Denver board reviews charter renewals

If the Denver school board follows staff and citizen recommendations, Denver’s Northeast Academy will close at the end of this school year and Venture Prep Middle School will be phased out too.

Meanwhile, several other charter schools in Denver will face closer scrutiny and shorter contract periods while other shining stars, such as DSST Stapleton middle and high school, will be awarded five-year contracts with minimal district oversight.

Four of seven board members listened to recommendations from staff and members of the District School Improvement and Accountability Council (SIAC) Thursday evening during a work session that included the status of 13 charter schools and one innovation school. Board member Happy Haynes missed the meeting because she is out of town, board President Mary Seawell said. Board members Arturo Jimenez and Andrea Merida also did not attend the meeting.

In its report, members of SIAC recommended Northeast Academy be closed, and the Core Knowledge charter school’s board of directors has also voted to shutter the school as of June due to financial concerns.

“Although District SIAC commends the efforts that Northeast Academy has put forth in the past, we believe this effort has not been enough to bring about the positive academic achievement level to meet the needs of the students who attend this school. The academic curriculum does not appear to be consistent or coherent to bring about successful learning experiences to the school student population or to attract a new population of students,” according to the committee report.

The panel based its recommendation primarily on student achievement, enrollment and student academic growth over time.

As for Venture Prep, the high school component gets one more year while the middle school will be phased out.

“While Venture Prep’s high school has produced significant and positive results, its middle school did not meet the 2011-12 performance conditions and Venture Prep Middle School will begin a voluntary phase-out in 2013-2014 while Venture Prep High School remains open,” according to a staff  report.

Staff assured Venture Prep families the district “will work collaboratively with Venture Prep to ensure students experience a quality middle school experience and a seamless transition to high school.”

Staff zeros in on Cesar Chavez and Southwest Early College

Both committee members and staff said the district should closely monitor Cesar Chavez Academy Denver, a K-8 school in Northwest Denver, and Southwest Early College, a school that offers college credit beginning in ninth grade and the opportunity for students to earn an associate’s degree in five years.

DPS parent Kristen Tourangeau, SIAC co-chair, said the  board should give both schools “one more year and that’s it.”

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, DPS chief of innovation and reform, said the staff is recommending two-year contract extensions for both schools. In the case of Cesar Chavez, it would be a two-year conditional approval based on progress demonstrated by the school’s English language learners.

At the elementary level, the percentage of points earned by the school on the district’s School Performance Framework, or SPF, showing student academic growth dropped from 59 percent in 2009-2010 to 32 percent last year. Students scored below district averages in math and reading.

The picture looked better at the middle school, which improved on the SPF between 2010-2011 and following year. The school’s teaching, leadership, education program, school culture and governance rated as “partially meets expectations.”

“We want to continue to monitor it,” Whitehead-Bust said. “We did see some incredibly positive trends. We want to give them the opportunity to take advantage of the two-year SPF.”

District staff spent six months analyzing student outcomes, leadership, programs and finances at the charter schools before deciding what kind of contract term to propose for them. Board members make the final call. That will happen at an upcoming board meeting.

Reliance on SPF questioned

Tourangeau said her group believes the school evaluations rely too heavily on DPS’s SPF, a rating system or report card that attempts to capture the effectiveness of a school.

Under the SPF, Denver schools are ranked, from top to bottom, as blue, green, yellow, orange or red. Blue means “distinguished”; green means “meets expectations”; orange means “accredited on priority watch”; and red means “accredited on probation.”

The annual district scorecard takes into account numerous factors, including student and parent satisfaction and college readiness, but the biggest portion is based on student growth on state tests.

“The emphasis on growth is out of line with what parents and community members like to see at a school,” Tourangeau said. “As a parent, we look at where academic status is … We don’t really care about how large the growth is.”

Tourangeau said the framework is very complicated and that even after hearing a staff presentation on it, she had many questions.

“If you use this as a big tool, we would like for it to be a better measure,” she said.

Board member Jeanne Kaplan said “there is some controversy over how much emphasis we’re placing on growth.”

“Growth is important but proficiency is where we all want to be,” she said.

Tourangeau said more emphasis should be put on personal visits to schools and student engagement, such as whether students even show up for class.

Seawell said the SPF is a “good but imperfect measure” and encouraged committee members to share their suggestions for improvement.

Whitehead-Bust said staff recommended that DSST Green Valley Ranch be granted a three-year renewal with a possible two-year extension. Kaplan raised a question about that since performance at the school in math, reading, writing and science have all dropped over the past year.

“If you look at the trajectory, it’s going down,” Kaplan said. “That’s not what we have in mind for our kids.”

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

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.”