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DPS board to revisit reform vote

Denver Public Schools board members will be asked on Thursday to reconsider their vote approving a controversial reform proposal at Lake Middle School in northwest Denver.

Arturo Jimenez, the board member who represents the area, requested the vote be added to the meeting agenda at the end of a nearly four-hour board work session on Monday.

“This would be a motion to undo or reverse that decision,” Jimenez said, citing unanswered questions about the sustainability of the reform proposal, particularly if DPS does not receive federal school turnaround dollars.

The proposal for Lake, the district’s lowest-performing secondary school, was approved by a 4-3 vote at a tumultuous board meeting Nov. 30.

Newly elected board member Andrea Merida was secretly sworn into office hours before that board meeting in order to vote against the Lake plan – an action that forced the tearful departure of board member Michelle Moss, who was expecting to complete the final meeting of her eight-year term.

Jimenez, the board’s vice president, said after Monday’s work session that he does “not necessarily” have the votes to reverse the Nov. 30 decision.

But he said “the most important thing is to consider the questions” that remain unanswered.

Jimenez
Jimenez
Scott Elliott

Under the proposal, Lake’s unsuccessful International Baccalaureate or IB program would be phased out. In its place, DPS would launch a small IB academy for sixth-graders led by a new principal from a more successful IB school nearby.

The new IB academy would share space at Lake with a program run by West Denver Prep Charter, the city’s highest-performing middle school. Both the IB academy and West Denver Prep would grow one grade at a time as the current Lake program gradually is phased out.

Jimenez said he is concerned about the financial sustainability of the smaller IB program as well as the three center programs for special needs students currently located at Lake.

“This is in no way a move to impede or delay,” he said after Monday’s work session. “This is a sincere question about the special needs students – and, sincerely, I want to make sure this IB is going to be set up to succeed.”

Lake was among six low-performing Denver schools targeted with federally defined turnaround strategies in an effort to secure grant dollars to help the district fund the reforms.

“It’s difficult for us to factor in the turnaround funds that we may or may not get,” Jimenez said. “It would be prudent that we would look at that budget without that.”

Jimenez said he also believes it’s important that the public know how newly elected board members feel about the Lake plan, which drew the most heat of any of the proposals.

While Merida was sworn in early, the other two board members – Nate Easley and Mary Seawell – waited until after the Nov. 30 meeting, as scheduled, to take their oaths of office.

If either votes to reverse the Lake plan, Jimenez’ motion likely would be successful.

Delay sought for West Denver Prep decision

Jimenez said at the Nov. 30 meeting that he expected to ask the new board to reverse the Lake vote but his request on Monday seemed to surprise other board members. It is unusual for the DPS board to consider reversing a vote.

Merida clearly agreed with Jimenez’ motion, saying she also had unanswered questions about special needs students. DPS leaders say the three center programs would remain at Lake but have provided less detail about which school – the new Lake or West Denver Prep – would be responsible for them.

And board member Theresa Peña asked several questions to pinpoint the exact nature of Jimenez’ request. Other board members said little.

“Ok, my request would be that if you have any specific questions to get them to the superintendent as soon as possible,” said Easley, the board’s president.

In a related move, Easley said he would place a motion on Thursday’s agenda to extend the 30-day period the board gave itself on Nov. 30 to decide the location of a second West Denver Prep campus slated for northwest Denver.

“My understanding is the board is not going to be ready to make that decision” this week, he said, so the board vote on the campus would be delayed until January.

Jimenez said he will offer an amendment to the resolution specifying the second West Denver Prep campus not be located north of Sixth Avenue or west of I-25.

He and other community members have expressed concern that the charter school will draw students away from other, already under-enrolled middle school programs in the area such as Skinner, which they are hoping to revitalize.

“This is not an expression of disdain or disfavor for West Denver Prep in any way,” Jimenez said.

State urges approval of Race to the Top application

Also Monday, Colorado Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien asked board members to sign off on the state’s Race to the State application, saying their failure to agree could hurt Colorado’s chances of winning a piece of the $4.35 billion federal grant.

“When it comes to Denver, because so many of our low-performing schools are in DPS, that to not have your support I think would really hurt us,” O’Brien said when asked for clarification by Merida.

One of the grant’s four priority areas is turning around chronically low-performing schools.

O’Brien is meeting with school boards across the state to gather signatures before the Jan. 19 deadline application. Board members in Jefferson County, the state’s largest school district, voted Thursday to support the state’s plan.

State officials estimate Denver’s share of the competitive federal grant could range from $20 million to $40 million over the four-year grant period, depending on the overall size of any state award and how many districts agree to participate.

DPS board members expect to vote on a resolution in support – or not – in January. No board members expressed disapproval but Jimenez said he wants community members to have the chance to weigh in.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@pebc.org or 303-478-4573.

Click here to read Ed News’ coverage of the Nov. 30 DPS meeting “Board approves DPS reforms amid drama, tears.”

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