Per Pupil Woes

UPDATED: Denver board agrees to close Trevista middle school

The Denver Public Schools board at a meeting in December 2014 at South High School.

Updated after school board meeting, January 29, 7 p.m.

The Denver school board voted tonight to approve a plan to close the middle school at Trevista at Horace Mann at the end of the current school year due to declining enrollment and financial concerns. The school will continue to house an early childhood education program and an elementary school.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole dissenting vote. Jimenez said that while he approved of the plan to have separate elementary and middle school programs, he was disappointed that the planning process had begun so late in the school year.

At a special school board meeting, current principal La Dawn Baity, assistant principal Jesus Rodriguez, and Laura Brinkman, the director of the district’s West Denver Network that includes Trevista told board members that they had considered phasing out the middle school or delaying the closure for year, but had decided a prompt closure would be better for students.

Baity, Brinkman, and Martinez said that the decision was driven by financial, not academic, reasons. Though the school has alternated between the two lowest rankings on the state accountability system, it had the highest student growth scores in northwest Denver last year and has seen improved student attendance in recent years.

Jimenez said that the district has been aware of declining enrollment near Trevista for several years but just began working with the school to plan for the closure earlier this month. He suggested delaying the vote until the February board meeting, saying he believed the process “would have been done differently if it had occurred in southeast or central Denver,” both more affluent parts of the city.

The district is planning to create a committee in northwest Denver focused on long-term goals for school facility use in that part of the city. That committee has not yet met.

Original story starts below:

The Denver school board will vote tonight at a special meeting on a plan to close the middle school program at Trevista at Horace Mann, a school in the northwest part of the city that currently houses early childhood, elementary, and middle schools students.

The vote comes just a day before the district’s school choice applications are due. Families of students enrolled at Trevista have been granted an extension until Feb. 6.

La Dawn Baity, who has been Trevista’s principal for three years, said that the decision is being driven by financial considerations, as the school’s middle grades enrollment bring insufficient funds to cover the staff the school needs. “We’re feeling sad because it’s a loss, to our school and to our community,” Baity said. “But the middle school was no longer really viable.”

The plan for Trevista comes after several district programs serving elementary, middle school, and early childhood students have been separated into distinct elementary and middle schools. “The very strong growth in our middle schools has meant in some cases over the last several years that E-8 school communities have recommended changing back to E-5 elementaries, and we have accepted those recommendations,” said district superintendent Tom Boasberg. Boasberg said the district would also continue to have and support E-8 programs.

If the board approves the plan, Trevista would remain open in 2015-16 as a K-5 school with an early childhood program. Middle school-aged students zoned to attend the school will be guaranteed a spot at Strive Sunnyside, a charter school, or Skinner Middle School. Students enrolled in Trevista’s Transitional Native Language Instruction program for English language learners will attend a similar program at Bryant Webster. The district would provide transportation.

Baity said the school had been using per-pupil funds technically allotted to the school’s elementary school students to cover middle school programs and staff. The school’s middle school population has hovered between 120 and 140, but Baity said the school really needed closer to 200 students to fund a robust program. Overall enrollment at Trevista has dropped from 637 in 2010-11 to 514 this year.

Requirements for teachers working with English learners at the school had added a layer of complexity. Baity said finding teachers with the right mix of skills had proved to be a challenge. “We’re a turnaround school. We needed top teachers,” she said. “But we couldn’t get the best teachers in every content area and also have bilingual teachers.”

She said this was harder at the middle-school level than in elementary school. Some 45 percent of the school’s students are English learners, and 90 percent of those speak Spanish.

Because of the lack of Spanish-English bilingual teachers in the school’s middle school, DPS and school officials decided earlier this fall to move a native-language program for Spanish-speaking English language learners to Bryant Webster, according to DPS chief schools officer Susana Cordova. But that meant the school would have even fewer middle schoolers in coming years and would be even more financially strapped.

“That took an enrollment of 140 down to 120,” Baity said. “And on a student-based budget like DPS has—Well, it’s a great way to fund schools but when you lose 20 students, we couldn’t fund the teachers, the programs, the counselors, everything that a middle school needs.”

Baity and Cordova said they were not sure yet what would happen to the empty space left in the building.

In the fall, a group of parents known as the Sunnyside Education Committee had asked the district to move the Trevista elementary program to the nearby Smedley Elementary building to create a neighborhood elementary school. The Smedley building is now slotted to hold the Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School.

After learning of the plans to close Trevista’s middle school, the Sunnyside committee sent an email to the district again requesting that Trevista’s elementary program be moved into the Smedley building. A district representative replied that the district planned to wait until it had heard from a working group of community members in Northwest before making major changes.

Baity said Trevista students had taken field trips to the schools they would be zoned to attend next year and that other schools had also reached out to students and families. The principal at Skinner Middle School said her staff would welcome the students and has already created already had a transition plan for them.

The school’s seven middle school teachers are not guaranteed placements at other schools. Baity herself is leaving the school this year, in a move she said was unrelated to the plans and announced before the current closing was planned, and will be replaced by Rodriguez, currently an assistant principal at the school.

The board vote will take place at a special meeting, which includes a public comment session, at 5 p.m.

Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the superintendent’s comments about the district’s approach to E-8 schools.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

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.