Four things to know about the Colorado school Hillary Clinton is visiting today

Leading presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, in the midst of a bus tour of political swing states, is making a stop at a Colorado high school today.

The Democratic presidential nominee is expected to talk about her jobs proposal at Adams City High School in the heart of Commerce City, a heavily Latino and working-class inner suburb just north of Denver.

While the speech Clinton will give Wednesday isn’t expected to delve deep into education policies — it will largely expand on the economic promises she outlined in her nomination acceptance speech last week — we thought you might like to know a little more about the school and the challenges it faces.

Adams City High is one of the state’s lowest-performing schools and is facing an uncertain future.

Last year, not a single student at Adams City High was considered “college-ready” based on their scores on the state’s new English test. Only 3 percent of students passed the state’s algebra exam.

Those results aren’t the first time Adams City High students didn’t meet state benchmarks on standardized tests. The school has been considered low-performing for the last six years. Those results, coupled with a low graduation rate and ACT average score, mean that the state could intervene next year if scores this year don’t go up.

Colorado law gives the state and district three options: close the school, turn it over to a charter school or another management company, or redesign it as an “innovation” school.

School leaders say they expect higher scores. But they have a backup plan.

Principal Gionni Thompson said he expects to see impressive gains when the state releases its latest round of test scores later this month. If the school does well enough, the state would halt an intervention.

But in the case the scores don’t rise, Adams City High is preparing to seek innovation status, which would allow it to act more like a charter school.

Innovation status would provide the high school with waivers from district and state policies, like those charter schools receive. Schools seeking innovation status usually ask to create their own calendar, set their own curriculum, and hire and fire teachers outside of a union contract.

Thompson said the most important waiver his school will seek is the ability to set its own curriculum. The district, he said, is providing the school with money to get a head start.

One change Thompson hopes to make right away is ending a keyboarding class requirement to graduate.

“Kids are way beyond that,” he said. “They’re already programming, they’re coding.”

Federal investigators criticized the way Adams City treated Latino students.

In 2010, a teacher at the high school kicked a group of Hispanic students out of class because the students were speaking in Spanish. A riot in the class nearly followed.

That’s just one example from a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights that found administrators across the Adams 14 school district had created a hostile environment for Latino students and teachers.

Since the report was made public, Adams City High and the district have been operating under an agreement reached with federal officials to improve the culture of local schools. Among the changes: frequent training on racial and ethnic bias for school administrators and teachers, and student focus groups to discuss race relations.

One byproduct of the changes, Thompson said, is a more welcoming school environment for parents. “We’re bringing the school back to the community,” he said.

The high school has been a fixture on the Democratic campaign trail since 2004.

Clinton’s visit on Wednesday will not be the first time Adams City High has gotten attention from a national presidential campaign. But officials believe it is the first time a presidential nominee will visit the school.

In 2004, then-vice presidential nominee John Edwards visited. In 2008, vice presidential nominee Joe Biden stopped by. In 2012, former President Bill Clinton campaigned for President Barack Obama’s successful re-election.

It’s unclear why the high school has become a favorite stop for Democrats. But for Thompson, the visit is larger than just another stop on the campaign trail.

“This visit is something our community needs,” Thompson said. “It gives our community that boost. We’re being recognized nationally. We’re going to be part of history.”

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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