Colorado

DPS, Gates announce compacts [Updated]

Denver parent J.R. Lapierre, who hopes his two young sons will attend DSST charter, spoke at Tuesday's press conference on the DPS-Charter compact. To the right is Vicki Phillips with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Denver parent J.R. Lapierre, who hopes his two young sons will attend DSST charter, spoke at Tuesday's press conference on the DPS-Charter compact. To the right is Vicki Phillips with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Go straight to video of Tuesday’s press conference.

Officials from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday announced district-charter partnerships in nine key city school districts, including New York, Los Angeles and Denver.

The partnerships differ by district but in Denver, elements of a compact signed by all charter school leaders include locating schools in the city’s highest-needs areas and providing quality programs for all students, including English language learners and those with special needs.

The charters also agree to open their doors to students moving in the middle of the school year. This fall, 11 percent of DPS students – or 8,705 of 79,423 pupils – are enrolled in charter schools.

Learn more

  • Read the Denver compact and see who signed it
  • Search the EdNews’ database to see how Denver schools compare in serving different groups, including English language learners and students with special needs.
  • Cities participating in charter compacts are Denver, New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Nashville, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Hartford CT and Rochester NY
  • How do Denver charters stack up academically? See this EdNews’ story.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had in Colorado or elsewhere this strong and explicit set of commitments from charter schools,” DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, who also signed the agreement, said Monday.

Some elements of the agreement already are in place. For example, a center program for students with severe needs opened this year at the Omar D. Blair charter in Far Northeast Denver. A second charter, SOAR, will take over similar programs when it opens at Oakland Elementary next fall.

But other details need to be worked out. How do charters admitting students by random lottery cope with mid-year transfers – should they disregard names on a waiting list for children new to the neighborhood?

The compact creates three working groups to look at those kinds of questions in the areas of enrollment, students with special needs and resources. Implementation is set for November 2012.

“We believe this is the beginning of a movement across the country,” Vicki Phillips, director of education for the Gates’ College-Ready program, said during Tuesday morning’s national press call.

Phillips estimated 20 to 50 districts will sign similar compacts. Gates’ role is providing “seed money” – districts can apply for $100,000 grants to implement the commitments spelled out in the compacts – and a forum for exchanging best practices, she said.

Elements of other city compacts include, in Nashville, allowing district teachers to take three-year leaves of absence to teach in charter schools. Several compacts call for sharing student data and teacher training. Altogether, 2.1 million students are enrolled in the nine districts.

Gates Foundation in Denver

Leaders from the eight other districts were in Denver for a Gates-sponsored conference that was largely closed to the public. Denver school board members had opportunities – a Monday cocktail hour, a Tuesday breakfast session – to ask questions.

Much of the rest of the two-day event involved districts making presentations about their partnerships and sharing information.

Henry Roman, president of the Denver teachers’ union, said he had received little information about the compact before its release.

“The big ideas that they should be accountable for all students, that seems to make sense,” he said. “It would have been better for the district to share that information with us.”

Boasberg said Denver was selected as the conference site after Gates convened more than a dozen school districts this past February to talk about charter issues.

“I think they really saw Denver as a national leader in terms of a very coherent and strong policy framework that was very well balanced,” he said.

He cited examples such as allowing charters to locate in district buildings – based on existing and approved programs, nearly 50 percent of charters will be located in district facilities by August 2011 – and requiring some charters to accept all students living within assigned attendance boundaries.

That means three Denver charters co-located on traditional campuses function much like neighborhood schools in terms of enrollment policy: Take neighborhood kids first, and others only if seats are available.

Two of those charters are the West Denver Prep campuses in northwest Denver, at Lake Middle School and at Highland or the former Emerson Street school.  Chris Gibbons, the schools’ founder, said demographics at those schools closely resemble those at his two other campuses, which serve largely minority and poor families.

One exception, he said, is a slightly higher rate of students with special needs, 14 percent, at Highland than at other West Denver Prep campuses, which average 10 percent.

But Gibbons said he is hesitant to link the higher special needs rate with the attendance boundary because most kids choice in to Highland from other neighborhoods.

Charter vs. district demographics

The DPS-charter compact does not require charter schools to have assigned attendance boundaries, though Boasberg favors them for charters in district buildings.

“Clearly, part of this dialogue is going to be, should a greater number of charter schools be part of attendance areas?” he said. “I believe strongly … if charter schools are going to be in a district facility, there be some preference to kids who live in the neighborhood.”

Quotable
“Part of this dialogue is going to be, should a greater number of charter schools be part of attendance areas?”
Superintendent Tom Boasberg

The compact does say charters will “support the comparable representation of all student populations in charter schools.”

Data from 2010-11 shows charters, on average, already are similar to district averages for most student groups – though the numbers vary widely on individual campuses for charter and district-run schools.

Here are the numbers for selected student groups:

  • Poverty – 73 percent of students in all DPS schools were eligible for federal meal assistance compared to 74 percent in DPS charter schools.
  • Minority – 81 percent of students in all DPS schools are minority compared to 81 percent in DPS charter schools.
  • English language learners – 26 percent of students in all DPS schools were classified as learning English compared to 27 percent in DPS charter schools.
  • Special needs – 11 percent of students in all DPS schools were classified as receiving special education services compared to 11 percent in DPS charter schools.

Those figures, however, do mask some discrepancies. While the special education rate is similar in charter and district-run schools, for example, the nature of the ability being served is not.

In October, the Denver Post reported just two students with severe cognitive or physical disabilities were enrolled in the city’s charter schools. Most special education students in charters have mild to moderate needs.

Resources and accountability

The district’s part of the compact includes providing greater resources for charters willing to take on the most costly burden of students with greater needs.

So at Omar D. Blair, the charter with a center program, DPS is providing another $100,000 – or the same additional funding a district-run school with a center program would receive.

Raising concern

  • A Denver school board member has questions about the compact. Read about it in this EdNews’ blog post.

“We’ve been clear with our special education leaders in charter schools that we will locate center programs where there is the greatest need to serve kids, irrespective of whether the school is a district-run school or a charter school,” Boasberg said.

“I think the charter schools have raised the concern that they get the support necessary to serve those severe needs kids and that’s absolutely fair and we need to provide that support.”

The compact also talks about “ensuring equitable resources” for charters, including federal grants and bond dollars.

Boasberg said he’s comfortable talking about equity of resources because charters share equity of accountability – they’re rated on the same DPS school performance framework and district leaders have been willing to shut down low performers.

In the past three years, five DPS charters have been restructured or closed. That includes Challenges, Choices and Images, later renamed Amandla, which struggled financially, and others, such as Skyland and DATA, shuttered for academic reasons.

“I don’t believe in choice for choice’s sake or innovation for innovation’s sake,” Boasberg said. “I strongly believe in choice, I strongly believe in innovation – but to what end? The very clear end that you have high quality schools for all kids.

“Part of what we’ve done by having more stringent application procedures, being willing to close low-performing charters, is have a stronger charter sector and have the kinds of framework in place that allows those charters to serve all kids.”

Video from Tuesday’s press conference

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede