In a series of mostly-unanimous votes, the Denver Public School board renewed its agreements with 15 charter schools and approved changes to school enrollment zones in southwest and southeast Denver.

The board also adjusted the terms of its contracts with one charter school and two contract schools and finalized the placement of the Denver Montessori High School.

The board’s monthly meeting tonight followed a series of community meetings and internal working sessions in which the plans were described, debated, and adjusted.

In southwest Denver, the district held more than 30 meetings with parents and students focused on tailoring and communicating the somewhat contentious enrollment changes there.

And at a public comment session last week, representatives from several schools noted by the district for low academic performance, including Sims-Fayola and Escuela Tlatelolco, spoke on behalf of their schools, while a neighborhood group and representatives of the district’s Montessori secondary school voiced their disagreement over plans for the Smedley Elementary School building.

Check out our board tracker for a run down of how board members voted on each item on tonight’s agenda.

Enrollment changes

The biggest change is in southwest Denver, where local advocacy groups and community members had been pushing for more school improvement efforts. (See below for a letter from the superintendent explaining the changes.)

In response to that pressure, the district has created two new attendance zones in the area. Rather than being zoned to one particular school, students in the area will have their choice of a number of schools in the area—though they are not guaranteed access to any.

The new enrollment zones are part of a broader set of changes in the Southwest, which is home to more than 20,000 students—nearly a quarter of the district’s overall enrollment. Charter schools Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep will open their doors in the Kepner middle school building next year, while the current program is phased out. Two other charter operators, DSST and Strive, and a new district-run program plan to open schools in 2016-17.

In a public comment session before the meeting, Veronica Barela, the president of NEWSED — a community development corporation in West Denver — told board members that she was concerned the plan would negatively affect some students who were currently enrolled in schools at West High School. “I would hope that next time there’s more inclusion of parents and people who will be affected by the changes.”

Board chair Happy Haynes responded that the district would monitor how the changes affected families in the area.

Students at Grant Beacon. The district plans to bring the school's model to Kepner Middle as part of its effort to improve schools in Southwest Denver.
Students at Grant Beacon. The district plans to bring the school’s model to Kepner Middle as part of its effort to improve schools in Southwest Denver.
PHOTO CREDIT: J. Zubrzycki

The board unanimously approved the plan. Board members Arturo Jimenez and Rosemary Rodriguez said they supported the plan despite initial reservations.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he was excited about Southwest changes. “I think the community access zones in the southwest will spur quality and help increase enrollment and be of great value to families in the area.” He said similar efforts in the Far Northeast had had a positive effect on enrollment and academics in schools there.

One adjustment was to a resolution that places Denver Montessori High School, a public school, in the Smedley Elementary building while creating a community task force to discuss the space’s use in the future.

In the public comment section, parent Irene Glazer blasted the district for not consulting parents before it made plans to place the school. “You should rename it the community disengagement office,” she said.

Board president Haynes said the district’s effort to find a compromise between the two parties was a “lesson in civic engagement…and how difficult it can be to make decisions that seem easy…We sometimes differ on the details, but I have no doubt everyone here came to the table with what’s best for children in mind.”

The district also approved an enrollment zone change in southeast Denver and the creation of a new “competency-based” program, also in southeast Denver. The district will hold community meetings about the competency-based school next week.

Charters and Contracts

The board also approved a set of actions on the contracts it has with its charter sector and placements for some of its other specialized programs and contract schools.

At a work session of the board last week, the district’s chief schools officer Susana Cordova said staff used information from the district’s School Performance Framework and other qualitative and quantitative information about the schools to determine which contracts to extend for how long.

The board approved a slightly-modified version of that set of recommendations:

  • DSST College View Middle School renewed for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • KIPP Denver Collegiate High School renewed for five years
  • Southwest Early College Charter School renewed for two years
  • STRIVE Smart High School renewed for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • Monarch Montessori renewed for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • Omar D. Blair renewed for five years
  • Sims-Fayola renewed for one year as a middle school, contingent on performance; its high school will be “surrendered’
  • SOAR Green Valley Ranch approved for one year with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • STRIVE Green Valley Ranch approved for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • STRIVE Montbello approved for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Rocky Mountain Prep approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • The Academy of Urban Learning Charter School approved for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • ACE Community Challenge Charter School approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Cesar Chavez Academy approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Colorado High School Charter approved for one year with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Contract with Escuela Tlatelolco renewed for a year contingent on board not seeking further renewals after 2016. (Read Chalkbeat’s story here)
  • Contract with Wyatt Academy adjusted to require board to meet certain conditions.

Board member Arturo Jimenez contributed the only nay votes of the evening. He voted against a two-year extension of a school run by the Strive network of charter schools, saying that the district should take into account the fact that its scores dropped precipitously last year and extend the contract for just a year.

Board president Haynes said that “one year’s dip in performance is not a reason to panic. It is a reason to pay attention.”

Jimenez also opposed a construction project that would refurbish a Strive building, saying it had been hastily arrived at.