Decisionmaking

Denver school board approves slate of charter renewals, enrollment changes

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Superintendent Tom Boasberg is recognized by an association focused on healthy schools at meeting of Denver board.

In a series of mostly-unanimous votes, the Denver Public School board renewed its agreements with 15 charter schools and approved changes to school enrollment zones in southwest and southeast Denver.

The board also adjusted the terms of its contracts with one charter school and two contract schools and finalized the placement of the Denver Montessori High School.

The board’s monthly meeting tonight followed a series of community meetings and internal working sessions in which the plans were described, debated, and adjusted.

In southwest Denver, the district held more than 30 meetings with parents and students focused on tailoring and communicating the somewhat contentious enrollment changes there.

And at a public comment session last week, representatives from several schools noted by the district for low academic performance, including Sims-Fayola and Escuela Tlatelolco, spoke on behalf of their schools, while a neighborhood group and representatives of the district’s Montessori secondary school voiced their disagreement over plans for the Smedley Elementary School building.

Check out our board tracker for a run down of how board members voted on each item on tonight’s agenda.

Enrollment changes

The biggest change is in southwest Denver, where local advocacy groups and community members had been pushing for more school improvement efforts. (See below for a letter from the superintendent explaining the changes.)

In response to that pressure, the district has created two new attendance zones in the area. Rather than being zoned to one particular school, students in the area will have their choice of a number of schools in the area—though they are not guaranteed access to any.

The new enrollment zones are part of a broader set of changes in the Southwest, which is home to more than 20,000 students—nearly a quarter of the district’s overall enrollment. Charter schools Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep will open their doors in the Kepner middle school building next year, while the current program is phased out. Two other charter operators, DSST and Strive, and a new district-run program plan to open schools in 2016-17.

In a public comment session before the meeting, Veronica Barela, the president of NEWSED — a community development corporation in West Denver — told board members that she was concerned the plan would negatively affect some students who were currently enrolled in schools at West High School. “I would hope that next time there’s more inclusion of parents and people who will be affected by the changes.”

Board chair Happy Haynes responded that the district would monitor how the changes affected families in the area.

Students at Grant Beacon. The district plans to bring the school's model to Kepner Middle as part of its effort to improve schools in Southwest Denver.
PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Students at Grant Beacon. The district plans to bring the school’s model to Kepner Middle as part of its effort to improve schools in Southwest Denver.

The board unanimously approved the plan. Board members Arturo Jimenez and Rosemary Rodriguez said they supported the plan despite initial reservations.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he was excited about Southwest changes. “I think the community access zones in the southwest will spur quality and help increase enrollment and be of great value to families in the area.” He said similar efforts in the Far Northeast had had a positive effect on enrollment and academics in schools there.

One adjustment was to a resolution that places Denver Montessori High School, a public school, in the Smedley Elementary building while creating a community task force to discuss the space’s use in the future.

In the public comment section, parent Irene Glazer blasted the district for not consulting parents before it made plans to place the school. “You should rename it the community disengagement office,” she said.

Board president Haynes said the district’s effort to find a compromise between the two parties was a “lesson in civic engagement…and how difficult it can be to make decisions that seem easy…We sometimes differ on the details, but I have no doubt everyone here came to the table with what’s best for children in mind.”

The district also approved an enrollment zone change in southeast Denver and the creation of a new “competency-based” program, also in southeast Denver. The district will hold community meetings about the competency-based school next week.

Charters and Contracts

The board also approved a set of actions on the contracts it has with its charter sector and placements for some of its other specialized programs and contract schools.

At a work session of the board last week, the district’s chief schools officer Susana Cordova said staff used information from the district’s School Performance Framework and other qualitative and quantitative information about the schools to determine which contracts to extend for how long.

The board approved a slightly-modified version of that set of recommendations:

  • DSST College View Middle School renewed for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • KIPP Denver Collegiate High School renewed for five years
  • Southwest Early College Charter School renewed for two years
  • STRIVE Smart High School renewed for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • Monarch Montessori renewed for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • Omar D. Blair renewed for five years
  • Sims-Fayola renewed for one year as a middle school, contingent on performance; its high school will be “surrendered’
  • SOAR Green Valley Ranch approved for one year with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • STRIVE Green Valley Ranch approved for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • STRIVE Montbello approved for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Rocky Mountain Prep approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • The Academy of Urban Learning Charter School approved for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • ACE Community Challenge Charter School approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Cesar Chavez Academy approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Colorado High School Charter approved for one year with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Contract with Escuela Tlatelolco renewed for a year contingent on board not seeking further renewals after 2016. (Read Chalkbeat’s story here)
  • Contract with Wyatt Academy adjusted to require board to meet certain conditions.

Board member Arturo Jimenez contributed the only nay votes of the evening. He voted against a two-year extension of a school run by the Strive network of charter schools, saying that the district should take into account the fact that its scores dropped precipitously last year and extend the contract for just a year.

Board president Haynes said that “one year’s dip in performance is not a reason to panic. It is a reason to pay attention.”

Jimenez also opposed a construction project that would refurbish a Strive building, saying it had been hastily arrived at.

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.