DPS plans triple use of new building

A complicated real estate deal will allow Emily Griffith Technical College and its companion high school, a new elementary charter school and the district’s central offices to move into a refurbished building downtown.

Cheree Lueck, Downtown Expeditionary School parent, and her family celebrate news that the charter school will have a home at 1860 Lincoln St. and be able to open in the fall.

Denver Public Schools and city officials today officially announced the consolidation of the three entities, including the Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, into the 13-floor building at 1860 Lincoln St.

The real estate deal will go to the school board Dec. 20.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Mayor Michael Hancock described the deal as a major boost to the vitality of the city’s core that could also save the district between $5 and $15 million over the next five years through increased efficiencies.

“Downtown will finally have its elementary school,” Hancock said to claps as the deal was announced in a classroom at Emily Griffith’s decades-old current campus at 1250 Welton St. “We heard loud and clear, ‘Bring an elementary school downtown.’”

Hancock also said the real estate shuffle provides an “upgraded facility for the seriously overcrowded Emily Griffith.”

“To the people of Denver – you helped this happen,” Hancock said, referring to the $466 DPS bond issue passed last month.

Hancock pointed out that while the Emily Griffith building needs work, it also has the benefit of location, location, location for a prospective buyer since it is located next to the Colorado Convention Center.

The school district has already signed a contract to buy the vacant office building at 1860 Lincoln St. and renovate it to serve district administrators, teachers and students.

Boasberg said the district is using money designated in the 2012 bond to purchase the building. Bond documents call for $24.9 million to be spent on Emily Griffith, a school founded nearly a century ago to provide education to anyone who wanted it – regardless of age or station in life. The asking price of the building on Lincoln is $19.3 million.

Emily Griffith open to all

Emily Griffith today offers certificates in more than 50 professional and technical fields, from welding to cooking. The new location is close to mass transit stops, which is a key benefit, backers of the move say. The college serves about 8,500 students per year, its completion rate averages 79 percent and 80 percent of its students are placed in jobs or further education upon completion of a program, said the school’s executive director.

“We have been looking for a location that would better serve our instructional programming needs,” said Jeff Barratt, Emily Griffith Technical College executive director. “I think our boilers were created at the same time the Titanic’s boilers were created.”

Parents who choose to live and work downtown are also thrilled at the prospect of a 400-student elementary school opening in the heart of downtown, supporters say.

The board approved the expeditionary school’s charter in June, and it is slated to open in the fall, making it the first priority in terms of renovating the building on Lincoln. Cyndi Kahn, a community organizer who helped found the school, said the school aims to be economically diverse and take full advantage of the learning opportunities available to students downtown.

Downtown Denver Partnership President and CEO Tamara Door said the school has been a priority for parents who live and work in the urban core.

“This is a fabulous opportunity for all of these children, in addition to a [an opportunity] for the downtown Denver business community to envelop the school with support and  mentorship – and make them a part of the downtown community,” Door said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

The other renovations and moves will happen over the next 18 months.

900 Grant to be put on market – again

The plan also will mean changes for district buildings at 900 and 780 Grant St. Boasberg said when 900 Grant St. – a dated building that will need plenty of TLC for a new occupant – was listed for sale a few years ago there was a lot of interest.

The building at 1860 Lincoln St.

“As the market begins to come back we expect to see very considerable interest,” Boasberg said. “We’ve seen residential development in the area south of the Capitol.”

DPS Chief Operating Officer David Suppes that the building was not sold the first time around because of concerns that popped up over a plan to move district staff to Manual High School. The district’s Contemporary Learning Academy, a school for students who have struggled in other settings, is slated to move into 780 Grant St., which now houses DPS’ technology services.

The deal also allows DPS to vacate its building at 1330 Fox St., which may house a new center for victims of domestic violence. In addition, district support staff now working at the closed Del Pueblo school will move to Lincoln St. – making space for the Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS) to move to Del Pueblo in the fall of 2013.

DPS plans to fund the renovation of 1860 Lincoln St. through 2012 bond sale proceeds and short-term financing that will be repaid by the “sales of existing DPS buildings vacated through this plan,” according to a news release.

Boasberg also estimate the move will result in $1 million annual savings in operational costs, savings that can be used to hire more teachers and support schools.

“Financially, this is an opportunity for the district to generate very significant savings,” Boasberg said.

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.