading, down slightly from 69.5 percent in 2013. In math, 56.4 percent of students were proficient, declining from 56.7 percent in 2013. Proficiency levels were lowest in writing, where only 54.3 percent of Colorado students scored proficient or above, down from 55 percent in 2013. Additionally, the percentage of students who were making adequate yearly growth declined in each subject.

Equally as troubling, the gaps in achievement between children of color and non-Hispanic white children, as well as between low-income students and higher-income students, remained wide in 2014. In reading, for example, 80 percent of non-Hispanic white students scored proficient or above, compared to only 52 percent of Hispanic and black students. The new results do show, however, that proficiency rates have increased more quickly for English Language Learners than for other student groups during the past several years. For more detailed information on the 2014 TCAP results, click here to view a presentation by the Colorado Department of Education.

Administered to students in the spring of each year, the TCAP assesses how students are performing relative to grade level expectations. Beginning in 2015, the TCAP will be replaced by a new set of assessments aligned to the Colorado Academic Standards. The Children’s Campaign remains committed to ensuring that all Colorado students, no matter their background, have the support they need to master the reading, writing and math skills that will be critical to their future. -Photo: DPS


Denver schools starting year with new STEM career classes

As Denver students get ready for school this month, officials are preparing to spend more than $7 million on new career-education classes to benefit about 1,000 students in the first year.

Denver Public Schools will be introducing, and expanding, classes geared toward science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The new classes include manufacturing, pre-engineering, health biotechnology and game-design coding and will be distributed among eight DPS high schools this fall.

“It’s about bringing really rigorous STEM classes to parts of the city that did not previously have these opportunities,” said Joe Saboe, director of pathways for DPS. “They’re primarily low-income parts of the city.”

The new course work is being funded through a Youth Career Connect grant from the Department of Labor and the Department of Education. The funding already has helped hire five new teachers for the new classes and a part-time assistant principal at three schools.

The grant, as well as the work the district promised it would fund, has attracted more than $2 million in donations from local companies, including Campos EPC, founded by a DPS graduate; QEP Resources, a Fortune 500 energy company; and RK Mechanical.  CLICK TO KEEP READING


Stem stuff

Stem stuff

A look at the new science, technology, engineering and math courses that Denver high schools are getting starting this fall:

• Abraham Lincoln High School: Internet technology

• CEC Middle College: Manufacturing, health biotechnology

• East High School: Health

• Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College: Manufacturing and engineering

• George Washington High School: Finance

• West High School: Internet technology

• High Tech Early College: Internet technology

• John F. Kennedy High School: Engineering and energy

Yesenia Robles; Photo:  Aaron Montoya

School gardens’ produce increasingly ends up in school cafeterias

This year, another Colorado school district will join the growing national movement to bring fresh vegetables from school gardens  into  school cafeterias, directly onto the plates of the  students  who grew them.

Just four years ago, only a few schools in the country were doing this.  But after Denver Public Schools worked with  Slow Food Denver to create food-safety guidelines,  the garden-to-cafeteria movement  is spreading  across the country,   and the DPS food safety protocol is now a national model.  By May 2013, four states and the District of Columbia had laws to ensure that  produce from school gardens could be served in school cafeterias, according to the nonprofit ChangeLab Solutions.

“The kids are really excited about it,” said Emily O’Winter, healthy schools coordinator at Jeffco Public Schools, which tested pilot programs at four of its schools last year. “They’re so proud. At the salad bar, they look for their tomatoes from the garden.”

Experts say the trend is rooted in a convergence  of events:   the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that targeted  childhood obesity;   new USDA nutritional requirements that fruits and vegetables be served daily at school lunches; and the growth in consumer demand for foods grown locally.

At first, the idea of serving vegetables from school gardens in school cafeterias was so novel that CLICK TO KEEP READING

McMinimee describes rocky road to becoming Jeffco’s superintendent

Jefferson County Schools then-superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee sat impassively at school board meetings last spring as audience members inveighed against him, shouting out that he was unqualified to lead the state’s second-largest school district.

Critics decried his proposed annual pay as excessive, compared his professional bona fides unfavorably to his predecessor’s and said his 12 years with the Douglas County School District didn’t bode well for Jefferson County’s 85,000 students.

Even board member Lesley Dahlkemper stated that McMinimee’s proposed base salary of $280,000 — later reduced to $220,000 with $60,000 worth of annual performance pay and retirement benefits added on — “is not commensurate with experience.”

He was hired in May on a 3-2 board vote in one of the most contentious superintendent selection processes in recent memory.

But McMinimee, who completes his second week on the job Tuesday, said he never thought


Jeffco Schools board OKs hiring of Daniel McMinimee by 3-2 vote

A badly divided Jefferson County Schools board on Tuesday night hired Daniel McMinimee as the next superintendent of the state’s second-largest school district, as audience members howled in protest and hurled catcalls toward the dais.

The 3-2 vote to hire McMinimee, who serves as an assistant superintendent with the Douglas County School District, was preceded by loud interruptions from a crowd of several hundred. At one point, a large portion of the room stood up and began chanting “stand up for kids” and a woman was led out of the room by security workers after she spoke out of turn.

Final terms of McMinimee’s contract — including how many years it will last, his annual pay and performance goals — need to be hammered out during the next few weeks.

Things got off to a bumpy start Tuesday evening, with board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper pleading with the majority — the three conservative members elected as a slate in November — to allow more than 45 minutes for public comment.

“We need to hear from our community before we vote,” Fellman said to loud applause.

But a motion to lengthen the public comment period failed on a 3-2 vote.

In a clear sign of which way sympathies lay with much of the crowd, CLICK TO KEEP READING


Five (Funny) Etiquette Musts for School Performances

If you have children in school, there is no escape. You will eventually find yourself in a brightly-lit gym or dimly lit auditorium waiting for your little superstars to perform. It might be a play, band concert, choir concert, or one of those musical spectaculars with a theme. For example, a Musical Salute to Colorado! When they inevitably sing “Rocky Mountain High” and get to the part about getting high around the campfire, tell yourself the campfire is at 11,569 feet. Yes, that’s why everyone is high around a campfire.

During the end of the school year, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the projects, activities, field trips, and concerts they pack into the calendar. Being mindful of performance niceties helps everyone enjoy these frantic days and nights. Here are common courtesies parents should remember to help make school performances special and enjoyable—especially for the kids who are performing.

Don’t Leave a Performance Just Because Your Child is Done

This is a common, pretty atrocious etiquette no-no when multiple groups are performing together. Sometimes, schools must combine different musical groups to save money or for calendar issues. For example, a choir, orchestra, and band are all performing on the same night in that order. It’s rude and disruptive for parents of the choir kids to get up and leave once their children are done. What kind of message does that send to the orchestra and band kids? They aren’t worth listening to? By the time the night gets around to the band kids, only their parents are left—the same parents who sat through the other performances. Parents who flee multi-group concerts send a poor message to their own kids as well: Don’t care about supporting your peers. I know some of the group concerts are longer than average, but you will survive and demonstrate kindness and respect for all young musicians and singers.

Put Away the Smartphone

I sat next to a woman who followed a Thursday night Denver Broncos game on her phone during a concert. She got alerts for big plays and touchdowns and made sure each alert was dutifully followed-up on. She’d sigh. She’d squeal under her breath. Put yourself on stage. If you are singing a song about high altitude camping, for example, and you see a bunch of bright rectangles out in the audience with downturned faces, how would you feel? Related: Don’t loudly complain that the music teacher scheduled a concert on the same night as a professional league sporting match. While music teachers are intelligent, quick-witting beings, they are not able to see into the future nor are they inclined to believe parents would rather cheer on millionaires in tight pants than their own flesh and blood for an hour.

Be Mindful as You Video and Snap Photos

This seems like a no-brainer, but it comes up over and over. There are always parents and grandparents who feel they get to stand up and document the entire show without a care for anyone behind them. If you want to capture a solid block of any performance, stand in the back or along the sides. Nobody minds a quick photo snap here or there, but there is no excuse for obtstructive behavior or constant camera flashes.

Related: Be mindful of how and where you share the videos and photos on social media. Try to obtain permission from other parents or older children before splashing their faces and musical/acting prowess all over Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, especially if you don’t know them. They could have personal objections or even serious safety concerns.

Not Everyone in Your Group Needs a Program

You can share. You can pass it back and forth. I’ve seen members of entire families each get a program, even toddlers. Why? They end up becoming paper airplanes or left behind for the janitorial staff to deal with. When everyone in a single group gets a program, the school might run out. Some people hang on to programs as keepsakes. Rude program hoarders deprive others of having a memento or simply the chance to know Rocky Mountain High is the second to last song, right before If I Had a Wagon.

You Are Not in a Movie

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie Parenthood is when the toddler brother runs amok during his big sister’s performance of Snow White. It’s hilarious and charming and signals a shift in the movie. But it’s not cool in real life to let toddlers and preschoolers act like chimps. I’m all for bringing little ones to concerts so they can cheer on older siblings and learn about concert behavior and expectations. It’s natural and not unexpected to hear an outburst or commentary from a very young critic. But if they start becoming more of a show than the show itself, it’s time to duck out the door. Chances are, your performing kid will recognize the sound of her little brother’s voice shouting, “Bo-ring!!!” and will be mortified for a day or two as well. Don’t let your little kid steal your big kid’s special moment—or anyone else’s. Chances are, if you have to leave with a toddler, you will find other parents with toddlers roaming hallways too. It’s like a little club of cute oafs and their tall, worn-out servants. You can commiserate. Quick tip: If you are there with your spouse or another adult, decide in advance who will take the little one out if it’s necessary. That way, you won’t be shooting meaningful glances at each other while nodding at the door and shrugging while muttering under your breath. At the next concert, you can switch.

Concert season is wrapping up, but I guarantee plans are already in the works for next year’s crop of performances. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone worked together to make these experiences as wonderful as possible?

Jeffco superintendent finalist “doesn’t have all the answers” at tough open house

Jefferson County Schools superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee faced a decidedly tough crowd Thursday, as dozens of people came to an open house at Wheat Ridge High School to set eyes for the first time on the man who more than likely will take the reins of the state’s second-largest school district.

Parents and teachers in this deeply divided district challenged McMinimee, who on Saturday was named by the board as the sole contender for the superintendent post, on a number of topics ranging from charter schools to teacher pay to community unity.

McMinimee, a 50-year-old father of two, is currently assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Douglas County School District. He has been with the district for 12 years.

“I don’t have all the answers,” said McMinimee, as a group of more than 50 people crowded in on him. “We all have to compromise — we’re not all going to get what we want all the time.”

Daniel McMinimee (Provided by Jefferson County Schools)

Daniel McMinimee (Provided by Jefferson County Schools)

He said his main focus will be on listening to the community, team-building, and implementing policies that make students successful.

McMinimee still needs to be formally hired by the board, which likely won’t happen until next month. Thursday was his first public appearance since being named the sole finalist for the job held for a dozen years by Cindy Stevenson , who stepped down in February.

A former Jeffco teacher warned McMinimee that he is walking into a “hornet’s nest,” with a community riven since three conservative members became the board’s new majority.

McMinimee, himself, was chosen as the sole finalist on a 3-2 vote of the board and several audience members complained about the fact that after a $40,000 nationwide search for a new superintendent, the community was only given a single name.

“My hope is you can bring us back together,” the man said.

McMinimee said he too hopes he can bridge the gaps that have developed, but he said it will take the effort of the entire community.

“We have to develop trust,” he said.

Many in attendance at Thursday’s open house voiced uncertainty about their future leader.

Julia Morgan , a teacher at Pomona High School, said the priorities being set by the board are not teacher-friendly. She said she wants to know where McMinimee stands on the issue of teacher pay and whether he is as determined as the board majority to steer more funding toward charter schools.

“I want to see what he can offer and maybe he can bridge this divide,” Morgan said. “Because it is not good for us as teachers, it is not good for the kids.”

Things got off to a rough start at the meet and greet when McMinimee announced that he would take questions on a one-on-one basis only, prompting some in the crowd to ask how that bolstered transparency. He later sat down at a table and answered questions in front of everyone.

Parent Todd Friesen said while he still had a lot of questions about McMinimee, he appreciated his long and rigorous academic background, which includes stints as a teacher, principal, coach and administrator.

Kelly Johnson , who has two kids in Jefferson County schools, said for now she has to take McMinimee “at his word.” But she said he will have to make it clear to the community that he has the well-being of district’s 85,000 students foremost in his mind.

“It’s going to take someone who truly believes in these kids,” she said.

McMinimee told the audience that while he serves at the pleasure of the school board, he expects to have input in policy decisions rather than just rubber-stamping directives.

McMinimee will appear at another open house at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Lakewood’s Carmody Middle School, 2050 S. Kipling St.

John Aguilar

Jeffco superintendent finalist faces tricky road ahead

When Ron Cabrera was hired as superintendent of the Thompson School District in 2008, he took the helm of the 16,000-student district without the full support of the board.

The vote to give him the top post was 4-3.

But former board member Marcia Venzke, who was one of those opposed to Cabrera’s hiring, said once the new leader had been chosen, the board got behind him.

Daniel McMinimee (Provided by Jefferson County Schools)

Daniel McMinimee (Provided by Jefferson County Schools)

“We made the decision as a board to support him because a successful superintendent makes for a successful district,” she said.

Whether the same goes for Daniel McMinimee, who emerged as the sole finalist for superintendent of bitterly divided Jefferson County Schools, remains to be seen. The board voted 3-2 on Saturday to name him the only contender for the job.

The board still needs to officially approve the hiring of McMinimee, who serves as assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Douglas County School District. But barring some unforeseen shift in positions on the board over the next couple of weeks, McMinimee will become the next leader of the 85,000-student district.

And the vote to put him in that position likely won’t be unanimous.

Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said divisions in school leadership typically manifest after an election — not during the superintendent hiring process.

“As a superintendent coming into the job, you would like the unified backing of the board,” Caughey said. “But I’ve seen superintendents navigate split boards.”

Cabrera, who now works for the Boulder Valley School District, said the split vote on his hiring did “give him pause” going in, but he managed to forge a productive relationship with the board.

“For the first three years, the board that hired me did work collaboratively and cooperatively,” he said. Then, in 2012, a board of largely new members fired Cabrera.

Venzke said Cabrera made the right moves upon becoming Thompson’s superintendent. “He was very open and did a 100-day listening tour in the community,” she said. “That helped a lot because his hiring was contentious. I thought it helped heal that chasm with the school board.”

But Venzke said Jefferson County’s divisions are more “profound” than what existed in the Thompson district.

The Jefferson County Schools board has been starkly divided since a slate of conservatives — John Newkirk, Julie Williams and Ken Witt — won election in November. The board has clashed with itself, with the teachers union, and with former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, who abruptly resigned in February.

Some see selecting an administrator from Douglas County as a not-too-subtle effort to import that county’s conservative educational policies to Jefferson County.

Tony Lewis, executive director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, said that given the deep divisions in Jefferson County, it will be “really hard” for McMinimee to build the necessary bridges and heal wounds. But Lewis said McMinimee should start by reaching out to the two dissenting board members, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman.

McMinimee told The Denver Post on Sunday that he plans to meet with school and community leaders ahead of the hiring vote so they can get to know him and hear about his leadership philosophy.

Liz Fagen, superintendent for the Douglas County School District, said McMinimee is a “relationship-builder” and understands the situation he is walking into.

“Dan has a lot of good qualities that will help him build relationships with the board individually and collectively,” she said.

“Leadership is about bringing people together around a collective vision — and Dan has those strengths.”

John Aguilar

5 Important Ways to Teach Your Kids Empathy

Kids say the darndest things! We have all experienced the pure innocence and honesty of a child. “ Mommy, your teeth look yellow” or  “Daddy, your nose is big.” Maybe you’ve experienced what’s even more humiliating … your child’s sharing their innocent, honest and totally inappropriate thoughts to a stranger. Or, maybe your child isn’t the “verbal” type and these examples don’t sound familiar. Lucky you!

But what about grabbing toys away from other children and not noticing the other child is now crying? How about hitting their baby brother or sister and feeling little to no remorse? You can’t help but wonder what happened to your sweet innocent baby, and why some of their behaviors resemble, well, a little monster.

No, the behaviors described above–or similar ones that might be found in your home–do not make these children monsters. In fact, children ages three to five years old simply are not developmentally capable of understanding empathy.  However, with the help and leadership from parents and teachers, children can  develop a sense of empathy, caring, altruism and appreciation for other people and different situations.

 Empathy might seem quite simple and straightforward to adults. However, empathy is quite complex which makes it difficult for preschoolers to understand. Empathy consists of three skills:

 1. Self- awareness and the ability to distinguish one’s feelings

2. Being able to take another person’s perspective as to “putting yourself in others’ shoes”

3. The ability to regulate one’s emotions

Students have a record-breaking science lesson at Coors Field

Coors Field became a gigantic open-air classroom Wednesday as thousands of kids got a lesson in physics and Colorado State University set a record for the world’s largest physics class.

Tricycles hitched to billowing parachutes circled the field, beach balls were held aloft by streams of air spouting from leaf blowers, and balloons floated, burst and wiggled over the diamond.

It was Weather and Science Day at the stadium, and physics professor Brian Jones, CSU staffers and volunteers, 9News meteorologists, and others joined Rockies mascot Dinger in using a host of props to make the lesson anything but dry.

“I think they know much more than they think they know,” Jones said of the 10,369 mostly K-12 kids who attended. “We are trying to teach them a new vocabulary to explain it.”

The attendance broke the Guinness World Record for largest physics lesson, previously set at Coors Field by 9News and its science contributor Steve Spangler at the first Weather and Science Day on May 7, 2009.

That event drew 5,401 participants.

Auditing and accounting firm BKD was on hand to verify the count, which will be submitted to Guinness World Records.

Jones, director of CSU’s Little Shop of Physics, led the students through an hour-long interactive science lesson, teaching them about air, energy and waves, and showing how scientific principles explain the curve of a baseball and the patterns of weather.

“I learned that everything doesn’t move in a straight line; it always curves,” said Cristian Trevizo, 11, a sixth-grader at Carbon Valley Academy in Frederick.

It was the second year that Carbon Valley eighth-grader Shelby Ary, 14, has attended the event. “I learned a lot of stuff. I learned about energy and about the waves and how a ball curves,” she said.

Tom McGhee