A+ group: Denver Plan needs overhaul

Denver Public Schools’ strategic blueprint, the Denver Plan, is in urgent need of  substantial revision, the A+ citizens committee told the school board Thursday night.

“We are asking you to revise and update the (Denver Plan) with a clear set of goals and a well-defined set of strategies that will drive academic improvement,” the A+ board said in a letter to the Board of Education.

“We are concerned that the Denver Plan does not address the need for ongoing systems to measure the impact of the plan’s strategies, programs or initiatives throughout the district.”

Jesus Salazar, chair of the A+ Denver subcommittee on the Denver Plan, presented the A+ Denver letter to the board.

“Although the plan listed out a set of district initiatives and focus areas, they did not clearly articulate the road map of how you get to success … It makes it hard for us to build public will and advocate for the necessary reforms,” Salazar said during brief remarks.

A+ Denver has laid out a five-part plan for redrafting the Denver Plan:

  • Improve goals and their corresponding accountability measures.
  • Redraft the plan to reflect current priorities.
  • Redraft the plan to match the theory of action.
  • Add a section that addresses subjects other than math and literacy.
  • Add recruiting, training and support of school leaders.

“The goals (of the plan) themselves are a disjointed list of deliverables,” the letter said. “The fact that so few of them are within reach, even though many are quite modest in aspiration, must suggest that the strategies employed to achieve them are inadequate in design or in practice.”

After the presentation, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said: “We welcome the letter and look forward to a robust dialogue with A+  and members of the community.”

Peña: “It needs to be significantly changed & improved”

Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, also a member of the A+ Denver board of directors, was not able to attend Thursday night’s meeting.

But earlier in the day, he said he firmly supported and endorsed “every sentence” of the strongly worded letter.

“The school system, and that is the school board, and the administration, needs to have a strategic plan and a strategic vision for how it wants to improve the academic performance of the children in DPS,” Peña said.

“If the Denver Plan is intended to be that strategic plan (then) it needs to be significantly changed and improved. There are some things that are good, but it is not the kind of strategic plan that any major organization would use to move itself forward and to challenge some very difficult issues.”

DPS board President Mary Seawell said the district will take the A+ recommendations seriously.

Seawell: “We still have work to do”

“In the coming weeks and months, the eight of us (Boasberg and the board) will be working to make sure the Denver Plan is best informing the decisions and direction of all of our work in creating and supporting high quality schools for every student in Denver,” Seawell said in a written statement. “As a governing team we still have work to do in coming together around a shared vision if those discussions are to be as meaningful and productive as possible.”

Board member Jeannie Kaplan, often a voice of dissent in DPS affairs, discussed the A+ Denver letter prior to Thursday’s board session.

“I think my overarching sense is of sadness, because it doesn’t give me any pleasure to have what I have suspected and talked about for many years confirmed,” Kaplan said.

“But, on the other hand I think that also it gives some of us some vindication that it’s an outside group looking at basically the same data and looking with an eye to truth and honesty…I think that people who are really being open and honest about what’s happening are concerned that we really haven’t made strides in the last six years.”

Kaplan said she hoped the DPS administration would not be “defensive” in its response, adding, “I would hope that the people in the superintendent’s office, and on down, would see this as an opportunity to work with all of us, for the betterment of all of our kids.”

Letter ‘not a call for Boasberg’s head’

Anne Rowe, one of two new board members elected this past November, was a founding co-chair of A+ Denver. Rowe, who now represents southeast Denver, said the letter “addresses some points that, as a board, we absolutely should be looking at.”

Rowe pointed out that the board “talked about some of these exact topics” in its recent board retreat.

“I think the good news is that it will continue a really important and healthy conversation, going forward, and really get us to continue asking the important questions around our goal of high student achievement and increasing student achievement in DPS,” Rowe said.

The 68-page Denver Plan, originally adopted in 2005 and revised in 2009, lays out in its appendix specific measurable goals, such as that the number of DPS students taking Advanced Placement classes each year will grow by 3.5 percent.

Another is that 3.5 percent of third grade students will become proficient on CSAP in reading each year for the next five years, with a five-year target of overall district proficiency rate of 68.4 percent in 2013.

In 2011, the district’s third-graders saw a 5 percent jump in reading from the previous year – but that still left DPS third-graders at just 56 percent proficiency.

Board members had received copies of the A+ Denver letter on Wednesday, and it wasn’t long before Chief Executive Officer Van Schoales started hearing that some critics of the DPS administration were interpreting it as “a call for Tom Boasberg’s head.” Schoales flatly denied that was the case.

“It’s unfortunate that some in the community are politicizing this, when we are asking for a revision of the Denver Plan for all the reasons that we stated in the letter, and we’re completely open and transparent about that.”

Innovation status for C3 passes 4-3

The DPS board late Thursday night also signed off on an innovation proposal from the new Creativity Challenge Community or C3 elementary school.  The vote in support of the innovation application was 4-3, with board members Kaplan, Andrea Merida and Arturo Jimenez in the dissent.

If subsequently approved by the State Board of Education, this will give DPS 20 innovation schools. No other district in the state has approved more than two since the 2008 passage of the Innovation Schools Act.

C3 is designed as a K-5 program with an emphasis on hands-on learning, open to anyone in the district, with a preference for students in the Cory, Ellis, Steele, Bromwell and Steck neighborhoods. It is located on the Merrill Middle School campus.

Like most other innovation schools in the district, C3 is proposing a longer school day. It will also feature the scheduling of Friday trips for students, facilitating  opportunities for students to benefit from experiential learning on-site with community partners such as the Denver Art Museum.

Placing C3 at Merrill was not a popular step with some in the DPS community, with hundreds of people speaking passionately on both sides of the proposal in public meetings throughout last year. The decision to locate C3 at Merrill was approved by the board in November on a 4-3 vote.

The district is currently being sued by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association for having passed innovation proposals last year for new schools that did not yet have staffs in place. The Innovation Schools Act requires that at least 60 percent of a faculty vote to waive personnel rules established under the collective bargaining agreement.

“I will not vote in favor of any innovation proposal that skirts the law in the form of the Innovation Schools Act, and does not comply with the requirements,” said board member Merida. “I’m just not going to support breaking the law.”