Popularity Contest

In Denver enrollment zones, charter middle schools are clear favorite (and 4 other takeaways)

A shift away from neighborhood schools in some parts of Denver is highlighting the fact that in families’ eyes, not all schools are created equal.

Data from this year’s first round of school choice applications show that in five of Denver Public Schools’ seven “shared enrollment zones,” one school is significantly more popular than others. In one case, one school received more than three times as many applications than the other four in the zone.

In zones where one school is overwhelmingly popular, students were least likely to get into their first choice school.

DPS  created enrollment zones to promote diversity and open access to higher performing schools to more families. Families who live in a shared enrollment zone are guaranteed placement at one of several schools in their general geographic area, but aren’t assigned to any one school.

Three of the district’s zones are new this year: the West and Southwest Middle School Zones and the Southeast Elementary Zone. [Maps of the zones]

Families who live in a zone have an extra incentive to participate in the district’s SchoolChoice enrollment system. If they don’t, they have no way of knowing which school in their zone their children will attend. In parts of town without enrollment zones, students are assigned directly to a neighborhood school.

Close to 25,000 students across the district submitted SchoolChoice applications this year. More than 4,000 of those lived in shared enrollment zones.

Dominant schools and top-choice rates

Districtwide, 78 percent of students who applied got their first choice schools. In the enrollment zones, the rates varied: In the Far Northeast, just 69 percent of students will attend their first choice school, compared to 84 percent in the Southwest. Across the district, 95 percent of students were placed in one of their top five schools.

The smallest percentage of students got their first-choice school in zones where one school was overwhelmingly popular.

What percent of people got their top choice school? | Create infographics

 

New zones and southwest Denver plans

Participation rates in SchoolChoice in southwest Denver increased dramatically this year, after an extensive “get out the application” effort. More than 90 percent of students in the two zones in southwest Denver submitted applications, compared to 67 percent last year.

The West zone includes Kepner Middle School, which is being phased out by the district as several new schools are being introduced. It looks like students are moving away from Kepner: Just 51 opted into the district-run school, while 76 opted into the Compass Academy Middle School, a new charter school opening later this year in the Kepner building. The most popular school in the West zone was STRIVE Prep at Westwood, also a charter.

West Middle School Zone | Create infographics

In the Southwest zone, 134 students listed DSST: College View, a charter, as their top choice, while just 84 students opted into district-run Henry World Middle School. The district says that information drove a recent decision to bring a new program into Henry.

Southwest Middle School Zone | Create infographics

 

Park Hill Zone and McAuliffe

In the Park Hill / Stapleton Zone, McAuliffe International, a district innovation school, drew more than three times more applications than any other school. It was the most popular school in any zone.

Greater Park Hill / Stapleton Middle School Zone | Create infographics

That’s led to some contention. McAuliffe’s waiting list has been the topic of private Facebook comment threads reviewed by Chalkbeat in which parents vent about having to attend a school outside of their neighborhood.

McAuliffe has applied to the district o open a new school in 2016-17 in the near northeast part of the city, but if that school is approved, it would open too late to host this year’s disgruntled families.

DPS officials say that the fact that not everyone is getting their first choice doesn’t mean the system isn’t working.

“I understand people’s frustration,” said David Suppes, Denver Public Schools’ Chief Operating Officer. “But I don’t think it’s because we’re doing something different than we said we would. What we’re seeing is the incredible popularity of some schools.”

Charters dominate middle school

Across the middle school zones, charter schools were the first choice for many families.

The most popular options in West, Southwest, Lake, and Far Northeast middle school zones are all part of either the STRIVE or DSST charter networks.

Far Northeast Middle School Zone | Create infographics

Lake Middle School Zone | Create infographics

In the Park Hill / Stapleton zone, the second most popular option after McAuliffe was DSST – Stapleton. Significant numbers of students in that zone also applied to attend DSST: Cole and DSST: Conservatory Green.

The trend favoring charters doesn’t carry over to elementary zones, where the most popular choices were district-run programs.

Stapleton Elementary School Zone | Create infographics

Far Southeast Elementary Zone | Create infographics

The long tail

In each of the zones, there is a long tail of schools listed as the top choice by just a handful of students. There are too many of these schools to include in these graphs. Among them are programs for students with special needs.

The district plans to release more information about this year’s first round of school choice later this spring.

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.