DPS releases proposed reform update

DPS_Seal_Color_1_70x70Calling it “an absolutely critical time for our schools and our city,” Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg on Tuesday unveiled a proposed update to the district’s reform map that hones in on teacher quality.

The draft Denver Plan 2009 lists its top strategy as ensuring teacher effectiveness, from developing a shared definition of effective teaching to crafting a Teacher Performance Framework “based on multiple measures, with student achievement in the center.”

The framework, modeled after the district’s School Performance Framework, which gauges school quality, would be used to identify the district’s best teachers so they can “lead other teachers in order to expand their impact on students,” the draft states.

It also would be used to identify struggling teachers and to “give them the opportunity and support to succeed.” But, the draft states, “there must be fair and efficient processes for replacing employees who, despite this support, fail to meet expectations.”

Boasberg discussed the draft 2009 Denver Plan in the district’s first “State of the Schools” speech, attended by about 75 parents, teachers and community members at North High School.

“The document we released today is very much a draft,” he told them. “This needs to be a dialogue. These are very difficult subjects and we need to have an open and candid dialogue with the community.”

The draft 2009 Denver Plan is slated for nearly two months of community input before Denver school board members receive a final version on Nov. 19.

Boasberg began his talk by outlining progress made since the first Denver Plan was released in 2005 by his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

For example, he said, 6,000 more DPS students are proficient in math today than they were four years ago, or  enough “to fill this auditorium up 10 times.”

But he also said, “We are not meeting the civil rights challenge of our generation” because “80 percent of our students are students of color and we are not meeting their needs.”

Results of state exams show an achievement gap of 35 points – on a 100-point scale – between Denver’s black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers.

The focus of the 2009 district reform map “is going to be on the classroom and on teachers,” Boasberg said, citing research showing “the one thing that makes the most difference is the teacher.”

Among the teaching-related elements in the draft:

  • Create a teacher evaluation system with multiple ratings, rather than DPS’ current system which rates teachers either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Nearly 100 percent of Denver teachers are rated satisfactory each year, the draft notes, “with little to no recognition or reward for those teachers demonstrating the most significant outcomes with students.”
  • Provide increased incentives for effective teachers to serve in the highest needs schools, including creating options for teams of teachers to serve in high-poverty schools without losing their right to return to their previous positions.
  • Create a teacher transfer system of “mutual consent,” meaning both a teacher and a principal must consent to a teacher’s transfer to another school. DPS forcibly places over 100 tenured teachers each year into schools without the consent of the principals or the teachers, which disproportionately affects high-poverty schools.

The Draft 2009 Denver Plan touches on a number of other areas as well, including:

  • Creating an early warning system that tracks students’ attendance, behavior and grades so that an alarm is issued if a student appears to be struggling. A recent Johns Hopkins University report of DPS students found students who earn even one failing grade in middle school are less likely to graduate.
  • Bolster alternative programs, including creating four to six schools targeting students ages 15 to 17 who are “disengaged” from traditional schools. Target date is fall 2010 to open the first school.
  • Create new schools, whether charter or traditional, to increase student options. All new schools must have a level playing field, including access to district buildings, but also must offer access to all students and must meet the same standards on the district’s School Performance Framework.

“We have very clear standards for new schools, that they must offer equity for all students,” Boasberg said. “We hold all of our new schools to the same rigorous performance standards.”

Charter schools have become a controversial issue among some candidates running for the Denver School Board in the fall elections. Candidates such as Christopher Scott, who is seeking the at-large seat, have criticized the district for focusing too much on charter schools and not enough on traditional neighborhood schools.

Several in Tuesday’s audience asked Boasberg about the “new schools” piece of the draft, including former city councilwoman Deborah Ortega, who has grandchildren in the district.

Ortega questioned whether the district has hired a researcher to review the backgrounds of charter school applicants, noting parents have raised concerns about the new Envision charter schools and about Cesar Chavez Academy in Denver.

The Chavez school is part of the Cesar Chavez Schools Network, which has been embroiled in controversy over allegations of financial wrongdoing and state testing abuses.

Boasberg said a team of district and outside experts reviews new schools applications. He also said the concerns about Chavez were not widely known before the school’s charter was approved this past spring.

Click here to read the Draft 2009 Denver Plan.

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

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.