A motion to expand the current Bradford Elementary K-6 program to a K-8 school passed unanimously during the Jeffco School Board’s Dec. 10 regular meeting. The change is part of a larger plan to realign pathways for students in the Chatfield articulation area, district officials said.
The vote will allow Bradford to offer seventh grade programming beginning with the 2016-17 school year, and add eighth grade programming the following year. The seventh and eight grades will continue to use the expeditionary/experiential learning model used in K-6.
The move to expand to a K-8 school had been discussed as early as 2003, but gained more support in recent years as nearby middle schools expanded their programs to include sixth grade programming. Falcon Bluffs and Deer Creek middle schools both offer programming for sixth graders, including a STEM program at Deer Creek.
When Deer Creek added the sixth grade STEM program, Bradford Intermediate’s numbers declined substantially and they’ve had to cut staff as sixth graders left Bradford to choice enroll in middle school, explained Bradford Intermediate Principal Sam Palamara.
Chief School Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliot said the district believes the change will increase opportunities for STEM seats at Deer Creek Middle School. “We believe ultimately it will increase greater choice but all programs will remain sustainable in that area.” Bradford students will be able to choice enroll into other middle school options if desired. The Bradford program will be limited to 90 seats, both to minimize negative impacts on the nearby middle schools and to ensure that no expansion to the current facilities is required.
Board members questioned why the item was brought for a vote when they hadn’t heard about the topic earlier this fall. Superintendent Dan McMinimee suggested that part of the reason was because they are new and hadn’t been privy to previous conversations the district had with former board members. “There’s been extensive community input and work with the south-area principals by Mr. Terry Elliot and members of his staff to get this to where it is right now,” McMinimee said.
McMinimee also pointed out that Bradford held a town hall meeting in September, discussed the issue again with fifth and sixth grade parents in October, conducted a comprehensive survey of the school, and that Elliot’s team also talked to principals of nearby schools. Several Bradford parents, students and staff members also spoke in favor of the proposal during the public comment section of the meeting.
Board member Brad Rupert asked if the request to approve the expansion was a deviation from board policies regarding boundary and curriculum changes and if so, why? His question was prompted by another speaker at public comment, who told board members that the board policy required them to discuss boundary changes in January and vote on them in February.
Elliot responded that the current policy misses first-round choice enrollment, which is open from Jan. 6 through Jan. 29. “We’re pushing it forward now because we do want to give parents an opportunity through the choice enrollment season to know what options are available to them,” Elliot said.
Elliot added that in order to provide parents the best choices, the policy might need to be changed so that decisions can be made in the fall. He also noted that the feeder system in Chatfield is very fragmented with one school feeding sixth graders into a middle school, plus a sixth grade core option in one middle school and a sixth-grade STEM option in another middle school. “We’re working to try and fix that and get back to a true multiple pathway feeder system,” Elliot said.
Board member Ali Lasell asked Elliot if principals from Deer Creek and Falcon Bluffs supported it, and Elliot said they did. Jeffco School Board President Ron Mitchell asked about cost, and Elliot said it would be “fiscally neutral” as much as possible. The district won’t build new facilities or do major work to the facilities, and Bradford is using their PTA to fundraise to purchase additional services.
“This won’t be a comprehensive school with six or seven elective tracts. It will be much more narrow and focused,” Elliot explained. They will also keep costs down by using technology to increase educational opportunities.
Board member Amanda Stevens asked what would happen if Bradford couldn’t enroll the 60 seventh grade students need to keep the program financially sustainable. Elliot told board members that the first checkpoint is at the end of January after choice enrollment.
“If on Feb. 1 we’re looking at 22 enrolled, the program will not continue forward,” he explained. But, if enrollment was at 55, there is some contingency funding built in to handle that during the first couple of years.
“It sounds to me as though, one, we will be diverting from our policy of having these conversations occur in the following year but there’s a perfectly good reason that, and that is that we want this option available for parents to select, and if we wait, it won’t be there,” Rupert said. “It doesn’t sound like we’re changing the curriculum. We’re following the same curriculum we’ve been following,” he added.
The board’s next regular meeting is January 14. They will also meet Dec. 17 for a study session to learn more about facilities management issues, including growth in some parts of the district.
That agenda also includes an update on student achievement, a discussion about the allocation of $15 million from the operating budget that the previous board had approved to build a new school, and a discussion of the budget development community engagement plan for the 2016-17 year. It will be streamed live beginning at 5:30 pm.