Transitions

University Prep on tap to run Pioneer charter in 2016-17

PHOTO: A. Gottlieb
Students at Pioneer Charter School.

The Denver school board will vote tonight on a resolution acknowledging the Pioneer Charter School’s decision not to renew its contract, which means the school would close in May of 2016.

But the resolution also fast-tracks a proposal for University Prep, a nearby charter elementary school, to operate at Pioneer. That resolution has drawn concerns from some people about the district’s process for placing new schools.

After Pioneer’s board voted to not seek a renewal of its contract in December, Denver Public Schools announced that it was looking for at least one school operator to replace Pioneer in its annual search for quality schools.

Tonight’s new resolution says that DPS will inform applicants that “the District has identified a potential replacement provider of high quality [sic] for Pioneer Charter School for the 2016-17 school year.” It says that DPS will approve University Prep’s application to operate Pioneer starting in 2016-17 as long as it has a quality plan and as long as its existing school continues to show strong academic results.

At a meeting of the DPS board earlier this week, Superintendent Tom Boasberg said that “a voluntary transition where parties have ample time to plan, prepare, share expertise, and work together is a good thing.”

But this unusual arrangement has drawn concern from some in the school community.

Laurie Thompson, a business director at Pioneer, wrote in an email to the board, “Parents were informed after the decision was made and were told that there would be a role for parents and community members to have a voice during the Call for Quality Schools process.”

However, she added,  the new resolution “effectively [takes] Pioneer off the table for other…applicants and [negates] input from Pioneer parents and others in this community regarding this important transition.”

Other individuals and groups have considered applying to run schools in the Pioneer building. One is a dual language program that would be a district-run school.

But University Prep has already begun a consulting relationship with Pioneer intended to last through the next school year. The Pioneer board will vote on its contract with University Prep tonight, according to board member Anna Nicotera, but school staff from the two buildings have already started working together.

University Prep leaders plan to submit a letter of intent to apply and a proposal for their plan to run Pioneer starting in the 2016-17 school year. David Singer, the founder and head of school at University Prep, emphasized that University Prep’s proposal will go through DPS’s vetting process.

Running Pioneer would be a new task for University Prep staff. University Prep began as a new elementary school, gradually phasing in new grade levels K-5. If the school is awarded operation of Pioneer, it would be taking on a K-5 school all at once.

Pioneer also has a higher proportion of English language learners than University Prep. Singer said University Prep would include a plan for working with those students in its charter proposal.

Nicotera said the board knew that some parents felt they had been excluded from the board’s decision-making about surrendering the contract and bringing in University Prep.

“While we value community and family, when you have these tough decisions and things aren’t getting better, sometimes a board has to make that hard decision,” she said.

She said she was hopeful the partnership with University Prep would help the school’s students.

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.”