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DPS hears 11 new school proposals

Proposals for what would be Denver Public Schools’ first all-boys schools were among the 11 presentations made Wednesday night to school board members under the district’s “call for quality schools” process.

Both of the all-boys schools are proposed for Denver’s Far Northeast; DPS already has an all-girls school, the Girls Athletic Leadership School or GALS, a charter school which opened in the fall of 2010.

Additionally, the presentations included three new schools to be run by the West Denver Prep charter system – two new middle schools and its first high school – potentially bringing West Denver Prep’s presence in DPS to seven schools.

DPS board members also are being asked to approve the district’s first Knowledge Is Power Program or KIPP elementary school, to be located in southwest Denver. The district already has both a KIPP middle school and a KIPP high school in that area.

Board members will not be taking a final vote on the proposals until its June 30 meeting. Those approved are expected to open in fall 2012.

Of the 11 schools discussed Wednesday night, eight are proposed as charter schools and the remaining three are performance schools. Charter schools are part of the DPS system but not operated by the district; a performance school is a district-run school.

West Denver Prep expansion

In the first year of West Denver Prep’s presence in the Far Northeast – should it be approved – West Denver Prep CEO Chris Gibbons said both schools would start with a sixth-grade class, expanding gradually to grades 6-8.

New school applicants

  • Far NortheastElements Academy Charter, grades K-5
  • Miller-McCoy Academy Charter, grades 6-12
  • Sims-Fayola International Academy Charter, grades 6-12
  • West Denver Prep Charter campuses 5 and 6, grades 6-8
  • SoutheastCreativity Challenge Community Performance School, grades 1-5
  • SouthwestRocky Mountain Prep Charter, grades ECE-8
  • KIPP Sunshine Peak Charter, grades K-4
  • West Denver Prep SMART Charter, grades 9-12
  • WestSchool of Life Performance Middle School, grades 5-8
  • Generation Performance Secondary School, grades 6-12

West Denver Prep has four existing campuses – Federal and Harvey Park in the city’s southwest, Lake and Highlands in the northwest.

Gibbons is enthusiastic about the planned move to the Montbello area.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” he said prior to the board meeting. “We’ve been recruited to that area over a period of several years, by different groups, including the Foundation for Educational Excellence. Senator Mike Johnston has also been encouraging us to apply for schools in that community.

“There is an enormous need and enormous demand for high-quality choices there.”

The application for West Denver Prep SMART Charter High School describes it as a college preparatory model, “challenging and relevant liberal arts governed by high standards, structure and accountability.” Gibbons sees the proposal as an important step in his schools’ evolution.

“The demand for a high school among our current families is significant,” he said.

“Ninety-six percent of our current seventh-graders have signed letters of intent to enroll. We believe it’s a really big step in our evolution as a network. If we’re going to make good on this promise of every child of every background having a shot at college, having this in place is an important part of that.”

Board members indicated a high level of support through their comments during the West Denver Prep presentation. Board president Nate Easley reminded Gibbons of their conversation the first time the two met.

“I asked you, when were you going to bring West Denver Prep to the Far Northeast?” said Easley, who represents the area. “I’m glad to have an opportunity to have your model in the northeast, because I know it’s needed.”

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg heaped more praise, saying, “West Denver Prep’s two middle schools last year had the highest growth rate not only of any middle school in Denver, but of any secondary schools in the state of Colorado.”

His reference was to the first two West Denver Prep campuses at Federal and Harvey Park.

“I tremendously respect and appreciate the work West Denver Prep has done so far,” Boasberg added.

Two proposed all-boys schools

The two proposed schools for boys are the Sims-Fayola International Academy Charter Secondary School and the Miller-McCoy Academy Charter Secondary School, both serving grades 6-12. The two schools are both targeted for DPS’ Far Northeast, and they share a link.

Sims-Fayola is proposed as a college preparatory/international studies program for boys in grades 6-12, emphasizing project-based learning. Should it be approved, its principal would be Dedrick Sims, who until March was the principal of the original Miller-McCoy Academy in New Orleans.

“I no longer have any connection to Miller-McCoy,” Sims said in an interview following his presentation to the DPS board. “We’re competing now” for acceptance into the DPS system. “So, it’s kind of an interesting situation.”

Sims expressed optimism, saying, “We’re getting a lot of community support, so I’m feeling pretty good.”

During the Miller-McCoy presentation, school co-founder Keith Sanders called attention to one slide, which showed a band at the existing Miller-McCoy Academy in New Orleans.

“As you see, we have a band; you can’t really be a school in New Orleans and not have a band,” Sanders said.

But board members expressed concern about how well Miller-McCoy, with roots in the almost exclusively African-American urban environment of New Orleans, might successfully replicate its program in Denver’s Far Northeast, where the population is 63 percent Latino and 35 percent of students are identified as English language learners.

Referring to Miller-McCoy’s board of directors, board member Theresa Peña said “I don’t see any Latino leaders. When I look at your board, I don’t see a representative mix … I have some anxiety, based on your current proposal.”

Sanders assured the board he understood the importance of outreach to all components of the Far Northeast community.

“I do agree that this board needs to be reflective of the community that it will serve,” Sanders said, adding that former Denver Mayor “Wellington Webb has given me a list of people to reach out to, and we’re in the process of doing that right now.”

Following his presentation to the board, Sanders said, “I’m crossing my fingers for Denver.”

Proposals from outside Colorado

The DPS system is clearly seen as inviting territory for new schools, with four of the proposals Wednesday night coming from programs with roots outside Colorado.

“I think nationally we are seen very much in the forefront of an equitable, rigorous and open process for aspiring new school leaders, both district-run and charter,” Boasberg said during a dinner break.

“And we think it’s important to develop our very strong local talent, and to attract strong and proven educational leaders” from outside the state.

In the midst of the KIPP Sunshine Peak Elementary School presentation, board member Jeannie Kaplan noted that its proposal – like several before it – includes longer school days, longer school years or both.

Returning to a theme she has voiced frequently in recent meetings, Kaplan said that if this trend is desirable for charter, performance and innovation schools that come before the board, it might be time to examine that approach for the rest of the district.

“That’s my challenge to my colleagues,” she said. “We have about 60,000 other kids that we need to treat the same way.”

Board member Andrea Merida was not in attendance and board member Bruce Hoyt did not return following the dinner break.

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