COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4)- Starting the school year in one of the state's lowest performing schools was not a good feeling for Lauren Martinez.
"I didn't want to be involved anymore," she said. "I felt, like I couldn't do anything, I couldn't change anything."
Martinez is now a senior at Adams City High School and was among those who fought last year to keep the school afloat. Test scores, low attendance and low graduation rates caught the attention of the Colorado State Board of Education.
In 2010, the Colorado Department of Education put the Adams County School District 14 on what it calls the accountability clock. Eight years later, college entrance scores and graduation rates are still not where they should be for certain schools within the district, Adams City High School included.
"Sometimes we need a little help, but that's just society," said Martinez.
When the state decided to intervene last year, Martinez fought alongside her peers against the board's proposal to bring in new management.
"I talked to the state board last year and I gave it my all and then nothing came out of it. I just felt pretty let down I guess," she said.
New management would mean a complete reorganization of the district otherwise known as a turnaround plan. Martinez said many in the community wanted new management to come from the neighboring district -- Mapleton Public Schools -- but the board choose MGT Consulting, a private company.
MGT is relatively new to the turnaround work. When Martinez started school at the beginning of August, she and her classmates were worried. Two months into the school year, Martinez says that fear is fading.
"It's not what people expected it to be. It's not like the rumors we heard 'Oh, we're gonna be a charter school and this or that is going to happen.'"
Martinez noticed a change right away with MGT. She said there was less confusion around classes and scheduling. She recalled the second semester of her sophomore year, when she was "stuck in a gym class for a month even though I needed a history class."
"There was none of that this year," she said.
Also noticeable was what Martinez described as a cultural shift.
"We had a red ban."
She says the school had a ban on the color red because of its gang affiliation.
"There are no gangs in Commerce City, but people make that assumption since we're a minority community."
This year there was no red ban.
"It's like our stereotypes went away. It's like we were just being seen as a school that just needed help educationally."
She says MGT has staff inside the school who engage with students on a regular basis. She says there has also been a larger push towards scholarships.
While two months isn't long enough for major change, Martinez is starting to think new management isn't such a bad idea.
"I think we do need help, but I feel like people are looking at us for the wrong reasons, I guess. We need help but not just because we're people of color. We need help because of the culture we created over the past years."
MGT hired former Harry Bull, former superintendent of Cherry Creek School District, to lead the turnaround for the district. Bull says as part of the proposed reorganization of the district MGT is looking at ways to expand learning opportunities for the students. He emphasized that nothing is definitive because he has not had the opportunity to engage the students and community in the decision-making process.
As positive as the experience has been so far for Martinez and her peers, not everyone is on board. The teachers union, which argued against bringing in external management, is involved in a pending lawsuit with the state as a result of the decision and points the cost to taxpayers as a downside to the external management.
"Due to ongoing litigation, we can't comment on specifics related to Adams City High School, but we are not in favor of for-profit companies managing our public schools with no accountability to the community, who are funding their efforts at significant expense to the taxpayers. It goes against the very essence of public education," said Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor and President of the Colorado Education Association.
Martinez loves her school, and while she can only talk about the reorganization from a student perspective, she will do whatever it takes to make sure the student voice is heard.
"(MGT) is trying to be involved and I really like that. They don't have that stereotype, they don't say 'Oh, these are kids of color and they're dangerous,' because I've heard that before about my community."
Martinez loves her community and believes her peers are capable of greatness with the right approach.
"I think we had four Daniels Scholars last year just at Adams City High School. ... That's a privilege to say that I go to that high school."
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