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

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