Alternatives offered for charter co-location

A new charter high school could open by next fall at the Lake campus if the Denver school board pursues the top choice of a committee formed to find a suitable Northwest Denver location for STRIVE Prep, formerly known as West Denver Prep.

Denver North High School
Denver North High School

Make that a suitable location that is not North High School.

The board heard from committee members Tuesday during its work session.

District staff originally proposed placing STRIVE Prep High School on the North campus due to empty seats there. But community backlash was fierce and immediate. Parents who had worked to boost the quality of nearby Skinner Middle School and other academic options in Northwest Denver said the neighborhood needed a solid, high-quality, comprehensive high school that all area schools could feed into.

Once the tempest erupted, the board backed off the district’s proposal and agreed to the creation of a citizens committee – made up of 10 parents and school leaders from the affected communities – to come up with alternatives.

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While community buy-in was initially outlined as a requirement for any viable option presented by the committee, that goal could not be reached, said Bill Fulton, co-director of The Civic Canopy and facilitator of the group. However, the group was able to reach consensus, which it defined as a direction everyone could live with and not undermine.

“It’s better you have these options than have the default kick in,” Fulton said, referring to the North High scenario. “We’re trading different amounts of pain for different amounts of players.”

After considering several options in the weeks after a heated June board meeting on the North co-location proposal, the committee said its top option would be to locate STRIVE Prep High at Lake and identify a new location south of the Lake campus and north of 6th Avenue to house the STRIVE Prep Middle School already located at Lake.

To offset costs associated with finding another building, the group suggested that the district consider the sale or lease of the now closed Remington Elementary building.

Adding a wrinkle to the committee’s top choice is the potential impact on Lake International School, a turnaround school sharing space with STRIVE Prep Middle on the Lake campus. The original Lake Middle School program was phased out due to poor academic performance.

The second option by the committee calls for STRIVE Prep High School to move to Valdez Elementary and Valdez students and staff to move into the vacant Smedley Elementary. The sticking points with this option are the building plans and the amount of money slated to be spent at Valdez if voters approve a proposed $466 million district bond in November.

The third and final option from the committee calls for STRIVE Prep High School and STRIVE Prep Highlands Middle School to move to the building now occupied by Trevista K-8 School. Then Trevista would split up, with elementary grades moving to Smedley and middle school grades given the option of attending STRIVE Prep Highlands at Trevista or Skinner Middle School.

This option is complicated by the numerous disruptions to existing programs, such as Trevista, another turnaround school. And this option comes with a caveat – if Trevista ECE-5 reached capacity at Smedley, the district should ensure that those overflow students could attend Valdez.

The committee worried that the district might reopen Remington to solve possible overcrowding, which could divide the elementary programs between less affluent families in the northeastern part of the quadrant and students from higher-income families at Smedley.

A lesson on inclusive public processes

School board members did not endorse any of the three options offered by the committee. But they agreed to consider a resolution at their meeting Thursday that would detail perimeters of a public process to garner community support for reconfiguration of schools in Northwest Denver and to evaluate enrollment numbers and trends in the area.

Several committee members said Tuesday that their work was a revelation in how to create a good process in an extremely divisive situation. Members from STRIVE Prep and North High said they found common ground and treated the process – and each other – with integrity and respect.

“There was never any point in any meeting when I left and said, “Oh, that Chris Gibbons …,” committee member and Northwest Denver parent Renee Martinez-Stone said, referring to the CEO and founder of the STRIVE Prep charter school network, who served on the committee with her.

Still, Martinez-Stone said there is a lot of healing that needs to be done in Northwest Denver where anger and distrust of the district runs high.

Gibbons said there was no easy solution.

“This was an opportunity for real dialogue and real collaboration,” Gibbons said. “We recognize the gravity of what we’re handing you.”

Board member Arturo Jimenez praised the committee for its work. He said the committee’s ability to overcome differences and embrace solutions that worked for the most people is something the district should aspire to in its public processes.

“It’ll help this body make a decision about what’s best for all the kids of Northwest Denver,” Jimenez said.

Board member Jeannie Kaplan said she hears many complaints about co-locating schools from constituents. She said the district needs to engage in a comprehensive conversation about educational options in Northwest Denver.

“We need to do our homework before we put these options out there,” Kaplan said.

Board members assured the committee they would take some time to engage the community around options, although it was unclear how much time the board was willing to spend on this decision.

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

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