Spring Meetings

DPS approves and renews slate of charters, innovation plans

Manual High School was bustling on Thursday night as the DPS board recognized educators with 25 years of experience and more.

The Denver school board approved innovation plan and charter renewals for 20 schools and new innovation plans for two schools during its April meeting Thursday evening.

At one of its most well-attended meetings this year, held at Manual High School, the board also heard a series of public comments on issues ranging from Denver Public Schools’ pension decisions to standardized tests to ProComp to the district’s embrace of innovation and charter schools.

Check out our board tracker for a full list of all DPS board votes.

Plans for innovation, charter schools

The board approved new innovation plans for Place Bridge Academy in southeast Denver and Kepner Beacon, which is slated to open in 2016. (See the district’s recommendations for schools here.)

As innovation schools, Place Bridge and Kepner Beacon will be given waivers from certain district requirements and policies. Teachers must vote to approve innovation plans, and schools must show they have garnered community support for the changes. DPS already has 35 innovation schools, far more than any district in the state.

Place Bridge is an ECE-8 school in southeast Denver that serves many English language learners and students who are new to the United States. The school requested waivers from standard district curriculum requirements, professional development, budget, and hiring/ human resources practices. The school’s staff voted 53-26 to approve the plan.

The board unanimously approved the innovation plan.

Kepner Beacon will be an expansion of an already-existing innovation school, Grant Beacon Middle School. Teachers at Grant Beacon voted to approve Kepner Beacon’s innovation plan.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole board vote against the Kepner plan.

Jimenez raised concerns that new teachers at Kepner Beacon, who were not part of that vote, would be required to opt in the innovation plan, which includes a waivers of some aspects of the district’s collective bargaining agreement.

Colorado teachers unions have raised legal concerns about DPS’s previous creation of new innovation schools that had no staff to approve the plans. A court has upheld the district’s actions, but Jimenez said he thought the Kepner expansion might be a different legal situation.

“We’re all pulling for (principal Alex) Magaña and his plan,” he said. “But I think the innovation proposal is lacking in that particular point.”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said that the teachers at Kepner Beacon will have a secret ballot after they’re hired to determine whether they want to opt into the innovation plan.

The board also approved a set of extensions of innovation and charter contracts (see board tracker for full list). The state requires that innovation renewals be considered every three years and that charters be considered every five years, but several schools were only given renewals for a year or two based on an evaluation by DPS central office. West Generations, for instance, was given a one-year extension due to its low academic performance and inconsistent leadership.

Critical eyes

The night’s meeting also attracted dozens of teachers, parents and students, some to support schools with renewals on the table but more with a laundry list of concerns to share.

A teacher grades while waiting to comment to the board.
A teacher grades while waiting to comment to the board.

About 20 Park Hill residents showed up to complain that they do not have a neighborhood school anymore because of the district’s shared enrollment zones. One mother said her child had not been placed at any of the schools they had listed on their choice form.

The crowd let out loud rounds of applause for student Josie Karet, who said she opted out of standardized tests, and for parent Lynn Roberts, who described tests as “a violation of learning opportunities.”

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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.”