As Adams City High faces reorganization, its students reflect on the district’s turmoil and their school pride
Rayann Negrete remembers hearing about it on the news last fall.
Her school district, Adams 14, had lost its “accreditation.”
“We were all pretty freaked out on what was going to happen to us,” said Negrete, who graduates this year.
What did that mean? Would her school close? Would she have to find a new school? Would she be separated from her friends? Would more teachers leave?
It turns out her school would carry on as usual, the state board stripping the district’s accreditation was largely symbolic. But it was like a black X on the district. It meant students in the working-class Commerce City district don’t perform well on tests. And they haven’t for a while. More teachers did leave. Some of them were Negrete’s favorites.
It was a confusing — at times frustrating — school year for students at Adams City High School. The year ended with the state school board ordering the Adams 14 district to reorganize. That could mean the district disappears. Lost in the state boardroom machinations was what students thought of everything.
They don’t like it.
They say the decision, made on a 4 to 3 vote, will have huge consequences for students in the district. They say the decision fails to consider the totality of what it means to be a student, who they are as people — and the particular life circumstances of many students here.
“I went to Rose Hill Elementary, then I went to Kearney Middle School then now to Adam City,” explained Negrete. “I grew up here and for them to try to take that away from us. It's just … that's a lot.”
'Think about us as students. Don’t think of us as like a test score.'
Wrestling gave Cy Renney everything.
It gave him friends. It gave him family. It gave him a college scholarship in Nebraska.
“We’re known around the country for our wrestling here,” said the 17-year-old senior.
Adams City High is a powerhouse in the sport, with fathers, uncles, sons and nephews carrying on the tradition. The team shows up to state championships in bright orange hair, their jerseys emblazoned with a defiant green and orange eagle — the colors and mascot of Adams City High — staring down competitors.
Previous coverage of Adams City High School's accreditation and reorganization:
- May 10: Adams 14 loses accreditation as state education board votes to reorganize school district
- April 18: 'Don’t make it worse': This is how Adams 14 students pleaded with Colorado to keep their schools open
- April 14: Colorado Board of Education likely to restore some control of Adams 14 to the superintendent and local school board
- April 13: Adams 14 parents feel ignored as the state board decides the district’s fate
“Wrestling it’s helped me so much, even with the grades. And plus, the coaching staff we have, they’re all college graduates, they are All-Americans, national champions.”
The wrestling team at the school inspired him. Renney had planned to be a power lineman when he graduated. But now he’s headed to wrestle at college in Nebraska. He wants to be an All-American. And something else.
“I want to be the first in my family to graduate from college and get a degree.”
Senior Carolina Loa loved the football games. Homecoming. Prom. Events where the whole community turned out. Multiple generations of families have graduated from Adams City High School.
“Honestly transferring to Adams City was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Loa said.
She transferred from a charter school in the district that was focused primarily on academics. For Loa, school is about more than academics. It’s also about all the other activities that help you develop as a person, meeting different types of kids — some college-bound, others headed for different pathways.
It wasn’t just the dances and sports. Loa also excelled in academics. She earned one of the coveted Boettcher Scholarships for a four-year full-ride next year to study molecular biology.
Loa felt comfortable at Adams City High. Sometimes it felt like family. That’s something people on the outside don’t often understand.
“When I came to Adams City, I'm surrounded by people that look like me, talk like me. We're basically all Hispanics. I'm surrounded by people that are just like me.”
But it was also a tough year.
Junior Cristal Esquibel said the turmoil in the district has been very hard on students, “because it's like, what's your next step after this? Are we going to have to look for a different school or are we going to stay here and continue this ongoing battle?”
“It made me feel pretty upset because I've been here most of my life. I grew up in this district and I graduate next year. So, thinking, oh wow, like what's going to happen to my credits. What is going to happen to my classes and stuff … that just brought me down a lot.”
So why did this happen?
Adams 14 school district has posted low test scores for more than a decade. A third of students choose to attend school in another district. In 2018, the state board of education ordered the working-class district to be run by an outside manager. State law requires the board to act when performance is low five years in a row.
But the outside manager seemed to lead to more turmoil, and the district severed ties with the company earlier this year.
“We've had three to four new principals in the past four years,” Negrete said. “A lot of the teachers didn't want to stay because our management just keeps changing and changing. And so, it’s just hard on them, because it’s like what’s going to happen next, or are we going to have another principal, who's coming and whose going, you know?”
The kids say there’s a lot of room for improvement — definitely — but they feel pretty satisfied with their education. And this thing about test scores. Students say they’re a superficial and simplistic way to judge a school that doesn’t account for students' lives. Some students just don’t test well. Others’ native language isn’t English, but they have to take the standardized test in English. Loa said many students work to help support their families.
“If they have to work and they're focused on other things, they're not focusing on being a student. And if they're not focusing on being a student, then how do you expect them to get a high score and a test? ... We're trying our best, it's not like we're failing like those tests on purpose, you know?”
Now they’re concerned the state’s recent order to reorganize the district will just cause more turmoil.
As part of last month’s decision, state board members also stripped the district’s accreditation again. Cy Renney talked to one of his teachers recently who told him that the school was about to hire several teachers for next year.
“But as soon as we lost that accreditation, they all disappeared. They did not want to deal with anything like that, going into a new job, a new district ... it's just hard for the district to find teachers that want to help.”
Junior Cristal Esquibel has the credits she needs to graduate, but wants to return her senior year to take college classes. She said at the beginning of every year the school has a “senior adoption.” A teacher adopts a student, supports and mentors them over the year.
“It's like, who am I going to have to do that with? If all these teachers are new and I've never met these teachers, what are they going to be like? Or, am I not going to be able to have this class because we don't have someone to be able to teach it?”
The students say any attempt to carve up the district into other districts may cause students to scatter. It will cut into the heart of a community, they say.
Cy Renney has wrestled and worked out with the same kids for about eight years.
“And they're like family and their family becomes your family as well. So, we're all together and it's hard to break that bond … if the school does split up, that bond is gone. I know so many kids are going to struggle so much with it ... it might make it even worse.
“You're going to be separating a lot of us and it'll make things hard because some of those people you only trust (them). They help get rid of the stress and everything going on in your life. And those are the only people you feel comfortable around.”
The students say the entire reorganization process is easier said than done. Surrounding districts have to appoint members of a committee who will draft a plan and voters in the affected districts have to vote on it.
Those are just the technical line-drawing issues. The students have a lot more questions. They don’t understand how dividing up Adams 14 schools into other districts ensures that students will perform better on tests. They’d face new curricula in other districts. If kids have to switch to a school that’s farther away, they’d have to rise much earlier.
“It would just affect kids' motivation to even go to school,” said Renney.
The students have a message for the state board of education.
“They don't know us as a people,” said senior Rayann Negrete, who has big plans to own her own business someday after studying business and accounting. “The state board doesn't come to our school and see what we do on the daily ... I would tell them to come and see us and how we are for even if it's just for a day, like if we were to have our prep rally before our homecoming, they should see how much spirit we have.”
The Adams 14 school district, meanwhile, plans to resist the reorganization effort — which is supposed to take more than a year.
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