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Alternative proposals, impassioned pleas

A second meeting in as many weeks in a crowded school cafeteria in Far Northeast Denver produced two alternate proposals to a district plan to improve its struggling schools there.

But there was no consensus on any one plan from the 40-member community committee that’s been meeting since April to advise Denver Public Schools on how to reform Montbello High School and five feeder schools.

Instead, as the meeting stretched past its allotted 8:30 p.m. end time, members agreed to complete an emailed survey that will weight their priorities for implementing whatever proposal is approved by Denver school board members next month.

It’s still unclear how far the committee will go in supporting – or not – a district proposal that has prompted protests from some activists throughout the city.

A draft committee statement to the board includes the phrasing that the DPS “comprehensive regional proposal for school improvement will achieve its goal of providing high quality outcomes …”

At least two committee members, Kat Parker and Thad Jacobs, said they don’t expect to weigh in specifically on the district plan. They said their statement will focus on areas such as the implementation requirements needed for any successful reform effort.

Examples of such requirements discussed Tuesday include urging DPS to commit to tasks such as producing a detailed reform timeline by Jan. 31 that includes identified staff and a series of workshops to provide job help for displaced teachers.

Laurie Zeller, the executive director of A+ Denver, the district advisory group that’s facilitating the community process, said committee members will weigh in on the draft statement and “say whether it’s gone too far.”

The survey and its resulting statement are expected to be completed by the board’s Nov. 4 meeting. Public comment hearings are scheduled Nov. 8 and Nov. 18, the night the board is expected to vote.

Alternate proposals aired

A couple hundred parents, teachers and community members filled the cafeteria at Rachel B. Noel Middle School on Tuesday night for a second all-community meeting on changes proposed at six schools in Montbello and Green Valley Ranch.

The district’s plan – which drew heated opposition at an Oct. 12 meeting – calls for replacing some of Denver’s lowest-performing schools with other district-run and charter programs that have been more successful in other parts of the city.

DPS officials tout the proposal as a way of offering more, and better, options for an area that more than 1,000 students opt to leave daily for public schools elsewhere.

Some of the replacement programs, however, have little track record in DPS, including the Denver Center for International Studies as an elementary school and a second SOAR charter campus.

In addition, hundreds of teachers would have to re-apply for their jobs or face losing them altogether as two charters move into what are now traditional neighborhood – and unionized – schools.

Both alternate proposals presented Tuesday call for greater input from teachers, which some argue has been lacking.

One plan, put together with the help of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, wants teachers and community members at each of the six affected schools to be allowed to come up with their own reform proposals. The plan passed out at Noel is here and a longer, easier-to-read version is here.

A second proposal came from Elet Valentine, a Montbello High School parent active in education issues. She said it represents what she’s been hearing in the community.

“We’re just parents and community members that came together,” she said.

Components include adding an hour of instructional time to every school day, requiring parent input on teacher selection and mandating Montbello High remain a single school – rather than converting to three smaller schools on one campus.

Read her proposal here and see highlights by clicking in the video below:

‘The process wasn’t perfect’

Tuesday’s meeting did not feature the organized protest that occurred at the Oct. 12 meeting at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, where some chanted “Say No!” to the DPS plan and criticized a lack of transparency about the committee’s work.

“The process wasn’t perfect, I’ll be the first to say that,” said Jacobs, the committee member and father of a fourth-grader at DPS’ Florida Pitt Waller School in Far Northeast Denver.

“I think there were issues in communicating what the makeup of the committee was and that the meetings were open. The meetings were open from April and we did have community members at every meeting and they did participate.”

Parker, another committee member and a teacher at Oakland Elementary, which would be replaced by a charter school next year under the DPS proposal, said the changes would hit more quickly than she had anticipated.

“We really need to have grassroots buy-in for these things to work and not just the middle-class folks, all of the families that are affected by these changes,” she said. “I know, as a teacher at one of these affected schools, plenty of our parents were not aware of what was going on – and some of them still are not aware.”

Neither Jacobs nor Parker would offer an opinion on the DPS proposal, saying they wanted to see it in its final form before doing so. The district has yet to formally present it to board members.

One of the more passionate speakers at Tuesday’s meeting was Michael Hancock, who has served as the area’s elected Denver City Council member since 2003. His son, 15, rides the bus from Montbello to East High School near downtown for school.

Hancock said he recently asked his son, in a conference with a teacher, why he wasn’t turning in his homework on time, every time.

“He looked at me and he said, ‘Daddy, I’m tired when I come home from that hour and 15-minute bus ride,’” the father said.

“Folks, I’m telling you today as a city council representative, as your neighbor, I don’t care if you ever vote for me again, stand in the gap for every child in this neighborhood so they never, ever have to make that decision again.”

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