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Report urges slowing of charter push

A council that advises Denver Public Schools on charter school applications is recommending the process for reviewing them be slowed down pending a broad-based discussion on the district’s future.

The district’s School Improvement and Accountability Council presented its non-binding recommendations to the DPS Board of Education at a special session Monday night. (Read report.)

Despite calling for a reconsideration of the district’s process, the council supported five of the seven charter applications for schools proposed to open in August 2012.

The committee strongly criticized the request for proposals process launched in the spring of 2008, stating, “It would be extraordinarily unwise to continue year after year to add school after school to Denver neighborhoods without full public understanding and support of the ultimate vision that the district seeks to realize.

“Indeed, the RFP process is already beginning to appear like that of a sorcerer’s apprentice that continues to blindly place new schools upon astonished neighborhoods.”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg issued a statement defending the process, saying, “There is a thorough and extensive community outreach every year on the process for strengthening our existing schools and creating new high-quality schools.

Tom Boasberg / File photo

Tom Boasberg

“This year, that included nearly 50 community meetings attended by about 2,500 people. The new schools that opened in the fall of 2010 now enroll more than 1,300 students. Families in neighborhoods all across the city clearly have responded with considerable enthusiasm for the new schools that were created to better serve their children.”

Board member Jeannie Kaplan, who has been critical of some district initiatives, said the committee’s report reflects what she’s been trying to argue for some time.

In its presentation to the board, the council agreed that many charter school applications are based on “rigorous educational models that are research-based and proven to be effective,” with a high likelihood of success.

But its report also states that DPS “needs to make a concerted effort to support, fund and improve traditional DPS schools,” adding that “many neighborhood schools are suffering from reduced enrollment and reduced course offerings with the increase of charter, innovation and contract schools.”

The district’s administration and the board “both should make a dedicated effort to support, fund and improve the programs in neighborhood schools to obtain the trust and support of all Denver communities,” said the report.

It concludes by “strongly” recommending that the entire RFP process for charter schools be suspended until administrators and the board “engage in a full, open and genuine discussion of the future of DPS.”

Among the issues such a discussion should include, the SIAC report mentions:

  • The ultimate goal of district redesign in 10 years.
  • The expected percentages of traditional, charter, performance and innovation schools.
  • Support of and resources for neighborhood schools.
  • Maintenance of common curriculum elements so students are not disadvantaged when they move.
  • Consideration of transportation policies that will ensure equitable access.

Kaplan was not at Monday night’s special session, but in an interview prior to the meeting said, “For five years that I’ve been on the board, I have fought to try to get a district-wide plan, and I have not been able to affect that happening.

“It seems to me that the district is basically throwing up its hands and saying, we can’t fix this, the only way we can do it is by farming it out to outside entities. I don’t believe that. I think a lot of the things they allude to in this report are really critical, and need to be addressed.”

Referring to recent charter and innovation schools, Kaplan said, “There are certain things that all of these have in common – a longer school day, and a longer school year and a lot of them talk about the ability to have smaller class sizes. Why aren’t we doing that?

“I do think we need a district-wide look at all this stuff. I absolutely do.”

Committee cochair Sherry Eastlund said, “We’re not recommending that you suspend the charter school process, because by law you have to do that. The strength that we bring to the process is really letting you know what the community is thinking, at this point.”

Panel member Valentina Flores told the board “We’re just the messengers,” noting the perception by some district critics that with the increasing number of charter, innovation and performance schools, DPS is creating a two-tiered, segregated system.

“There’s a lot of community concern out there that they’re separate and they’re not equal,” said Flores.

Some board members challenged the council’s contention that there is a proven causal relationship between the increase in charter schools and reduced enrollment at traditional schools.

Board member Theresa Pena, who is concluding her second four-year term, contended that during her tenure, “Our concentration has really been on our traditional schools.”


Accountability Council

  • West Denver Prep – Two middle schools (grades 6-8 in the Far Northeast; Approve
  • West Denver Prep SMART High School (grades 9-12) in southwest Denver; Approve
  • KIPP Sunshine Peak Elementary School (grades K-4) in southwest Denver; Approve
  • Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business (all boys, grades 6-12) in Far Northeast; Approve
  • Elements Academy (grades K-5) in Far Northeast; Deny
  • Rocky Mountain Preparatory School (grades ECE-8) in southwest Denver; No recommendation

DPS staff

  • West Denver Prep middle schools: Approve
  • West Denver Prep SMART High School: Approve
  • KIPP Sunshine Peak Elementary School: Approve, with conditions
  • Miller-McCoy Academy: Approve, with conditions, for 2013-14
  • Elements Academy: Deny
  • Rocky Mountain Preparatory School: Approve

Although DPS already has an all-girls’ charter school (Girls Athletic Leadership School), the committee report questioned the legality of the “single-gender nature” of the one all-boys’ charter that is proposed, the New Orleans-based Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business.

An additional concern raised by SIAC on the Miller-McCoy Academy proposal is that its founding board and proposed charter board include no one from Colorado. Its ability to adequately serve a significantly large number of English-language learners also was questioned.

Nevertheless, the council recommended approval for Miller-McCoy Academy.

Charter proposals endorsed by the advisory council without reservation include two West Denver Prep middle schools, the first that West Denver Prep hopes to place in Denver’s Far Northeast. Also recommended for approval is the West Denver Prep SMART high school, to be located in southwest Denver.

Another new school recommended for approval is the KIPP Sunshine Peak Charter Elementary School K-4, which would be the first KIPP elementary school for the district. The group recommended against approving the Elements Academy K-5 School, and declined to make a recommendation for or against the Rocky Mountain Preparatory School.

A proposal for a second all-boys school has been dropped.

DPS staff on Monday night also presented its own analysis, recommending approval of the three new West Denver Prep schools. DPS staff also recommended approval for the KIPP elementary school with conditions, Rocky Mountain Preparatory School with conditions, and recommended conditional approval for the Miller-McCoy Academy for the 2013-14 school year.

DPS staff also recommended denial of the Elements Academy charter. (Read staff recommendations.)

District staff Monday night also recommended approval, with conditions, of two new performance schools. They are West Generation Performance Secondary School (grades 6-12) to be co-located at West High School, and Creativity Challenge Community Elementary School (grades 1-5), at Merrill Middle School.

The public will have a chance to offer opinions on new school proposals at the board’s June 27 meeting. The board will vote on the proposals June 30.

State law requires all districts to have improvement and accountability councils.

Community panels also report

The district’s community engagement committees, charged with making recommendations for long-range planning for schools in their areas, presented updates to the board Monday night. The most concrete proposal made was for the future of West High School.

The West Denver Equitable Education Collaborative proposed two new schools for the West High campus, with West beginning to phase out in the fall of 2012. (See report.)

The schools taking its place, should they be approved by the board June 30, would be West Generations and West College Board, launching in August 2012, starting with sixth, eighth and ninth grades. They would grow by two grades a year to full capacity in the fall of 2015.

The Generation Schools Network is a New York-based non-profit active in both the Northeast and the Rocky Mountain states, with a model that expands student learning time up to 30 percent, without lengthening teachers’ work year.

College Board, which developed the Advanced Placement program, is also a non-profit, with 17 schools in New York state. It emphasizes small, personalized learning environments, an extended school day and use of College Board programs and services in its schools.