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Valdez wins innovation status

Denver’s Valdez Elementary School has won innovation designation from the State Board of Education, making it the fifth school in the state to gain such status.

Innovation schools, which can seek waivers from various state laws and regulations, district requirements and union contracts, are allowed under a landmark 2008 state law. An applicant for innovation status must demonstrate support from its school community, including teachers, and have a plan approved by its school board and the state board.

The Denver Public Schools board approved the Valdez application May 20, setting up the SBE decision. Both approvals were unanimous.

Valdez is a ECE-5 school that currently offers a dual-language (English and Spanish) program in preschool through second grade and plans to expand that to all grades by 2013. The school, at 2525 W. 29th Ave., is 95 percent Hispanic, 95 percent free and reduced lunch and has 40-45 percent English-language learners, Principal Peter Sherman told the state board Thursday.

He added that 80 percent of first- and second-graders are performing at grade level in their first language and between 40 and 60 percent are at grade level in their second language.

The Valdez innovation plan includes a wide range of waivers but Sherman said the school is primarily interested in using waivers related to scheduling; hiring; evaluations and incentives; and budgeting. Sherman said new teachers hired at Valdez will be at-will, rather than under the normal probationary/non-probationary system. He said that the school hasn’t decided what to do about teacher evaluation, given the changes set in motion by the state’s new educator effectiveness law.

Budgetary flexibility is something of a sore point for principals of existing innovation schools, who believe DPS central administration isn’t giving schools the full measure of flexibility the innovation law gives them. (See this Education News Colorado story for background.)

Sherman was asked Thursday about that problem. “I know that there probably will be some challenges ahead,” Sherman acknowledged but said, “I’m pretty confident” the disagreement can be worked out.

Carol Mehesy of the DPS innovation office also attended the Thursday board meeting. She said there have been ongoing talks and that while “I don’t believe any final decisions have been made” the district hopes to sort out the issue by next week.

All five current innovation schools are part of DPS. The others are Manual High School, Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment, Cole Arts and Sciences Academy, and the Denver Green School.

Rich Wenning of the Department of Education told the board Tuesday that the agency has just received an innovation application from Colorado Springs District 11 for Wasson High School.

Board member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, was happy that the innovation idea finally is spreading beyond Denver. “I would challenge the rest of the state to step up.”

Valdez application

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