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DPS board approves plans for Kepner, superintendent evaluation at last meeting of 2014

Denver school board members at South High School. The board watched a video highlighting South's students.
Denver school board members at South High School. The board watched a video highlighting South's students.
J. Zubrzycki

At its last meeting of 2014, held at South High School, the Denver school board voted to finalize placement for several new schools and to approve its evaluation of superintendent Tom Boasberg.

The district confirmed its enrollment for the 2014-15 school year and laid out projections for the future. The district enrolls just over 90,000 preK-12 students, 83,938 in K-12.

District officials also presented this year’s “call for quality schools,” in which DPS lays out where it anticipates placing new charter or district schools.

According to the presentation, DPS will likely need additional elementary and middle school seats in Stapleton; elementary schools to replace Pioneer Charter School, in Near Northeast, which recently announced plans to close; a new elementary school and more middle school seats in the northwest section of Near Northeast; and a replacement elementary school in southwest Denver.

Board member Arturo Jimenez contested the goals of the district’s call for quality schools and several otherwise-unanimous votes, including a change to the district’s calendar.

[Check out our board tracker for a rundown of how board members voted on each item on tonight’s agenda.]

Chief academic officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust told the board that the district is increasing opportunities for communities to weigh in about what new schools in their areas should look like.

Board member Jimenez asked how the district was ensuring that its charter schools were actually improving education for students and whether it was sacrificing resources better allotted to district schools. “Are we becoming more of an authorizer for outside entities rather than running our own schools?”

Whitehead-Bust said the district is focusing on improving its existing schools, and has a series of evaluators monitoring charter schools.

District chief schools officer Susana Cordova also rushed up to the mic to respond. She said that the district has specifically reached out to charter schools that have had successes with bilingual education, English learners and school turnaround.

Jimenez was also the sole vote against the board’s evaluation of superintendent Tom Boasberg. The evaluation commends the superintendent for, among other things, improving communications in the district, leadership, and for a number of academic and managerial achievements. It includes concerns about continued turnover in parts of the district and Common Core roll-out.

Jimenez said he is particularly concerned that the district has not yet adopted Common Core-aligned resources.

“We really should be having discussions about conditions of employment when we have such an important piece of district work that has gone unfulfilled at this time,” Jimenez said. “I’m going to take public issue with our evaluation process.”

“There’s a significant work we have to do,” Boasberg said. “This is a struggle all schools and school districts are working on.” He said the district is continuing its search for resources, and that a district task force chose deliberately not to adopt some resources that it deemed to be not worth the investment.

“We’re continuing to supply materials to bridge the gap,” he said.

Board president Haynes said the board would be setting new goals for the superintendent, aligned with Denver Plan.

Placing Schools

The board voted to approve plans to place Rocky Mountain Prep and Compass Academy in the Kepner Middle School building temporarily. Those plans had been put on hold in November so the district could determine how they fit with its obligations to English learners in southwest Denver. The district plans to ultimately place a new district-run school and a school run by charter operator Strive in 2015-16. The current program in the school is being phased out.

Still, Jimenez reiterated a concern that placing Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep in the school, even temporarily, represented the district skirting the requirements of a consent decree that governs how Denver Public Schools educates its English learners.

Board president Happy Haynes clarified that the two charter schools are not intended to fulfill the district’s requirement to offer a native language program for English learners in the Kepner building.

“It is our intent to work with [Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep] to find a permanent home,” said superintendent Boasberg. “It is not our intent that they would replace the district school.”

The board also voted to approve placing a new competency-based high school in the Byers building next year. The competency-based school will share a building with DSST:Byers for two years. In a competency-based school students move through grades based not on seat time but on their ability to demonstrate mastery of academic skills.

Two schools, High Tech Elementary and Denver Discovery Middle, had their innovation plans approved. The board heard lengthy presentations from school leaders, teachers, parents, and students at a work session earlier this week.

Board member Jimenez again raised concerns, saying that he was concerned that the innovation status removed work protections for teachers.

Board members Barbara O’Brien, Landri Taylor, and Mike Johnson all spoke in favor of the innovation schools. Johnson singled out the schools’ focus on finding time in the school day for teachers to work together.

Earlier in the meeting, the district singled out schools that were recognized by the Colorado Department of Education for outstanding results. More Denver schools were singled out by the department than schools from any other district.

Haynes said that the district will co-host a conversation about the issues raised by students in a series of protests against police brutality and discrimination, in conjunction with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, tomorrow, and that the district will host student-led conversations and a conference early in the new year.

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