Monday, June 1, 2009

Term's up... Moving to a new site (blog and school)

Thanks to all of you for reading my blog, and for our dialogue over the past few years. I will continue to blog about various things mostly related to education and reform, but will be a little less "PC" now. My first post is up, entitled I'm not dead, and neither is reform! Happy reading!

Monday, April 20, 2009

An Evening with Michelle Rhee

Last week, Michelle Rhee made a cameo appearance in Denver. I was asked to write an article for EdNews Colorado about her talk:

Watch Rhee's speech here:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Principals: Do schools need them full time? (AZ Star article)

AZ budget cuts are causing Tucson schools to look at cutting principals in some buildings, and heading up teacher led schools or half time principals. Thoughts?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Random commentary on DCTA happenings

Well, I was asked why I hadn't blogged lately, and thought I better post something tonight. It's been crazy the past couple of weeks!

I've been working a lot on the PPWG, as well as the DPSRS-PERA merger, school finance, teacher surveys, reductions in buildings, non-renewals of probationary teachers, and of course dealing with adminsitrators that write teachers up for wearing sandals. (Yes, they are worrying about footwear now that CSAP is over. I thought instruction was more important- especially since sandals don't violate any laws or board policies.)

PPWG: Over the past couple of weeks, we sent 4 joint teams to different districts to look at peer assistance and review programs. My team went to NYC, which was very interesting. We looked at their Peer Intervention Program, and the other teacher support systems they have in place. The UFT (NYC's teachers union) is incredible, and has a huge catalog of course offerings they provide for members- 78,000 of them are teachers.

Legislature: DCTA Lobby Day is April 16th on School Finance Act and the Merger. K-12 funding cannot afford a $150 million cut!! Thanks to Senator Paula Sandoval and Representative Andy Kerr for sponsoring the merger bill. Keep your fingers crossed! This merger has been in the works for many years, and gives DPS an opportunity to join the rest of our colleagues in PERA. Veiga and Groff?? Anyone start a pool yet on replacements?

Cuts/ Nonrenewals: As we're already cutting teachers (especially non-CSAP tested areas), we're bracing for further harm through the school finance act. The new transfer system has had a few bumps in implementation, but we've been able to work through most of them.

We also spent the past week urging teachers to respond to the Teacher Input into Principal Evaluation Survey. The survey closed yesterday, and Tom and I will look at the results in aggregate and by network together. Thanks to our teachers for completing this survey!!
Next week starts the statewide TELL Colorado survey for teachers and administrators across the state. It looks at teaching and learning conditions in all Colorado schools.

And yes, the sandals thing was (and still is) a true story. Another interesting story: In the dictionary, the word "insubordination" means deliberately disobeying a lawful order from someone in charge. In some DPS schools, it is interpreted as any time you ask a question, ask for clarification, or try something not in the script, you are insubordinate. Hhhmmmm....

Oh! One last thing... Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy has met its enrollment targets so far- on to the next milestone!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Today, we had another meeting of the Professional Practices Work Group. This group is comprised of 4 teachers, 4 administrators, and 3 community members. We are charged with examining best practices in induction, mentoring, evaluation, remediation, and dismissal from across the country. We are also charged with making recommendations to DPS and DCTA based on our findings. We are pursuing this work based on what our members in Denver are telling us they want- a quality mentoring program, and a meaningful way of gathering feedback on their instruction.

Thanks to our affiliation with the Teachers Union Reform Network, we have many colleagues that have implemented amazing peer assistance and review (PAR) programs across the country. Rhonda Johnson, President of the Columbus Education Association (and my mentor) came to present to our work group. Over the next few weeks, teams will be visiting other sites to learn about various models including Poway (San Diego, CA) Toledo, OH; Montgomery County, MD; and New York City.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

To merge or not to merge...

The draft language on the DPSRS/PERA merger bill is out, and should be introduced in the very near future. Our thanks to Senator Sandoval (my Senator) for sponsoring this bill... again.

DCTA supports the merger in principle with the following conditions:
1. It is fiscally responsible with no subsidy to either system,
2. Our members are not negatively harmed, and
3. Portability is granted between systems.

Since we're a one paper town now, some of you might be missing Nancy Mitchell. Here's her article that was published on EdNew's Colorado's site about the DPSRS/PERA merger.

For the Denver Post fans, here's the editorial that printed on March 6th's editorial page entitled Merge DPS into PERA.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Blame for School Achievement Gap Misplaced

Interesting report released today from the Education and the Public Interest Center from CU and the Education Policy Research Unit from ASU.

Blame for School Achievement Gap Misplaced
March 9, 2009
New policy report explains how poverty's effects are the real culprit
Contact: David Berliner -- (480) 861-0484; berliner@asu.eduKevin Welner -- (303) 492-8370;
TEMPE, Ariz. and BOULDER, Colo., March 9, 2009 - A new report issues a fundamental challenge to established education policies that were promoted by the Bush administration and are likely to be continued by the Obama administration. These policies are based on a belief that public schools should shoulder the blame for the "achievement gap" between poor and minority students and the rest of the student population. But the new policy report argues that out-of-school factors are the real culprit--and that if those factors are not addressed, it will be impossible for schools to meet the demands made of them.
"Schools are told to fix problems that largely lie outside their zone of influence," says David Berliner, Regents Professor of Education at Arizona State University, and author of the report, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. The report is jointly published by the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) of ASU and the Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Find David Berliner's report, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, on the web at:
CONTACT:David Berliner, Regents Professor of EducationArizona State University(480)
Kevin Welner, Professor and DirectorEducation and the Public Interest CenterUniversity of Colorado at Boulder(303)

Friday, March 6, 2009

For all of the Michelle Rhee fans out there...

Here's a story that was published in the Washington City Paper this week entitled Fund and Games: Inside Michelle Rhee's Official Schedule by Mike DeBonis. Enjoy!

By the way- we're out recruiting students for our school again tomorrow!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I've spent most of my days this week focused on the proposed DPSRS/PERA merger. Draft legislation should be coming out later this week, and we're hoping that a bill will be introduced on the next couple of weeks. Thanks to Senator Paula Sandoval (my senator!) for working on this legislation.
On Monday afternoon, I attended the DPSRS Board meeting, and on Tuesday, the PERA Board meeting. This merger will create a separate division for DPSRS with PERA. It will allow for portability, and will be a fiscally neutral transaction. Dan Daly from CEA, Superintendent Tom Boasberg and I spoke with the Denver Post Editorial Board today about the merger.
DCTA has a policy supporting a merger with these conditions: fiscally neutral, allows portability, and doesn't harm our members. This proposed merger meets all of the criteria. We want our teachers and specialized service providers to have portability so that we can attract and retain educators in Denver. Currently, once in DPS, you can'd get out because you lose your pension. The same applies if you are in JeffCo, for example, and wanted to come into Denver.
I'm anxious to see the legislation, and hope that it is acceptable to DPS, DPSRS, PERA, and our members.

Friday, February 27, 2009

NEA and the DoE

Arne Duncan meets with the NEA! The DoE is reaching out to NEA, and they have monthly meetings set up. Arne even came to the NEA building to meet with President VanRoekel!! What a difference 8 years makes. What a concept- the Department of Education talking to educators about what our students need.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Shaping the National Education Association's Agenda

This fall I was appointed by the NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel, to the Professional Standards and Practice Committee. We are charged with examining and making recommendations on educator evaluation systems, online education and student accountability systems. I'm sitting here with local educators (about 12 of us) from across the country working on a report and making recommendations on NEA policies. It's a great opportunity for local leaders to tell our national association what is really happening in the field. It's really important for our national policies to be shaped by the realities of our schools. Our recommendations will be voted on by the about 10,000 NEA Delegates this summer.

DCTA has been focused on developing an induction and mentoring system that provides real support for our new teachers. We spent a lot of time talking about the effectiveness/meaningfulness of the evaluations conducted by principals in Denver, and across the country. Looking at formative and summative evaluations of teachers is critical to improving practice in our schools. Fortunately, DCTA and DPS have been working jointly on all aspects of teacher development through our Professional Practices Work Group. This committee is a great way for me to share the success of Denver's work group and using our work to shape what happens around the country.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Well, it's that time of year again... for third grade, anyway. I've been out in schools this week where people are STRESSED about this test- teachers, principals, students, and parents. It never ceases to amaze me seeing how the CSAP turns schools upside down...

Schools rearrange their schedules, and rituals and routines are thrown out the window;
Students miss out on classes including arts, science, social studies etc. for the duration of the test;
Other teachers and students in non-CSAP grades lose their routines to help those that are in CSAP grades;
Teachers are rushing to collect test books from secure locations before testing and returning them after (signing them in and out... in blood! lol);
Teachers are scrambling to remember all of the ethics and test security guidelines;
Teachers are covering and/or taking down all charts in their rooms so that they they are in compliance;
Some students are done way too early (did they really finish already?)
Some students feel great after the test.
Others break down and cry.
Little red Stop signs are put up on doors so that testing isn't interrupted; and
Stock in #2 pencils skyrockets!

Another small fact: this lasts about 3 weeks every year--just for CSAP! (plus all of the other tests)

p.s. The kindergarten CELA test (CO English Language Acquisition) is forty two (42) pages long!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Council of Great City Schools Revelation...

While sitting at the Board of Ed. meeting tonight, I continued my usual multi-tasking until Mike Casserly took his spot at the big table. It was time for the long awaited report from the Council of Great City Schools. Mike began by commending the district for its improvements in growth, accountability, and systems architecture. He praised the administration, staff and school board for their efforts...

Then, I perked up, and put away my article on transformational dialogues. (by Daniel Kim; by the way it was EXCELLENT!!) CSCS found in its evaluation that...
professional development is fractured, and that teachers don't get much out of professional development. Its implementation is inconsistent between schools and classrooms.

Can you believe it?? DCTA has been saying this for a couple of years, and it has fallen on deaf ears. One of our issues in bargaining and IIC has been the lack of teacher voice in professional development. We have had ongoing conversations about the need to differentiate based on the knowledge and skills of teachers and students. In fact, this is where our School Leadership Teams (found in Article 5-4) proposal came from this year- so that teachers can determine the professional development in their school so that it is relevant to the needs of the school and students. It gets better...

When it got to questions, one board member wanted to know who has the best professional development program. Shocking answer... no one has the best but...
The most successful professional development programs are those that are done in collaboration with the union AND that aren't taken off of the shelf!

I was waiting for the skies to open, and balloons and confetti to drop. WOW! Working with the teachers union makes a difference in implementing effective professional development. Do you think it might impact student learning too??

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Disrupting Class...

I'm in Memphis, TN, at the TURN Conference. This conference focused predominantly on teacher empowerment, autonomy, and innovation. Our conversations continued discussions from the fall meeting based on the book Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen. Richard Ingersoll from UPenn also discussed teacher empowerment based on his latest book, and its effects in retention of teachers and the overall success of schools. Click here to see the powerpoint presentation.

DCTA and DPS presented the RFP process, and shared details of our proposed Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy. The Boston Teachers Union and United Federation of Teachers also presented overviews of their schools.

Thanks to Ethan Hemming from the DPS New Schools Office, as well as Melissa Verdeal, Elaine Giromini, and Melanie Mitchell from DCTA for presenting.

Next week we are gathering some local leaders and staff to talk about how this work can be continued in Colorado.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

I submitted a Speakout to the Denver Post that was published in Today's paper. It focuses on our Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, as well as the need to create a high quality induction and mentoring program for our teachers.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

DCTA Statement on the Superintendent Search

January 7, 2009

DPS Board of Education
900 Grant Street
Denver, CO 80203

Dear President Peña and Members of the Board,

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association is looking forward to our continued work with the Denver Public Schools. In this time of transition, educational excellence is of utmost importance to our teachers and students. We have accomplished a lot in the last few months, and we want to keep moving forward.

One of the foremost challenges we face is bringing in new leadership. DCTA strongly encourages the district to conduct a national search to find a candidate for superintendent who has a strong education background. We believe a transparent process is critical to engaging the community and other district stakeholders.

The Denver community has played a significant role in the school district over the last year, and their continued involvement is imperative to the success of our students. They will be a valuable asset in the search for a new superintendent.

DCTA looks forward to continuing our collaborative efforts to improve the teaching and learning environments of our schools. We want to acknowledge and thank the Board of Education for all of their hard work.

On behalf of the DCTA Board of Directors,

Kim Ursetta, NBCT