Ogden School District to review effectiveness of the Colors of Success program

May 3 2012 - 5:58am

OGDEN -- Ogden School District Superintendent Brad Smith plans to appoint a committee to examine the effectiveness of the Colors of Success program or look at the effectiveness of another program to take its place.

The committee will be formed immediately, and decisions will be made before the district's contract with the Salt Lake City-based program expires at the end of June.

The decision to form the committee came after a meeting Tuesday night between Smith and district spokeswoman Donna Corby, and community leaders, parents, students and teachers involved with the Colors of Success program. Several testimonials were given to Smith about how Colors of Success had changed the life of youngsters, brought them out of gangs and helped them obtain a better life and better education.

Colors of Success is a program for at-risk youths to keep them out of gangs and on the path to a successful future through mentoring.

The program has been put under a microscope by the district because its main funding source has been land trust money each school receives. The rules for how that money can be allocated have changed, and it can no longer be spent to support the Colors of Success program.

If the program is to continue, the district must come up with other funding, so the program is being looked at to see if the district is getting the right bang for the buck.

Smith and other district officials aren't so sure.

"I have substantial concerns with the way it runs," Smith said of the way the program is operating and its administrative costs.

The district spent $52,000 in matching money to pay for administrators for the program. In other models the district is looking at, Smith believes that two to three additional people could be employed for the same amount of money.

He would also like to see, from Colors officials, grades and graduation rates from students in the program. Smith said three of the seven schools that have used Colors would be interested in continuing the program if there is a funding source.

Jessie Garcia, a former city councilman, asked Smith to consider keeping the program.

"Whatever grant you get will have to have a match. Why not just keep Colors?" he asked.

AnnaJane Arroyo, director of Image de Northern Utah and a local advocate for Hispanic youths, said she and others in the community are concerned that the district is too worried about outcomes and not about the changes the program makes in the lives of teens.

Arroyo said the concern is that another program won't target students who are as high-risk as those in Colors.

"It's easier to work with high-functioning kids. Where will the parents go to get help for their kids who aren't?" Arroyo said. "They need to go someplace to develop these skills for life, and that's what Colors does."

She said Smith took away parents' empowerment by not including them in the decision to cut the program.

Many parents and students said that Colors of Success was the link between the struggling student and teachers and administrators needed for an extra voice or explanation.

Former student Leanna Butler said coming to Colors of Success was her only break from the gang activity she was involved in. Although she ultimately ended up dropping out of high school, she felt the program saved her when she needed it most. When she came to that class she could be herself and know she was safe.

"In there we were all from different gangs, but it didn't matter. We could just be together," Butler said.

Butler fears that if the program goes away, gang problems may increase.

Jasmine Whitelaw, 20, is now in her second year of college and credits her success to the Colors of Success program.

"I wanted to be a Crip. I had bad grades ... I am standing here today because of Colors of Success and no other reason," she said.

Smith assured the large crowd that he was there to listen and hadn't made a decision yet, but he said the decision about the program's future rests primarily with him.

"Ultimately, I will make the decision with the board's approval," Smith said.

Arroyo encouraged the crowd to come out en masse to the school board meeting May 17 to let their voices be heard.

"You heard him say the decision will be his with the board's approval; ultimately you guys impact the board," Arroyo said.

Smith plans to appoint a seven-member committee that will include district administrators, parents, community members and educators. Regarding a decision about the program, he said:

"Things (in the district) can move at glacial speed. I want action, and I want it quick. Our children simply cannot accept a delay."

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