extensions granted

Wyatt Academy, Cesar Chavez Academy among 19 Denver charter school renewals

PHOTO: Courtesy Wyatt Academy
Wyatt Academy students.

Wyatt Academy, a once-acclaimed Denver charter school that struggled in recent years and was granted one last chance, got what educators and families had been advocating for: a multi-year charter renewal.

District staff cited Wyatt’s “exceptional” academic growth last year, its decision to hire a more experienced school leader and its improved school rating as reasons to give the charter, which serves kids in kindergarten through eighth grade in northeast Denver, a two-year charter renewal with a possible extension.

Wyatt was among 19 Denver Public Schools charter schools whose contracts were renewed Thursday by the school board at the end of a marathon meeting full of controversial decisions, including a unanimous vote to close three low-performing district-run schools.

Wyatt was also one of two charter schools for which there were competing recommendations. While DPS staff recommended a two-year renewal with the possibility for three, the District Accountability Committee — which is made up of parents and community members and reviews charter renewals — recommended a renewal of one year but not more than two.

The school board ultimately sided with the district staff.

The staff and committee also disagreed on the recommendation for Cesar Chavez Academy, a charter that serves kindergarteners through eighth-graders in northwest Denver.

The committee recommended Cesar Chavez Academy’s charter be non-renewed, which would have closed the school. Committee members cited a lack of strong leadership, low test scores and an inadequate board of directors as reasons for its recommendation.

But district staff pointed out that Cesar Chavez Academy did not meet the criteria for closure under the district’s new school closure policy, which requires multiple years of low performance.

“I think there is a risk to holding charter schools to a higher performance bar than we hold all schools to,” Jennifer Holladay, executive director of DPS’s Portfolio Management Team, which oversees charter schools, said at a school board work session Monday.

On Thursday, educators and students from the school asked the board for a chance to see if recent changes — including a new approach to discipline and an effort to dig deeper into student data to help inform instruction — result in higher student achievement.

“We do believe we are on the path to changing our trajectory,” said principal Mary Ann Mahoney.

The board voted to renew Cesar Chavez Academy’s charter for one year, but it wasn’t unanimous. Board member Lisa Flores, who represents the part of the city where the school is located, voted against the recommendation due to concerns about leadership.

Here’s a rundown of the outcome for the other 17 charter schools:

— Girls Athletic Leadership Middle School’s charter was renewed for five years. The school opened in 2010 and is located in west Denver.

— KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy’s charter was renewed for five years. The middle school opened in 2002 and is located in southwest Denver.

— DSST: Byers Middle School’s charter was renewed for five years. The central Denver school was opened in 2013.

— Denver Language School’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension if it meets certain performance expectations. Opened in 2010, it serves kids in kindergarten through eighth grade and is located in east Denver.

— STRIVE Prep: EXCEL’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The high school was opened in 2013 and is co-located with North High.

— STRIVE Prep: Westwood’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The middle school was opened in 2009 and is located in southwest Denver.

— Highline Academy Southeast’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The school opened in 2004 and serves kindergarteners through eighth-graders in southeast Denver.

— Ridge View Academy’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The school is located at Ridge View Youth Services Center, a youth corrections facility in Watkins.

— Academy 360’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. Academy 360 opened in 2013 and currently serves students in preschool through fourth grade in far northeast Denver.

— DSST: Cole Middle School’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The school opened in 2011 in northeast Denver.

— Downtown Denver Expeditionary School’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The downtown elementary school opened in 2013.

— STRIVE Prep: SMART’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The high school was opened in 2012 and is located in southwest Denver.

— Southwest Early College’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The southwest Denver high school was opened in 2004.

— KIPP Montbello College Prep Middle School’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a one-year extension. The far northeast Denver middle school opened in 2011.

— Academy of Urban Learning’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a one-year extension. Located in northwest Denver, the alternative high school opened in 2005.

— Monarch Montessori’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a one-year extension. Located in far northeast Denver, it opened in 2012 and serves kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. The school also has private infant, toddler and preschool programs.

— ACE Community Challenge School’s charter was not renewed in the traditional sense. Instead, the school was granted a one-year “transition charter school contract” with the understanding that the alternative school, open since 2000, would voluntarily surrender its contract at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Detroit

Week in review: A raise for some Detroit teachers — no pay for others

PHOTO: John/Creative Commons

The situation at the Detroit charter school where teachers won’t get their summer paychecks is a reminder about the precarious finances that can affect both district and charter schools.

Charters don’t typically have historic debts like those that nearly drove the Detroit Public Schools into bankruptcy last year, but Michigan does not provide charter schools with money to buy or renovate their buildings. Unlike districts, charter schools can’t ask voters to approve tax hikes to pay for improvements. And when charter schools borrow money, that debt isn’t supported by the state or backed up by district taxpayers the way some school district debt is. So when a charter school shuts down and money stops coming from the state, there could be many people — that includes teachers — who simply won’t get paid.

Scroll down for more on that story as well as updates on the just-ratified teachers contract and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent

 

Paying teachers — or not

  • Detroit teachers who mailed in ballots this month have narrowly approved a new three-year contract in a vote of 515 to 474. “We certainly deserve more,” the union’s president said in a statement “but the package offers us the opportunity to build our local, move our school district forward and place students first.”
  • The new contract, which will now go to a state financial oversight board for approval, would raise teacher salaries by more than 7 percent over the next two years but would not increase wages enough to bring them back to where they were before pay cuts a few years ago.
  • Meanwhile, teachers at the shuttered Michigan Technical Academy charter school — which had a lower school in northwest Detroit and a middle school in Redford — were furious to learn that they won’t get money they’re owed for work they did during the school year. The money will instead go to pay off debts. More than 30 teachers are collectively owed more than $150,000.
  • The school is the second Detroit-area charter school to run into financial problems affecting teacher pay. Educators at the Taylor International Academy in Southfield say they haven’t been paid since their school shut down abruptly in early June. Taylor and MTA also have this in common: Both schools had their charter authorized by Central Michigan University.
  • Meanwhile, across the state, Michigan’s average teacher salary has dropped for the fifth year in a row, and many districts say they have trouble retaining high quality teachers because of low pay. The finding is included in a six-story series on state teacher pay from Michigan Radio that already has detractors.
  • An investor service says the controversial changes Michigan made to its pension system are a “positive” for the state.
  • A University of Michigan economist says substitute teachers are paid less in Michigan than other states — part of why the state has a sub shortage.
  • A suburban district got 952 applicants for a single teaching job but the district’s superintendent says that doesn’t mean there’s not a teacher shortage.

On the home front

In Detroit

Across the state

  • A judge has blocked the state from spending public money on private schools. A Catholic leader explains why he thinks private schools should be entitled to the money.
  • MIchigan has dumped its school ranking system in favor of a dashboard.
  • An advocate who wants schools to face tougher consequences for poor performance slammed Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent school reform efforts. “Parents are tougher on their kids when they don’t eat their vegetables than Detroit’s turnaround plan is with its hometown failure factories,” he wrote.
  • Many of the hurdles that make it difficult to provide enough early education in Detroit also exist in rural Michigan communities.
  • A New York writer says Betsy DeVos might be powerful and influential in Michigan but in Washington without her checkbook, she’s “like a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

In other news

money money money

New York City teachers get news they’ve been waiting for: how much money they’ll receive for classroom supplies

New York City teachers will each get $250 this year to spend on classroom supplies — more than they’ve ever gotten through the city’s reimbursement program before.

The city’s 2017-18 budget dramatically ramped up spending for the Teacher’s Choice program, a 30-year-old collaboration between the City Council and the United Federation of Teachers. More than $20 million will go the program this year.

On Thursday, the union texted its members with details about how the city’s budget will translate to their wallets. General education teachers will each get $250, reimbursable against expenses. (Educators who work in other areas get slightly less; teachers tell the union they spend far more.)

Money given to New York City teachers for classroom supplies, measured in dozens of tissue boxes.

The increase means that Teacher’s Choice has more than recovered from the recent recession. In 2007, teachers were getting $220 a year, but that number fell until the union and Council zeroed out the program in 2011 as part of a budget deal aimed at avoiding teacher layoffs. (Some teachers turned to crowdsourcing to buy classroom supplies.) As the city’s financial picture has improved, and as the union lobbied heavily for the program, the amount inched upwards annually.

“With this increase in funding for Teacher’s Choice, the City Council has sent us a clear message that they believe in our educators and support the work they are doing,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a time where we see public education under attack on a national level, Council members came through for our teachers and our students.”