Adams 14 Parents to Declare: Give Our Schools Another Chance

The first night after learning that Adams 14 schools were in danger of closing, Cristina Ruiz, a mother of two whose eldest is heading to high school in the fall, tossed and turned all night.

Where would her children go to school? How would they register in other districts without a local address? How crowded would these schools become? Could she make the trip?

Many of those same concerns weigh on parents, students and community members as the State Board of Education nears a hearing in April to decide the fate of the district, which has struggled for years with instability and low test scores.

An outside panel of experts recommended closing at least the district’s main high school and revamping the district, possibly closing other schools. Instead, district leaders want to create community schools with extensive support services to engage families and fight poverty.

The State Council will consider both recommendations, along with input from the public and Education Department staff, before making a decision at a hearing in April.

Many parents and students feel left out of the state process and confused about the recommendation, which they see as a drastic measure that will displace students.

“Closing schools is not a solution,” Ruiz said. “They are hurting us instead of helping us.”

Students and parents who have had good and bad experiences in the district want the state to give their schools another chance.

JoJo Lopez, 19, a senior at Adams City High School, fears most students have lost hope and believe state leaders have made up their minds.

Lopez, who walks to school every morning – ‘just a good 30 minutes,’ she said – worries about how students like her would walk to a school outside their neighborhood . Many families don’t have cars or don’t drive, she said.

But she thinks high school needs to change. Suffering from anxiety and Tourette syndrome, Lopez is awaiting an evaluation to receive specialized services, but school is busy, she said. And when she asks teachers for extra help, they refuse because she doesn’t have a special needs plan, she said.

“I feel like I need more time and one-on-one help with the teachers. It’s really hard for me to learn like everyone else learns,” Lopez said. “For me, if I’m taking notes, my brain gets completely puzzled.”

When she starts worrying about passing a class and looking for tutoring advisors, they’re also always busy, she said. Still, she believes she is now on track to graduate in May.

For other students, she thinks the issues revolve around safety. A few years ago, her older sister dropped out of school after getting into trouble when she had to defend herself in a fight. Other friends she knows have dropped out of high school more recently due to similar fighting issues.

“I want kids younger than me to be able to graduate and get a better education,” Lopez said. “They need to feel safe enough.”

Other factors affect student learning

Some parents and many teachers feel that too much responsibility is placed on the district when poverty, trauma and varying levels of parental involvement also affect students’ ability to learn.

Among Colorado school districts, Adams 14 has the highest percentage of English language learners, the second highest percentage of students of color, and the 15th highest percentage of students eligible for subsidized meals, a measure of poverty.

The community and the district criticized the state for relying heavily on state test scores to measure the quality of the district’s education. But other measures also paint a bleak picture.

Last year, the district had a dropout rate of 6%, the sixth highest in the state. The district also has a high number of parents who have enrolled their children out of the district, and many say they have no plans to return to Adams 14 no matter what.

Studies have found that school closures have a mixed record and many downsides. Displaced students who moved to another underperforming school did not improve their academic performance, and schools that accepted large numbers of displaced students had more difficulty themselves. Students reported that their friendships and self-esteem suffered. Fewer students graduated and more dropped out altogether.

Many members of the Adams 14 community stand up for their schools.

At a recent city council meeting, several people took the floor during public comments to highlight the stories of 14 Adams graduates who went on to college and started successful careers.

The opportunities are there, a mother told the council, “if the children take advantage of them”.

Elizabeth Rivas has a preschooler and first grader in the district and feels they are learning. She wonders about the cause of the negative comments that do not correspond to what she is experiencing.

“I don’t see that,” Rivas said. “My daughter is brilliant. I know she’s learning because she can do her homework on her own. Another way I know is because she loves school.

Rivas said if the state wants to help the district, it should help schools roll out more bilingual programs.

“I want my daughter to learn both languages,” Rivas said. “The state should not deny the children of Commerce City the opportunity to take all of their classes in two languages. This is something that is very beneficial to them and can open up a lot of opportunities.

Adams 14 begins rolling out a new language plan that includes bilingual programming in select schools and grade levels. The program Rivas is most interested in is only offered at one Adams 14 school so far. Students whose first language is English and those whose first language is Spanish both receive half of their academic courses in English and the other half in Spanish, so that they can all benefit from their bilingualism. It’s a pattern that parents have long requested from Adams 14 that doesn’t exist in most districts.

Adams 14 himself has struggled in the past to stick with developing a comprehensive K-12 bilingual curriculum.

Rivas thinks this is an area where the state could provide more resources — perhaps money or personnel, she said.

She and other parents are also excited about the district’s plans to create a community school that includes services such as a health clinic, pantry or adult education, depending on families’ needs. The parents want the district to have time to try this.

“We are united now,” Rivas said. “I think there’s so much support now that the district can pull it off.”

Management turnover has been a challenge

Bill and Lorraine Maddock have lived in the community for almost 50 years and are still involved in organizing parents. The couple say that after seeing many leaders make promises and then leave, the current leadership now inspires confidence.

In the year since her debut, Superintendent Karla Loria has met with the Maddocks parent group more times than she has ever been able to meet MGT, the private company that has run the district for approximately two years.

“We’ve had a lot of trouble getting our questions answered with MGT, but with our superintendent now, she’s meeting with us quite often and telling us what’s going on,” Lorraine Maddock said. “She kind of helps us with what we want to see in our community. Most of the time, we tell him what we want to see. She listens.”

April Saucedo, 20, a 2019 Adams City graduate, participated in a student walkout the last time the school was threatened with closure. She remembers feeling belittled by the administration, and she doesn’t want her younger brother, who is supposed to start high school in the fall, to feel the same way.

She said she hopes district and state officials will listen to the community.

“I want kids to know they’re being taken care of,” Saucedo said. “I don’t want them to think they’re not worth the time anymore.”

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at yrobles@chalkbeat.org.

Edward K. Thompson