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CO-ALAS Monthly Newsletter

November 2020

Message from our Chair/Board

Hello CO-ALAS Familia, 

I hope this newsletter finds you at the start of a restful and rejuvenating Thanksgiving break. This break is loooong overdue and likely will be the first time in months you will truly get to disconnect and be fully present with your family (and self). I realize the tugs and pulls of work right now are fierce, and all the uncertainty around us isn’t much help either. However, I encourage you to step away during this upcoming week and do some things you love with the people you love. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays because the expectations are simple: come together with the people you love (even if it has to be done remotely!). 

If you are anything like me right now, your brain does not have the bandwidth to take in lots of new information. But, if you are looking for some fun ways to fill the down time, here are some suggestions: 


YouTube Song Playlists: 


Tara Peña and your CO-ALAS Board
Make this the year you join CO-ALAS! Become a member now!

Moving on Up...

Ready to make a career move? Check out who’s hiring…

Upcoming Events

  • Annual Administrator Virtual Job Fair : Jan. 30, 2021
  • 12th Annual CO ALAS Conference: April, 2021

Latest News & Announcements

Four Corners Latinx Leadership Academy Update

Leadership grows!  The Four Corners Leadership Latinx Leadership Academy met for its 2nd Leadership Session in Albuquerque, NM.  This session, hosted by the ALAS de Nuevo Mexico, was a hybrid approach, with participants both participating virtually and in-person.  A new experience for many, but still a great learning and leadership growth by all.

Some of the key presenters were:
  • Dr. Howie Morales, Lt. Gov. of New Mexico
  • Dr. Veronica C. Garcia, Superintendent of Santa Fe, NM
  • Dr. Arsenio Romero, Superintendent of Deming, NM
  • Dr. Maria Armstrong, Executive Director of ALAS
Among others. Many thanks go to Dr. LeAnne Montoya, ALAS de NM Chairperson, who led the organization of this particular leadership session
As part of the sequence of leadership learning, this leadership session focused on:
  • Operational Leadership Core 
  • Values and Managerial Leadership Displays professional behavior at all times and addresses inappropriate behavior including conflicts as they arise 
  • Shared leadership and collaborative structures; Demonstrates a commitment to a diverse population and inclusive climate, setting expectations that all students will succeed
  • Ensures the recruiting, hiring and assignments of staff is collaborative, aligned to district focus and is determined by needs of students 
After two full days in New Mexico, the Four Corner Latinx Leadership Academy heads to Utah in February for more professional leadership learning.  This will be perfect timing as many leadership positions will be posted in the Spring.

4th Annual CO ALAS Latina Leadership Virtual Conference Recap

On Saturday, November 7, 2020 Latinas came together in a virtual setting to discover Nuestras Historias: Identity, Advocacy, Resiliency. Here are a few comments from our participants: 
“I LOVE this group. This was my first time, and I am super impressed with the women I was able to talk to today. The presenters were super relatable, honest, and relevant to helping me connect with my identity as a Latina woman. I'm super inspired and driven to be able to answer the question that I was presented with earlier, "What part of your identity do you think most people notice about you? Why?" I feel like I keep my identity hidden, but am excited to let it out after being around all these super proud women! The book drawings were fun, too! THANK YOU!”

“I enjoyed this event very much. It was a place where I felt welcome and shared many things in common with others. I enjoyed it very much.”

“It can be hard to do virtually, but I felt a great connection with everyone and it was a great way to kick off my weekend :) I will be back next year!”

A special thank you to our sponsor, StayMobile, Debbie Jessen, Vice President of Business Development was able to join and be a part of the event. We would also like to thank our partner from the University of Denver, Doris Candelarie, Ph.D. Clinical Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, Morgridge College of Education. You are very much appreciated!

We are proud to welcome 20 new members to CO ALAS. Our next steps are to continue with a monthly network of Latina leaders, mentoring opportunities, and an opportunity to be part of the planning team for next year. We would like to reach out to those Latinas who might not have been able to attend the event, didn't get a chance to sign up, and would still like to join us. You can contact us at

Meet Our Rising Estrellas!

Every month we feature an outstanding Latino/a Leader. This May, we feature Susana Wittrock, Assistant Principal, Thunder Valley K-8 School. You can find Susana's leadership story on our website at Additionally, the leadership stories of other showcased Estrellas from previous months can be found there as well.

To nominate someone for the CO-ALAS Estrella, please submit their name and a brief summary for their nomination and email to

Learning Corner

Keep Up with Latest Education Research with Marshall Memo

Part of your membership to CO-ALAS includes a subscription to the weekly Marshall Memo. The Marshall Memo is a weekly round-up of important ideas and research in K-12 education from a variety of publications. As we have entered a truly unique time in our educational history, most of us are beginning the school year in a remote or hybrid environment. Below are a few recent articles from the Aug. 24 Marshall Memo relating to our new circumstance that Dr. Ron Cabrera has shared with his colleagues in Adams 14 School District: 

As Leaders we want to be proactive in addressing problems. Dan Heath has some ideas how to get ahead of problems. Read on...

Dan Heath on Preempting Problems

In this School Administrator feature, Wisconsin superintendent Joe Sanfelippo interviews Dan Heath (Duke University) about his new book, Upstream: the Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen (Simon & Schuster, 2020). Heath talks about “problem blindness” – a fatalistic belief that a problematic situation is what it is. For example, in the 1990s only 52.4 percent of Chicago high-school students graduated. Educators were trying, often doing heroic work, but they were trapped in a short-term problem-solving mindset and not addressing larger forces that were at work. Heath uses the time-honored story about pulling drowning children out of a river and not going upstream to deal with the source of the problem. He suggests several steps:

  • Do significant work up front. “In the daylight hours, you fish kids out of the river,” says Heath, “then you moonlight with some upstream forays… to get ourselves out of emergency mode.” He gives the example of getting his two young daughters into their shoes as the family struggles to leave the house in the morning. It’s quicker for the adults to just do it for them, says Heath, but “at some point, I’ve got to start doing the harder work of teaching them to put their own shoes on. Downstream is fast, but upstream is permanent.” 
  • Start small. A researcher observing nurses in a hospital noticed they were constantly scrambling to improvise solutions to unexpected problems – equipment malfunctioning, a medication not available. “They actually prided themselves on those skills, that resourcefulness,” says Heath. “They didn’t need to run to the boss for answers; they could handle things themselves.” But they were stuck in that mode; in fact, the researcher didn’t observe a single instance where nurses addressed the systemic nature of their frantic daily routine, which meant they were on the same treadmill week after week, month after month.

    The solution: carving out a brief period every day when nurses and doctors had a “safety huddle” in which they reviewed a near-miss from the previous day – a patient who almost got the incorrect medication dose, a procedure that came close to going wrong. “It might be a quick 20-minute meeting,” says Heath. “But that brief escape from firefighting mode often can be enough to start making progress at solving problems rather than merely reacting to them.” 
  • Motivate people around a long-term goal. It’s important to realize that downstream work is obligatory – you have to jump in and save a drowning child, or put out a fire in your house. “By contrast,” says Heath, “upstream work – preventive work – is often chosen. Upstream work is a kind of enlightened volunteer activity, in the sense that it’s probably not in the explicit job description of any of the people who will do the work.” The trick is to find the small number of people who are motivated to go above and beyond a few hours a week and focus on more systemic, long-term change that will make everyone’s life better. Sanfelippo says that in his high school, a team of teachers tackled the problem of sophomores falling behind and having to retake classes as juniors. Faculty members focused on the freshman year, pinpointed where students began to fall behind, and provided personal support to prevent the dominoes from beginning to fall. 
  • Analyze root causes. Heath describes how Chicago high schools managed a 25-26 percentage point increase in high-school graduation rates. It started with an attitude shift among teachers and administrators from fatalism to agency: Yes, these students’ lives are complicated. Yes they face disadvantages, but we want them to graduate. We’re going to do something about it. Thought leaders in the district realized it was possible to predict with 80 percent accuracy which ninth graders were going to drop out and which would graduate. It also became clear that certain discipline policies, especially two-week suspensions for relatively minor infractions, were putting students on the road to failure. “Did any of those assistant principals who were doling out suspensions have any inkling that they might have just doomed that student to never graduating from high school?” asks Heath. “Of course not. But this is the thing about systems: you’ve got to get really close to them before you understand their true consequences. So they fixed a lot of those discipline policies to be more graduation-friendly.” 
  • Get close to the problem. In Chicago, the key to improvement was “freshman success teams” that met once or twice a month and looked at students one by one to see who was off track for graduation. Okay, what’s the story with Kevin? Well, last time we met, Kevin was failing math, but we got him some extra tutoring and he got a C on his last exam. That’s great, he’s making progress. What about Keisha? Well, we learned that every morning, Keisha has to walk her little sister to school, and that’s making her late almost every day. So we’re going to try to get her switched out of English first period to P.E., so if she ends up failing it, she doesn’t fail a core course, which is one of the components of Freshmen on Track. “Student by student, school by school, meeting by meeting, they started to make slow progress on these metrics,” says Heath. “Four years later, those students they’d kept on track as freshmen started graduating in higher and higher numbers.” Of course it’s also important for administrators to be a frequent presence in classrooms, corridors, and cafeterias, establishing relationships and keeping their eyes open. 
  • Use data for learning. Doing that is much more productive than using data for inspection – to judge, punish, or reward people. Test scores are a classic example; we get the results and are often disappointed, so we start planning how to raise them next time. Chicago high schools used a better way, says Heath, giving a front-line team “the fresh, real-time data it needs to improve. The data come without a sense of judgment.” Teams had week-by-week information on students’ grades, attendance, and conduct, and were able to track progress toward a goal that was several years over the horizon. 
  • Convey urgency without impatience. Leaders’ posture is important, says Heath. They need to be impatient for action but patient for outcomes. “One of the top motivators for people,” he believes, “is making progress on a meaningful goal. That doesn’t mean fast progress. It means that if you have a goal that speaks to you and you can see that your work is contributing to forward movement, that can be as motivating as a raise, as motivating as praise from the boss or vacation time. What we really want, as human beings, is to do something that matters. And upstream work is really the only engine for permanent improvement in schools and communities.” 

“Problem Blindness: A Conversation with Dan Heath” by Joe Sanfelippo in School Administrator, November 2020 (Vol. 77, #10, pp. 17-23)

Many of our children are categorized as English Language Learners or EL’s. Our EL’s often languish with weak achievement. This next article gets us thinking about strategic approaches to improving EL achievement. Read on...

Developing a Theory of Change to Close the EL Achievement Gap

In this article in Principal, Carol Larson (Christel House Schools/Indianapolis) and Tyrone Martinez-Black (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) say that too many schools make the mistake of identifying a problem or a goal and going straight to action planning. “This approach is like throwing pasta at the wall to see what sticks,” say Larson and Martinez-Black. What’s missing, with complex challenges, is an analysis of the root causes of the problem and a well-thought-out theory of change.

On the issue of inequitable outcomes for English learners, school leaders might start by asking questions like these:

  • Why are there achievement differences between English learners and non-ELs?
  • Why are there fewer ELs in Advanced Placement classes?
  • Why are there fewer ELs applying to college?

Research and careful observation help unpack the problem and develop a comprehensive theory of change. For example, ELs’ lower college application rate might be the result of a tracking policy that limits ELs’ access to college-ready curriculum content, which indicates the need for changes in scheduling, student placement, and academic content. As the theory of change is implemented, progress needs to be monitored so educators can respond to unexpected challenges; the theory evolves as new information and circumstances dictate. 

An essential tool for understanding problems like this is the equity audit – an in-depth assessment to see whether resources, learning outcomes, and other factors are out of kilter for certain groups of students. An equity audit looks into whether all students have similar access to effective teaching, are over- or under-represented in special education and other programs, whether there are achievement differences among student subgroups, as well as stakeholder groups’ participation on school boards, parent-teacher groups, and other decision-making bodies. An equity audit should also survey students’ perceptions of school climate, family involvement, classroom practices, and access to resources. 

It’s important, say Larson and Martinez-Black, to understand the specific needs of each school’s English learners. “EL students are a heterogeneous group that varies by native language, culture, socioeconomic status, English fluency, birthplace, and more,” they say. “Examination of student development within these contexts helps identify barriers that might interfere with learning and equitable outcomes.” A robust theory of action needs to take into account the community’s beliefs about learning English, family members’ ability to help children with homework, and the “funds of knowledge” that students acquire outside of school – where they’ve traveled, their families’ routines, and their interests, activities, and cultural and religious beliefs. 

Having done an equity audit and formed an accurate picture of the English learners in a school or district, it’s possible to formulate a theory of change. Three areas of focus:

  • The school environment – This includes school policies, funding, programming, curriculum, instruction, assessments, school culture, and, say Larson and Martinez-Black, “structural discriminatory practices that might have been institutionalized over time, such as the de facto segregation of some EL students.” An example: what steps can be taken to increase ELs’ participation in gifted and accelerated classes?
  • Professional learning – PD should be informed by the needs assessment, addressing unconscious biases against EL students and the type of culturally responsive approaches that will lead to successful learning in classrooms. “Celebrating diverse holidays or honoring cultural heroes won’t close achievement gaps,” say Larson and Martinez-Black; “educators must understand students’ cultural backgrounds, connect with their experiences, and create meaningful learning goals that meet students’ needs.” 
  • Family and community engagement – A key part of an effective theory of change is the participation of multiple stakeholders. This means involving community agencies, engaging local libraries, organizing translators, and eliminating barriers to EL parents participating in the educational effort. “You must know your parents to find effective ways to encourage participation,” say Larson and Martinez-Black. “Communicate the benefits of parent involvement while providing a welcoming school culture.”
“Speaking Their Language” by Carol Larson and Tyrone Martinez-Black in Principal, November/December 2020 (Vol. 100, #2, pp. 54-57).

Regional Updates

Saint Vrain Valley School District Graduates Earn Their Seal of Biliteracy

For the 2019-2020 graduating class, 121 St. Vrain students earned the Seal of Biliteracy. Three graduating seniors qualified in multiple languages. Languages represented were: Spanish, French, Mandarin, Hindi, Nepali, Newari, German, and American Sign Language.

“The Seal of Biliteracy is just one of the few rewards you get for learning a second language,” shared a graduating senior. “You get to learn a new language and culture throughout the year which I think is one of the main rewards you get for pursuing the Seal of Biliteracy.”

“Our next step is to continue to expand this program to include Pathway to Biliteracy awards in elementary and middle schools, and encourage lifelong language learning.”  shared Oakley Schilling, EL/ELD and Seal of Biliteracy Coordinator.

New Delegates Voted into CO-ALAS Board

Our two newest CO-ALAS delegates- representing Adams 14 School District- were voted in by our Board last month. Congratulations to Nathan Cabrera, Assistant Principal at Kearney MS, and Lisa Martinez, Assistant Principal at Kemp Elem. Welcome to the familia!

Want to get involved in CO-ALAS? Looking to create a support network for the Latinx leaders in your district? Consider becoming a CO-ALAS delegate! We are currently seeking delegates for surrounding CO school districts. Contact Jesus Escarcega at


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