APS school board gets Blueprint possibilities, begins formal review in January

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AURORA | Five proposals that could dramatically change the Aurora Public Schools District now move to the school board for review and possible action.

The APS school board received months of work on Blueprint APS in the community to assess challenges and look at potential changes to the district’s philosophy and operations during the next decade.

MGT Consulting Group presented a final report Tuesday to the school board detailing the current findings of the district-led campaign.

On the table are proposals to keep things as they are or clarify the role of alternative programs and charter schools, as well as determine mental health and social services in schools.

The school board will consider proposals in the coming months, but does not have a deadline for approving a plan, said APS spokesperson Corey Christiansen.

APS launched Blueprint APS last spring to modernize a plan for building new schools and define the district’s philosophy for the next decade. The district paid more than $100,000 to  private MGT Consultant group to oversee the first phase of Blueprint.

MGT staffer Dan Schmidt reported Tuesday that Blueprint APS engaged about 1,000 people to hear their preferences, whether through surveys, community forums, or meeting groups.

Survey results and responses from the community forums were considered by two task forces made up of district officials, local organizations and some representation from the Aurora Education Association teachers union. The task forces eventually worked together to shape results into five scenarios for APS’ future, which Schmidt presented to the school board Tuesday night.

The first scenario is essentially status quo. The district would continue to have students attend schools in their neighborhood, while also offering some specialized programs such as technical educations, online schools and International Baccalaureate programs based in some schools.

The school board would also continue to review and accept select charter schools. Superintendent Rico Munn has already helped bring in charter schools, including Denver charter school network DSST, set to open an Aurora campus next year.

Under this plan, the MGT report said APS would have to close some schools in order to accommodate shifting demographics in the district. Many schools in the western part of the district are seeing students leave because of gentrification, according to district officials. New developments on Aurora’s eastern flank could require new schools for thousands of students.

The second scenario prioritizes college and career preparation by offering more elective options for middle-school and high-school students and facilitating internships to provide real-world experience. The district would continue to consider charter schools as they apply to the district.

In the third scenario, providing mental health and social services would become a focus of the school district. Traditional neighborhood or charter schools would offer programs such as food pantries, healthcare access as well as resources for adults. Programs would focus on individual student needs and achievement.

The fourth scenario would also involve boosting health and social services while offering more school choices for students outside of their immediate neighborhood. Transportation would be a critical and pricey part of this option.

In the fifth and final scenario, the district would offer multi-language instruction for every student and continue its current charter school philosophy. About 160 languages are spoken in APS schools. About 35 percent of students speak English as a second language.

Christiansen said the school board members may combine aspects from the different scenarios or disregard some or all of the proposals.

The district administration will not offer a recommendation, Christiansen said, but officials will offer advice on how plans might be implemented.

Veteran school board member Dan Jorgensen said he did not yet have a specific scenario preference but supported innovative ways to educate students.

“I feel that in the boardroom our conversations have become more inclusive of possibilities during each of the past seven years,” he said of APS Blueprint.

Teacher union President Bruce Wilcox said determining how much plans will cost should be the main consideration for the school board now.

“The underlying thing that wasn’t addressed: There was no way of factoring what those are really going to cost,” Wilcox said of the scenarios. “I can have a really great idea that we are just not able to fund. So that will be the struggle for the (school) board.”

Wilcox encouraged the community to attend the Jan. 8 school board meeting to hear details on how the school board will craft and implement its final scenario next year.