Increases at top, bottom on DPS report cards

Ten more Denver schools celebrated Monday for having reached the coveted blue or green rating in the district’s School Performance Framework, its annual school report cards.

Merrill Middle School Principal Amy Bringedahl talks at Monday’s news conference about how her school moved up to “green” on Denver’s ratings.

And while teachers and staff at those schools may have worn green and maybe a little blue to celebrate, there are most certainly not red shirts being worn by staff at the 11 schools – mostly at the elementary level – that slid to the lowest level, or red, this year.

Schools are ranked, from top to bottom, as blue, green, yellow, orange or red. For 2012, 15 schools received the top rating of blue or Distinguished, including eight schools with poverty rates topping 50 percent, and 68 schools received the green or Meets Expectation rating. At the other end of the ratings ladder, 18 schools were rated red or Accredited on Probation.

The annual district scorecard takes into account numerous factors, include student and parent satisfaction and college readiness, but mostly it examines student growth on standardized tests.

In the past two years, the number of blue and green schools in DPS has increased from 60 to 83. Superintendent Tom Boasberg said those numbers reflect the fact DPS has seen more academic growth than any medium or large school district in the state over the past two years.

All told, more than half – or 58 percent – of Denver schools are rated blue or green,  a 13-percentage-point increase over the past two years.

District leaders are most excited about what’s happening at the middle school level, especially at district-run neighborhood schools, which is why a news conference announcing the results happened at newly green-ranked Merrill Middle School in Southeast Denver. Several charter middle schools were also praised, including STRIVE Prep and KIPP.

“Merrill is emblematic of the tremendous progress we’re seeing in the district,” Boasberg said. “We have more than tripled the number of high-performing middle schools in the district. We’re seeing (growth) in all corners of the district, at all types of schools.”

Merrill among DPS middle schools moving up

Over the past three years, the number of DPS middle schools receiving the two top ratings has tripled, from 5 to 15.

Merrill Middle School Principal Amy Bringedahl attributed the school’s success to strong community support and parent engagement, the school’s high academic expectations, teacher collaboration and a creating a safe and supportive learning environment.

Bringedahl said the school also keeps class sizes small, extended the learning day this year by one hour so it can offer enrichment classes, such as tutoring, online reading programs, film history, advanced art and advanced band. The school, with a student body made up of 47 percent English language learners, also has a strong focus on the arts and technology. And its teachers are becoming ELA-certified and the school recently launched a pre-Advanced Placement program.

“Yes, we are green,” said Bringedahl, who made comments in the school’s innovative “smart lab” as she stood flanked by teachers, parents and students – most wearing green- and green shiny star balloons. “I’m thrilled we’ re all green.”

Assistant Superintendent Antwan Wilson said the work at Merrill began years ago under a prior principal.

“It’s really about identifying and selecting extremely talented leaders who, in turn, identify and support extremely talented teachers,” Wilson said. “The work you’re seeing at middle schools is really about our work to try to do the best job we can supporting our leaders.”

Merrill Middle School mom Lisa Filholm talks about how the school has benefited her eighth-grader.

Lisa Filholm, mom of an eighth-grader, said her son has thrived at Merrill where he is blossoming in technology and guitar.

“You hear so much about what is wrong with education – education is broken,” Filholm said. “That isn’t happening at Merrill. Here my son is standing in this Smart Lab where he has done robotics and computer design. Technology at it finest at Merrill.”

Filmholm said the diversity at the school is an asset, along with the professionalism of its teachers.

“They seem to really like their jobs, which, as the parent of teenagers, I can’t really understand,” she said, only slightly joking.

Merrill sixth-grader Alexander Anadiotis praised his teachers.

“They make you feel so welcome in the class,” Alexander said, noting that he had 25 to 27 students in his elementary school classes but only 19 at Merrill. “They want you to strive … What you do with your education is up to you. They give you that freedom.”

“I have grown a lot of respect for different people of different cultures, and even my teachers. My teachers are going back to school. They’re doing this for us. Everything these teachers do, it’s all for us.”

Far Northeast also sees gains

Boasberg also called out the progress in the Far Northeast part of the city, where dramatic and controversial reforms appear to be working.

The superintendent pointed out that all of the new and turnaround schools in the Far Northeast were either blue or green in their first year. Those schools are DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School, KIPP Montbello College Prep, Collegiate Prep Academy, High Tech Early College, DCIS at Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and McGlone and Green Valley Ranch elementary schools.

“This is an area that had seen performance not at a high level for years and decades,” Boasberg said. “I’m proud to report this year that the School Performance Framework for all eight new and turnaround schools in Far Northeast are green or blue. It’s absolutely remarkable.”

Boasberg said some of the jumps may also be due to dramatic enrollment increases in the district. He said those numbers would be announced next week.

“With the strong performance of these schools, it means more and more families are coming back to the district or staying in the district.”

However, the news was not all good, as was revealed when a reporter asked about schools dropping in rank this year.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in green schools and blue schools, but we’ve also seen an increase in red schools – a small increase – but nevertheless, one of our concerns. We have been working very hard at those schools, and looking at the targeted strategies we need.

“It’s important to be a culture of high expectations and collaboration.”

Highest, and lowest, scoring schools on Denver’s 2012 school report cards

How the ratings are calculated

  • The ratings are based on points are awarded for growth, status, post-secondary readiness, student engagement, school demand and parent engagement. Each category is weighted differently, with student growth carrying about two-thirds of the weight, followed by status – whether or not students are performing at grade level. The remaining categories carry less weight.
  • Rankings are then based on the percentage of points earned out of the total possible. For example, Steck Elementary earned 110 of 116 points possible, or 95 percent.
  • The Denver School Performance Framework differs from the state’s accountability system, which also includes ratings. For more on the state system, see this Colorado Department of Education webpage.

Scoring the categories

  • Distinguished or Blue – means a school has earned 80 to 100 percent of points possible
  • Meets Expectations or Green – means a school has earned 51 to 79 percent of points possible
  • Accredited on Watch or Yellow – means a school has earned 40 to 50 percent of points possible
  • Accredited on Priority Watch or Orange – means a school has earned 34 to 39 percent of points possible
  • Accredited on Probation or Red – means a school has earned 33 percent or less of points possible

Learn more

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