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.

future funding

Trump’s education budget could be bad news for New York City’s ‘community schools’ expansion

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

The Trump administration has proposed eliminating the sole source of funding for New York City’s dramatic expansion of its community schools program, according to budget documents released Tuesday.

Less than two weeks ago, city officials announced its community schools program would expand to 69 new schools this fall, financed entirely by $25.5 million per year of funding earmarked for 21st Century Community Learning Centers — a $1.2 billion federal program which Trump is again proposing to eliminate.

The community schools program is a central feature of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s strategy for high-need schools — a model he called a “game-changer” earlier this month. It is designed to help schools address the physical health and emotional issues that can impede student learning, in part by pairing them with nonprofit organizations that offer a range of services, such as mental health counseling, vision screenings, or dental checkups.

City officials downplayed the threat of the cuts, noting the Republican-controlled congress increased funding for the program in a recent spending agreement and that similar funding cuts have been threatened in the past.

“This program has bipartisan support and has fought back the threat of cuts for over a decade,” a city education official wrote in an email.

Still, some nonprofit providers are nervous this time will be different.

“I’m not confident that the funding will continue given the federal political climate,” said Jeremy Kaplan, director of community education at Phipps Neighborhoods, an organization that will offer services in three of the city’s new community schools this fall. Even though the first year of funding is guaranteed, he said, the future of the program is unclear.

“It’s not clear to [community-based] providers what the outlook would be after year one.”

City officials did not respond to a question about whether they have contingency plans to ensure the 69 new community schools would not lose the additional support, equivalent to roughly $350,000 per school each year.

“Community schools are an essential part of Equity and Excellence and we will do everything on our power to ensure continuation of funding,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in an email.

New York state receives over $88 million in 21st Century funding, which it distributes to local school districts. State education officials did not immediately respond to questions about how they would react if the funding is ultimately cut.

“President Trump’s proposed budget includes a sweeping and irresponsible slashing of the U.S. Department of Education’s budget,” state officials wrote in a press release. “If these proposed cuts become reality, gaps and inequity in education will grow.”

vying for vouchers

On Betsy DeVos’s budget wish list: $250M to ‘build the evidence base’ for vouchers

PHOTO: Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Recent research about private-school voucher programs has been grim: In Washington D.C., Indianapolis, Louisiana, and Ohio, students did worse on tests after they received the vouchers.

Now, the Trump administration is looking for new test cases.

Their budget proposal, released Tuesday, asks for $250 million to fund a competition for school districts looking to expand school voucher programs. Those districts could apply for funding to pay private school tuition for students from poor families, then evaluate those programs “to build the evidence base around private school choice,” according to the budget documents.

It’s very unlikely that the budget will make it through Congress in its current form. But the funding boost aimed at justifying private-school choice programs is one way U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is delivering on years of advocacy for those programs. On Monday, she promised the Trump administration would soon lay out the “most ambitious expansion of school choice in our nation’s history.”

DeVos and other say vouchers are critical for helping low-income students succeed and also help students in public schools, whose schools improve thanks to competitive pressure. Private school choice programs have also come under criticism for requiring students with disabilities to waive their rights under IDEA and for allowing private schools to discriminate against LGBT students.

Bill Cordes, the education department’s K-12 budget director, told leaders of education groups Tuesday that the “sensitive” issues around the divide between church and state and civil rights protections for participating students would be addressed as the program is rolled out.