Changes

More changes on the way for southwest Denver schools

Denver Public Schools plans to put out an unusual late “Call for New Quality Schools,” announcing that it is looking for a replacement for Henry World Middle School and for a new middle school to share a building with Abraham Lincoln High School in southwest Denver.

School staff and families found out about the plans this week. Officials say the new schools are part of an effort to bring better schools to southwest Denver and to address declining enrollment and academic challenges at Henry and Lincoln. (See DPS’s presentations about its plan for Lincoln High School and its plan for Henry World Middle School.)

The district’s board will vote on any final proposals in the fall, and the schools would open in 2016-17. That’s a unique timeline: All other new school applications for 2016-17 — which were due this month — will be presented to the board in June.

Board member Rosemary Rodriguez said that figures from the first round of school choice applications in the district and the schools’ low scores on the district’s school ranking system prompted DPS to make new plans for the schools now instead of waiting until next year.

DPS is targeting schools in southwest Denver for improvement efforts, prompted partly by a report put out by local advocates highlighting challenges in the region and calls from parents for the district to address problems in southwest schools, which serve mainly low-income and Hispanic students.

Several southwest schools have gotten new principals or programs, and several new charter and district schools have been recruited to open in the region in the next two years. DPS also created two new “shared enrollment zones”, which mean families are given preference at a cluster of schools rather than directly assigned to one school.

Rodriguez said that those shared enrollment zones highlighted problems at Henry. Fewer families chose Henry this year than last year, even as the overall participation rate in the district’s school choice system in southwest Denver jumped from 67 percent to 91 percent after an extensive outreach effort.

Last year, 53 percent of families zoned to Henry chose to attend other schools. This year, 74 percent of families chose to go elsewhere. Rodriguez said that she has heard that many families in the area send their children to Jeffco Public Schools.

Plans for Lincoln

Lincoln’s enrollment is also declining. The school enrolled 1,900 students in 2009 but now has closer to 1,400. The district has started a number of new high schools in the area in recent years, including KIPP Collegiate and DSST College View.

Some of the space left empty as Lincoln’s enrollment has dropped might be filled by the new middle school. There would be no cap on Lincoln’s enrollment even if another school is placed in the building.

The district is also planning to expand Lincoln’s career and technical pathways program and add a new digital technology program. The program would be supported partly by the city of Denver and potentially by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The district also says it will focus on improving college readiness at the school, though just how it will do so is not yet clear.

“Right now, for every 100 9th graders who start at Lincoln, one graduates from college in four years,” Rodriguez said. “We need to change that.”

Plans for Henry World Middle School

Henry will be phased out a grade at a time starting in 2016-17. That means that the school will have just 7th and 8th graders in 2016-17, just 8th graders in 2017-18, and then will be closed altogether. The school is also becoming a turnaround school, which means it will get some additional funds and resources from the district as it is phased out.

Whatever new school the district approves would open with 6th graders in 2016-17 and would add grades as the old school phases out.

The district has hired Lindsay Meier, currently an assistant principal at Skinner Middle School, to develop a proposal for an International Baccalaureate middle school program similar to the one that already exists at Henry World Middle School.

But the new district program is not guaranteed a spot in the Henry building. Rodriguez said the school will be evaluated against schools that are already approved to open in southwest Denver, including DSST, Compass Academies, and Strive, and with other proposals that might be submitted using a facilities policy the board approved earlier this year.

At a community meeting at Henry World Middle School last night, parents’ biggest concern involved discipline and school climate. Henry made national news in 2013 for a bullying incident, and local news last year after many teachers voted no confidence in one of the school’s then-administrators.

Rodriguez said there is a perception that the current interim principal is not excited to be at the school. “There’s a lot of dismay about current trends.”

Don Roy, currently the interim principal at Manual High School, will lead Henry through the phase out starting this summer.

Roy said that he knows staff and community members are apprehensive about the changes. He said he plans to introduce more consistency in the school’s approach to discipline.

“It’s an ongoing job,” he said. “You have to work on it every day.” Roy said he is committed to staying at the school through the phase out.

Update: This story was updated to reflect that DPS has not officially put out its new “Call for Quality Schools.” The official announcement will be released in April.

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.