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Grading the Graders



Most teachers spend hours grading papers. At some point during their day they have to pore over a stack of assignments and explain to society’s next generation what it is doing wrong in the hope that it will improve. This year, that hope has become more urgent.

Student success has always been the ultimate goal of teaching, but recently it has become a fixation. Teachers depend on their students to do well. Now, to teach well is not enough.

Teachers are being graded like they are students.

Statewide, teachers are beginning to feel the effects of Colorado Senate Bill 10-191, which requires educators of every level and position to be assessed under a rigorous new evaluation system.

The measure is in its second year of implementation and for Pueblo teachers, this is the year that counts.

Last year, District 60 and District 70, along with other districts throughout the state, participated in a pilot program that served as a preview for the system. Known as a hold harmless year, the preview could not penalize a teacher for a poor evaluation.

According to a Colorado Department of Education fact sheet, the previous school year “gave all educators the opportunity to learn about the system in a lower-stakes environment.”

This year, the evaluation system has official consequences, and if teachers fail to adhere to Colorado’s academic standards for two consecutive years, their jobs may be at risk.

District 60 is no stranger to academic pressure. For the past five years, the district has been making an effort to turn itself around before the state steps in.

Teachers in turnaround districts are held to the same standards as those who are not.

“The odds are definitely stacked against them,” said Suzanne Ethredge, president of the Pueblo Education Association.

“You’re already starting low” when you’re in a turnaround district.

“If you are a teacher in a turnaround school, you’re actually penalized on test scores,” she said.

Fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation under the system requires measurable growth in students. The other half stems from professional practices.

This means that teachers can be evaluated on criteria everywhere from a student’s reading comprehension to keeping in touch with parents.

Under SB 191, Colorado school districts are allowed to choose how student growth is measured.

In Pueblo, student growth is measured by a variety of different test scores, a practice that has long been criticized by educators.

“In one area (District 60) students don’t have the resources that students in another area have,” Ethredge said.

“I think that comes into play with standardized test scores.”

Amy Spock, vice president of District 70’s Pueblo County Education Association and a science teacher at Pueblo West High School, also acknowledged, “Some kids don’t take testing seriously.”

SB 191 puts teachers in a position that makes them so geared toward preparing students for testing that other vital parts of the job can become neglected.

“Its intention was to create an evaluation system but it never took into account that it put some punitive criteria on teachers and takes them away from teaching,” said Roxy Pignanelli, president of the PCEA.

Spock said teacher workload has increased tremendously since the system has been in place.

“You have grading and your lesson plans. You have goals that you have to keep track of. You have to provide a student work sample,” Spock said.

Teachers are also expected to monitor test scores and compile information for their principals to evaluate them by.

“It’s a lot of pressure on teachers,” Spock said.

“Is it really fair to use standardized testing to determine the performance of a teacher?”

Colorado academic standards vary in all subjects and grade levels, but their ultimate goal is to ensure that students are prepared for the next grade level.

The criteria and standards teachers are expected to meet make their jobs much more comprehensive, and in some cases, difficult. Teachers have more pressure on them this year and job security has become less secure.

Previously, experienced teachers were only evaluated once every three years and were considered non-probationary. New teachers were on probation for four years before obtaining non-probationary status and in effect, gaining more job security.

Although new teachers were observed prior to the new system, four years of experience in a district generally meant that they would become non-probationary.

“You had some protection,” Spock said.

Under the new system, a veteran teacher could potentially enter probationary status after two years of a poor evaluation.

New, inexperienced teachers are required to have three consecutive years of a good evaluation before reaching non-probationary status.

“It’ll take new teachers longer to obtain non-probationary status, which is kind of scary,” Spock said.

However, if a low-scoring group of students improves within a year, teachers will receive a high evaluation for student growth.

“If your students are growing, as long as you are advancing them, that’s OK,” Spock said.

Students do not even necessarily have to be at grade level at the end of the year for a teacher to receive a good evaluation.

Another concern raised by teachers is the frequency of observations they face. Under the law, teachers are required to meet individual needs of students as part of an evaluation criterion.

Teachers, of all grade levels, have to meet the needs of their students, which is an idea that has generally been welcomed by educators. It is possible, however, for evaluators to miss a moment when teachers are meeting this standard.

“There is still a certain amount of subjectivity. Some of the standards are open to interpretation,” Spock said.

“There’s that personal element,” she said.

Teachers are evaluated by their principals on a four-part scale that at its best, gives teachers a grade of “highly effective.” Lower scores are “effective,” “partially effective” and “ineffective.”

At the high school level, teachers are evaluated by their assistant principals, as well as their principals. For all grade levels, these evaluations can come in the form of observation.

All other school professionals, including principals and assistant principals, are evaluated as well.

Professionals such as speech pathologists, paraprofessionals and psychologists are evaluated also, with more tailored criteria.

Principals are assessed based on the overall success of the school and its teachers, as well as professional practices. If teachers and students score poorly, principals score poorly as well.

“It’s very stressful,” Spock said.

Every year from this year forward, teachers are expected to meet SB 191’s standards and if two consecutive years end poorly, they could lose their jobs.

The ultimate goal of teaching has always been to ensure student success and, for years, test scores have been the standard method to evaluate this.

Just as students take state-mandated tests, teachers and administrators are judged with state-mandated evaluations. So, they are being graded too.

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The Unknown Road to Pueblo’s Mayor



Between now and Election Day, when the Pueblo voters elect its first mayor, the city is tasked with updating city code, making room for a mayor and the staff that will accompany the new leader and ensuring a smooth transition. How that will happen, though, is largely unknown.

Pueblo City Council hasn’t dictated any audits, created any advisory groups or made any formal reports on how the transition should occur. But council president Chris Nicoll, who said he’s still considering whether to throw his name into the mayoral race, expects the members to make a decision over the spring.

Specifically, Nicoll, who helped lead a failed effort to create a mayor in Pueblo in 2009, said he’d like to see a group of citizens, appointed by the council, make up an advisory council that sees the transition through. Among that body, Nicoll said he’d like to see somebody from the Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, especially as how a mayor will be selected is yet to be determined.

City leaders have options on that front. They’ll have to decide whether to conduct a runoff election, which county clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz said might conflict with requirements for when ballots have to be mailed out, or a ranking system. In that scenario, which Ortiz suggested an option the city could consider, the winner of the election would have the most first and second votes combined.

Nicoll said he envisions that committee being able to dictate to the council what should get done in the eight months leading up to the change, whether that be an audit or hire a consultant.

The Nov. 6 election will be a mile marker for Pueblo city government. The city has held a council-city manager form of government since 1954 and refused to give it up in the past. Voters overwhelmingly said no to a mayor less than a decade ago.

Nick Gradisar, the now-mayoral candidate who pushed for the question to appear on the 2016 ballot, previously told PULP he thinks attitudes of voters have changed. Those who voted “yes” on the measure barely outnumbered the “no” votes.

Part of it, he said, could be attributed to the ways of the north. Denver has a strong mayor. And Colorado Springs is proving the system to be worth the risk, with former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers at the helm.

Perhaps, Gradisar said, Puebloans are also a little tired of little change in the city.

“We’re sort of going backwards while the rest of the state is going forwards, I think it’s hurt us significantly,” he said at a press even before the election.

Either way, a mayor is coming. And it’s a rare occurrence for Colorado.

In fact, “very, very rare,” said Colorado Municipal League Executive Director Sam Mamet. He’s been with the organization that works on the behalf of Colorado municipalities for nearly 40 years. Changing forms of government doesn’t happen often and when it does, it can be challenging.

“It’s not easy at all and I am concerned they don’t have an adequate transition plan in place,” he said. “You just don’t snap your fingers and make it so. There is a transition and it will be a little complicated. It can be done and it will be done because the voters said so.”

Mamet pointed to the rough patch that Colorado Springs endured after it elected its first mayor.

“In the case of Colorado Springs, for the first couple of years it was pretty rocky between mayor and council over prerogatives,” he said. “This will come into play right out of the box for whatever budget the mayor may submit.”

After then-Mayor Steve Bach finished his term in 2015, the “Colorado Springs Gazette” chronicled the only term of the city’s first mayor. While Bach, which the city’s newspaper called a “political neophyte,” sparred with city council and ultimately cost the city on moving policy forward, he also dealt with the natural disasters during his term and the ending of the Great Recession.

Bach couldn’t get money for roads or stormwater. He was criticized when firefighters weren’t deployed to devastating fires fast enough. One former councilwoman told the newspaper that the constant clash between the mayor’s office and council made it hard to maintain a long-term vision for the city — something Pueblo is searching for in a lead lawmaker.

As in Colorado Springs and Denver, Pueblo will have clear, separate governing bodies once a mayor is elected. But Mamet points out that power is already pretty separated in Pueblo. For example: water. In several cities across the state the water department is an extension of city hall. But in Pueblo, the division is governed by a publicly-elected board of five members and gets all of its revenue from its customers.

Mamet wonders how the Board of Waterworks of Pueblo might interact with a mayor and vice versa on the topic that often rises to the surface as a top priority for communities in Colorado and across the West.

“There are potential issues, that’s why a thoughtful transition process is necessary with a very clear legal analysis,” Mamet said.

Pueblo City Attorney Dan Kogovsek said in an email the city charter won’t have to be updated, only the city code, but didn’t offer up any instances that would require council approval. Nicoll said he believes the council will be able to do a majority of that in a few actions.

“There needs to be a thorough legal analysis by the city atty on what should be considered,” Mamet said.

He also agrees with Nicoll that a stakeholders group should be formed and adds that a commission to study the charter would be beneficial, as would the elected civil service commission overseeing personnel policies of the mayor’s office.

Already two months into 2018, Nicoll said he’s confident that the city will be ready to take on a mayor.

“I’m not panicked about it. We have some time,” he said. “It’s just we need to work through this issue.”

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Middle schoolers have a plan to stop rock art tagging in Western Colorado




GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Arron Buehler’s day in a western Colorado canyon might not have had the Hollywood panache of Ferris Bueller’s day off, but something about seeing Buehler’s name scrawled on the sandstone escarpment gave Chris Joyner pause.

Joyner, spokesman for the Grand Junction Office of the Bureau of Land Management, looked at Buehler’s name — and those of many others emblazoned on rock in a canyon south of Grand Junction — and said that, paradoxically, there might be a reason for hope.

It was just last year that Buehler posted his name, next to Elizabeth, who left her mark in 2017.

Few of the names appeared to be more than a year or two old, and, “That tells me there’s opportunity here,” Joyner said.

The more recent the markings, the more likely the vandals are to be found, and the more likely it is that other methods might discourage younger people from following Arron Buehler’s lead, Joyner said.

Joyner and BLM archaeologist Alissa Leavitt-Reynolds are working in Grand Junction to deal with vandalism on federal lands, whether it be by graffiti artists such as Charley Humpy (who helpfully added, “Remember me” next to his name and yes, the BLM is doing all it can to achieve total recall), drug users ditching evidence in the desert, mayhem by “marksmen” and plain old dumping.

As much as Arron Buehler and a multitude of companions — Brian, Charley, Dizz, Dominique, Kay, Megan, Elizabeth, Jon, Sam and Tosha all seem to be begging for court dates (and Tosha, did you know your name covered an ancient petroglyph?) — Joyner said prosecution ought not be the only response to a growing trend of vandalism and worse on western Colorado’s rocky outcrops and arid landscapes.

Citations for vandalism aren’t tracked by the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes offenses on federal land, so no precise numbers are available.

An Army veteran, Joyner is using his post 9/11 GI Bill funds at Johns-Hopkins University to study ways to divert people from what he terms “dysfunctional visitor behavior.”

“Dysfunctional visitor behavior” has a more authoritative ring than “vandalism” and “littering” and Joyner said he hopes that a scholarly approach can help agencies fend off some of the destructive activity on federal lands before it takes place.

Some of his research suggests that “informed participation in nearby historic and cultural sites” can influence the way many residents perceive those sites, Joyner said.

The students in Ginger DeCavitch’s social studies classes at Mount Garfield Middle School experienced “informed participation” last summer.

DeCavitch took her students into Bangs Canyon to see the mica mine and found the defaced escarpment “as we were stepping over broken beer bottles and charcoal” from fires.

Vandals had used charcoal to scratch names and slogans on the rock, DeCavitch said.

“They call it tagging” and few participants see any issue with defacing the rock, taking selfies and posting them on social media, DeCavitch said.

She contacted the BLM soon afterward to see if her class could help clean up the mess they found.

“They all wanted to go back,” enough that some students hauled 40-pound containers of water down an occasionally difficult trail to help clean the site, DeCavitch said.

Her middle school students sat silent as members of the Southern Ute tribe described how they perceived the canyon and the ancient markings, many of which had been defaced, DeCavitch said.

Far from being discouraged, her students were enthused about tackling the enormity of the defacement, DeCavitch said.

“We have a plan that we’ll be back,” she said.

Introducing young people properly to wild lands is one way to discourage future vandals and dysfunctional visitors.

It’s one “foot-in-the-door” tactic that Joyner hopes land managers take up.

Visitors also can be endowed with a sense of ownership by agreeing with a simple proposition — the idea that one ought not litter on public lands, for instance — and then be brought along to agree with how to visit them appropriately, Joyner said.

It’s part of a human tendency to want to be consistent, he said. People who agree not to litter tend to want to build on that as opposed to act in contradictory fashion, he said.

Even providing a small gift or trinket can engender a sense of responsibility among potential vandals, Joyner said.

Other techniques include the “broken-window” approach — the idea that replacing broken glass as soon as it’s found and thus denying miscreants their moment of victory — isn’t as easy as it might be in other environments, Joyner said.

DeCavitch’s class, for instance, learned that while cleaning up a mess might eliminate an eyesore, it also could erase history.

Her eager middle-schoolers couldn’t go forward with the cleanup until members of the Southern Ute Tribe, headquartered in Duchesne, Utah, approved the plan, DeCavitch said.

While Joyner’s studies have suggested that males 16 to 25 who live within 60 miles of Grand Junction are the likely offenders, one look at the escarpment suggests that young women are more active participants than crime statistics might suggest, Joyner said.

One study suggests that younger people prefer non-coercive approaches, but Joyner said that doesn’t mean the BLM is losing interest in prosecuting vandals and others.

Far from it.

BLM officials routinely contact school officials and consult high school yearbooks to match the names they come across with people who could be prosecuted.

Some miscreants make it easier, posting selfies of themselves with their works. Some even lower the level of difficulty by including hashtags.

The criminal exposure can reach felony levels because of the difficulty and expense of dealing with cleaning up or restoring the markings that date back hundreds of years.

If the malefactors are found, Joyner said, “We don’t write warning tickets.”


Information from: The Daily Sentinel,

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The #WhatNow of #MeToo for the #COLeg



AP Photo/David Zalubowski

When several lawmakers, lobbyists and staff at the state Legislature came forward this fall to allege they were victims of sexual harassment by lawmakers, two big questions followed: how often does this happen? What can be done to prevent more cases?

Reporters have asked state officials the first question repeatedly, returning to readers with little response from the state. The latter prompted a conversation from leadership, but as for what’s next—how the allegations, formal complaints, and legislature’s response—will impact politics under the gold dome and whether women will feel any safer is to be determined.

So far, top state lawmakers have decided to hire a human resources officer—who would be independent from the legislature—to be a contact person when incidents involving sexual harassment are brought forward. Now, leadership is tasked with handling and investigating such claims.

The group also decided to hire an independent consultant to review the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, and lawmakers, staff, and aides will undergo another round of sexual harassment training this year. Typically, those working at the Legislature are only required to go through training every two years.

Those changes are a good start, said Erin Hottenstein, executive director of Colorado 50/50, an organization that aims to get more women in public office. But the legislature stopped short of changing any current policies. And Colorado 50/50 called for an entire overhaul.

“I’m very pleased that there was a recognition that the policy needs to be improved,” Hottenstein said.

But there weren’t any specific recommendations regarding transparency, which Hottenstein said is significant in looking at what happens next.

Lawmakers and staff said they couldn’t disclose how many sexual harassment claims that leadership in each chamber have received because they were personnel issues.

“I think there’s a way to be transparent and safe,” Hottenstein said. “There should be a high- level summary document that shows on a certain date a sexual harassment complaint was made and who it was against and a date of a deposition and what the result was.”

Hottenstein said transparency becomes crucial in these cases because it leads to accountability and the public’s right to know what actions the people elected to office are taking.

In October, Pueblo Rep. Daneya Esgar broke her silence posting on Facebook that she was no stranger to sexual harassment and experienced it just a week earlier with a colleague she works with regularly as a lawmaker. The post was part of the #MeToo movement after a New York Times expose highlighted the stories of several women who said they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Then, a flood of other allegations were brought to the surface in Colorado politics. Rep. Faith Winter said fellow House member Steve Lebsock had harassed her at a legislative party in 2016. Winter and a lobbyist say they filed formal complaints against Lebsock.

An intern said Sen. Randy Baumgardner harassed her with sexually suggestive comments. The same went for Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, who was accused of telling an intern that if she wanted to get ahead in her career, he could help.

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is openly gay, allegedly groped a man and used his seat to try and get a date with another.

But the case between Lebsock and Winter gained the most attention, even prompting Lebsock to take a polygraph test, which the administrator says he passed, to prove his innocence. Lebsock has hinted that the entire incident may be a case of dirty politics, alleging that Winter is the one lying.

When several lawmakers were asked if the case would mean a splintered Democratic party in the House, they were unsure, but optimistic about the session.

Still, there haven’t been any resignations over the allegations, though several, including leadership and editorial boards from across the state, said these legislators should step down from their seat. Some even called for House Speaker Crisanta Duran to step down from her position because she promoted Lebsock to a chairmanship despite knowing there was an incident between him and Winter.

The transparency piece has yet to be addressed by state lawmakers, and it’s unclear whether any policy or legislative changes will address that in the coming months. But for what it’s worth, the women who have broken their silence about sexual harassment in the Legislature are supportive of the changes leadership has discussed.

“I’m encouraged to see the direction leadership is taking when it comes to developing new and independent methods of dealing with complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol,” said Esgar, who still hasn’t named the colleague she said grabbed her thigh at a legislative event earlier this year. “I’m hopeful that new ideas are still being formulated and considered, when it comes to ways to change the culture itself.”

The lawmaker added that a new session will certainly mean new ideas will come to light, “it’s our responsibility to lead the state in changing cultures to help make work environments safe and productive for all employees on every level.”

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