Building Plans

Plans for Kepner surface concerns about services for English language learners

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Kepner Middle School students hang out in the entrance of the southwest Denver school. In June, the Denver Public Schools board gave its OK to the STRIVE charter network to phase-in a program at the school along a new district run program.

Denver Public Schools has postponed finalizing plans for Kepner Middle School for another month in response to concerns about how the district will fulfill its legal commitments to English learners.

The decision follows questions about whether the district’s current plan — which would place two charter schools, Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep, in the building temporarily — would disrupt the district’s commitment to provide certain programs to non-native English speakers at Kepner, including some instruction offered in their native language.

Kepner, where more than 60 percent of students are identified as Limited English Proficient, currently houses the district’s largest Transitional Native Language Instruction, or TNLI, program for middle schoolers. The district is bound by a consent decree overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice to have a TNLI program in Kepner.

Last spring, the district decided to phase out Kepner as part of a broader plan to improve schools in the southwest Denver neighborhood, where the district’s schools have been struggling. It has since issued a series of proposals for the building. In addition to temporarily locating the two charter schools in Kepner, the current plan would permanently open a new district-run school, Kepner Beacon, and a school run by charter network STRIVE in the 2016-17 school year

But the plan to place Rocky Mountain Prep and Compass in the school was pulled from the board’s November agenda in response to the concerns around services to English learners, even as a separate part of the district’s turnaround plan for the rest of southwest Denver, a new enrollment zone, was approved.

“We pulled [the most recent plans for Kepner] off the agenda to give more time for the community to hear about plans around Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep,” said Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer.

She said the district would be reviewing the plans with the school leaders, community members, the Congress of Hispanic Educators (CHE), and the U.S. Department of Justice.

District officials say that their plan to use the space in Kepner for the charters temporarily is in compliance with requirements. The current Kepner program, which is phasing out over the next four years, and at least one program that will be permanently housed in the building will offer TNLI programs.

“This does not affect the district’s commitment to having a TNLI program in Kepner,” said board president Happy Haynes at a board work session last month.

But not everyone is convinced. This summer, an independent monitor expressed concerns about what would happen during the phase-out in a letter to district officials. (See document below, page 27.) 

At the work session, board member Arturo Jimenez asked officials how the new plans would affect the district’s efforts to comply with the consent decree and whether there were clear plans for the temporarily-housed charters to leave.

District chief schools officer Susana Cordova told the board that Rocky Mountain Prep is held to the same standards as all charter schools, and that its current program for English learners meets requirements.

She said that Compass Academy had developed a TNLI program that resembles the district’s and had been working with CHE on its plans for its time in the Kepner building.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief innovation officer, said that the district would work with the schools to find permanent locations.

Fabricio Velez, a co-founder of Compass, currently slated to be in Kepner for two years, said that he had been talking with the community, the district, the DOJ, and CHE. He himself is bilingual, as are his children.

“We are developing our own model. But we want to offer the very best to the southwest community,” he said. “We looked at the research, and we designed our school to meet the needs of our second language learners in their native language.”

“Our goal is to be there as long as we can,” he said. “My goal is to ensure that the school is a center for the community.”

The board will likely vote on a proposal for the Kepner building in December.

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

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.”