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Sixth-grade science teacher Monica Wisniewski works with Pija Williams Terralee, left, and Myth Cubbison at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City. Kearney is in Adams County School District 14.
Photo By Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post
Adams County School District 14 is one of a handful of school districts across the state that has reached the end of the state’s time frame to improve and must begin a dramatic turnaround effort. This file photo from 2013 shows students in a crowded classroom at Kearney Middle School.

After struggling for years, most schools in Adams County School District 14 are showing significant signs of improvement, according to state testing and performance metrics.

It’s the beginning of a welcome turnaround for a 7,500-student district where student performance has lagged behind other school districts in the state. But such improvements come with a price — the district implemented major changes as part of a state-mandated improvement plan and understandably some parents, teachers and students are feeling the pressures.

Chalkbeat reporter Yesenia Robles reported that the decision by Superintendent Javier Abrego to stop setting aside days of the school year for parent-teacher conferences and instead have classroom instruction on those days has come under fire.

Engaging parents or guardians in their children’s education is a critical piece of improving student performance. If students who are behind are going to catch up — and defeat the stubborn learning gap that exists in our society — then education must not stop when the school bell rings but continue at home on weekdays and weekends.

But when a school’s performance is so sub-par that it spends more than five consecutive years at the bottom of the state’s performance metrics, it’s time to increase classroom instruction. Reclaiming days and minutes in the school year for instruction time can help bridge achievement gaps. Forgoing parent-teacher conferences, entire days where students are out of school, in favor of time spent on reading, writing and math is a good decision.

Two days of instruction a year — the equivalent of taking away parent-teacher conferences — over the course of a student’s K-12 career is almost an entire month of school. For a student population where less than 25 percent of all students is meeting or exceeding state expectations on standardized tests — in every single category except high school geometry — that classroom time is critical.

We don’t mean to sound too harsh about Adams 14. The district, headquartered in Commerce City, faces challenges no other district in the state grapples with. Only five other school districts have a student population where almost 85 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and none have as many English language learners, 43 percent, as Adams 14.

Remarkably, test score data indicates that students are improving in most categories and some schools are improving in other categories like attendance and graduation rate enough to move the schools up entire levels on the state’s school performance framework.

We’re sympathetic to the concerns parents and teachers have about the new plan. Parents are saying that the internet portal isn’t working for them and we hope Abrego takes that seriously and considers that some families may not have the ability to access the portal at home or at work. That’s unacceptable and parents should have another option.

Teachers already work long hours grading student work after school and are underpaid for their labors.

Asking teachers to meet with parents instead during their planning periods or before or after school will put a strain on their work load.

But Adams 14 isn’t any other district. It’s a district in need of extraordinary teachers, willing to work extra hours. Remarkably, teachers in some Adams 14 schools are voluntarily spending their free time visiting students at home to meet with their families and establish the kind of meaningful ties that can make the difference for a student needing extra support in both settings.

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