Volume 3 Issue 2

Expanding Choice Means More than Adding Charter Schools

By John Rofer

     When some people hear “expanding choice,” they think about charter schools, which offer programming not typically found in neighborhood schools. But expanding choice has a much broader definition. Right here in Jeffco, it includes offering more programs at Warren Tech and the Jeffco Virtual Academy. It also means building capacity at Sobesky, which serves students with severe emotional needs. Additionally, it’s about increasing the number of seats available in gifted programs and investing in revamped services delivered to students with other special needs. 
Career and Technical
     The board is investing in programs that help students graduate ready for the workforce. Warren Tech offers a variety of classes for high school juniors and seniors, at both a north and central campus. The program works with neighborhood high schools to deliver unique opportunities for students. Courses at Warren Tech range from Forensic Science to Cosmetology, from Culinary Arts to Dental Hygiene. Some students graduate from Warren Tech and directly enter the workforce.
     Students can get hands-on experience with welders, automotive diagnostic machines, and CAD systems. Working with Red Rocks Community College, some students are also able to graduate from Warren Tech with an associate degree. Warren Tech students even have become famous for sending things into space. In a project with NASA students have designed and built equipment and experiments that are now on the international space station. 
Special Needs
     The board has invested in Sobesky Academy, a school designed to meet the intensive behavioral and related academic needs of students identified with severe emotional disabilities. Currently, the program is housed at 2001 Hoyt Street in a building built in 1947. It no longer has the capacity to meet the needs of all the students who require the program’s intensive interventions. The board has allocated funds to remodel Stevens Elementary to create more space for those students who need the services at Sobesky in a safe educational environment. 
Jeffco Virtual Academy
     Last year the board invested in expanding the district’s online virtual academy. Previously directed at students in seventh to 12th grade, the program has expanded to serve students as early as kindergarten. This free public school option allows students to take online classes to supplement their learning in a Jeffco public school, or to enroll full-time in the Virtual Academy. Classes offered range from core classes in English, math, science, and social studies to Art History and Web Page Design. Courses follow the Jeffco district curriculum and are taught by Jeffco teachers. 
Gifted and Talented (GT)
     In addition, the board is expanding programming for gifted students. An audit of the district’s GT program offerings uncovered wait lists with students who had been identified as being able to participate, whose parents wanted them in gifted classrooms, but for whom there was no space. The board allocated additional funds to add classes to gifted center programs and to expand programs available in neighborhood schools to support clusters of gifted students. 
Special Education
     The board is also investing in revamping special education. Dr. Sue Chandler generated a wake-up call last year when she threatened to reduce the nursing staff at Fletcher Miller, a special option school in Jeffco serving students with severe physical disabilities and other special needs. Fletcher Miller parents quickly brought the change to the attention of the board and the district’s top leadership. Superintendent Dan McMinimee held a meeting with the school’s staff, parents, and community, assuring them nursing staff would not be reduced. 
     The school board and superintendent directed central staff to begin a comprehensive audit of how special education services are delivered all across Jeffco. An outside organization will lead the study with the goal of ensuring that current processes are redefined to meet the needs of all special education students in Jeffco schools. Dr. Chandler, hired as the executive director of special education by the former superintendent, Cindy Stevenson, is no longer employed by the district. 
High-Poverty Neighborhood Schools
     The board has also invested in students in Jeffco’s most challenging neighborhoods. They made a one-time allocation of $5 million to reorganize some of the schools in the Jefferson and Alameda articulation areas. The reorganization plans were based on the advice of staff and community members in those areas. Both Jefferson and Alameda high schools will serve students in seventh through 12th grade beginning this year. The recommendations were based upon successes from around the country where school districts are combining middle and high schools in some of the most impacted communities to lessen the number of transitions students face. 
     The staff recommended moving Stevens into Wheat Ridge 5-8 making it an elementary, and moving the middle schools students from Edgewater to Jefferson. Students from O’Connell Middle School will attend Alameda, while students from Stein Elementary will use O’Connell’s building so that long overdue upgrades can be made to the Stein campus. 
     The one-time funds supplement the additional dollars now available through student-based budgeting. By supporting the rollout to all schools of funding that follows the student, schools now will have more flexibility to make funding decisions that are most appropriate for their students. When district headquarters made all of the funding decisions, ratios were used to decide how to allocate resources. Now, if a community wants to add additional art classes and the funds are available, they have the ability to make that decision. More flexibility means more choice for every student in Jefferson County.