Green Light

Denver board approves dramatic expansion for charter network DSST

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
DSST Cole High freshman Jayr Cardenas is the first to arrive for the school's morning meeting.

By 2024-25, local charter school organization DSST plans to have 22 schools in Denver enrolling as many as a quarter of the city’s secondary school students.

The network’s plan to add eight new schools to its already-growing set of schools was approved by the Denver Public Schools board at its June meeting on Thursday night. DSST currently has nine schools and had already been approved to open five more.

“We’re thrilled,” said Christine Nelson, DSST’s chief of staff. “We’re excited about what this means for Denver schools.”

The board also approved its 2015-16 operating budget, which includes raises for teachers and principals and funds to hire new teachers, and a series of new school plans at the last meeting of the school year.

Check Chalkbeat’s board tracker to see how the board voted on each of the items at tonight’s meeting.

Growing network

The new DSST schools approved tonight include a pair of middle schools and a pair of high schools focused on humanities — a new subject for the network — and an additional two high schools and middle schools focused on science and technology.

The expansion would make DSST the largest charter network in Denver and in Colorado — and, at 10,500 students, larger than most of the state’s school districts. Denver Public Schools currently enrolls just under 90,000 students.

DSST’s plans to expand drew well over 100 supporters to a board meeting last week. Many spoke in favor of the board approving new DSST schools.

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was the sole vote against the expansion.

“It should probably garner national attention that by voting to approve a great number of DSST schools, in additional to 14 we already have, we are turning over a great part of our portfolio to these schools with very little accountability to the public,” Jimenez said.

“Because they use public money and serve public school students doesn’t make them public schools,” he said. “They are private organizations with their own boards.” Jimenez raised concerns about the schools’ financial transparency.

Jimenez also said it is not clear where so many new schools will be placed, given that the district has very few open facilities. He said he believes one DSST school will eventually be placed in the Horace Mann building in northwest Denver that currently houses Trevista, an elementary school that currently serves mainly students from the Quigg Newton housing project.

Board president Happy Haynes and members Landri Taylor and Mike Johnson spoke in favor of approving the new schools.

“The eyes of the nation may well be upon us in this decision,” Haynes said. “And what they’re going to see is this district recognizes that the school that are the top performing schools in our district by far, these schools that, when we talk about the equity issues you discussed earlier tonight, are showing the district the way on achieving one of our extremely important goals around closing the opportunity gap.”

“We disagree about whether these are public or private schools,” Haynes said. “I feel very strong in my sense of accountability and in our ability to hold these schools accountable.”

Other new schools

The district also approved “redesign” plans at four schools in southwest Denver and new charter agreements for Rocky Mountain Prep, Downtown Denver Expeditionary Learning School, and Banneker Jemison STEM Academy. The district temporarily rejected a proposal from a group hoping to open new online learning centers in Denver.

University Prep’s plan to run Pioneer Charter School, first floated earlier this year, was also approved. The board of Pioneer, one of the district’s first charter schools, surrendered the school’s charter earlier this spring formed an unusual agreement with the board of the University Prep.

Several proposals for new schools, including a district-run dual language program, were withdrawn between this winter, when applications were solicited, and May.

The district is still soliciting applications for schools to open in southwest Denver.

 

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.”