DPS sees slight progress in report cards

Denver Public Schools on Thursday released its second annual school report cards, highlighting success stories that could mean thousands of dollars more for teachers and principals and honing in on campuses that may be headed for new programs and new staffs.

The School Performance Framework is the centerpiece of DPS’ fledgling accountability system, relying on a mix of academic indicators, such as state test scores, and non-academic measures, such as parent engagement, to award one of four ratings to each of the city’s 140 schools.

The ratings are Distinguished, Meets Expectations, On Watch and On Probation.

The first two ratings mean more autonomy for schools and bonuses starting at $2,400 for teachers and $5,500 for principals. The other two ratings mean greater supervision, targeted training and extra funding – but also the possibility of staff replacement and school closure.

Thursday’s release shows nine schools rated as Distinguished, 54 listed as Meets Expectations, 52 are On Watch and 25 are On Probation. Compared to 2008, ten fewer schools earned the lowest rating and the number of schools earning the top two ratings increased from 44 percent to 45 percent.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he’ll make recommendations in early November, following a series of community meetings, about which schools may face dramatic changes.

“We’ve been very clear that if a school fails to improve two years in a row,” he said, “that we would consider changing the program or re-launching or re-starting the school.”

Fifteen of the 25 schools on probation have received that lowest rating for the past two years, with five of the schools posting declining scores this year. Those five are Greenlee Elementary, Philips Elementary, Noel Middle School, Emerson Street Alternative School and Skyland Community High Charter.

Closures not expected; program changes possible

Boasberg said he does not anticipate shuttering any building this year or in the near future, citing increases in enrollment fueled largely at the preschool and kindergarten levels. That growth, combined with DPS’ decision to close eight schools in fall 2008, “right-sized” the district, he told school board members on Thursday.

In fact, demand in southeast Denver, where several elementary schools are over capacity, and in the Stapleton area could mean the re-opening of some of those closed buildings, he said.

But if closing more schools for capacity reasons is out, Boasberg said he could recommend that faltering programs be replaced by some of the ten new schools approved by the DPS board to open in fall 2010.

“The sole focus here is, how do you provide the best possible opportunities for those kids in that neighborhood in that school?” he said. “It’s very much a case-by-case decision about what will be the best option for those kids in that building in that neighborhood.”

Schools rated On Probation earned 33 percent or less of the points possible on the SPF, which varies based on grade level and type of school. The two lowest scoring school in 2009 were Emerson Street Alternative School, with 15 percent of the points possible, and Philips Elementary, with 17 percent.

DPS had 10 fewer schools on probation in 2009 than in 2008. Of the 35 schools on probation last year, 15 remain on probation, eight have closed and 12 improved enough to move off probation.

One school, Cowell Elementary in west Denver, rose two levels on the framework, from On Probation to Meets Expectations.

But ten schools dropped to the lowest rating, including West High School and Smith Elementary, which fell two levels, from Meets Expectations to On Probation.

SPF more “nuanced” than state system

Colorado’s new growth model, unveiled with much fanfare last month, emphasizes a student’s progress from year to year on state tests.

The DPS framework also relies heavily on progress, with 52 to 59 percent of a school’s rating – depending on whether it’s elementary, middle or high – based on student growth from year to year.

But the rating is more complex than the state’s system, according to Boasberg and Chief Academic Officer Ana Tilton, because it also factors in graduation rates, elementary reading test results and a host of other indicators. Each indicator is worth a set number of points.

For example, 10 percent of a high school’s rating is based on post-secondary readiness, which includes factors such as ACT scores, passing rates on Advances Placement exams and graduation rates.

“It is a much more nuanced and complicated approach,” Boasberg said when asked by a board member to compare the two systems. “This is the measure we care about.”

Added Tilton: “Other districts want to do this, they want to figure out how to have a school performance framework and how to look at multiple indicators of student performance.”

The SPF also is one way that DPS teachers, assistant principals and principals can boost their salaries. A Denver teacher can earn bonuses of $2,400 in each of five areas, with two of those based on the SPF.

So a teacher at a school achieving the greatest percentage of growth points on the SPF gets $2,400. A teacher at a school with the highest percentage of overall points on the SPF also gets $2,400.

Similarly, assistant principals and principals can earn bonuses in four categories, with two of those based on the SPF.

Principals in schools achieving the greatest percentage of growth points receive $5,500. If their school earns the highest percentage of overall points, they receive $6,000 for a school that Meets Expectations and $10,000 for a Distinguished school.

Staffs at charter schools, which have their own pay systems, don’t participate in the district incentives program. So even though the top two rated schools in DPS this year are charters, their principals and teachers aren’t eligible for those extra dollars.

Ratings highlights success, growth

Only nine of Denver’s 140 schools achieved the Distinguished rating this year, compared to ten in 2008.

Of those 2009 Distinguished schools, eight of the nine have achieved the top rating for two years in a row.

Those schools are Bromwell Elementary, Denver School of Science and Technology Charter, Lincoln Elementary, Polaris at Ebert Elementary, Slavens Elementary, Steck Elementary, University Park and West Denver Preparatory Charter.

“These schools are showing they know what to do,” Boasberg said. “In terms of incentives, they’ll have greater autonomy.”

Only one of the Disinguished schools, West Denver Prep, has a poverty rate that exceeds the district average of 65 percent. West Denver Prep, rated second highest of all DPS schools, has a poverty rate of 93 percent.

The Denver School of Science and Technology or DSST, rated first of all DPS schools, has a poverty rate of 45 percent.

But if joining the Distinguished ranks is tough, it’s even harder to join another group – the DPS schools exceeding student academic growth expectations for two years running.

Only six schools made that cut, including DSST, Lincoln, McMeen Elementary, Steck, University Park and West Denver Prep.

Thursday, Boasberg went to West Denver Prep and to Cowell to congratulate their principals, staffs and students.

Cowell, the school that jumped from On Probation to Meets Expectations, had the highest point increase of any DPS school. It grew from earning 26 percent of possible points to 54 percent.

Principal Tom Elliott gathered his teachers and a group of third, fourth and fifth-graders into their unfinished library after school to share the news.

More than 90 percent of the students come from families poor enough to qualify for federal lunch aid; 52 percent of students are English language learners.

“Boy, did we make some progress,” Elliott told them, his voice wavering with emotion, “and I’m very proud.”

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

Click here to see the ratings for all DPS schools on the 2009 School Performance Framework.

Click here to see the ratings for all DPS schools on the 2008 School Performance Framework.

Click here to see Boasberg’s presentation to school board members on the 2009 SPF results.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”