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.”

“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

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

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”