Is Castro Elementary on the chopping block?

The familiar set-up job of the district threatening school closure continues at Castro Elementary, but the Spanish-dominant group of mothers that assembled at a district meeting there today, had other plans.

 

Families at Castro Elementary

I attended a family meeting at Castro Elementary this morning, in a room full of mostly mothers, some with babies in tow, predominantly a Spanish-speaking crowd, but also Vietnamese and English were being translated.

It was the familiar song-and-dance moves of the school district:  your low-income, "minority" children are not doing well, even though we've spent so much money on you, and so the school board is going to consider whether to "restart" (aka close) the school at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Also familiar is the fact that a significant proportion of the students are classified as English learners, and the district is bound by a federal court order to offer transitional native language instruction toward English fluency.  These services are chosen by the parent, with the recommendation from the school after an initial English proficiency test is taken by the student.  The court order mandates that the parent is free to choose one of three options for their student's instruction: mostly Spanish with some increasing English (ELA-S), mostly English with some Spanish (ELA-E), or full immersion in English.

I, myself, was an ELA-S teacher.

This court order prescribes a great model for any school to emulate, whether they have a significant number of English learners or not.  It describes class sizes, teacher qualifications, parent communications and opportunities for training and serving on advisory committees...in short, it taps into all the best practices that we know are important in a student's development in school.  

 Some Spanish exam scores
 2014 Spanish TCAP results for reading at Castro.  79% proficient/advanced!

And this court order pays off.  Students who are receiving these language services, as well as students who finally achieve English fluency and can prosper in an English-only classroom, have better results on the state standardized test.  Every year, students still designated as English learners have to take the ACCESS test, which is a state-mandated English proficiency exam.  Like clockwork, those schools that have instruction that is in compliance with the court order show rapid progress in English proficiency from year to year in their students.

The twist here, of course, is that most of our school ratings include the test scores of students who are forced to test in English, whether they are fluent or not, but the ratings do not use the ACCESS test scores or the Spanish-language state test scores of students who are not yet fluent.  In recent years, the district has made half-hearted attempts to incorporate these other scores, but largely, this student work is not deemed to be important enough to include in the data.

While present at the meeting today, I asked the district officials present whether the state test is being offered in Spanish, as allowed by state law, to the 3rd through 5th graders.  I never received a real answer.  Instead, the district official referred to the new bi-literacy certificate (not the same thing), and actually said that the Spanish tests were available if the family wanted them.

That's not exactly the parameters of the court order.

20170524_145542.jpg
If reading is 79% proficient/advanced in 2014, how can the SPF for 2014 be 42.95%?  And why is 2015's zero score averaged into the three-year score?

 

What seems immediately clear is that DPS is allowing the administration of Castro Elementary to ignore the federally-mandated English learner services, exposing this school community to upheaval and disruption.  Additionally, because of this negligence, DPS is potentially creating an expensive, actionable situation that could result in payment of damages to families whose rights are denied them as mandated by the court order.

It's also clear that since 11 new charters were approved recently, without locations selected, it's not a stretch to see that the district is eyeballing the Castro Elementary building as a solution to placing one or more of these schools.  It also seems logical to assume that co-location is going to be recommended  to the school board after the state exam results are released later this year.

The district personnel made the point that school culture impacts performance.  The families present agreed wholeheartedly, and instead of more manufactured and selective data, they wanted to talk about how their families are being treated at the school.  They simply did not accept the indictment of the district.  Here is a translation of the families' questions and demands, presented to the instructional superintendent, who is the direct supervisor of the principal:

 We parents would like to know what is the plan of action to get us out of the pit in which the school finds itself, and why (the principal) continues to fire teachers, and their replacements are young people recently graduated from college without experience to help our school, and of a demographic that is not like this school community.

We feel a lack of respect that after four years, our principal, after coexisting in our community that is mostly Mexican (descent), doesn't demonstrate enthusiasm for using our language and that of the parents.

We would like to know why, when we ask questions at meetings that to him may seem uncomfortable about his administration's performance, that he immediately becomes annoyed, raises his voice, silences us, changes the subject and makes unnecessary excuses to leave the meeting and does not take responsibility when he is the one who scheduled these meetings, and he should respect this assigned time.

We parents neither understand nor agree with receiving private calls after the meeting to address omitted topics , because we feel that this is manipulation and control in order to not discuss the topic in front of the group.

 As parents, we ask why the principal and assistant principal don't have their kids in (this) school.  Is it possible that they don't believe in the program they have created or in the teachers they have hired?

We insist upon a restorative justice plan, where incorrect behavior coincides with an adequate consequence.  We would like to know which system is used in the schools where the children of the principal and assistant principal.  It appears that here at Castro, the punishment of a child cleaning (the school) is the rule and the solution.  Is there perhaps the same percentage of children cleaning the school in more affluent schools?

We matter.  We want a principal who is appropriate for our community, who respects the origin of each child and who teaches the child to feel proud of their roots.  A child who feels secure in themself, will have success in this education system and in this country.

 What's worse is that many of the parents were making loud objections to the principal's practice of calling the police on students who use "bad language."  It was pointed out that a spicy vocabulary is not against the law, and the principal claims there is one restorative justice counselor in the building.  If so, it begs the question why he chooses to use such severe, panic-inducing methods in such young children.  Even though the school district has passed policy against the suspension of children in grades 3 and below, what difference does that make to a child having to face down a police officer, possibly being handcuffed, because the principal does not know how to utilize the resources provided to redirect a child's behavior?  

School to jailhouse track, anyone?  My platform calls for the removal of police officers from our schools altogether, which DPS has to pay for, and instead using those funds for more restorative justice personnel.  

I'm running because it's time to stop manufacturing the rationale for school closures by violating the civil rights of students.  I'm also running because fiscal responsibility should include managing potential losses by ensuring that policies protect both taxpayer assets and students' rights.

I'll continue to report out on developments.  In the meantime, please take a look at the "Get Involved" section in the navigation menu above to find out how you can help get this campaign across the finish line.

Showing 4 reactions

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  • commented 2017-05-25 14:17:22 -0600
    Ms. Concerned, first of all, thank you so much for coming here to post your views. I am glad that you and your family are having a positive experience with the principal in question.

    Regarding facts, I have posted some here. I also will take the word of all parents, including yours, whose testimony is that your experience is positive. That matters.

    I would encourage you to call the District 4 police department and find out whether the police are making contact with students there. They have to keep records. If they aren’t keeping records, then we have to ask why.

    The supervisor for the “resource officers” is on this page: https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/police-department/police-stations/district-4-station-sw-.html

    Regarding the court order, it’s very possible that you don’t understand the full requirements because, since you speak and write great English, it’s possible your student doesn’t need these services. But it’s linked in the article, and I encourage you to take a look and read it through.

    “Why not go to your home school” is an excellent question, and I’m running because EVERY FAMILY deserves the right to go to their home school, with a program that supports the whole child.

    Thanks for coming to comment. I do appreciate it.
  • commented 2017-05-25 08:39:26 -0600
    I read your article and was outraged, how could you possibly be so one sided in your reporting. Why didn’t you stay for the other side of the conversation where parents who praised the Principal and stood beside him instead of taking the side of 3 parents who complain about everything. The Principal has done a wonderful job at this school, parents and students like him. He always puts the kids first and cares and loves them. He does what is right for the school including staffing for the best needs of the students and the Castro community. They follow all the required guidelines mandated by the court for language learners. Remember this school is NOT 100% Spanish Speaking and you need to listen to other groups of parents and community before saying anything especially if your claim is to represent this community. As for them not having their children at this school, they do not live in the neighborhood and why not go to your home school and you will find very few children who attend school were their parents work for it would be a conflict of interest. I for one and others feel that you do not have accurate information and will not be voting for someone who does not get all the accurate information before spouting off. GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT!
  • commented 2017-05-25 06:36:08 -0600
    Thank you for attending this meeting, and caring about what is happening inside our DPS schools, Julie. After also attending this meeting yesterday I was shocked and saddened at how the district and the principal are treating these families, and has for many, many years. It’s time for a change within this school, and I don’t mean replace it with one of the 11 approved charter schools!
  • published this page in Blog 2017-05-25 02:10:35 -0600