Denver Education Compact kicks off

About 20 business and community leaders chosen to head up Mayor Michael Hancock’s Denver Education Compact gathered for the first time Thursday at the City & County Building to hear first-hand about the challenge they’re taking on.

Denver Education Compact co-chairs Tom Boasberg, left, Donna Lynne and Michael Hancock listen at Thursday's meeting.

“For too long, far too many of Denver’s children have grown up without a full opportunity to succeed,” Hancock told the compact’s newly-minted executive committee.

“Today, we unite key leaders from all sectors of our community to develop common goals and a common vision: to deliver a world-class city that supports every child from cradle to career.”

The mayor added, “I know this compact will be a difference maker in serving this city.”

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg, a co-chair of the compact along with Hancock and Kaiser Permanente Colorado President Donna Lynne, applauded Hancock’s initiative as a “game-changer” for education in Colorado.

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The compact, Boasberg said, has the potential “to take many individual points of light and to bring them together and have them, together, shine a lot brighter and shine a lot longer.”

Hancock made promoting the advancement of education, from preschool to launching careers, a primary theme of his mayoral campaign earlier this year. And he has stayed involved in the subject politically by endorsing a trio of candidates in the ongoing DPS school board races that he believes will advance the reforms the district began five years ago.

The Denver Education Compact aims to establish a handful of goals and harness the resources and influence of the compact members to accomplish those aims. It will be influenced to a degree by similar initiatives that have already been launched in such cities as Boston, Seattle, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and Portland, Ore.

Hancock’s office has been advised in the compact’s early stages by the Cincinnati-based Strive Network, which has also been behind the launch of such efforts in those cities and others across the country.

Jeff Edmondson, managing director of the Strive Network, was on hand at Thursday’s meeting to talk about the work the Denver compact is undertaking.

“This is not a silver bullet,” he said. “This is not something that is going to result in a dramatic, 90-percent increase in growth over a single year.

“We are trying to organize a community and a community agenda that achieves a substantial impact over time.”

Compact home, some staff still to come

Those serving on the executive committee include Kelly Brough, President and CEO of the Denver Chamber of Commerce; Pat Hamill, Chairman and CEO of Oakwood Homes; Anna Jo Haynes, former president and CEO of Mile High Montessori; Terry Minger, President and CEO of the Piton Foundation, Daniel Ritchie, Chairman and CEO for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts; Tony Salazar, Executive Director, Colorado Education Association; and Jerry Wartgow, Chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver.

Denver Chamber of Chamber CEO Kelly Brough, left, with Hancock before Thursday's meeting, is on the compact's executive committee.

Nineteen of the compact’s 24-member executive committee were present Thursday.

The executive director of the compact, named by Hancock on Aug. 25, is DPS at-large board member Theresa Peña, who is term-limited. She will start her job Dec. 1, after her school board term expires.

Peña did not participate in Thursday’s session, but she was among a few dozen people in attendance.

At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, Peña said one of her first tasks would be to fill out her staff. She’s not talking about a large one.

“What Strive recommends is that it’s a very bare-bones kind of infrastructure,” said Peña. “It’s an executive director, a data analyst and a facilitator.”

Edmondson, at the conclusion of his presentation, said Denver should be able to move forward with an annual staff budget of about $400,000.

The compact’s office will also need a home.

“They have found the best place is sort of a neutral, third-party organization,” said Peña. “It could be a higher ed institution, it could be a non-profit, it could be a foundation. And so that’s going to be something that, shortly after I start, we’re going to have to figure out.

“What they’re really big on is not spending more dollars and not creating new things but really, how do you leverage existing institutions, organizations, initiatives.”

Next on the compact’s agenda is a goal-setting meeting Nov. 28, with its next full meeting set for Dec. 12.

Goals to be set in coming months

The compact’s goals will be dependent on the meetings in the months ahead. Peña said one that is important to her is developing high-quality preschool and kindergarten readiness in the city.

Compacts in other cities
  • Visit the Strive Network website, which is helping launch the Denver compact
  • Strive also has helped create compacts in Boston, Seattle, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and Portland, Ore.

Boasberg told the compact’s executive committee Thursday about numerous district successes since its 2005 adoption of its strategic reform initiative, the Denver Plan, but he has admitted gaping achievement gaps between students of different ethnicities and income levels are unacceptable.

“If we could give DPS a fighting chance by closing half that achievement gap before they even got kids to kinder, I think that would be something I would be very interested in,” said Peña.

She also cited post-secondary readiness – whether a student’s next step is university or the job market – as another key area she sees as deserving of the compact’s focus.

There are no elected officials on the compact’s executive committee, other than Hancock. Peña said that’s not by accident.

“The co-chairs made a decision that at least to start off the compact, that it was just really important that this was not an advocacy group,” she said. “There’s a time and a place for the role of advocacy teams in Denver and certainly there’s a lot of them, but the mayor and the co-chairs really felt that there was a need to get work done and to take politics out of it.”

The committee that came together Thursday is likely just the seed for a much larger team that will eventually contribute to Hancock’s vision.

“At full capacity, there will be over 400 organizations and people involved in this, and I’m sure there will be a role at this point for other electeds to be participating in this,” said Peña.

Edmondson, who’s watched similar efforts take root in other cities across the country, said he was impressed to see how far Hancock’s planned compact has come in the first 100 days of his tenure, under the direction of interim director Janet Lopez.

“Sitting next to these people,” he said, gesturing toward the co-chairs, “and sitting at this table with all of you, you are already way ahead in this process.”

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.”