Denver board sets deadline to find charter site

Denver school board members voted 4-3 Thursday to set a 30- to 60-day timeline to see if the district can find a new location in Northwest Denver for STRIVE Prep Lake Middle School, making way for a new STRIVE Prep High School at the Lake campus.

If the board and district fail to find that elusive place, a controversial recommendation by the district to place STRIVE Prep High School at North High School would stand.

Board members locked into by-now predictable stances on charters and neighborhood schools. A round-and-round discussion pushed the meeting past the five-hour mark. Board members Mary Seawell, Happy Haynes, Nate Easley and Anne Rowe voted in favor of the hastily written resolution for the timeline while Arturo Jimenez, Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan voted against it.

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Easley allowed Superintendent Tom Boasberg to both draft and read Easley’s motion that called for the board to focus on the top choice of a citizens committee formed to find a place for the new charter high school other than North. Several North parents and staff said they wanted to make North into a quality comprehensive high school and that those goals would be thwarted if the school had to share space with another program.

That committee, made up of representatives of both North and STRIVE, determined that the best site for STRIVE Prep High School would be the Lake campus.

Since STRIVE Prep Middle School is already at Lake, that school would then have to move into a facility to be located somewhere north of 6th Avenue and south of Lake. Meanwhile, the nascent Lake International School, a turnaround school, would share facilities with STRIVE Prep High School. The committee suggested selling or leasing the vacant Remington Elementary building to raise money for the changes.

Merida, who joined the meeting via speaker phone, questioned the board’s legal authority to both vote on a resolution written by the superintendent and on an issue that wasn’t on the agenda 24 hours in advance. Legal staff said both actions were allowed.

Boasberg said the original staff recommendation to place the school at North is “in abeyance” for 30 or 60 days or until the board resolves its position on the matter.

How to move forward on touchy co-location

The board decided not to delve into the options presented by the committee. Instead, they focused on how to move forward.

“The challenge I am having is there was a lot of really thoughtful work done by this group,” Rowe said. “I think there’s a lot more information we need to make a decision.”

The board is asking staff to provide more information, including financial considerations, about the proposed solution offered up by the committee. Jimenez, meanwhile, said the board needed to solicit feedback from the Lake campus community.

The second option by the committee calls for STRIVE Prep High School to move to Valdez Elementary and Valdez students and staff to move into the vacant Smedley Elementary.

The third and final option called for STRIVE Prep High School and STRIVE Prep Highlands Middle School to move to the building now occupied by Trevista K-8 School. Then Trevista would split up, with elementary grades moving to Smedley and middle school grades given the option of attending STRIVE Prep Highlands at Trevista or Skinner Middle School.

Opposition was quick from representatives of Valdez Elementary and Trevista K-8, which were also presented as top options by the committee.

Valdez fifth-grade teacher Sarah Cohen told the board her school is now known for equality, quality and community.

“Over the past three years, we have seen tremendous growth from our students,” she said. “What we want for all of our students is the best education. What is best for our students and families is to stay where we are.”

Three parents from the Sunnyside neighborhood addressed the board to say they wanted to be involved in transforming the educational landscape in their neighborhood and asked the board to be more responsive to their questions and ideas.

Kellen Kurt, mom of two toddlers, said she was “committed to finding community solutions.”

“We long to see schools that are diverse economically and racially and inclusive to any child that calls Sunnyside home,” she said.

One of Kaplan’s primary issues was that the overall feeder patterns in Northwest Denver be examined to make sure any changes to schools makes sense down the line. Jimenez wanted to see Valdez and Trevista remain on the table and attempted to modify the resolution to that effect, but it was voted down.

“I think we have to talk about all three of those options,” said Jimenez, who represents Northwest Denver. “They were very clear all three of those options are better than the default.”

Kaplan tossed out the idea of finding a new building for Lake IB instead of one for STRIVE Middle School.

“I think a neighborhood school deserves bells and whistles too,” she said.

Merida, meanwhile, said the board should consider postponing the opening of the STRIVE Prep High School for another year.  Seawell declined to even entertain dumping in entirety the board’s prior approval of the school’s charter for fall 2013.

“I’m fine waiting,” Seawell said. “I’m not fine reopening (the issue). I want to find a real solution for that preferred option so we can act on it.”

“This is going to take a little bit of time,” Boasberg said. “It’s important to talk to the communities, particularly the Lake community. We would not be recommending a move of Valdez or Trevista.”

Boasberg said it was important that STRIVE knows where the school will be by the time open enrollment season kicks off just before the holidays.

In other business, a 3-3 vote to approve a contract for a solar garden failed after Merida raised concerns about the rapid request for proposals or RFP process that netted only one vendor who happens to be a former board member of A+ Denver, an independent advocacy group. She said the decision reeked of “cronyism.” In an unusual move, Seawell had staff make contact with Haynes via speaker phone, who left  the  meeting early, so they could vote on the matter again. It passed 4-3.

Also a group representing Padres & Jovenes Unidos made a presentation strongly urging the board to step into the district’s push to offer healthy breakfasts to students in the classroom. Breakfast is now served in 27 schools, but organization members said the district should offer breakfast to students at half the elementary and half the district’s middle schools. Backers said families are still suffering due to the economic downturn.

“Many parents find it difficult to provide breakfast for their children,” said parent Graciela Baez through an interpreter. “A hungry child does not have the ability to learn the way a child with a full stomach does.”

Finally, the board heard a report on the most recent ACT test results. Compared to 2005, 1,000 more students took the test. The average composite score was 17.6, which is in line with recent years. The college readiness benchmark is a composite score of 21.

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.”