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DPS board approves 9 new schools

Denver school board members green-lighted a salvage plan for one of the city’s most troubled high schools Thursday night, while also voting to approve an increasing number of charter and innovation schools.
In all, the board approved nine new schools, including its first all-boys school, the Miller-McCoy Academy, modeled after a school based in New Orleans and slated to open in Denver’s Far Northeast in August 2013.

An as-yet unnamed middle school was approved for the Stapleton neighborhood, to co-locate with the Swigert-McAuliffe International School, an elementary school moving to its new home there in August.

All other new schools that were approved Thursday night are set for August 2012 openings.

“Mark that, 7-0,” exclaimed board member Andrea Merida, after most of the proposals passed unanimously and with little debate.

“I’m giddy about these possibilities,” board president Nate Easley said prior to the meeting. “This is about promoting choice for parents, and making sure they are quality choices. I am thrilled that we have all these different models.”

But Merida, a consistent voice of skepticism in the face of reform measures favored by Superintendent Tom Boasberg, expressed some reservations.

“The trend I see is that we are not giving serious thought to supporting English language learners with this round of new schools,” Merida said before Thursday night’s meeting.

“Now that the district is talking about … making this an all-choice district, this means these schools need to be ready to support anybody who comes to them,” she added. “Otherwise, it’s not truly choice. It’s incumbent upon the board to make sure we’re providing opportunity to every single one of our kids.”

Merida was referring to EdNews’ recent report that DPS is planning to ask families throughout the district – but particularly those whose children are entering the transition grades of kindergarten, sixth and ninth – to participate in a choice enrollment program as soon as January 2012.

Approval for West High turnaround

One of the most ambitious proposals passed by the board was a turnaround plan for West High School, which is suffering the lowest graduation rates of any traditional high school in the district and the highest college remediation rate – 91 percent in 2009-10 – of any high school in the state.

The plan calls for the traditional West High School to be phased out, with the launch in August 2012 of two 6-12 programs – West Generation and West College Board, both run in partnership with New York-based nonprofit education organizations. The principals, both already hired, and their staffs will be primarily DPS employees while Generation Schools and College Board also expect to have some personnel on-site at West.

West’s current enrollment has dropped to 726 but DPS officials hope the new West schools will entice a combined enrollment of 1,700 by 2015-16.

“It’s going to be a win-win,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents Northwest Denver, including West High.

Jimenez was a prime mover behind a community-based coalition, the West Denver Equitable Education Collaborative, which worked more than a year to produce the proposed West High School cure.

Even with the participation of Generation Schools and College Board, Jimenez said, “It is going to be West High School, and we can’t say that enough. They will maintain the same mascot and colors and really honor that tradition.”

The board also continued its record of granting innovation status to new and existing schools, despite a recent lawsuit filed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association alleging violations of the 2008 Innovation Schools Act.

There was no discussion of the lawsuit as board members unanimously approved innovation status for five more DPS schools. The board split 6-1, with Jeannie Kaplan dissenting, on innovation status approval for the sixth school, Swigert-McAuliffee International School in Stapleton.

The six schools now go before the State Board of Education for final approval of their innovation status. If granted, it brings to 19 the number of innovation schools in Denver.

DPS’ first all-boys school approved

Miller-McCoy, the all-boys school to be located in the Far Northeast, is seen as potentially well-suited to the largely African-American and Latino population it will serve.

“My standard is, would I send my kid there? And based on what I’ve seen … the answer is yes.”
— Nate Easley, DPS boardEasley, who represents Far Northeast Denver, said he was happy the school was coming to his area.

“My standard is, would I send my kid there? And based on what I’ve seen, based on my interactions with the leaders, the answer is yes, I’d feel comfortable sending my boys to that school,” he said.

“All boys are behind nationally. About 60 percent of the kids in college are female. There’s a lot of reasons why boys have issues so having schools that focus specifically on girls, and having schools that focus specifically on boys, and giving parents the opportunity to make a choice is great.”

DPS already has one all-girls school, the Girls Athletic Leadership School, which opened in fall 2010.

The Miller-McCoy application did trigger an amendment from Merida, who expressed concerns about whether it was adequately prepared and committed to dealing with the needs of English language learners in the community. For example, Montbello High School in the Far Northeast has a 65 percent Latino population.

“We built your houses, we cut your lawns. We do a lot of things to help the Far Northeast area of Denver thrive,” said Merida, who then proposed an amendment calling for the school to bring forward a “research and evidence-based plan” to support the needs of English language learners by May 2012.

That amendment was defeated 4-3, with several board members expressing confidence in Miller-McCoy’s commitment to English language learners. The resolution granting the charter ultimately passed 7-0.

“We’re happy for the youngsters of Denver; that’s what this is all about,” said Miller-McCoy co-founder Keith Sanders. “And I’m excited for their parents.”

Sanders would not say where in Far Northeast Denver the academy will locate.

“We’re talking about a couple of places, but I would not want to say right now what they are,” he said. “I don’t think that would be appropriate at this time.”

Ratification of DPS reform agenda?

James Cryan, executive director of Rocky Mountain Prep, a charter school approved to open in 2012, was delighted at the vote – even though he doesn’t know yet where his schools going to be placed.

“We’re thrilled to have the support of the board,” said Cryan. “It reflects the hard work of many volunteers, many supporters and community members and families, who want to see more quality options in their neighborhoods.”

Cryan, who prefers the school be located in Southwest Denver, said he expects it will be assigned a home at the board’s November meeting.“We’re still working on that with the district,” he said. “We’re excited to engage in that process.”

Boasberg was pleased with the evening’s end results, which appeared to be a strong ratification of his administration’s reform agenda.

“It’s no coincidence that Generation schools, they could have chosen anywhere in the country outside of New York to replicate their model, and they have chosen Denver,” he said. “College Board could have chosen anywhere in the country outside of New York to replicate their model. They’ve chosen Denver.

“That’s a tremendous credit to the new schools process. We’re thrilled to be able to welcome the kind of talent that we have at West Generation, that Miller-McCoy is going o bring us, that College Board is going to bring us,” Boasberg added. “And it’s something that having worked very hard in this process the last several years, it’s wonderful to see it bear fruit.”

Only one charter school saw its application denied. That was Elements Academy, a K-5 school targeted for the Far Northeast. DPS staff recommended denial of the application and the DPS board agreed with a 7-0 rejection.

School proposals approved Thursday by Denver school board members

  • Far Northeast Denver – 3 new schools approved, 3 schools approved for innovationMiller-McCoy Academy – An all-boys charter school serving grades 6-12, slated to open in fall 2013 with grades 6, 8 and 9.
  • West Denver Prep – Two more charter middle schools in the local network are scheduled to open in fall 2012, locations to be determined.
  • Green Valley Ranch and McGlone elementaries – Innovation applications approved.
  • Vista Academy – Innovation application approved; board members already had approved the opening of the 6-12 multiple pathways center Aug. 18 at the Evie Dennis campus.
  • Near Northeast, Stapleton – 1 new school*, 1 school approved for innovationStapleton middle school – An as-yet unnamed school serving grades 6-8 to be co-located at same Stapleton campus as Swigert-McAuliffe International School and opening August 2012; name to be selected this fall.
  • Swigert-McAuliffe International School – Innovation application approved for this existing elementary school, which is moving in August to another location in Stapleton.
  • *DPS board members in 2008 approved this third Stapleton facility as a K-8 school and board members on Thursday affirmed the addition of the middle school.

West Denver – 1 new school*

  • West Generation and West College Board – Two new 6-12 schools opening in fall 2012 at West High School; West Generation will open with grades 6, 8 and 9 while West College Board will open with grades 6 and 9. The existing West High School will be phased out beginning in fall 2012.
  • *Board members approved the placement of both new schools at West and a resolution regarding West Generation but they’re still waiting on a separate resolution for West College Board, expected to be presented and approved by October.

Northwest Denver – 1 re-location

  • Academy of Urban Learning – The charter school serving grades 10-12 will be relocated to the Emerson Street facility, at 2417 West 29th Avenue, starting in fall 2012.

Southwest Denver – 2 new schools, 2 new locations, 2 schools approved for innovation

  • KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy Elementary – The Knowledge Is Power Program charter network’s first elementary in Denver will open in fall 2012 with grades K-1, adding one grade per year until it’s a K-4 school. KIPP already operates a middle and high school in the area.
  • West Denver Prep SMART High School – The local charter network’s first high school will open in fall 2012 at the former Lutheran High School campus.
  • West Denver Prep Harvey Park – The charter middle school will be moving out of the Kunsmiller building and into the former Lutheran High School campus.
  • Denver School of Science and Technology – The fourth campus of the local charter network is opening at Colorado Heights University in 2012
  • Godsman Elementary and Summit Academy – Innovation applications approved for the existing elementary and multiple pathways center serving grades 9-12.

Southeast Denver – 1 new school, 1 new location

  • Creativity Challenge Community – A performance school created by Cory Elementary Principal Julia Shepherd and other educators will open in fall 2012 with grades 1 and 2, growing to serve 375 students in grades K-5 at full build-out. A kindergarten class will be located at the Center for Early Education. Shepherd will remain at Cory through 2011-12.
  • Denver School of Science and Technology – The fifth campus of this local charter network is opening at Byers Middle School in 2013.

Southwest or Southeast Denver – 1 new school

  • Rocky Mountain Prep – The preschool-8 charter will open in fall 2012, starting with grades preschool-1 and adding one grade per year. Location to be determined.