new guidelines

Here’s how Denver Public Schools will decide to close low-performing schools

Photo by AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Starting this fall, Denver Public Schools will use three criteria to decide whether to shutter low-performing schools, according to guidelines unveiled at a meeting Thursday.

The guidelines are for a policy called the School Performance Compact that was passed by the school board in December. It calls for the district to establish a process for designating persistently struggling schools for closure, replacement or restart.

The criteria explain how DPS will do that.

First, the district will consider how a school ranks on its color-coded rating system.

The system, called the School Performance Framework, takes several factors into account, including how students score on tests and whether they show academic growth year to year.

Each school is graded with a percentage of points — such as 80 percent out of 100 — and a color: blue, green, yellow, orange or red. The most struggling schools are coded red.

Using three years’ worth of ratings — or two years, if three aren’t available — the district will rank the schools from highest to lowest. Schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent will be flagged.

Those schools will then face the second criteria: whether their most recent test scores show an adequate amount of academic growth. If they do, the schools will be safe from closure.

If they don’t, the schools will undergo a school quality review. A team of DPS employees, community members, charter school representatives and staff from a third-party vendor hired to review a school will visit and speak with faculty, students and parents.

If the review team determines the school is on the right track, the school is safe. If not, the district could recommend closing or restarting it. The school board makes the final decision.

The criteria are meant to be as objective as possible and the process was designed to give schools several chances to show improvement, district officials said.

“We want to reward schools that are moving kids as much as possible toward proficiency,” said Grant Guyer, executive director of DPS’s department of accountability, research and evaluation.

Still, board members acknowledged the seriousness of the consequences for those that don’t.

“It’s a very real set of criteria we’re going to be facing in our neighborhoods,” said member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver.

Schools are expected to get their next School Performance Framework ratings in September based on test scores and other factors from the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. Taking those ratings into account, the district will determine which schools meet the first two criteria.

School quality reviews are set to happen in October. The district is scheduled to make its first batch of closure or restart recommendations in November or December.

The seven-member board — including new member Rachele Espiritu, who was sworn in Thursday — will likely vote shortly thereafter.

Some schools will be exempt. Alternative schools, early childhood education centers and new schools won’t be subject to closure or restart under the policy.

Neither will schools in the midst of significant interventions, such as replacing most of the staff or changing the school model. The idea, district officials said, is to give the changes a chance to take root and make a difference before making any drastic decisions.

The district released a list of schools Thursday that shows which will be exempt this fall, including Noel Community Arts School, Manual High and Cheltenham Elementary.

A group of adults and children showed up at Thursday’s board meeting wearing the red T-shirts of Padres & Jovenes Unidos, a Denver-based parent and student advocacy group. The adults listened to district staff explain the criteria, some of them with the help of a Spanish translator, while the children played quietly with cell phones and stuffed animals.

Afterward, parent Marina Guerrero said she’s glad Cheltenham will get a reprieve. She has three children at the school.

“We need more time to see changes happening,” she said.

The district’s list also shows which schools currently rank in the bottom 5 percent. However, it’s not an accurate picture of the schools that may face closure because it doesn’t include the School Performance Framework ratings that will be released in September.

But it does indicate which schools could be in danger, including Greenlee Elementary, Amesse Elementary and Lake International School.

The district has encouraged 19 schools rated red or orange to talk to their communities this month or before school starts in August about the closure policy.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Centennial Elementary was among the schools that could be in danger this fall. Centennial won’t be subject to the policy until 2017. Denver Public Schools originally included Centennial on a list of schools that could face the policy this fall, but the district now says that was an error.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.