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Low CSAP Scores May Force Firing of Cole Principal

Ohanian Comment: Finally, a reporter comments on the fact that it isn't clar how firing a principal and having a school transformed into a charter school will improve test scores.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003 - CSAP scores at Denver's Cole Middle School have been so low for so long that its principal might be fired next year.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Jerry Wartgow said it's almost certain Cole will be deemed "unsatisfactory" for the third year running when the state's school report cards come out in December.

"We can't tell exactly how it'll be because we don't have the state's scores, but we can simulate pretty close," he said.

"I don't want to pick on Cole, but we know .... It was our biggest-challenge school, always."

If Cole gets "unsatisfactory" for a fourth time in December 2004, principal Nicole Veltze will have to be dismissed under the terms of a 2000 law written by Gov. Bill Owens.

Cole would be reincarnated as a charter school, though it's not clear how that would improve performance. One of Denver's other lowest-performing schools started out as a charter. Wartgow quipped recently that maybe the remedy for low-performing schools should be to give them to DPS, not take them away.

Thirty schools - 21 of them in DPS - started out on the unsatisfactory list in 2001. It's possible that by next year Cole will be the only one left, Wartgow said.

Veltze has one chance to keep Cole under DPS control: The CSAP tests to be administered in March. Those tests will be reflected in the 2004 report cards.

DPS recruited Veltze from Seattle specifically for Cole, and this is her second year here. The CSAP scores from her first year are somewhat encouraging. In the spring of 2002 only 9 percent of Cole students met state standards in reading. In the spring of 2003, 13 percent of sixth-graders, 11 percent of seventh-graders and 15 percent of eighth-graders did.

Other categories budged, too, but the improvement underscored the progress yet to be made. In 2002, zero percent of eighth-graders were proficient in math; in 2003, it was 1 percent.

Ricardo Martinez, who helped write a reform plan for Cole, said it's unfair to judge Veltze on the basis of tests taken after she'd been at the school just a few months. Martinez, co-director of a group called Padres Unidos (Fathers United), said the plan will take three years to really work.

The law doesn't give Veltze that long, however.

"Even though we've seen small improvements, I do think the progress is there," Martinez said.

Rosa Munguia, too, thinks something is going right. Last year, her daughter, Tiffany, 13, didn't read at home. This year, she does.

"Last year they couldn't explain the work," Tiffany said. "They didn't even tell us what to do. They didn't give instructions."

It's better this year, she says.

For that, Veltze credits the literacy plan designed by DPS chief academic officer Sally Mentor Hay.

The Hay plan created in-class libraries, something that didn't come cheap. DPS incurred a multimillion-dollar budget deficit when state book funds were rescinded and made it up in part by slashing prekindergarten programs and letting secondary classes grow.

"I've never seen kids read so much in my life until this program," Veltze said. "It's something I'm very thankful to the district for."

The plan calls for teachers to learn from one another.

"In order to raise academic achievement, the teachers need to be learners. The gains are greater," Veltze said.

Cole is combating its reputation for danger, which scares the neighborhood's best students away to other schools, said social worker Donna Jewett.

"You want good news?" she said. "Cole is a lot better than it was last year and the year before."

Cole reported 375 discipline infractions last year, resulting in five suspensions and 40 referrals to law enforcement. Previous principals underreported incidents, while "we reported everything," Veltze charged.

Next year's figures will be 75 percent lower, and it will be because there were actually 75 percent fewer incidents, she pledged.

Community relations is a big part of Veltze's job, and she said the neighborhood has accepted her.

"I think my pasty skin is deceiving," she said. She grew up in Peru and speaks Spanish. Her name is derived from German, but "I'm part of a majority in my school."

Martinez of Padres Unidos said Veltze is "very open to what the parents have to say and their concerns about the school."

If those CSAP scores don't come up, however, Veltze and the Cole neighborhood may find themselves saying goodbye.

"I don't think about it," Veltze said. "You can't focus on doom day. Hopefully that doom day will never come."

— Eric Hubler
Denver Post


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