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Minnequa Elementary School making turnaround after seven years on the state's "Accountability Clock"

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Posted at 7:22 PM, Feb 04, 2021

PUEBLO — Following District's 11 decision to release all of the staff at Mitchell High School at the end of the current school year due to low performance, News 5 is taking a closer look at Colorado's "Accountability Clock" and the number of schools under the state's watch.

The last seven years have been a journey for teachers and students at Minnequa Elementary School. After the state identified them as a Priority Improvement School in 2012, they've been trying for years to improve academic performance.

"The process has been long, but it hasn't been in my two years as principal. I've actually been here ten years, and we've been chipping away years past, principals past to get better," said Katie Harshman, Principal, Minnequa Elementary School.

It's been a long journey to become a high performing school, but with help from the state, Harshman says they're closer to making it a reality.

"When we finally looked at getting some state action, working with Relay Graduate School really helped in developing me as a principal. I was in my first year and their support in conjunction with our superintendent, assistant superintendent, and all of our district personnel has helped me achieve what it takes to be a good principal so then I could help lead teachers, and teachers can teach our scholars," said Harshman.

Currently, the school is under partial management and working with Relay Graduate School to improve curriculum and staff development.

"It's important to note, they don't tell me what to do, but help me craft the best intentional focused development for teachers so we can achieve success for scholars," said Harshman. "Relay helped us narrow our focus, they helped us be intentional, they really helped us craft this idea of what school should look like consistently for kids."

In 2009, Colorado’s legislature passed the Education Accountability Act that created a system to hold the state, school districts, and schools accountable for student academic performance on specific indicators and measures. The state determines a school or district's rating by the following:

  • Academic Achievement – Average scores on state assessments for all students as well as specific groups of students
  • Academic Growth – Progress students make in their achievement on assessments from one year to the next
  • Postsecondary readiness – Graduation rates, dropout rates, average scores on the SAT college entrance exam and matriculation into college and other post-secondary options

"Schools and districts have five years of low performance before the state steps in and orders some local action that districts and schools have some control over," said Julie Woods, Accountability Specialist for the Colorado Department of Education.

The school district or school will then go before the State Board with an improvement plan.

"Typically they approve what the school or district is proposing. The state board really wants to defer to what those folks know what's best for their community," said Woods.

The State Board can also convert the school to a charter, close a school, or initiate district reorganization.

Harshman says she's glad none of those things happened at Minnequa. Recently, they've seen significant growth.

"We really focused on what can we do to move the school forward for the kids. We didn't want to get into a situation with closure and other actions they could have taken. Our job was to get the job done," said Harshman.

After two years of turnaround status, the school will be off the clock, but Harshman says there is still much work to be done.

The state says 97 have made the achievement so far, but there are still quite a few on the clock in southern Colorado.