The Jefferson Plan: Helping All Kids Succeed

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*Originally appeared in the January Issue of the Neighborhood Gazette

In December, the Jefferson Articulation Area principals unveiled the Jefferson Plan to reorganize Wheat Ridge 5-8 and Jefferson High. The main intent behind the Jefferson Plan is to bridge the achievement gap and help students struggling through poverty to succeed in school. The focus is on six schools: Molholm Elementary, Edgewater Elementary, Lumberg Elementary, Stevens Elementary, Wheat Ridge 5-8 and Jefferson High. Most of the families affected by this decision live in east Wheat Ridge, Edgewater and northeast Lakewood.

Though the Jefferson Plan brings up a lot of questions, we need to begin the discussion by admitting what we are doing is not working. This doesn’t mean we blame teachers, administrators or parents, but agree to fix the problem together. As a parent of two daughters at Lumberg Elementary, I have seen first hand the dedicated teachers and staff in our local schools. Our teachers and staff deserve our gratitude and compensation. Fix the problem. Don’t fix the blame.

So what are some of the facts?

  • Over 90% of the children and youth who attend these focus schools are growing up in poverty.
  • Almost 50% of the students who should attend Jefferson High School choice out to other local high schools.
  • Over 75% of this year’s freshmen are not proficient in math.
  • 98% of Jefferson High juniors are not proficient in math.

Study after study shows that poverty is a major roadblock to a student succeeding through school and into a career. Our area schools have not succeeded in overcoming this achievement gap between students growing up in poverty and those who are not. To overcome this gap, teachers and administrators will need extra resources. Strategies and methods need to change. The Jefferson Plan is a step in the right direction.

Jeffco leadership has outlined various implementation ideas for people, structures and programming in the Jefferson Plan, but the most biggest change is closing Wheat Ridge 5-8 and moving 7th and 8th grade students to the Jefferson High School facility. The focus of the 7-12 school would be a pre-college and career academy. Teachers and staff would have six years to invest in students and create a culture of success. Studies have also shown that the fewer school transitions a student has, the better chance a student has of completing high school. Also, schools with more grade levels have seen better attendance, self-esteem and attitudes towards school. Overall, research is showing that 7-12 schools have a positive impact on student achievement. One of the best models for 7-12 schools is within Cincinnati Public Schools.

Concurrently, Edgewater Collective, a local nonprofit I lead, is bringing together nonprofits, county leaders and other community stakeholders in an initiative called the Jefferson Success Pathway. The vision of this effort is to see all children in these six schools succeed from cradle to career. We believe that by aligning all community stakeholders around a common vision and keeping them accountable to goals and indicators, all children can succeed from cradle to career. You can read more about the Jefferson Success Pathway at www.jeffersonsuccess.org. By starting early with children before they start kindergarten and staying late through college and career, this effort will add important resources and energy to the Jefferson Plan.

As Jeffco Schools continues down this road, it is important to gather input from parents, teachers and community members. In December and January, five community meetings were held to seek input as well as numerous meetings in the schools. At the January 15 Board Meeting, the School Board heard more about the Jefferson Plan.

In a district that has seen a number of different conflicts since the new school board started over a year ago, it is essential that we work together in the Jefferson Area. Our students deserve the best education and for many of these children, a great education is the only path out of poverty.

As a community we all share a role in the success or failure of our schools. Healthy schools are integral to health of our communities. Each of us can play a part in our schools even if we don’t have children or they have graduated.

Here’s what you can do to help create better futures for our local children:

  • Stay informed. Keep up on education news through websites like Chalkbeat Colorado (www.co.chalkbeat.org).
  • Attend a school board meeting and add your voice to the dialogue.
  • Volunteer in our local schools. Visit www.jeffersonsuccess.org to see a list of volunteer opportunities in the Jefferson Area schools.

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