Charter school applications, Restart Plan focus of Jeffco School Board meeting

Applications for two proposed charter schools that would serve students on the autism spectrum and updates about the Restart Plan were the focus of the Jeffco School Board’s Sept. 3 meeting.

The Jeffco School Board also unanimously approved a contract for Interim Superintendent Kristopher Schuh, whom the board appointed on Aug. 11. The contract was not attached to the agenda item in Board Docs.

Schuh was appointed interim after former Superintendent Jason Glass accepted a position this summer as Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education. Schuh will serve as interim superintendent until the school board hires a new superintendent.

Charter school applications reviewed

The Jeffco School Board also held a public hearing regarding two charter school applications that were submitted this spring. Both of the proposed schools, Prospect Academy and Spectrum Academy, would serve students on the autism spectrum.

Prospect Academy

The Colorado-based Prospect Academy proposal is for a K-12 school that would serve students on the autism spectrum as well as those with ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia. They propose opening in Fall 2021 with no more than 200 students in grades 5-12.

According to their application, Prospect Academy would expand to serve grades 3-12 by their fourth year, and would serve grades K-12 by their fifth year. The school would use the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, with an emphasis on executive functioning to help students manage their own learning.

The school plans to be located in central Jeffco for easy access by all Jeffco residents, ideally around 6th and Wadsworth, according to Prospect Board President and founder, Mia Coffing.

Spectrum Academy

Spectrum Academy is a proposed charter school that focuses on serving high functioning students with autism. Spectrum currently operates two charter schools in Utah, and with the help of a grant from the Daniels Fund, is looking to open a K-8 school in Colorado for the 2020-21 school year.

If approved, Spectrum would expand by one grade level each year to eventually become a K-12 school. According to their application, instruction is based on the Vgotskian theory of learning and development. It will also incorporate some aspects of Tools of the Mind and Applied Behavior Analysis.

Spectrum is looking for a location near a freeway for easy access to students in Jeffco and the larger metro area.

Charter applications to be voted on in October

Both proposed schools submitted their applications in mid-March. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each agreed to a joint waiver that delayed the usual approval process by several months.

At the board meeting, Kristin Edgar, an attorney from Kaplan & Ernst, said that district staff were still reviewing applications.

Jeffco School Board President Susan Harmon said the board anticipates receiving answers to their questions in mid-September. The board will then will hold a second public hearing and vote on both applications at their October meeting.

Four schools showcase their hybrid, remote plans

While school plans for hybrid and remote learning differ from school to school, four principals told board members about their plans for hybrid and remote learning as part of the Restart update.

Shaffer and Stony Creek Elementary Schools

At Shaffer and Stony Creek, principals Stephanie Cavallaro and Jeremy Brasher teamed up to work together to accommodate student and community needs. The principals talked with families through Zoom calls to answer questions. Both also developed plans and procedures with teachers who are teaching remotely to keep them well informed.

Approximately 25 percent of Cavallaro’s students chose remote learning. Each school contributed three teachers who engage the remote students in single-grade remote classrooms.

“One thing that was heard loud and clear by a lot of us in the spring was that they really wanted the remote experience to mirror the in-person experience more,” Cavallaro said.

A sample schedule of a first grade remote learning schedule included at least three 20-30 minute live lessons via Zoom, plus a live meeting at the beginning and end of the day. The in-person learners have the same lessons and independent work time, but inside the classroom.

restart plan
This is an example of an in-person and remote learning schedule for first graders at Shaffer and Stony Creek Elementary Schools. Image courtesy of Jeffco Schools.

“We’ve created opportunities for students to engage in small chunks of synchronous learning at the beginning of each content area and then allowing for that asynchronous work to follow after that first chunk of time,” Brasher said.

Brasher said by having the remote schedule mirror the in-person schedule, it provides the most equity for all learners.

“We also were thinking if at some point a cohort group or the school needs to pivot to remote that following this really puts us in the best scenario going forward,” Cavallaro added.

Both Brasher and Cavallaro said they also understand there may need to be more flexibility in their schedule, and they are soliciting feedback from teachers and families.

Deer Creek Middle School

Hybrid learning at Deer Creek Middle School is focused on maintaining cohorts, explained Principal Rob Hoover. Hybrid schedules were built around cohorts that students maintain for all four core classes.

Hoover said the biggest challenge was finding a way to maintain cohorts but keep a wide range of electives available. They were able to structure schedules so that students are only exposed to two or three different cohorts throughout the week and still have many elective options.

Most Deer Creek staff are teaching both hybrid and remote sections simultaneously. Hoover said this meant a lot of planning work for teachers, but kept the in-person and remote instruction aligned for students.

One of the biggest challenges has been helping students transition from a more independent model in the spring, where students were able to structure their learning to meet their own needs to a schedule they have to follow even on remote days.

This is an example of hybrid and remote scheduling at Deer Creek Middle School. Image courtesy of Jeffco Schools.

On remote days, students typically have instruction at the beginning of a class, and then have time to work for the rest of the period. This model may work better for some students than others, Hoover said.

Deer Creek also cut down on the amount of passing time between classes by having cohorts stay in the same classroom while teachers change rooms. As a result only about 20 percent of students are in the hallway during passing periods.

Bear Creek High School

Bear Creek is following a six-period schedule this fall, with three blocks per day, Principal Lynn Torr said.

The first group of hybrid students attends three in-person classes each on Mondays and Tuesdays, then the second group of hybrid students attends in-person classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Fridays are asynchronous learning days for all students.

This is Bear Creek High School’s schedule for hybrid and remote learning. Image courtesy of Jeffco Schools.

Hybrid students will closely mirror what students do in the remote-only setting, Torr said. On a typical day, remote students will be logged in for the 15-20 minutes of class, and then will work independently.

All four principals also noted that although dialogue was taking place between principals at different schools, they haven’t had the luxury of time to have discussions or share ideas so far.

Hybrid, remote plans vary school by school

Jeffco School Board President Susan Harmon asked if the district was compiling the many different middle and high school hybrid and remote models so they could measure what was and wasn’t working.

Schuh explained that schools had the option of an ABAB or AABB schedule, with Friday as an asynchronous remote day. In addition, schools were limited to only running four classes in any day.

Beyond that, schools have complete autonomy for how everything else is structured, Harmon noted. Some schools are separating hybrid groups alphabetically, while others are separating by grade level. Some schools are offering up to seven classes, while others are only offering five, Harmon also said.

In addition, some schools are using a semester system while others like Lakewood High School, are using a quarter system to offer classes.

Other Restart Plan updates

Personal Protective Equipment

Julie Wilken, director of Jeffco Schools health services, told board members that Jeffco has a warehouse of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and that all PPE would be delivered to neighborhood and option schools by Sept. 4.

PPE was distributed to schools based on a district wide calculation regarding the number of students and staff at a school each day, explained Nicole Stewart, interim chief financial officer. Stewart said that the PPE was purchased using CARES Act funds, and that schools can purchase additional PPE if desired.

Wilken explained that PPE assumptions are based on the number of teachers, classrooms and how many days of the week school is in session. For example, if schools don’t have in-person learners on Fridays, that means less PPE is needed, she said.

Charter schools have their own portion of CARES Act funds and can use that money to purchase their own PPE.

Food Service waiver received

Jeffco Schools received a waiver from the USDA that allows schools to provide all students breakfast and lunch meals at no cost through Dec. 31, regardless of eligibility. Hybrid and remote learners can pick up grab-and-go meals for their remote learning days at their home school.

Technology

Although there is a nationwide equipment shortage, Jeffco is fine because they purchased equipment in February, explained Brett Miller, chief information officer.

In addition, while Jeffco has experienced small issues with outages and online classroom interruptions, those were being resolved. In some cases, Miller said, teachers may not have known exactly who was on their rosters and assumed people were supposed to be in the meetings.

Classes are using protected IDs, passwords, and waiting rooms, but even then a student may find a way to invite a friend into a meeting, he said. Miller’s department is working to lock those down and was also making a change on Friday afternoon that would further guard against interruptions.

Recording classes for later student use

Harmon asked whether teachers can record lessons so that those be available for students who were unable to attend in-person or who had internet issues during class.

“What can we be doing to help our families make sure that their students are processing content, aren’t missing content when either our technology isn’t working or their brains aren’t working or they’re sick,” Harmon asked.

She added that teachers keep telling her they aren’t allowed to record classes. She said she is concerned this could have a negative outcome for students.

When we only have an hour or two of instructional time a week, I need our teachers to know they can push that button, Harmon explained.

There’s a lot of content teachers need to get out to students, Harmon said. However, students who can only process so much at a time can watch the rest later. That works better for some students.

“From a SPED perspective, it’s critical to supporting learning for students that have processing difficulties,” she said.

Recording content would also expand access for everyone, including general ed students, Harmon added.

Matt Flores, chief academic officer, said Jeffco is encouraging teachers to “record all live sessions and post to selected learning management system at the end of the course period.”

However, video recordings cannot be made public to students or others outside a class, he said. Recordings should be saved for students in the Google Classroom resources tab or a Schoology folder.

“I would like that to be a consistent message across the board for general education,” Harmon responded.

Harmon clarified that she was not talking about taking pictures of people’s work. Instead, she emphasized the importance of recording Zoom and in-person learning experiences to make sure students aren’t missing critical content.

Enrollment

Jeffco is starting to monitor early enrollment estimates, Stewart said. But without kids in the buildings until after Labor Day, they aren’t sure who is actually coming back, Stewart said.

A 1 to 5 percent drop in enrollment could result in a funding cut of $5-10 million, Stewart said. The Colorado Department of Education has not indicated that they will treat 2020-21 as a hold-harmless year.

Jeffco was already budgeting for a 350-student decrease before the pandemic. However, more cuts could be on the horizon if enrollment drops steeply. CDE will average the count to help ease funding cuts for districts with a drop in enrollment, Stewart said.

Staffing

This summer, 1400 educators requested remote assignments, including 1100 school-based educators, said David Bell, chief human resources officer. Of that, 950 received a remote placement.

Another 400 who requested remote assignments didn’t match up with school or content remote needs, Bell said.

Over the summer, 45 administrative staff, 463 licensed staff, and 171 classified staff resigned or were terminated.

In comparison, here are the resignations and terminations from the past three years:

  • 2019: 45 administrative staff, 371 licensed staff, 220 classified staff
  • 2018: 46 administrative staff, 443 licensed staff, 201 classified staff
  • 2017: 36 administrative staff, 409 licensed staff, 214 classified staff
  • 2016: 31 administrative staff, 365 licensed staff, 177 classified staff

Bus Transportation

Bus transportation is one of the most challenging issues based on the current situation, said Steve Bell, chief operating officer. Buses can only run at one-third of their usual capacity

In addition, because many bus drivers are in the high-risk category for COVID-19, they are facing major staffing challenges. The department lost 15 percent of drivers over the summer, Bell said.

HVAC improvements

Board member Stephanie Schooley asked about how the district could better communicate how HVAC systems had been upgraded to make schools safer.

Bell said that all HVAC systems are currently functional and operational. However, he added that a specific HVAC exchange rate was not a directive from Jeffco Public Health.

Jeffco improved HVAC exchange rates, but only as part of a larger mitigation strategy. That strategy also includes masks, hand washing, and more distance between students, Bell said.

Board member Susan Miller noted that people have been asking how often air is exchanged in classrooms and about filters. She noted that communicating more details might relieve concerns.

Schuh asked what should be communicated about how Jeffco is hitting markers regarding air exchanges, filters, and outside air.

Miller suggested that because people are looking at the CDC recommendations for ventilation, it would help to explain how Jeffco is addressing air flow, what will and won’t work with some of our older HVAC systems, and the standards Jeffco is using to work with the systems we have.

Harmon suggested that the district update the Restart FAQs page to include more details.

COVID-19 case counts

As of Sept. 2, Jeffco had approximately 379 positive COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period, averaging 27 per day. The positive case rate was 3.37 percent, Wilken said.

According to Wilken, Jeffco was in a good place to reopen schools on Sept. 8. However, Jeffco has a long way to go before getting to Protect Our Neighbors status, she added. Getting to Protect Our Neighbors would require case counts to average 20 or less per day.

According to the Restart Plan, once Jeffco reaches Protect Our Neighbors status, in-person learning could resume at full capacity with a remote option.

On Sept. 16, Jeffco Public Health reported that Jeffco’s three-day moving average of daily case totals had increased to 31.5.

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, musicologist and Jeffco resident since 1999 with two children attending Jeffco Schools. Lisa earned a BA from Valparaiso University, a Masters in Music from Colorado State University, and her Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. When not working, she can be found running (ideally on mountain trails) with Midnight, her miniature poodle. Please visit our "About Us" page to learn more about Lisa and our other writers.

Click here to opt-out of Google Analytics. Click here to opt-out.