As part of our series “Following Trevista” we take a final year-end peek into a pre-school through 8th grade Denver school that’s undergoing a turbulent process called a “turnaround.”  That’s because too many of the students aren’t reading and writing well enough. And that means most of the teachers aren’t coming back. It’s a time for goodbyes and preparing for big change. 

Here is a transcript of Colorado Public Radio’s Education Reporter Jenny Brundin’s report. 

Reporter Jenny Brundin: A fierce wind whips at the balloons and plastic covers decorating tables set up on Trevista’s playground.  But nobody seems to mind. The music is pumping. Parents and students have come to this goodbye party to thank the teachers. And teachers are milling about, not quite believing they won’t be coming back. Each holds a single rose -- brought to them by a parent. And the big kids? Some give shy hugs to their teachers or remind them what they learned.

Majid Abdullah: ‘Cause I was struggling with it and you taught me how to use it correctly. You cut it diagonal, not straight down.

Reporter: 15 year-old Majid Abdullah tells his math coach Loralie Cole about a class he remembers from the 6th grade.

Loralie Cole: We had a competition to see whose bridge could carry the most weight. Didn’t we do that with your class?

Abdullah: Yeah.

Reporter : Majid was doing well as a student back then. But in7th grade, his grades plummeted. Majid is upfront about the fact that he flat-out didn’t try. He decided he didn’t like school. And like some other kids here, he blames himself that teachers like Cole are losing their jobs.

Abdullah: Sorry that you’re losing your job because of kids like me not trying, if it was up to me you wouldn’t be losing your job, because you are a good teacher. It’s just I wasn’t trying, none of the kids were.

Reporter: A student taking responsibility for not wanting to learn -- that’s something you rarely hear in discussions about schools that post poor scores. Instead, district officials say, there must be a problem with the teachers. So it’s teachers who bear the consequences. In Trevista’s case, three-quarters of the teachers lost their jobs this year, even some of those whose students posted strong scores.

Cole: Don’t leave thinking Miss Cole is going to hate me (fade under)

Reporter: Cole and another teacher tell Magid he’s not to blame. They explain to him that they’re just frustrated that higher up, there isn’t an understanding that, sometimes, middle school kids have other things on their minds besides school. They can switch on, and switch off.

Cole: ….and different teachers reach different students at different points in time….

Reporter: This year, in 8th grade, after a long talk with his mom, Magid decided it was time to learn. Cole says his true personality and capabilities came out. Here’s Magid:

Abdullah: I pushed myself harder to succeed and I know I did better on the CSAP test this year.

Reporter: But that’s too late for these teachers. They won’t be judged on those scores. Instead, a new group of teachers will soon be under the spotlight.

La Dawn Baity: We are so excited to be here tonight. 

Reporter: That’s new principal La Dawn Baity welcoming parents and kids to a meet-the-new-teacher event. Reading teacher Adrienne Nault greets 10-year-old Roberto Mata who is sitting with his mom.

Adrienne Nault: What have you been reading this year?

Reporter: Roberto takes a minute to think about it.

Roberto Mata: Magic Finger, Marvelous Medicine, The Twitch…

(Alicia Mata speaking Spanish)

Reporter: His mother Alicia Mata says Roberto is below where he should be in reading. Roberto wiggles uncomfortably. Nault is upbeat.

Nault: There’s so much in store for us and really the most exciting thing about next year is just the excitement around literature that we’ll be reading, some of the programs that we have are going to be really fun and just get you into reading!

Reporter: New principal La Dawn Baity meanwhile, has spent the past several months working late into the evenings building those programs. She’s spent hours poring over solutions to these key questions: why are Trevista’s scores so low even compared to other schools with similar demographics? Why are second language learners performing even lower?

Baity: What practices are in place or where are the gaps that are causing us not to be able to be as effective with those students?

Reporter : Some of the solutions, she believes, relate to things like this: 

Baity: I’ve never actually designed a master schedule this way before...

Reporter: Baity pulls out a multi-colored, highly detailed sheet of paper – the Master Schedule.

Baity:…but I wanted to do a values-based Master schedule….

Reporter: Baity wanted to give as much time as she could to be reading, math, writing and English language development or ELD.

Baity: I decided that I wanted large blocks of time for teaching and learning and so I placed those on a board first. How much time did we need for the ELD block, and an uninterrupted reading block and a large uninterrupted 90 minute math block, science, Social Studies?. Once I laid those out, then I fit in lunch and specials around blocks of teaching time.

Reporter: She’s also mapped out schedules for testing and what she calls “compelling conversations.” They’re a break from the meetings principals usually have with all the teachers from a single grade. Baity prefers meeting individually with each teacher about each student.

Baity: Every teacher wants to talk about their own students. You’re not personal when you talk about the third grade. You’re personal when you talk about Suzy Q and how that child is doing. And I want to talk about children.

Reporter: And then, perhaps the most important document– the student assessment form. It spells out very specifically where a student needs to be every two months in order to be on track for the year. She shows an example from an actual student who improved dramatically with this kind of attention. 

Baity: …and this is what it took in order for this child to go from the 23rd percentile to pretty much the 72nd percentile in the course of a year.

She’ll continue to refine those and work on a million other things on her list over the summer as she prepared for Trevista’s re-birth once again

(sound of opening moving van gate)

Parent: We already have Loralie’s tree in there!

Reporter: Back at the good-bye party, things are winding down. Math teacher Loralie Cole is loading a tall table into a U-Haul outside the school. She brought it so the tall boys in her class could work standing up. A parent who is helping Cole pack up, recalls how her daughter had been struggling in math.

Parent: With Loralie’s help, all the sudden everything just clicked for her, and she was on a Mathletics team.

Reporter: Next year, her daughter will be leaving Trevista. She’s been accepted into the highly sought after Denver School of the Arts.

Parent: It is directly because of the involvement and the caring of the teachers here.

Reporter: As for Cole, she hasn’t landed a job yet. She looks at the tall table and hopes….

Cole: ...it has a home next year in a classroom somewhere, with a little bit of sanding, as you can see it got well used.

[Photo: CPR] 

National Reporting Project on School Turnarounds

Part 1 - Trevista - The Challenges That Lie Ahead

Part 2 - Trevista - Choosing A New Principal

Part 3 - Trevista - Bracing For Change

Part 4 - Trevista - Who Stays And Who Goes