A+ group: Denver Plan needs overhaul

Denver Public Schools’ strategic blueprint, the Denver Plan, is in urgent need of  substantial revision, the A+ citizens committee told the school board Thursday night.

“We are asking you to revise and update the (Denver Plan) with a clear set of goals and a well-defined set of strategies that will drive academic improvement,” the A+ board said in a letter to the Board of Education.

“We are concerned that the Denver Plan does not address the need for ongoing systems to measure the impact of the plan’s strategies, programs or initiatives throughout the district.”

Jesus Salazar, chair of the A+ Denver subcommittee on the Denver Plan, presented the A+ Denver letter to the board.

“Although the plan listed out a set of district initiatives and focus areas, they did not clearly articulate the road map of how you get to success … It makes it hard for us to build public will and advocate for the necessary reforms,” Salazar said during brief remarks.

A+ Denver has laid out a five-part plan for redrafting the Denver Plan:

  • Improve goals and their corresponding accountability measures.
  • Redraft the plan to reflect current priorities.
  • Redraft the plan to match the theory of action.
  • Add a section that addresses subjects other than math and literacy.
  • Add recruiting, training and support of school leaders.

“The goals (of the plan) themselves are a disjointed list of deliverables,” the letter said. “The fact that so few of them are within reach, even though many are quite modest in aspiration, must suggest that the strategies employed to achieve them are inadequate in design or in practice.”

After the presentation, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said: “We welcome the letter and look forward to a robust dialogue with A+  and members of the community.”

Peña: “It needs to be significantly changed & improved”

Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, also a member of the A+ Denver board of directors, was not able to attend Thursday night’s meeting.

But earlier in the day, he said he firmly supported and endorsed “every sentence” of the strongly worded letter.

“The school system, and that is the school board, and the administration, needs to have a strategic plan and a strategic vision for how it wants to improve the academic performance of the children in DPS,” Peña said.

“If the Denver Plan is intended to be that strategic plan (then) it needs to be significantly changed and improved. There are some things that are good, but it is not the kind of strategic plan that any major organization would use to move itself forward and to challenge some very difficult issues.”

DPS board President Mary Seawell said the district will take the A+ recommendations seriously.

Seawell: “We still have work to do”

“In the coming weeks and months, the eight of us (Boasberg and the board) will be working to make sure the Denver Plan is best informing the decisions and direction of all of our work in creating and supporting high quality schools for every student in Denver,” Seawell said in a written statement. “As a governing team we still have work to do in coming together around a shared vision if those discussions are to be as meaningful and productive as possible.”

Board member Jeannie Kaplan, often a voice of dissent in DPS affairs, discussed the A+ Denver letter prior to Thursday’s board session.

“I think my overarching sense is of sadness, because it doesn’t give me any pleasure to have what I have suspected and talked about for many years confirmed,” Kaplan said.

“But, on the other hand I think that also it gives some of us some vindication that it’s an outside group looking at basically the same data and looking with an eye to truth and honesty…I think that people who are really being open and honest about what’s happening are concerned that we really haven’t made strides in the last six years.”

Kaplan said she hoped the DPS administration would not be “defensive” in its response, adding, “I would hope that the people in the superintendent’s office, and on down, would see this as an opportunity to work with all of us, for the betterment of all of our kids.”

Letter ‘not a call for Boasberg’s head’

Anne Rowe, one of two new board members elected this past November, was a founding co-chair of A+ Denver. Rowe, who now represents southeast Denver, said the letter “addresses some points that, as a board, we absolutely should be looking at.”

Rowe pointed out that the board “talked about some of these exact topics” in its recent board retreat.

“I think the good news is that it will continue a really important and healthy conversation, going forward, and really get us to continue asking the important questions around our goal of high student achievement and increasing student achievement in DPS,” Rowe said.

The 68-page Denver Plan, originally adopted in 2005 and revised in 2009, lays out in its appendix specific measurable goals, such as that the number of DPS students taking Advanced Placement classes each year will grow by 3.5 percent.

Another is that 3.5 percent of third grade students will become proficient on CSAP in reading each year for the next five years, with a five-year target of overall district proficiency rate of 68.4 percent in 2013.

In 2011, the district’s third-graders saw a 5 percent jump in reading from the previous year – but that still left DPS third-graders at just 56 percent proficiency.

Board members had received copies of the A+ Denver letter on Wednesday, and it wasn’t long before Chief Executive Officer Van Schoales started hearing that some critics of the DPS administration were interpreting it as “a call for Tom Boasberg’s head.” Schoales flatly denied that was the case.

“It’s unfortunate that some in the community are politicizing this, when we are asking for a revision of the Denver Plan for all the reasons that we stated in the letter, and we’re completely open and transparent about that.”

Innovation status for C3 passes 4-3

The DPS board late Thursday night also signed off on an innovation proposal from the new Creativity Challenge Community or C3 elementary school.  The vote in support of the innovation application was 4-3, with board members Kaplan, Andrea Merida and Arturo Jimenez in the dissent.

If subsequently approved by the State Board of Education, this will give DPS 20 innovation schools. No other district in the state has approved more than two since the 2008 passage of the Innovation Schools Act.

C3 is designed as a K-5 program with an emphasis on hands-on learning, open to anyone in the district, with a preference for students in the Cory, Ellis, Steele, Bromwell and Steck neighborhoods. It is located on the Merrill Middle School campus.

Like most other innovation schools in the district, C3 is proposing a longer school day. It will also feature the scheduling of Friday trips for students, facilitating  opportunities for students to benefit from experiential learning on-site with community partners such as the Denver Art Museum.

Placing C3 at Merrill was not a popular step with some in the DPS community, with hundreds of people speaking passionately on both sides of the proposal in public meetings throughout last year. The decision to locate C3 at Merrill was approved by the board in November on a 4-3 vote.

The district is currently being sued by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association for having passed innovation proposals last year for new schools that did not yet have staffs in place. The Innovation Schools Act requires that at least 60 percent of a faculty vote to waive personnel rules established under the collective bargaining agreement.

“I will not vote in favor of any innovation proposal that skirts the law in the form of the Innovation Schools Act, and does not comply with the requirements,” said board member Merida. “I’m just not going to support breaking the law.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”