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State Board Extends Adams County School District 14 External Management Search

Teachers, students and parents of Adams County School District 14 went to the March 14 state Board of Education meeting expecting to finally learn what would happen to their struggling school district. Instead, they walked away with more questions than answers about its future.

Rather than make a final decision on which external organization would manage Adams 14 for at least the next four years, the board voted six to one to continue to force the district, headquartered in Commerce City, to search for external management.

In November 2018, the state board mandated that the thirteen-school, 7,500-student district turn over its management to an external group or face accreditation removal, a mandate that kicked in automatically after eight straight years of Adams 14 receiving either the lowest or second-lowest rating in Colorado's education accountability rating system. It was the first time the state had ever intervened with regard to an entire school district.

The Adams 14 school board and a community group convened and narrowed nine applicants down to four finalists: three consulting groups and the neighboring Mapleton Public Schools.

The community committee assessed the merits of the four finalists and unanimously approved Mapleton Public Schools because it shares similar demographics with Adams 14, including high numbers of students for whom English is a second language and students living in poverty.

But shortly after the decision, the Colorado Department of Education expressed concerns that Mapleton couldn't effectively manage both districts.

"There's potential for putting two districts at risk if things are not handled well," said Lisa Medler of the Department of Education on February 11.

State boardmembers expressed similar opposition at their March meeting.

"The only thing that makes this remotely workable are there are at least some elements of the community that want this and are willing to cooperate," said boardmember Steve Durham. "I’m not willing to vote for Mapleton until and unless I can see meaningful partnerships with people who have meaningful expertise."

Durham and some of his colleagues said they were only willing to vote for Mapleton if the district, which has an improving graduation rate but struggles with test scores, also commits to partnering with private entities to manage Adams 14.

But Mapleton's administration said that it would only name potential private partners after its application was accepted and it had the chance to assess the needs of Adams 14.

"This was not the proposal we put forward, so we won’t be amending," said Mapleton superintendent Charlotte Ciancio.

In February, the Adams 14 school board voted three to two in favor of Mapleton. But things became complicated toward the end of that month, when Bill Hyde, one of the board's members who voted in favor of Mapleton, resigned amid an investigation involving an allegation that he grabbed the arm of an elementary school student. Although the vote had taken place before Hyde's resignation, board support for Mapleton dropped from a majority to a split.

Connie Quintana, the Adams 14 school board president, voted against Mapleton and told the state board she was concerned that if Mapleton became the Adams 14 manager, its administration could be overwhelmed by a total student population of 16,000.

Moving forward, Mapleton can either keep its proposal to the school board unchanged and hope it gets approved or name a private partner and re-submit a joint application. Or it could withdraw its application entirely. Whichever organization is eventually approved is scheduled to begin managing the district on July 1.

The path forward may also be affected by a potential shakeup of the Adams 14 school board. In April, the board will select a new member to fill Hyde's seat. If the board is split on a possible new member, Quintana, who voted against Mapleton, will have the tie-breaking vote as president.

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