Published: Oct. 24, 2017

From school assessment assistance for rural districts to co-designing an afterschool program in a diverse Denver neighborhood, four new projects seek to strengthen partnerships in key Colorado communities as the School of Education launches its place-based partnership initiative.

Families and Educators Together

Families and Educator Together teams from across Boulder Valley School District gathered at Angevine Middle School for an October workshop focused on building relationships.

As a public school of education, one of our school’s enduring goals is to build and support sustainable partnerships between community-based organizations and educational institutions. 

The aim is to make a sustained commitment in a few carefully selected locations so that we can have a greater impact on the educational opportunities in those locations. We selected three locations by holding conversations across the various groups of researchers in the school to understand where research was already occurring and then chose three Colorado communities: Lafayette, a diverse, ex-urban community in Boulder County; Near Northeast of Denver, historic, urban neighborhoods; and Northeast Colorado, a rural area on the eastern plains.

As Kathy Schultz continues her second year as Dean of the School of Education, she says this new initiative aims to develop long-lasting relationships across research interests and locate work in a few geographic areas to foster greater collaboration and sustainability over time. 

“This initiative builds on the longstanding, nationally recognized work of the School of Education, and yet, these new projects are wonderful examples of the how we might strengthen our public impact,” Schultz said. “By co-locating our work with community partners, we look for synergies and concentrate our engagement.”

Last spring, researchers and faculty were encouraged to apply for seed grants for projects that were located in one of these communities and that build on the idea of partnerships—within the communities and across different categories of researchers. The four projects, spanning across research interests and potential, include:

Developing a research-practice partnership in historically Black Denver

Near Northeast Denver
Susan Jurow, Professor 
Terrenda White, Assistant Professor

With the school’s new elementary and leadership majors, this project aims to address the need and opportunity for designing new practicum sites where pre-service teachers can learn to organize education that is “dignity-conferring” and “rights-generative.” This project aims to learn about the assets and needs of the community to identify partners for co-designing an afterschool club that could address identified desires for the community and be linked productively to our teacher education program.

The history of university relations with communities, especially non-dominant communities, has often taken a neo-colonial form that reinscribes rather than challenges imperialistic power relations. Jurow and White aim to avoid these missteps by taking a careful, decolonial approach to learning about communities and thinking with them about their possible joint work to facilitate education for youth. They are focusing efforts on historically Black neighborhoods of Curtis Park/Five Points and Montbello, which have rich histories of social, political, and cultural life and activism but face challenges related to racialized inequalities and social power differences that impact resources in education, health, employment, and public safety. They will conduct dialogic interviews to identify a community partner, observe local youth programs, and conduct an ethnographic analysis of the focal neighborhood to learn about its history, community assets, struggles, and the hopes of community members. Developing partnerships focused around the transformative potential of learning environments requires great intentionality around identifying shared values, goals, and processes.

Expanding Families and Educators Working Together

Kristen Davidson, research associate for the National Center for Research in Policy and Practice,
David Nieto, executive director of the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education and assistant research professor, and 
Ari Gerzon-Kessler, Director of Parent & Family Partnerships att Boulder Valley School District and BVSD partners

This project builds on a research-practice partnership developed by Davidson and co-principal investigators from Boulder Valley School District in 2016-17 to study the pilot Families and Educators Together teams in six schools in Lafayette and Boulder. Because these schools are economically, linguistically, and ethnically diverse, team members stress the importance of understanding and implementing equitable family engagement practices. While the pilot partnership’s work has made progress, it has also shed light on the need to develop shared understandings about effective and equitable family engagement practices both within and across school-based teams. The expanded project is developing and implementing training for Families and Educators Together chairs and school leaders throughout the 2017-18 school year. This work will not only develop more consistent understandings across teams in these schools, but will also provide a foundation for developing more formal channels among various family engagement efforts in the Lafayette area to be pursued next.

Family engagement has been shown to be central to public education aims for both improving students’ academic growth and social-emotional well-being and increasing democratic participation in schools. Furthermore, research findings show that strong collaboration between schools, families, and their communities promote the cognitive, social, behavioral, and emotional abilities of children and their academic outcomes improve.

Organizing Social Justice Leadership Pathways in Partnership with Project VOYCE

Near Northeast Denver 
Ben Kirshner, faculty director for CU Engage and professor
Manuela Sifuentes, director of Community Partnerships for CU Engage
Kira Pasquesi, Leadership Studies Minor program director and instructor
Vanessa Roberts, CU Engage graduate research fellow 

Leadership education has turned into an industry in which dominant strands lack adequate attention to issues of class, race, culture, or social justice. Most leadership programs are housed in business schools and texts tend to assume that leadership is exercised by those with positional power in hierarchical organizations. Notwithstanding appeals in the leadership literature to leading ethically and doing good, this work tends to ignore or leave unexamined issues of social stratification, leadership for social justice change, or issues of power and privilege in organizations. New Leadership Studies programs in the School of Education — both the Leadership Studies Minor and the Leadership and Community Engagement Major — aim to disrupt these dominant narratives and emphasize the importance of relational leadership, awareness of power and privilege, and leadership in the service of public good or social justice change.

This project aims to deepen and extend an existing partnership between CU Engage and Project VOYCE, which as a deep history of working with youth of color in Denver. Project VOYCE’s mission is “to develop future leaders in underrepresented communities by training, employing, and organizing youth to work on real-life school and community challenges.” 

Cultivating pathways to CU Boulder for students with social justice leadership experience will strengthen the intellectual climate in our classes and the quality of work we do with community organizations while disseminating and helping sustain Project VOYCE’s compelling model of youth leadership.

Providing Technical Assistance to the Student-Centered Accountability Project 

Northeastern Colorado 
Elena Diaz-Bilello, Associate Director for the Center for Assessment, Design, Research and Evaluation (CADRE)
Elliott Asp from the Colorado Education Initiative
Five Colorado school districts, Buena Vista, Buffalo Merino, Kit Carson, La Veta and Monte Vista

The Student-Centered Accountability Project (S-CAP) represents a group of five rural Colorado school districts that have opted to use a common accountability framework for evaluating school performance. The accountability framework comprises four main components: student achievement, learning dispositions, professional culture, and resource allocation.

During the 2017-18 school year, the districts will be refining and improving upon the school quality review process. Diaz-Bilello will provide technical assistance to the project in coordination with Asp to engage member districts on improving the process. For example, the team may: observe the school review process at each site, attend school review debrief meetings, analyze inter-rater agreement on school reviews, conduct document reviews of guidelines and training materials, and more.

In addition, project leaders may provide additional technical assistance for districts that decide to implement performance assessments to evaluate deeper learning. The aim is to leverage this technical assistance work to increase credibility and rigor to a review process used to inform school accountability decisions and potentially encourage more member districts to incorporate the use of these rich tasks and assessments to ensure that assessment strategies are better aligned with the long-term vision to foster deeper learning for all students.  

Read more about our projects