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Busy, newsy end to DPS year

Denver Public Schools’ leaders on Wednesday wrapped up the final day of the 2009-10 year by announcing changes in key staff jobs, approving three new schools and passing a $1.2 billion budget.

School board members approved the budget hours before the July 1 deadline set by state law. The 7-0 vote came after board member Mary Seawell proposed a way to publicly air concerns about funding DPS’ pension plan.

“We have a budget!” board President Nate Easley said after the vote was tallied.

The board failed to pass the budget at its June 17 meeting on a 3-3 vote – one board member was absent – because of continuing concerns that DPS is not setting aside enough money now to meet its promises to future retirees.

“Is just kicking this can down the road an adequate solution?” asked board member Jeanne Kaplan.

Other board members and Superintendent Tom Boasberg disagreed, contending the DPS pension is better funded than most public pensions nationwide and that state law determines how much the district must pay into it each year.

“We will fully meet the pension obligations,” said board member Theresa Peña. “It’s not an option where we cannot.”

The debate continued Wednesday until Seawell proposed that those asking questions use the monthly public meetings of the board’s finance and audit committee to address them. The committee’s next meeting is in August.

DPS’ three new schools are slated to open in fall 2011 in northeast Denver. The new schools:

— University Prep School, an elementary charter in near northeast Denver.The school is modeled after other high-performing charters such as West Denver Prep and Excel Academy Charter in east Boston. It will open as a K-1 school and add a grade a year until it is K-5, serving up to 324 students. Learn more here.

— SOAR elementary charter in far northeast Denver. This will be the second campus of SOAR, which is based partly on the Future Leaders Institute in Harlem. The school will start with grades K-2 and add a grade a year until it is K-5. The first SOAR school will open this fall in Green Valley Ranch. Learn more here.

— Denver Center for International Studies, a district-run performance school in far northeast Denver. This is a replication of the popular school now located at the former Baker Middle School near downtown Denver. The second campus would grow to serve 975 students in grades K-12. Learn more here.

DPS received a total of 11 applications for new schools for 2011-12 but Boasberg and his staff recommended only three – those approved Wednesday by the board. 

Among the staff changes announced Wednesday by Boasberg are a new chief academic officer and a new head of the Office of School Reform and Innovation.

Here’s the breakdown, according to an email sent to staff late Wednesday afternoon:

Ana Tilton, DPS chief academic officer since March 2009, is leaving the district to join Global Partnership Schools, a venture created by nationally-known educators Rudy Crew and Manny Rivera.  Susana Cordova, who served under Tilton as the district’s executive director of teaching and learning, will take over as chief academic officer.

Tilton’s departure is not completely unexpected because of questions about how well she meshed with Boasberg’s vision for DPS. In April, audience members at the Denver Latino Commission’s Education Town Hall meeting quizzed Boasberg about a staff reorganization that seemed to take some responsibilities away from Tilton, who is DPS’ highest-ranking Hispanic staffer.

Boasberg and Tilton did not publicly acknowledge any conflict. In his email to staff, Boasberg applauded Tilton’s “brilliance, dedication, passion and enthusiasm.”

Kristin Waters, head of the district’s new schools office since April 2009,  is leaving the position to become an instructional superintendent working with high school principals. Waters led the reforms at Bruce Randolph School, once the state’s lowest-performing middle school, before running the Office of School Reform and Innovation.

Noemi Donoso, chief academic officer for Camino Nuevo charter schools in Los Angeles, will take Waters’ place. The non-profit network operates four charter school campuses in a largely Hispanic area of western LA. Its teachers are unionized, according to the schools’ website.

Joe Sandoval, currently the instructional superintendent supervising high schools, will become principal of Manual High School. Sandoval, a nearly 30-year veteran of DPS, is a surprise choice for some. The recent search for a new leader at Manual resulted in the district vetoing one candidate and a community committee declining last week to recommend another.

Manual Principal Rob Stein, who re-opened the school after it was shut down for poor performance, announced his resignation earlier this year.

“I think it makes a lot of sense,” Stein said of the selection of Sandoval, a former North High School principal. “He knows the school, he’s been a really strong supporter of me and of Manual for the past three years. I think he’s ready to get back into a school.”

Stein will teach a class on school reform at CU-Boulder next month, take a vacation and then – “I don’t know,” he said. He has told Sandoval “that I really want to help in any way I can.”

Vernon Jones, who led the community committee to find Stein’s replacement, said the group supports Sandoval. It’s unclear how quickly the committee may launch another search – Sandoval was expected to announce his retirement next year. 

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