About 20 business and community leaders chosen to head up Mayor Michael Hancock’s Denver Education Compact gathered for the first time Thursday at the City & County Building to hear first-hand about the challenge they’re taking on.
“For too long, far too many of Denver’s children have grown up without a full opportunity to succeed,” Hancock told the compact’s newly-minted executive committee.
“Today, we unite key leaders from all sectors of our community to develop common goals and a common vision: to deliver a world-class city that supports every child from cradle to career.”
The mayor added, “I know this compact will be a difference maker in serving this city.”
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg, a co-chair of the compact along with Hancock and Kaiser Permanente Colorado President Donna Lynne, applauded Hancock’s initiative as a “game-changer” for education in Colorado.
The compact, Boasberg said, has the potential “to take many individual points of light and to bring them together and have them, together, shine a lot brighter and shine a lot longer.”
Hancock made promoting the advancement of education, from preschool to launching careers, a primary theme of his mayoral campaign earlier this year. And he has stayed involved in the subject politically by endorsing a trio of candidates in the ongoing DPS school board races that he believes will advance the reforms the district began five years ago.
The Denver Education Compact aims to establish a handful of goals and harness the resources and influence of the compact members to accomplish those aims. It will be influenced to a degree by similar initiatives that have already been launched in such cities as Boston, Seattle, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and Portland, Ore.
Hancock’s office has been advised in the compact’s early stages by the Cincinnati-based Strive Network, which has also been behind the launch of such efforts in those cities and others across the country.
Jeff Edmondson, managing director of the Strive Network, was on hand at Thursday’s meeting to talk about the work the Denver compact is undertaking.
“This is not a silver bullet,” he said. “This is not something that is going to result in a dramatic, 90-percent increase in growth over a single year.
“We are trying to organize a community and a community agenda that achieves a substantial impact over time.”
Compact home, some staff still to come
Those serving on the executive committee include Kelly Brough, President and CEO of the Denver Chamber of Commerce; Pat Hamill, Chairman and CEO of Oakwood Homes; Anna Jo Haynes, former president and CEO of Mile High Montessori; Terry Minger, President and CEO of the Piton Foundation, Daniel Ritchie, Chairman and CEO for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts; Tony Salazar, Executive Director, Colorado Education Association; and Jerry Wartgow, Chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver.
Nineteen of the compact’s 24-member executive committee were present Thursday.
The executive director of the compact, named by Hancock on Aug. 25, is DPS at-large board member Theresa Peña, who is term-limited. She will start her job Dec. 1, after her school board term expires.
Peña did not participate in Thursday’s session, but she was among a few dozen people in attendance.
At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, Peña said one of her first tasks would be to fill out her staff. She’s not talking about a large one.
“What Strive recommends is that it’s a very bare-bones kind of infrastructure,” said Peña. “It’s an executive director, a data analyst and a facilitator.”
Edmondson, at the conclusion of his presentation, said Denver should be able to move forward with an annual staff budget of about $400,000.
The compact’s office will also need a home.
“They have found the best place is sort of a neutral, third-party organization,” said Peña. “It could be a higher ed institution, it could be a non-profit, it could be a foundation. And so that’s going to be something that, shortly after I start, we’re going to have to figure out.
“What they’re really big on is not spending more dollars and not creating new things but really, how do you leverage existing institutions, organizations, initiatives.”
Next on the compact’s agenda is a goal-setting meeting Nov. 28, with its next full meeting set for Dec. 12.
Goals to be set in coming months
The compact’s goals will be dependent on the meetings in the months ahead. Peña said one that is important to her is developing high-quality preschool and kindergarten readiness in the city.
Boasberg told the compact’s executive committee Thursday about numerous district successes since its 2005 adoption of its strategic reform initiative, the Denver Plan, but he has admitted gaping achievement gaps between students of different ethnicities and income levels are unacceptable.
“If we could give DPS a fighting chance by closing half that achievement gap before they even got kids to kinder, I think that would be something I would be very interested in,” said Peña.
She also cited post-secondary readiness – whether a student’s next step is university or the job market – as another key area she sees as deserving of the compact’s focus.
There are no elected officials on the compact’s executive committee, other than Hancock. Peña said that’s not by accident.
“The co-chairs made a decision that at least to start off the compact, that it was just really important that this was not an advocacy group,” she said. “There’s a time and a place for the role of advocacy teams in Denver and certainly there’s a lot of them, but the mayor and the co-chairs really felt that there was a need to get work done and to take politics out of it.”
The committee that came together Thursday is likely just the seed for a much larger team that will eventually contribute to Hancock’s vision.
“At full capacity, there will be over 400 organizations and people involved in this, and I’m sure there will be a role at this point for other electeds to be participating in this,” said Peña.
Edmondson, who’s watched similar efforts take root in other cities across the country, said he was impressed to see how far Hancock’s planned compact has come in the first 100 days of his tenure, under the direction of interim director Janet Lopez.
“Sitting next to these people,” he said, gesturing toward the co-chairs, “and sitting at this table with all of you, you are already way ahead in this process.”