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.


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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.