shantay you stay

Denver board green lights 14 schools to open in 2015

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Kepner Middle School students hang out in the entrance of the southwest Denver school. In June, the Denver Public Schools board gave its OK to the STRIVE charter network to phase-in a program at the school along a new district run program.

School board members vowed Thursday night to find a building for a new Rocky Mountain Prep charter school after they approved a district-run school to open in a new building the charter school had its eyes on.

Both schools were approved to open a new school for the 2015-16 school year in southeast Denver. And both potential school communities lobbied district officials and board members extensively for the new building in the Hampden Heights neighborhood, built with dollars from the 2012 voter-approved bond.

But last week, Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief of innovation, cited the district-run school’s inclusion of the campus’ natural surroundings in instruction as a primary reason for its selection for the new building. The school will have an expeditionary learning focus.

The board heeded Whitehead-Bust’s recommendation.

“It has been a long journey to this point,” said Anne Rowe, the board’s vice president who represents southeast Denver, before taking a deep breath and describing her rational for her yes vote.

She said both schools will open and serve kids well.

“It’s incredibly inspirational” to have two new schools open in the neighborhood, she said. “[And] we will work very hard from a district level to find a place to serve those [Rocky Mountain Prep] kids.”

Board member Mike Johnson echoed Rowe.

“Rocky Mountain Prep is a fantastic school,” he said. “What I really want to do, is urge staff to work very hard with Rocky Mountain Prep [to find a building]. And if there is anything I can do to help find a facility [let me know.] Let’s help them find a school.

The Hampden Heights vote, which was approved 6-0-1, accompanied more than a dozen others on new schools the board considered that will open in 2015 and where the those schools should be located.

Board member Barbra O’Brien abstained from this vote and two others regarding new schools because of conflicts of interest.

In total 12 new charter schools and two district run schools were approved to open in 2015:

  • Banneker Jamison STEM Academy
  • KIPP Colorado Far Northeast Elementary
  • KIPP Montbello Collegiate High School
  • Near Northeast Community Engagement School
  • REACH Charter School
  • ROOTS Elementary
  • STRIVE Prep Far Northeast Elementary School
  • STRIVE Prep Far Northeast  High School
  • STRIVE Prep Southwest Middle School
  • Hampden Heights School of Expeditionary Learning
  • Rocky Mountain Prep – Hampden Heights
  • Southwest Community Denver School
  • YouthBuild Charter School
  • To-be-determined district-run southwest middle school

Two schools — the Denver Dual Language Expeditionary School and Westside Academy — that applied to open in 2015 were rejected by the board.

The board also approved the co-location of one of its new district-run schools and a STRIVE middle school at the southwest Denver Kepner Middle School campus.

District officials announced a the phase-in, phase-out intervention at the middle school, one of the district’s lowest performing, earlier this year.

The co-location of STRIVE and a district-run school was announced earlier this week.

The district selected the STRIVE network over the DSST network — which earned a charter approval last year to open a campus in southwest Denver in 2015 — because of STRIVE’s track record with teaching a sizable population English language learners.

District officials called it a tough choice. But at its Monday meeting, and Thursday night, board members congratulated each other and district staff on a successful community engagement process.

Co-locating the two schools at the Kepner campus is “very important to our commitment to modified consent decree” and “a solution all parties can agree with,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, despite splitting his vote between supporting the district-run program and voting against placing STRIVE at the Kepner campus.

The modified consent decree is a court order outlining how the district is to serve its English language learners.

Jimenez raised concerns STRIVE would provide only minimal services for English language learners and that would run counter to an earlier resolution the board passed claiming the district would go above and beyond the consent decree.

Board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents the southwest Denver community and played an oversized role in community meetings discussing the Kepner turnaround plans, disagreed.

“STRIVE has embraced the challenge and the charge of serving any learner who wants to enter their program,” Rodriguez said. “I’m really confident it won’t be the lowest level of service — it will be aspirational college prep.”

As part of the final agreement, which will be submitted for board approval, STRIVE will agree to share an attendance boundary with the district run program, hire bilingual teachers who will provide core curriculum in Spanish, and serve as a zone school for English language learners.

Zone schools are campuses that students who are learning English as a second language can attend if the school in their attendance boundary does not offer the English acquisition program that parents choose for their child.

More than 60 percent students at Kepner are identified as speaking a language other than English at home.

And while the decision to co-locate a district-run program with the STRIVE program at Kepner was celebrated at Thursday’s meeting by the Congress of Hispanic Educators, some Kepner parents who participated in evaluating possible school models feel the district pulled a bait and switch.

Bernabe Valdvis speaking on parents’ behalf said, through a translator, the end result was a surprise and disappointment.

That’s because an application for a district-run school, designed by some of Kepner’s current administration and teachers, that was presented to parents as an option to replace the district’s current program was withdrawn. Parents were under the impression they would review all options and now feel cut out of the decision.

Valdvis said if DPS officials are certain a district-run school will be in the building they should not wait to phase-in a new program but make changes now.

“Its DPS’s responsibility to guarantee a quality education for all students,” Valdvis said.

Last month DPS announced veteran DPS principal and administrator Elza Guajardo will lead the phase-out of the district’s current program through 2018. Another school leader is expected to be hired to design the district-run concept to phase-in later this summer.


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