Denver to begin Kepner Middle School overhaul Wednesday evening

Students at Kepner Middle School, one of the schools represented by Denver school board member Andrea Merida. . Photo from Kepner's website.

Denver Public Schools will launch an 18-month reboot process at Kepner Middle School on Wednesday evening, when district officials meet with the struggling school’s community.

Citing “significantly below” average academic growth, DPS officials hope to introduce either new programs or perhaps an entirely new school model offered at Kepner by the fall of 2015. No immediate program or personnel changes are planed, Superintendent Tom Boasberg said in a January 30 letter sent home to the school’s parents.

“Principal Stephen Linkous and the entire Kepner staff have worked incredibly hard and care deeply about their students,” Boasberg wrote. “At the district level, we have also provided Kepner with significant additional resources and supports in recognition of our students’ needs. But even with this dedication and these supports, we are not moving quickly enough toward our goal of preparing all students for success in high school and beyond.”

In the letter, the district said they are encouraging Linkous, Kepner teachers, and “other educational leaders” to propose plans for the school.

Kepner has ranked among the district’s lowest middle schools for two years, earning just 22 points out of 100 on its annual performance review in 2013. Thirty percent of Kepner students scored proficient or advanced in every subject on last year’s state standardized test.

Other district middle schools with similar ratings on state reviews, such as Smiley or West Generation, are either being phased out or are a part of other turnaround efforts.

The district has no plans to close Kepner, which serves about 1,000 students in southwest Denver, and the school will continue to enroll students. Nearly 100 percent of Kepner’s student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch. Similarly, 95 percent of the student body is either black or Latino. About 60 percent of students are English language learners.

The district hopes to present its plan for Kepner to Denver’s board of education by June.

“We need the best leaders and best ideas of this district [at Kepner],” said board member Arturo Jimenez. “This school is made up of all the populations we’ve declared as priorities. We need to back up and give them the proper resources.”

The community meeting tonight begins at 5:30 p.m. Another meeting at 8 a.m. is scheduled for Thursday.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.