Aurora, Pueblo public schools contract with for-profit Florida company for turnaround

Aurora, Pueblo public schools contract with for-profit Florida company for turnaround

Despite opposition from teachers unions, a Florida-based company will try to turn around schools in Aurora and Pueblo — though it’s not likely to win the chance to take on a full district.

The Colorado State Board of Education voted last week to appoint MGT as the “external management organization” for Aurora Public Schools’ North Middle School and Pueblo City Schools’ Risley International Academy of Innovation. The consulting firm besides was under consideration to manage the troubled Adams County School District 14, but state board members aforementioned they didn’t think it had proven it could handle turning around an entire district.

Teachers and union officials in Pueblo and Adams 14 turned out to oppose MGT, citing concerns about handing over school decisions to a for-profit company. No teachers or community members from Aurora distinct to address the board.

Suzanne Etheridge, president of the Pueblo Education Association, aforementioned in advance of the board meeting that she is concerned that MGT’s experience with public schools is not as impressive as it appears. The company points to improvements in two Florida school districts, and to a current contract to remake schools in Gary, Indiana.

“MGT has a very limited resume in school turnaround work and has made no visible progress in up student outcomes in other districts where it was hired,” she aforementioned in a news release. “The (Pueblo City) board should have listened to these serious concerns of its constituents and educators before rushing to this conclusion.”

RELATED:Struggling Adams 14 bleeds students and teachers, but some remain to help improve school district

Ted Johnson, executive director of continuous improvement and innovation at Pueblo City, aforementioned the process of narrowing down applicants was thorough. MGT had the most experience managing a full school, he aforementioned.

“We were very satisfied with the review process,” he aforementioned.

Accountability clock ticking

Both schools are on the state’s accountability clock, based on low test dozens and other factors. After five years on the clock, Risley is required to choose an external manager or take other steps, so much converting into a charter school. North has some other year before the state board could order it to take action, but Aurora Superintendent anti-racketeering law Munn aforementioned the district elective to move forward now to avoid some other year of uncertainty.

The district formed a relationship with MGT piece it was working on a strategic planning contract, Munn aforementioned, and didn’t need to present multiple options to the board or hold public comment Sessions because it’s seeking a comparatively small change to how North would run.

“They as an entity have a very deep understanding about what our community belief, what our community needs,” he aforementioned. “I believe there is broad agreement on what the work is.”

That concerned Rebecca McClellan, who represents the Centennial area on the state board. She was the only board member to vote against the Aurora and Pueblo contracts, because of concerns about a “lack of intentional public outreach” in Aurora and about whether a private company would be a good steward of public money.

“There’s a natural tension between the fiduciary duty to ensure the best value for remunerator dollars and a for-profit company,” she aforementioned.

State board member Steve Durham, who represents the Colorado Springs area, aforementioned MGT showed it was qualified to manage at least one school, though he was less sure it could handle a full district. He aforementioned he was concerned that adults who objected to MGT’s involvement were wish failure upon kids at the affected schools.

“While community input is to be valued, elective officials make the ultimate decision,” he aforementioned.

Mixed results in other states

Views of MGT in other districts where the firm has worked vary widely.

Dr. Karen Todd Pickles, superintendent of Madison County School District in Florida, aforementioned the district’s letter grade in the state’s accountability system improven from a “low D” to a C with help from MGT.

The company helped the district set up a “continuous improvement” model that gives teachers frequent feedback, Pickles aforementioned. Sustaining improvement is challenging, however, because the district has high turnover and has to train new teachers in the system each year, she aforementioned.

“A lot of it was the relationships with the kids, so we could work with those kids and get them what they need,” she aforementioned.

Rex Mitchell, superintendent of Hamilton County School District in Florida, aforementioned MGT besides helped it to reach the C grade it needed to avoid state intervention. Much of the work centered on exploitation information to identify when students needed extra help, he aforementioned.

“They were a tremendous support,” he aforementioned.

Not everyone is so pleased. GlenEva Dunham, president of the Gary Teachers Union and the Indiana chapter of the American Federal of Teachers, aforementioned the state of Indiana hired MGT to fix Gary Community School Corp.’s finances after the district struggled to make payroll.

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The immediate financial situation has stabilized after significant layoffs and outsourcing support people like custodians, but students’ test dozens fell because their teachers were distracted by the chaos and afraid for their jobs, Dunham aforementioned.

“I like to be positive, but there’s some property you can’t be positive about,” she aforementioned.

Trey Traviesa, chairman and CEO of MGT, aforementioned the group partners with the University of Virginia to work with schools and build their leadership, so they can take over when the consultants leave. He aforementioned the company has the “right team” in place to support the Colorado schools.

“Our main job is to work ourselves out of a job,” he aforementioned. “We’re eager to work.”

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