Colorado

Charters at top, bottom of DPS ratings

New charter schools rank at the very top – and the very bottom – of Denver’s latest school report cards released Thursday.

West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus, the first replication for the high-scoring charter network, topped the list of all city schools on DPS’ School Performance Framework, which considers achievement and growth on state tests along with factors such as student attendance and parent satisfaction.

The Harvey Park campus achieved 98 percent of possible points on the SPF, the highest score ever, while the original West Denver Prep campus achieved 88 percent – ranking it no. 4 on the schools’ list. Both campuses are in southwest Denver.

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At the other end of the spectrum is Manny Martinez Middle School, an Edison charter school that, like the Harvey Park campus, opened in fall 2009. Both charters are middle schools sharing space in traditional school buildings.

But the similarities appear to end there. Martinez achieved only 5 percent of possible points on the SPF, the lowest score of any school in the three-year history of the ratings.

‘Completely unacceptable’ performance

And while DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will highlight the achievement of West Denver Prep in a morning news conference at the Harvey Park campus, he’s taking a stern tone about Martinez.

* DPS this year created a subcategory of Accredited on Watch, called Accredited on Priority Watch, to spotlight the lowest-performing schools in the Watch category. It also better aligns with the state school ratings to be released in December. Of the 61 Watch schools, 22 are on Priority Watch.

Boasberg said DPS is talking with Edison “about what’s needed to see significant improvement” at Martinez, located inside West High School in downtown Denver.

“I think kids in this area need to see a dramatically better option this year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the performance is completely unacceptable.”

Some school board members, including Arturo Jimenez, who represents the area, voiced concerns about using Martinez as the default middle school for students who previously attended nearby Greenlee K-8.

DPS board members voted last November to approve a turnaround plan for Greenlee that removed middle school grades this fall. Those students are given the choice of Martinez or, further away, Dora Moore School.

Click here to see the presentation to the DPS board, including how the SPF is compiled and dollars attached for staff.

Boasberg said DPS has shown its willingness to intervene in low-performing schools, including charters. In the past two years, the district has closed or restructured its five lowest-scoring charters on the SPF – Amandla, Data, Skyline, P.S. 1 and Northeast Academy.

“We have a single accountability framework that treats all schools equally, district-run or charter,” he said. “And we have full capability with both district-run schools and charter schools that are not meeting student needs to intervene as necessary.”

Progress at the bottom

Thursday’s SPF ratings for 132 traditional schools, including charters, and 11 alternative campuses mark the third annual release of the school report cards.

Schools are given one of four possible ratings – Distinguished, Meets Expectations, Accredited on Watch or Accredited on Probation.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

Since 2008, the number and percent of schools given the top rating of Distinguished has increased slightly, from ten schools in the first year to 12 this year.

But the biggest movement has come in the lowest category of Accredited on Probation, also known as the “red” schools.

In 2008, 30 traditional and five alternative schools were given that rating, or 24 percent of all schools. In 2010, that’s dropped to 12 percent or 14 traditional and three alternative schools.

Boasberg credits the focus on closing or reforming the lowest-performing schools, plans that have sparked heated opposition in some communities.

“I think that really shows the turnaround strategies are working,” he said. “We know the turnaround strategies are politically controversial. But we’re seeing in these two years a dramatic reduction in our lowest-performing schools.”

That “is really helping lead to the significant increase in growth that we’re seeing across the district” on state exams, he added.

Results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program released last month show Denver’s overall growth in reading, writing and math is more than double that of the statewide average since 2005.

Interventions, incentives tied to ratings

Of the 14 traditional “red” schools on the 2010 list, seven already are slated for closure or are in the midst of reform work.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

That includes Rishel Middle School, which will end its program after this year, and Montbello High School, the lowest-scoring high school on the SPF, which is slated to receive federal turnaround dollars.

The other seven schools include the new Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, which shares a building with West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus, and a neighborhood school in the “red” for a third straight year – Oakland Elementary in far northeast Denver.

Boasberg said any “red” schools that haven’t already received a visit from a Colorado Department of Education diagnostic team can expect one.

“The primary purpose of the school performance framework is really to help school communities -teachers and principals and parents – understand where the school is succeeding and also understand where the school needs improvement,” he said.

“And to give the level of information and detail and disaggregation that allows schools to plan how to make sure they’re … maintaining their areas of success and focusing on their areas that need improvement.”

The SPF ratings also are used to determine some performance pay for teachers and principals in DPS. Charter schools do not participate in either the teacher or principal plans, known as ProComp.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@ednewscolorado.org.


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.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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