By 2024-25, local charter school organization DSST plans to have 22 schools in Denver enrolling as many as a quarter of the city’s secondary school students.
The network’s plan to add eight new schools to its already-growing set of schools was approved by the Denver Public Schools board at its June meeting on Thursday night. DSST currently has nine schools and had already been approved to open five more.
“We’re thrilled,” said Christine Nelson, DSST’s chief of staff. “We’re excited about what this means for Denver schools.”
The board also approved its 2015-16 operating budget, which includes raises for teachers and principals and funds to hire new teachers, and a series of new school plans at the last meeting of the school year.
Check Chalkbeat’s board tracker to see how the board voted on each of the items at tonight’s meeting.
The new DSST schools approved tonight include a pair of middle schools and a pair of high schools focused on humanities — a new subject for the network — and an additional two high schools and middle schools focused on science and technology.
The expansion would make DSST the largest charter network in Denver and in Colorado — and, at 10,500 students, larger than most of the state’s school districts. Denver Public Schools currently enrolls just under 90,000 students.
DSST’s plans to expand drew well over 100 supporters to a board meeting last week. Many spoke in favor of the board approving new DSST schools.
Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was the sole vote against the expansion.
“It should probably garner national attention that by voting to approve a great number of DSST schools, in additional to 14 we already have, we are turning over a great part of our portfolio to these schools with very little accountability to the public,” Jimenez said.
“Because they use public money and serve public school students doesn’t make them public schools,” he said. “They are private organizations with their own boards.” Jimenez raised concerns about the schools’ financial transparency.
Jimenez also said it is not clear where so many new schools will be placed, given that the district has very few open facilities. He said he believes one DSST school will eventually be placed in the Horace Mann building in northwest Denver that currently houses Trevista, an elementary school that currently serves mainly students from the Quigg Newton housing project.
Board president Happy Haynes and members Landri Taylor and Mike Johnson spoke in favor of approving the new schools.
“The eyes of the nation may well be upon us in this decision,” Haynes said. “And what they’re going to see is this district recognizes that the school that are the top performing schools in our district by far, these schools that, when we talk about the equity issues you discussed earlier tonight, are showing the district the way on achieving one of our extremely important goals around closing the opportunity gap.”
“We disagree about whether these are public or private schools,” Haynes said. “I feel very strong in my sense of accountability and in our ability to hold these schools accountable.”
Other new schools
The district also approved “redesign” plans at four schools in southwest Denver and new charter agreements for Rocky Mountain Prep, Downtown Denver Expeditionary Learning School, and Banneker Jemison STEM Academy. The district temporarily rejected a proposal from a group hoping to open new online learning centers in Denver.
University Prep’s plan to run Pioneer Charter School, first floated earlier this year, was also approved. The board of Pioneer, one of the district’s first charter schools, surrendered the school’s charter earlier this spring formed an unusual agreement with the board of the University Prep.
Several proposals for new schools, including a district-run dual language program, were withdrawn between this winter, when applications were solicited, and May.
The district is still soliciting applications for schools to open in southwest Denver.