Mitchell High School will remain in local hands with current staff for at least the next two years.
The school has been under scrutiny by the state since 2016 due to poor state testing and SAT/ACT results. It has been designated a "priority improvement" school, susceptible to major changes by the state — including being placed under outside control, transformed into a charter school or shut down entirely.
But following a 7-0 vote by the Colorado Department of Education on April 13, the leadership of Mitchell and of Colorado Springs School District 11 which oversees the school, will now have until at least 2024 to improve academic results.
"Godspeed D11," CDE Chairwoman Angelika Schroeder said following the vote.
A day earlier D11 representatives including Mitchell Principal George Smith and Board of Education members Parth Melpakam, Sandra Bankes and Darleen Daniels attended a CDE board hearing to present their innovation plan to improve the school. That plan had previously been approved by vote of the school staff, and unanimously approved by the D11 School Board both prior to the Nov. 2021 election and in its current composition with three new members.
"I'm pleased to share that everybody is resolute to making sure that this plan works," Interim Superintendent Nicholas Glendich said at the start of the April 12 hearing. "but more importantly, we do what we say we're going to do."
The plan, which is already being implemented in the halls of Mitchell, is modeled on a University of Chicago school improvement system.
In Mitchell's favor was the recommendation of a state review panel that has been monitoring the school. The panel recommended against closing the school or taking control away from D11. Instead, the panel supported approving the innovation plan, “because the school and District have demonstrated leadership and personnel capacity as evidenced by the District’s decision to reconstitute the school and instate new leadership."
Reconstitution is the technical term for overhauling the entire staff of a school. In the case of Mitchell, all staff employees were asked to reapply for their positions in February 2021. According to the school district 27 teachers were hired back, while 31 found positions elsewhere within D11. Three were still without position contracts as of last month. Out of support staff, 26 of 41 people were hired back to work at the school, with the remainder being hired on to other jobs within the district. Smith was also hired as the school's new superintendent just a month later.
A cornerstone of the innovation plan is actual innovation status from the state. The special status, which was also granted on a 7-0 vote, allows the school greater flexibility from state laws and district policies. Specifically in the Mitchell plan, the innovation status would allow greater flexibility in using the entire calendar year for staff training and student engagement; be more flexible in graduation requirements.
Innovation status will also be used by Mitchell to allow for the payment of stipends for some extra staff work and, in the words of Executive Director of D11 School Leadership Dan Hoff, allow job duties be more flexible "and align jobs that are outside of the [district's teachers association] collective bargaining agreement."
Out of 109 public comments sent in about the innovation plan, 59 were in support of innovation status and none were against it.
District and school-level evaluations of how the plan is working out will be conducted on a frequent basis, according to Glendich.