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.

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.”