honored

Five stories you should read about Denver’s DSST charter network and its CEO, Bill Kurtz

PHOTO: Kathryn Scott Osler/Denver Post file
Bill Kurtz, CEO of the DSST charter school network.

Bill Kurtz, CEO of the homegrown and high-performing DSST charter school network, was inducted this week into the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ Hall of Fame.

This is hardly his – or the schools’ – first accolade. Oprah Winfrey gave DSST $1 million and Hillary Clinton’s campaign just lauded the schools for being innovative. The network has been the subject of positive press from The Denver Post to The New York Times. And U.S. News & World Report recently ranked DSST’s flagship school in the Stapleton neighborhood the No. 3 high school in Colorado.

But there’s also plenty of skepticism to go around when it comes to DSST, which runs 12 middle and high schools in Denver and plans to open several more.

Critics say DSST schools take only the most promising students, encourage those who are struggling to move on and benefit from a largesse traditional public schools can only dream about (see: Oprah). In 2015, the Post’s editorial page editor (who is clearly a fan) tackled those criticisms and concluded they were overblown.

In bestowing the recent honor upon Kurtz, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing charters, noted that DSST is expected to educate one in four of Denver’s middle and high school students within the next decade.

Here are highlights from five stories about DSST.

1. The school started with an idea from former Gov. Bill Owens and a $2.5 million pledge from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, according to a 2002 Denver Post story we’ve excerpted below. (We couldn’t find the story in online archives.)

Gov. Bill Owens had the idea for two years. Now he has the land to create the next generation of high-tech education.

The Denver School of Science and Technology will break ground next year on a weed-infested 10-acre site donated by Forest City, the developer of the future Stapleton community of 12,000 homes.

The charter school, created with $10 million in private donations, will cater specifically to girls and low-income kids. It will enroll 100 students in 2004 and eventually up to 400.

The school aims to bridge the cultural digital divide and encourage kids to pursue careers in science, math, engineering, computers and even biotechnology.

2. The first DSST opened in Stapleton in 2004. By 2012, the network had multiple schools. A report showed that its test scores — and those of other charter networks — were having a significant impact on the district’s growth and achievement scores at grades six and above.

3. In 2013, EdNews Colorado analyzed student retention at Denver’s high schools. Charter schools retained more students than traditional schools, the analysis found — and of the four charter schools that had been open since 2009, DSST in Stapleton had the lowest attrition rate.

4. In June 2015, the Denver school board approved a dramatic expansion of DSST. The charter network plans to have 22 schools by 2024-25, which would make it the largest in Colorado.

5. In July 2015, state science test scores at three DSST middle schools dropped significantly — in one case from 72 percent of students scoring proficient to just 50 percent scoring that way. But even the scores at those schools were above the district average.

on the market

Albany to Boston? New York education official Angelica Infante-Green in the running to lead Massachusetts schools

PHOTO: Chiefs for Change
Angelica Infante-Green is a finalist to run schools in Massachusetts.

One of New York state’s top education officials is a finalist to take over the leaderless state education department in Massachusetts.

Angelica Infante-Green is one of three finalists to succeed Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts education commissioner who died unexpectedly in June 2017, according to the Boston Herald.

Infante-Green is a deputy commissioner overseeing instruction in New York’s public schools, where she has recently spearheaded the state’s efforts integrate schools by race and class. Before arriving in Albany in 2013, she oversaw New York City’s efforts to serve to English language learners. In that position, she was responsible for expanding the city’s bilingual and dual-language programs and making sure that immigrant families landed in the best schools for their children.

Infante-Green is the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, a graduate of New York City schools, and a Teach For America alumna.

When she was teaching, Infante-Green felt “a little frustration in the classroom because there were policies that were being made without really knowing what was happening in the classroom,” she said in a video interview with Chiefs for Change, a national coalition of state and district education leaders that lobbies for policy changes to help students. “So I decided that I was going to bring that drive to create change at a different level.”

Infante-Green also is a public school parent of two children; her son attends the first-ever dual-language program for students with autism, which she helped launch.

In an interview with Education Post last year, Infante-Green reflected on how her experiences as a parent, educator, and administrator inform her outlook on education policy.

“I’ve always had a passion for equity because of my own experience. I know firsthand what it’s like to be in a school where there isn’t much support and expectations are low,” Infante Green said in the interview. “If I didn’t have the chance to change schools, I don’t know how I would have ended up. So I work to make sure all kids have the opportunity to thrive.”

Massachusetts would present different challenges for Infante-Green. Schools there are considered the highest-performing in the country, and unlike in New York, the state runs some struggling districts directly.

The other candidates for the Massachusetts job, according to the Boston Herald, are Jeffrey Riley, who leads the state-run Lawrence Public Schools in central Massachusetts; and Penny Schwinn, chief deputy commissioner of academics at the Texas Education Agency. They were selected from 18 applicants and will undergo interviews in Boston next week.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

Holcomb calls for changes to Indiana diplomas and more computer science in annual address

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Eric Holcomb addresses lawmakers during his 2018 State of the State speech.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s second major address to Hoosiers stuck closely to his biggest education policy priority for 2018: Ensuring students are prepared for life after high school.

“We must ensure that every Hoosier student receives an education infused with STEM subjects, critical thinking skills and the intellectual curiosity that prepares them for lifelong learning,” Holcomb said. “So when they graduate from high school, they have a ticket to their future success, be it going on to college or entering the workforce to realize a fulfilling career.”

His speech Tuesday night didn’t break much new ground, and some main themes — such as emphasizing science education and job training — are holdovers from last year. But while K-12 education has never been Holcomb’s strong suit, his remarks did indicate the importance the Republican governor is placing on adjusting the education system to better address his economic goals and showed he would be willing to even put money behind the effort.

His remarks on education — which took only a few minutes of his 30-minute speech before the legislature — appeared to align with a couple of key bills winding their ways through the Indiana General Assembly.

A bill to create a single state diploma has the support of some Republican legislative leaders so far, as well as state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. It’s not clear exactly where Holcomb comes down on this issue, but he did call for changes to the state’s current system, which has four separate diplomas.

“Late last year, Indiana’s State Board of Education took a crucial step by approving new graduation pathways for high school students beginning in 2019,” Holcomb said. “And this year, we must advance a more relevant high school diploma so that every student graduates with a diploma that is their opportunity to advance to the next step along their path.”

Read: Indiana’s new high school graduation rules were widely opposed by parents and educators. The state board approved them anyway.

Holcomb also said he supports a plan requiring all district and charter schools to teach about computer science in grades K-12, which would include funding so schools can train teachers in the subject area. The money, in the $2 million-dollar range, would come from several existing funds. Currently, about 42 percent of schools in the state offer such instruction.

“This year … we’ll enact legislation to require every Indiana K-12 school to offer computer science courses,” Holcomb said. “And we’ll pay for the teacher professional development they’ll need to inspire their students.”

Here he differs from McCormick, who supports giving more science, technology, engineering and math education to students, but doesn’t want to make it mandatory for districts.

“We want to see it offered to students,” said Adam Baker, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education. “Their academic path is a decision they need to drive along with the input of their parents, and local educators and counselors.”

Leading state Democrats felt Holcomb’s speech lacked specificity and vision, particularly in the area of job training.

“I was struck more by what he didn’t say,” said Rep. Terry Goodin, House Minority leader and former superintendent. “I guess I was expecting more of a bold vision or bold idea in terms of what do we need to do to the workforce system here in Indiana.”

Yet Republicans cheered some of Holcomb’s goals on job training, acknowledging how unusual it is that legislative leaders and the governor would be on the same page on major priorities.

“I’ve worked with seven different governors, this is somewhat of a unique session,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma. “We’re all on the same page that workforce is the most critical issue.”

Below, you can find more excerpts from Holcomb’s speech.

On job training

“Over the next year, we’ll use the newly created Education to Career Pathways Cabinet — led by Secretary Blair Milo, Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, Commissioner Teresa Lubbers, DWD Commissioner Fred Payne and OMB Director Micah Vincent — to set the framework to guide regions and communities.

By next year, we must be armed with the framework to drive legislative action, including funding changes. But now, lawmakers, we need your support to position this cabinet for success to ensure our school-age Hoosiers are gaining the experiences and skills they need to thrive in our ever-changing global economy.”

On expanding education programs

“We’ll also take better advantage of programs with proven results, such as the Jobs for America’s Graduates program — or JAG. Last month, I agreed to become the chairman of this terrific national program that helps at-risk students complete their high school diplomas.

I’m committed to expanding JAG. It works. So, as we evaluate programs over the next year, we’ll maximize existing resources and work with the private sector to add 250 more programs all across Indiana within the next five years.”

Read more about Holcomb’s background, first year in office, 2018 education plans and more.