Students in Commerce City don’t need restructuring; they need community schools – The Denver Post


No matter what we look like or how much we have in our wallets, we want exceptional public schools that inspire imagination, cultivate critical thinking, and encourage collaboration to ensure all of our children can live fulfilling lives. Adams 14 students deserve this.

Adams 14 serves Commerce City, best known for the Suncor oil refinery, one of Colorado’s largest polluters that routinely releases toxic chemicals into the air and water. Commerce City’s average per capita income is $30,500, and Adams 14 students are 87% Latino, while almost half are English language learners.

Working class families here have strong community pride about multiple generations having attended its local schools. They want to save the schools they have – and superintendents of all the surrounding districts refuse to participate in a consolidation scheme so these families can chart their own destiny.

We all want Adams 14 schools to improve. But a flawed accountability system that judges students, educators, schools and districts on a statewide standardized test that fails to account for other ways to measure growth and success brands students learning English as a second language – on top of the regular curriculum – as failures instead of the impressive learners they are.

Reading the news, you’d never know this scrappy school district has had big successes – they are second in the state for language acquisition growth and attendance at Adams City High School was up 11% last semester.

Adams 14’s progress has been disrupted by several years of changing direction from the State Board of Education and the wasted $8 million that went to MGT, a private, for-profit external management partner the Board forced on them. To add insult to injury, the all-Latino board, Latina superintendent and mostly Latino families were steamrolled into accepting a new partial management relationship this spring.

The heartbreaking result is that students are trapped by adult drama, like powerless kids trying to survive a dysfunctional divorce.

Across town in Greenwood Village, almost eight out of 10 residents are white, the average per capita income is more than $90,000 – three times that of Commerce City – and only 18% speak a language other than English at home. It’s no surprise that the students arrive at school with experiences, supplies and support, ready to achieve – things Adams 14 kids often lack.

These discrepancies in resources don’t apply just to Commerce City and Greenwood Village. It’s just as true if we compare Clifton and Aspen, Antonito and Boulder and other communities around the state. If the accountability system doesn’t change, many districts on the state’s “accountability clock” will be the next to suffer under a punitive system that doesn’t provide the support and resources needed for success.

Adams 14 educators know their students have just as much potential as those in Greenwood Village – but they come to school with very different needs. Surviving while poor is a full-time struggle for adults and children alike. Many district students have never seen a dentist and don’t have access to health care. Some households don’t have enough to eat. Others are homeless or at risk of eviction. It is impossible to concentrate on school with a toothache, when you’re hungry or if you don’t have a place to sleep.

Community schools can address the challenges that impact students’ ability to learn. This model addresses students’ need for healthy meals, health care, tutoring, mental health counseling and other services before, during and after school in order to learn.

Almost all of the students at Webb K-8 in Austin, Texas, are low-income students of color. By implementing the community schools model, they transformed the lowest performing middle school at risk of closure to the top performing Title I school, beating 15 other schools in the district, and almost doubled their graduation rate to 90% in just seven years.

After Cincinnati officials converted 44 of their 65 schools into community schools, the Black/white achievement gap shrank from 14.5% to 4.5%. Student graduation rates increased almost 30%. The dropout rate was slashed – in 2000, only 15% of students attended beyond 10th grade but nine years later, 8 out of 10 graduated.

Every day our teachers, paras, bus drivers and cafeteria workers help students reach their highest potential. Our vision is to adopt the Community School model in every Adams 14 school, so all students – no matter their background, skin color or zip code – get the academic, social, emotional and other support our students need to learn, thrive and make their dreams come true.

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association, the voice of 39,000 educators, working together in a strong union to ensure all students get the exceptional public schools they deserve, in every neighborhood across the state.

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