Denver Compact focuses on early ed

The focus of the Denver Education Compact is officially “cradle to career,” but discussion at the group’s first working session Monday kept coming back to the front end of that arc.

Photo illustrationSpecifically, making sure that every child is prepared for kindergarten is emerging as a dominant theme for the group, with the belief that doing so is the first critical step toward ensuring that Denver will be “a more economically sound, competitive city,” in Mayor Michael Hancock’s words.

“I think it gets back to it’s not at third grade that you have to start working on kids, you really have to start working on them, I think somebody said, at prenatal,” said Kaiser Permanente Colorado president Donna Lynne, a co-chair of the compact.

Hancock made education a key focus of his mayoral campaign year. A cornerstone of his education platform was creation of the compact, which was launched Aug. 25 with the announcement that former Denver school board member Theresa Peña would serve as executive director. Peña’s first official day in her new job is Thursday.

The first full meeting of compact members took place Oct. 20. That session served mostly as an opportunity for members of the 24-person executive committee to make one another’s acquaintance – although many are familiar names from other education or civic enterprises – and be briefed more fully on their mission.

On Monday, meeting in a conference space at the LoDo offices of DaVita, more than half the compact’s executive committee members gathered to discuss a proposed set of goals brought forward by the group’s co-chairs – Lynne, Hancock, and Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Those goals, intended as launching points for the compact’s work, are:

  • Every child prepared for kindergarten
  • Every child graduates from high school ready for college and career
  • Every student enrolls, persists, and graduates from a postsecondary institution
  • Closing the achievement gap for low income and students of color

Not every compact member at Monday’s one-hour session embraced each of those aims with equal enthusiasm. Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, took issue with the idea that every student needs to graduate from some form of postsecondary institution.

“I don’t think our economy is even set up to accommodate every student graduating” from a postsecondary school, she said. “To say, ‘every student,’ we have a lot of dissatisfied, educated folks working in jobs where a degree is not needed.”

Brough added that the group could establish as a goal a percentage of students pursuing postsecondary education, “but I don’t think it’s 100 percent.”

The bulk of the discussion centered on the idea that if young children aren’t better prepared than postsecondary attainment will be moot.

Tom Boasberg
Tom Boasberg / File photo

“All the data shows that it is so important … you absolutely have to start with the gaps that are evident when a child is four years old, five years old, six years old,” said Boasberg. “How do you close those?”

Boasberg was one of several to suggest that kindergarten readiness is so crucial that the compact might consider adopting that as the only focus for its initial years, shifting to other goals later.

“If you don’t get that right, you’ll be spending a lot of time ‘rehabbing,’ so-to-speak, students who get to third grade and aren’t ready,” said committee member Walter Isenberg, president and CEO of Sage Hospitality.

In addition to establishing goals, the group talked about the importance of establishing benchmarks so that there is greater accountability.

“The benchmarking, to me, is a critical point,” said Hancock. “If the goal is to have every child be kindergarten-ready by 2018, to be able to say in 2015, ‘Okay, we are 80 percent there,’ is critical to me.”

Similar efforts have been launched in cities such as Boston, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. The Cincinnati-based Strive Network has been instrumental in crafting education compacts in those cities and has been advising Hancock’s team.

While most of Monday’s meeting was focused on the four potential goals, the conversation did range – briefly – beyond those parameters.

Daniel Ritchie, chairman and CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, said “We have a serious problem in the country with ethics … at every level, and it starts at the school level.”

Mentioning the website (an online term paper site) and the proliferation of cheating, Ritchie suggested the compact consider “the whole issue of integrity. This is not a religious issue. This is a practical issue, and I think we need to address it.”

The conversation soon shifted back toward the link between a strong start in early education and producing young adults who will ensure a future Denver that is globally competitive.

“What I think employers want is they don’t want to remediate young people,” Lynne said afterward. “We want to make sure we are hiring people without having to remediate them. We want to make sure we’re hiring them in Denver, and not having to go outside of Denver because kids in other school districts – or states, God forbid – are more prepared than somebody in Denver.

A meeting of the full executive committee is set for Dec. 12, with goal-setting discussion on the agenda.

“I think people are very anxious to get working,” said the compact’s interim director, Janet Lopez.

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.”