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More DPS schools seek innovation status

Denver Public Schools board members heard proposals Thursday night from six more schools seeking innovation status. If approved, they’ll bring to 19 the number of district schools with that classification.

DPS board members will vote on the new applications at their June 30 meeting; those that are approved then go to the State Board of Education for a final vote.

Three of the new applicants, McGlone and Green Valley Ranch elementaries and Vista Academy, are in the district’s Far Northeast. And two applicants – Godsman Elementary and Summit Academy – would be the first innovation schools approved in the district’s Southwest.

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Vista and Summit academies are both multiple pathway centers – geared toward students who have not succeeded in more traditional settings. Vista is to be located on the Evie Dennis Campus in the district’s Far Northeast, while Summit, which opened last year, is situated on the campus of the former Teikyo Loretto Heights University campus.

The last applicant, Swigert-McAuliffe International School, was housed at Westerly Creek in Stapleton this past year and is moving into a new building in that development for fall.

Schools granted innovation status, created by the Innovation Schools Act of 2008, have greater autonomy in how they operate through waivers from state laws and union contracts. The act requires that a majority of a school’s staff agree to seek the special designation.

‘Part of a bigger mission’

Suzanne Morey, the new principal at McGlone, said 100 percent of the 30 teachers she has hired are in support of the school seeking innovation status.

“We’re part of a bigger mission,” she said. “It’s a mission that extends to the whole Far Northeast and really turning around that whole neighborhood … Every single student in Denver deserves a high quality education, and the kids at McGlone truly need innovation in order to accelerate their performance together.”

Vista principal Rhonda Juett opened her presentation preaching the gospel of the Vista slogan: SWAGGER, an acronym that she said captures what she and her staff intend to develop in their students: Scholars, World-Class, Actively Engaged, Go-Getters, Global Thinkers, Enterprising and Relentless.

The program Vista contemplates, like many of the innovation proposals the board has seen this year, calls for longer school days – in Vista’s case, 7:35 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

With the challenge of educating students caught in “a vicious cycle of underachievement” and needing to develop the tools to succeed in their post-secondary years, Juett said, “students will have to demonstrate competencies and standards in all subject areas. Ds and Fs are not acceptable.”

Questions about Godsman application

The Godsman Elementary presentation was delivered by assistant principal Michelle Abitia because principal Patricia Hurrieta was out of town. Hurrieta’s unavailability was a problem for some board members, particularly since Abitia will not be at Godsman next year.

Innovation controversy
  • Henry Roman, Denver teachers’ union president, has raised legal concerns about some innovation applications. Read EdNews’ coverage.

“I am concerned that your principal isn’t here,” said board member Mary Seawell. “It’s problematic and it’s unfortunate, so I just wanted to say that.”

It was a problem as well for board member Andrea Merida, whose district is home to Godsman.

“There is a pattern of things being done in a vacuum in that school,” said Merida, who conceded that the academic plan for innovation was to her liking.

Merida also pointed out that the Godsman application contained the name of only one parent in the community.

“The parents don’t seem to have been touched and brought into this decision-making process,” she said.

Merida said that before she can vote to approve the Godsman application, she’ll need “assurances that this principal is going to be an effective leader and an effective liaison with my constituents.”

The Swigert-McAuliffe school, led by veteran DPS Principal Charles Raisch, plans to implement the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program. It will be located in a 950-student facility on ten acres – a middle school will be added in 2012-13 – giving the site of Denver’s previous airport its third DPS school.

Also on Thursday night, the board unanimously, and with little discussion, approved a general operating budget of $651 million.

Denver’s innovation schools

  • Far NortheastCollegiate Prep at Montbello
  • Denver Center for International Studies, Ford
  • Denver Center for International Studies, Montbello
  • High Tech Early College
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Early College
  • Noel Arts School
  • Green Valley Elementary*
  • McGlone Elementary*
  • Vista Academy*
  • Near NortheastCole Academy of Arts & Sciences
  • Denver Center for 21st Century Learning at Wyman
  • Manual High School
  • Whittier Elementary
  • Swigert-McAuliffe International School*
  • NorthwestValdez Elementary
  • SouthwestGodsman Elementary*
  • Summit Academy*
  • SoutheastDenver Green School
  • Montclair Elementary

*Applications submitted but not yet approved by either DPS board or State Board of Education.