Board of Education Update – April 11, 2019 Focus on Achievement Session

Board Reviews English Language Acquisition Programming in an Environment of Changing Demographics

At the April 11, 2019 Focus on Achievement Session the Denver Board of Education had a rich discussion of English Language Acquisition (ELA) programs.

Nadia Madan Morrow, Executive Director of the ELA department, presented an overview of the ELA program, outlining some of the areas of opportunity and challenges facing the program going forward. Chief among the areas of opportunity is the district’s prioritization of Culturally Responsive Education, which could dramatically improve educational experiences for students who enter DPS speaking languages other than English (English Learners, or “ELs”).

Ms. Madan Morrow shared successes with the ELA program, including several outcomes that indicate that when EL students successfully exit program services, their state assessment scores, academic growth and graduation rates outperform those of their native English speaking peers. She also described the different kinds of program services for elementary ELs, ranging from English as a Second Language (ESL) to Dual Language Programs.

Over the past two years, ELs have declined as a percentage of overall DPS enrollment, following the citywide trend of lower birth rates, demographic changes and increased housing prices. Declining enrollment has had an increased impact on the services DPS provides for English Learners in elementary schools in particular. Under the terms of the Consent Decree, schools that meet a threshold of Spanish-speaking ELs must provide Transitional Native Language Instruction (TNLI) programs.

Ms. Madan Morrow reported that, as EL enrollment has declined, some elementary schools have had difficulty maintaining TNLI services for the reduced number of students who require services. DPS’ ELA department has been working with schools on a case-by-case basis to ensure all ELs receive appropriate services while supporting bilingualism and biliteracy. Noting that it will be challenging to continue this approach as more schools experience enrollment declines, Ms. Madan Morrow asked the board to consider supporting a districtwide strategy to address the issue.

“We are deeply committed to native language instruction,” Ms. Madan Morrow said. “Our students bring a wealth of diversity to our district and we must make sure we are serving them in a culturally-responsive manner.”

The board also engaged in a panel discussion with people representing different perspectives on the ELA program:

  • Jessica Buckley – Principal of Valdez Elementary School
  • Dr. Patricia Hurrieta – Principal of Grant Ranch K-8
  • Veronica Maes – Director of Program Implementation and Effectiveness, ELA Department
  • Dr. Vanessa Santiago Schwarz – University of Colorado, Boulder and Congress of Hispanic Educators (CHE) member
  • Lucia Ramirez – University of Denver Student, Class of 2017 Seal of Biliteracy Graduate and volunteer Seal of Biliteracy Alumni Network Coordinator

The discussion centered on the panelists’ experiences with programs that have been effective in serving ELs, as well as their perspectives on the strategies proposed.

The full presentation is available here.  

Board Continues Discussion of Special Education Task Force Recommendations

Robert Frantum-Allen, Director of Special Education, presented additional information to the board regarding the Special Education Task Force and the subsequent recommendations and strategic plan. This presentation included a review of the specific action steps the district could take to ensure a more inclusive environment to improve academic outcomes for students with disabilities.

The board previously heard information on the task force and strategic plan on March 18. The Focus on Achievement presentation focused on the action steps for the district as well as targeted initiatives in the special education department. The task force’s recommendations focused on five key areas:

  • Inclusion
  • Literacy
  • Resources
  • Staff excellence
  • Evaluation and eligibility

The board discussed the specific ways the special education action steps would impact students and Mr. Frantum-Allen emphasized the value of inclusion.

“When we apply universal design learning principles – like including a cool-down space for students with serious emotional disabilities in every room – we see positive outcomes for all students and we can create the inclusive environment that is a signal of our commitment to equity,” said Mr. Frantum-Allen.

Read the full presentation here.