Page 1

Education Reform in APS Communities Organized to Reach Excellence

303-344-8060 |





5 I. THE CHALLENGES 6 II. THE FOUNDATION FOR CHANGE A. Increasing District and School Staff Capacity for Change 6 B. Shifting the Organizational Culture Regarding Change and Success


Communities of Practice 8 Innovative Systems and Structures 9 CORE Timeline 9 APS 2020: Shaping the Future 11


303-344-8060 |


Introduction Aurora Public Schools (APS) is one of the largest and

structural challenges that must be eliminated. More

most diverse school districts in Colorado. We serve

importantly, they were indicators that far too many

more than 40,000 students representing families

of our students were being left behind on the path

with longstanding connections to the community

toward success.

and families who are “newcomers” from more than 130 countries. Our community is rich in culture, assets and opportunity.

How is APS creating change that will benefit all students? In July 2013, the Aurora Public Schools Board of

We recognize that all APS staff members have the

Education appointed Rico Munn3 as Superintendent

responsibility to meet the academic needs of every

of Schools and directed him to develop and

student we serve. For many years, however, we have

implement a strategy to address the district’s “Priority

not been able to deliver or support the needs of all

Improvement” status and the growing number of

students. This longstanding failure must come to an

schools identified as “Priority Improvement” or


“Turnaround” on the state accountability clock. Our superintendent made it clear that the work of district

Through an extensive community engagement

and school turnaround would be complex and require

process , a team of our community members

the full commitment of all stakeholders:



plotted a new direction for our students and staff. This community group created our strategic plan

“We must meet our students and community

APS 2020: Shaping the Future.

This plan will

where they are and move forward together.

create systemic change and improve learning for

Success requires us to adapt our tactics to

all students in our district. The “Core Beliefs” the

reach every kid, every day.” R. Munn, July 2013

APS community set forth in the strategic plan have

Memo to the BOE

served as the launching point for the development of our systematic approach to district and school

APS has a vision to be a school district where “Every


This reform framework, known as

student shapes a successful future.” To this end,

Communities Organized to Reach Excellence (CORE),

the district has implemented a new strategic plan,

is the district’s platform to provide additional support

APS 2020: Shaping the Future, designed to foster

for our lowest performing schools.

disruptive innovation and move the strategic levers of readiness, talent and flexibility.

Why is the CORE framework needed? In 2010, APS was identified as a “Priority

The strategic plan, in conjunction with a district-

Improvement” school district by the Colorado

wide reform strategy based upon the creation of

Department of Education.

This rating placed us

strong communities of practice, will allow APS to

among the lowest-performing districts in the state.

accelerate academic achievement and build upon

In addition, several of our schools were individually

its core strength as Colorado’s pre-eminent district

rated as “Priority Improvement” or “Turnaround.”

for students to earn post-secondary workforce

These ratings were indicators of systemic and

credentials. To better understand APS’ turnaround 303-344-8060 |


work, a brief overview of the APS strategic plan is informative. Since 2013, we have worked to implement and accelerate school reform by developing three overlapping phases: First: To prepare for school and district turnaround, our new administration identified areas of culture and capacity needed to implement and accelerate school reform. Second: In partnership with our community, we developed a new strategic plan to create disruptive innovation and move the strategic levers of readiness, talent and flexibility. The plan, known as APS 2020: Shaping the Future, will allow us to accelerate academic achievement and build upon our core strength as Colorado’s pre-eminent district for students to earn post-secondary workforce credentials.4 Third: To foster or force the creation of new systems and structures, we adopted a reform framework based on “communities of practice.” We have named this framework Communities Organized to Reach Excellence or “CORE.”5

What is the goal of this report? This brief report is not intended to provide a comprehensive view of all the work taking place in APS. Instead, this report is intended to provide our readers with context and greater understanding of the reform strategies taking place in APS. As this work has and will continue to develop, we will need the support of our numerous stakeholders by providing feedback, accountability, resources and innovative thinking that keeps our students at the forefront.

What is in this report? This report contains an overview of our key reform strategies. The first section addresses The Challenges that APS and the community are working to address. The second section presents The Foundation for Change, which reviews the strategies in place so far to change the current achievement outcomes. Section three addresses The Path Ahead and our plans to accelerate achievement. Section four reviews The Signposts that are indicators of whether or not we are doing the right work. The final section presents The Next Steps for our work.


303-344-8060 |

I. The Challenges While there is a high level of focus on addressing underachievement in APS, we also have much to be proud of, including: •

Home to one of the highest performing schools in the state (Aurora Quest K-8, a magnet school for Gifted & Talented students)

Colorado credentials

leader for






readiness •

First school district in the country to introduce a P-12 digital badging credential platform for students to demonstrate knowledge and skills within and beyond traditional academic settings

One-of-a-kind community-wide partnership to create a “Welcome Center” that assists the growing number of refugee and immigrant students





employment, education and more

However, far too many students are not achieving in key performance areas:

Key Performance area

APS average

State average

Graduation rates 55.8% 77.0% ACT scores 17.0 20.1 3rd grade reading proficiency



Student academic growth

49th percentile

50th percentile

Student engagement (as measured by daily attendance rates) 92.2% n/a Students feeling safe and secure



The scope of the challenges in APS calls for broad, immediate and radical change throughout our school district. Because incremental change will not address the challenges, we must create systemic reform.

303-344-8060 |


II. The Foundation for Change APS recognizes that creating systemic change requires the development of a strong foundation to support the seismic shifts that must occur. To implement sustainable reform, we have to increase our district and school staff capacity and shift the organizational culture regarding change that will result in significant gains in student achievement outcomes.

A. Increasing District and School Staff Capacity for Change We have identified and taken action on nine comprehensive research-based areas6, 7that are essential for increasing capacity to create meaningful reform that will increase student achievement. 1. Turnaround Leadership •

Entered University of Virginia Turnaround Leaders program8 – March 2015

Began Relay Leadership program9 – April 2015

Created Turnaround Leadership Teams at targeted schools – May 2015

2. Budget Flexibility •

Implemented Differentiated Support Structures framework10 – December 2013

Accelerated staffing and budget allocation processes – February 2015

3. Staff recruitment, retention and non-retention •

Implemented principal and assistant principal performance-based selection pool11 – January 2015

Developed staff retention initiative for targeted high-need school – January 2015

Proposed hard to staff schools framework – January 2015

Completed organizational analysis of HR systems and practices – April 2015

4. Charter Authorization •

Signed MOU for joint charter application review with Charter Schools Institute12 – June 2013

Authorized, opened or expanded five charter schools since 2013

Changed charter school authorizing policies – August 2014

Expanded charter application opportunities – December 2014

Decreased service fees to charter schools – May 2015

5. Innovation Experience •

Proposed ACTION Zones - March 2015

Initiated framework for the review of proposals for “new schools” – May 2015

6. Physical Space •

Transformed Young Parenting Support Program into a mobile service13 - August 2014

Created a shared space agreement to establish the Aurora Welcome Center – January 2015

7. Philanthropic Relationships


Engaged with the APS Foundation to develop joint strategic objectives – August 2013

Created position for Director of External Affairs – September 2013

303-344-8060 |

8. Community Engagement •

Developed Community Corps Liaisons program – August 2014

Implemented Strong African-American Families program – January 2015

Created public-private partnership for Back-to-School Kickoff – August 2015

9. Turnaround Management •

Completed third-party District Turnaround Readiness assessment – December 2014

Engaged in APS Turnaround “Think Tank” hosted by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – April 2015

Contracted with national expert on innovation and turnaround processes – June 2015

Developed “Tableau” real-time data management platform – August 2015

APS continues to find and develop opportunities to build staff capacity for implementing a comprehensive reform strategy that will increase the quality of teaching and learning for every student, every day.

B. Shifting the Organizational Culture Regarding Change and Success In APS, we believe that the success of our reform strategy requires both people and an organizational culture that are dedicated to the mindset of accelerating achievement. To this end, our leaders have taken multiple strategic steps to shift the organizational culture regarding change to ensure that all stakeholders are focused on the success of every student. Only by doing this will we be able to achieve significant gains in student outcomes. Since 2013, our community team has been building this culture shift as demonstrated by: •

A new Superintendent

A new Chief Academic Officer

Introduction of Unified Job Descriptions14

New P-20 Learning Community leaders who oversee principals

New P-20 Learning Community support teams for school, staff and students

Reallocation of $6.9 million to a new P-20 alignment

Transfer of more than $3 million from administrative budgets into school budgets

A new systematic and transparent decision-making process15

Expansion of the Charter School Liaison position to increase its scope and support

New project management processes to ensure full implementation of school improvement plans, state turnaround grants and the strategic plan

A new strategic plan – APS 2020: Shaping the Future

implementation of a new building leader recruitment and development process, which was utilized in hiring 18 new school leaders

Implementation of district-wide equity training led by national experts

We have also shifted the organizational culture for students and families by: •

Increasing the course load requirement for high school students

Creating a group of community liaisons to increase community engagement and involvement at 303-344-8060 |


schools and provide services that allow teachers more time on task during the school day •

Reallocating more than $1.5 million for achievement interventions to better support students

Only by shifting the organizational culture and building strong communities of practice will we create significant gains in student achievement outcomes.

III. The Path Ahead Across the nation, school district reform strategies have taken various forms. Districts have implemented “portfolios”16, “open systems”17, top-down, standards-based, “new schools”18 and “small schools”19 strategies, among others. A common theme among these myriad reform strategies is the need to identify a comprehensive approach that draws upon national best practices while also addressing the local educational context. To serve the Aurora community, we have implemented a series of strategies identified collectively as “CORE.” CORE stands for Communities Organized to Reach Excellence and encompasses three areas: •

Multiple research-based “communities of practice”

Innovative systems and structures

A proactive timeline for addressing schools identified as having significant challenges

A. Communities of Practice Communities of practice allow people or organizations to collaborate, share ideas, solve problems and develop innovative solutions.20 They can exist in a literal sense or by connecting shared experiences, challenges or opportunities. Communities of practice require a culture of inquiry, evidence and innovation.21 In APS, we have created reform-oriented communities of practice by using national research and experts to design new strategies for creating and supporting a strong culture of reform through collaboration. In addition, there is a focus on best practices and innovative approaches for leading, teaching and learning. New intentional communities of practice in APS include: •

5 P-20 Learning Communities22

3 Proposed ACTION Zones (state-endorsed innovation zones)23

14 Equity Focus schools24 that focus on culturally-responsive teaching

5 University of Virginia leadership schools

7 Relay leadership schools

Our theory of change is that by changing the culture and capacity of staff and providing ongoing supports for schools, the adults who work the closest with students will have the resources needed to accelerate achievement. Further, when leaders, teachers and learners are connected to strong communities of practice, they are able to identify and build upon successes to rapidly improve the entire school community.


303-344-8060 |

Our approach and commitment in APS to communities of practice creates new systems and structures to increase and optimize success.

B. Innovative Systems and Structures Providing schools with new systems and structures is vital if we are to better support students, families and staff. We have developed several innovative approaches to facilitate the reform work. Examples include the following: •

Differentiated Support Structures (DSS) DSS offer a new way of addressing the organizational risks that impact APS. By prioritizing these risks, we can provide each school with different levels of targeted support. Schools that are identified as “universal (blue) schools” show fewer organizational risks and have more autonomy. “Targeted (green) schools” show some organizational risks and can apply for additional district resources with less autonomy. “Intensive (orange) schools” show a high number of organizational risks and qualify for a higher level of district resources that are managed at the district level with even less autonomy. The DSS risk identification process, request for additional resources and allocation occurs annually to ensure supports are adaptable and timely.

ACTION Zones To further address achievement, we are designing and will implement one to three “ACTION Zones” over the next five years. An ACTION Zone (Aurora Community-Based Transformation, Innovation and Opportunity Network) will be comprised of three to five schools that have attained state innovation status and share similar interests (e.g., geography, student demographics, and/ or educational approaches). The ACTION Zone concept builds upon prior APS work to develop charter, pilot25 and district-innovation schools. As a result, the ACTION Zone strategy incorporates community needs, goals and priorities with national research and best practices. The ACTION Zones will create targeted innovations and resources that focus on community needs rather than academic reform trends. They may be used as a turnaround strategy or as a broader innovation strategy. This strategy will provide an adaptable system to better meet the unique needs of our students. ACTION Zones may utilize similar autonomies and practices used by APS charter and pilot schools. To create a collaborative process, school teams will design innovation applications that propose new models for governance, curriculum, staffing, professional learning and other factors that would benefit students and their achievement.

C. CORE Improvement Strategies and Timeline Our state accountability structure provides an “accountability clock” that indicates direction that should be taken after a school has been identified as “Priority Improvement” or “Turnaround” for six years. Our CORE schools are provided with a clear and aggressive timeline for implementing key school improvements after one year of being identified by the state accountability system.

303-344-8060 |


CORE Improvement Strategies • •

CORE schools have a clear and predictable timeline for designation and implementation of strategies. Goals: • To rapidly move out of designation and sustain improvement. • To have conditions in place for Turnaround implementation or the successful engagement of a coherent school improvement strategy. Expectations: • Implementation of a Turnaround Strategy should yield identified results within two years. • Implementation of a School Improvement Strategy should yield identified results in one year. Designation identified via School Performance Framework. Designation removed upon demonstration of sustainability.

CORE Timeline •

• •

Year 1 • Identified on the DSS for Targeted or Intensive supports • Engage educational audit • Develop school improvement plan with embedded performance targets • Consider staffing changes • Consider for turnaround leadership program Year 2 • Identified on the DSS for Targeted or Intensive supports • Engage educational audit • Develop school improvement plan • Consider staffing changes • Implement Turnaround Leadership Team Year 3 • Recommendation made for school improvement or turnaround strategy Year 4 • School Improvement - monitor benchmarks • Turnaround-planning and design year Year 5 • School Improvement - recommendation for turnaround strategy • Turnaround - restart

For new schools that are identified on the state accountability clock, we will implement this systematic approach to increase student achievement.

Ongoing CORE Improvement Strategies and Timeline • • • •

In 2014-15, 13 new schools were identified by the accountability clock. All schools have been engaged in Year 1 activities on the CORE timeline. Year 2 schools have engaged in Year 2 CORE strategies. One Year 2 school is being considered for a turnaround strategy. Year 3 school has implemented a school improvement strategy. Year 4 and 5 schools have been recommended for school turnaround.

In addition, our CORE strategies and timeline have increased transparency and accountability in APS by using a proactive approach with clear steps for addressing low-performing schools.


303-344-8060 |

D. APS 2020: Shaping the Future While CORE serves as a focal point for reform work, our APS community is also charting a course for systemic change that will ensure the success of all students. Before developing this course, we first listened to the voices of our community. In 2013, with the search for a new superintendent, the APS Board of Education laid the foundation for community engagement by collecting internal and external stakeholder feedback. Groups of parents, community members and staff participated in the superintendent interviews and the Board used their recommendations when selecting the new Superintendent. In 2014, our Board drew upon that work and expanded it as it began the process for considering a new strategic plan. Over the course of seven months, we deepened the community stakeholder engagement process to get a sense of what the direction should be for the district. Our APS Board held dozens of community forums with students, parents, staff and community members and also solicited online and written feedback from hundreds of stakeholders in the top 12 languages used by our families.

303-344-8060 |


Our Board of Education also assembled a Strategic Planning Team to spearhead the development of a new strategic plan. This team included parents, staff, elected officials, business leaders, service organizations and community members. Board members approved the new strategic plan26 APS 2020: Shaping the Future on January 20, 2015. The strategic plan represents the diverse voices of the APS community and sets the course for our work: VISION: Every student shapes a successful future. MISSION: In partnership with our community, we accelerate learning for all students to develop the knowledge, skills and character necessary to shape successful futures. APS 2020: Shaping the Future is based on our community’s core beliefs about education: •

Every student has unique abilities that we must recognize and engage.

A district with students at its center provides an adaptable and responsible foundation for learning.

Student and staff safety is essential to our vision and mission.

Students, families, staff and community members share the responsibility for student achievement.

Student achievement and growth are driven by a highly-effective and respected staff working as a team.

Students take an active and ongoing responsibility for their learning.

Families are our partners in education.

Community partnerships provide vital resources and opportunities for students and families.

All students must have equitable access to learning opportunities, technology and environments that support them in reaching their full potential.

Diversity is a strength in our community.

With prior strategic plans, we focused on “Bold Goals” to drive improvement. While some progress was made, we cannot rely on our past practices if we are to create success for all students. APS 2020 sets forth three clear and simple strategic goals. Every student will have: Goal 1: A plan for his or her future; Goal 2: A set of skills to implement his or her plan; and Goal 3: Credentials that open doors. Each strategic goal is driving a unique implementation plan, which is also designed to spur systemic changes throughout our organization. By focusing on strategic goals, we will disrupt past practices, systems and structures that have failed to improve the key performance indicators of graduation, growth, engagement and post-secondary workforce readiness.


303-344-8060 |

APS 2020’s strategic goals are aligned to the key performance indicators and goals defined in the District’s Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) and the connected Major Improvement Strategies.27 As stated in the UIP, “district-level accountability, investment and coherent strategy must be directly supportive of the school-level action….” To make the vision of the strategic plan a reality, we must improve our academic performance and be recognized as a fully “Accredited” district under state standards and continue our improvement to become a district “Accredited with Distinction.” To meet these goals, the APS turnaround work must align to the call in our core beliefs that there is an “adaptable,” “responsible,” “highly-effective” and “equitable” foundation for our most challenged schools. Our turnaround framework responds to this call from our community.

IV. The Signposts Signposts serve the dual purpose of telling you where you are and whether you are going in the right direction. While overall achievement still needs to improve in APS, there are strong indicators that we are moving in the right direction: •

For the 2013-14 school year, eight schools were identified as turnaround or priority improvement on the state accountability clock. After implementing the CORE improvement strategies and timeline, three schools moved off the clock and four other schools demonstrated significant gains.

While still lower than the overall state average, from 2013 to 2015, the number of teachers who indicated that their school was a good place to work and learn increased by more than three times the state average, and the composite score related to teachers’ views about leadership increased more than twice the state average over the same timeframe.

The implementation of the Community Corps Liaisons program added more than 1,000 volunteers to targeted schools during the 2014-15 school year.

In early 2015, third-party expert evaluators scored APS high in terms of readiness for district and school turnaround.

While the pace needs to accelerate, graduation and attendance rates have increased.

APS building leadership has grown more diverse from 2013 to 2015, increasing the percentage of staff of color from 10% to 25%.

The transition of the Young Parenting Program has resulted in a significant one-year increase to services for young parents, from serving five students to over 200 students.

From 2013 to 2015, APS has experienced a dramatic decline in student discipline.

Although these signs indicate we are heading in the right direction, it is clear we must pick up speed. Our students’ futures are at stake.

303-344-8060 |


References 3 4 5Formerly known as Building Excellent Schools Together, or BEST. APS changed the name in response to community feedback. 6 7 /Darden_Curry_PLE/School_Turnaround/District_Readiness_to_Support_School_Turnaround.pdf 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning as a social system. Systems Thinker, 9(5), 2-3. 21Grisham, D. L., Bergeron, B., Brink, B., Farnan, N., Lenski, S. D., & Meyerson, M. J. (1999). Connecting communities of practice through professional development school activities. Journal of Teacher Education, 50(3), 182. 22 23 24 25 26 27 1 2


303-344-8060 |

V. The Next Steps APS, like every other school district in the nation, does not have unlimited time or resources. This reality demands that we be focused, creative and, above all else, strategic. As we implement CORE and the APS 2020: Shaping the Future strategic plan, we must seek out partners and ideas that will illuminate and support an aligned path toward achievement for all students. Conversely, we must be disciplined to avoid the latest “fad� reform or curriculum trend. All in the APS community also have a responsibility to be pragmatic and transparent about our work. At meetings of the Board of Education, on our website and at various community forums, we will present our progress, solicit feedback and respond to the needs of our dynamic community. As needed, these plans and strategies will shift to address federal and state accountability, equity concerns, trending data and other real-life situations. No meaningful strategy can be etched in stone. Our students, families and community deserve better schools and higher achievement. This belief fuels our reform work. It also drives a deep sense of urgency to be ready, to be flexible and to maximize the talent needed to improve outcomes across the district so that every student shapes a successful future.

303-344-8060 |



303-344-8060 |

Education Reform in APS - Oct. 7, 2015  
Education Reform in APS - Oct. 7, 2015