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.

Cabinet level

Jason Glass’s inner circle: Meet the team seeing through the Jeffco superintendent’s vision

New Jeffco superintendent Jason Glass at the Boys & Girls in Lakewood (Marissa Page, Chalkbeat).

In his first three months as superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, Jason Glass has spent his time touring the 86,000-student district and listening to scores of educators, parents and students to learn about its strengths and challenges.

This week he unveiled his proposed vision to guide the district for the next several years, focusing on addressing students’ experiences in the classroom, as well as the many challenges they face outside the schools. A strategic plan with more details about how to roll out the vision is expected by spring.

In the meantime, the superintendent, who was previously superintendent of Eagle County Schools and is being paid $265,000 annually, has a team in place to help him fulfill his goals.

Here is a look at the 12 people on the district’s senior leadership team. Note that so far Glass has not made changes at the top levels in Jeffco headquarters. While some people left before Glass arrived this summer, most of the people in the district’s top positions have been there for more than a year, and many have deep roots in the county.

There is an ongoing search for the chiefs of schools positions. The two people in the interim positions now are charged with monitoring and evaluating school effectiveness, student achievement and curriculum. There is no timeline yet for when a hire will be made permanent.

The short profiles of district leaders include their titles, salaries and some explanation of their duties, all based on information provided by the district.

Matt Flores

Matthew Flores, chief academic officer
Salary: $131,726
Job description: Responsible for all programs that support teaching and learning. As chief academic officer, Flores works to ensure that resources, tools and training are readily available for staff to support the district’s vision and strategic plan. Additionally, all state and district assessments are organized and facilitated through his office. His team also manages early childhood education, federal program funding such as the Title 1 money directed to help low income students, choice programming and student data privacy.

Bio: In this position since May 2016, Flores has worked as a classroom teacher and as an elementary, middle and high school principal. He also worked for four years as the district executive director of curriculum and instruction.

Diana M. Wilson

Diana M. Wilson, chief communications officer
Salary: $116,836
Job description: To plan, develop and administer the district’s public engagement and communications. Chief spokesperson for the district. Partners with schools and departments to provide communications training, counsel and advice.

Bio: Wilson was hired as Jeffco’s chief communications officer in January 2016. She has 20 years of experience in public sector communications, nine of them as public information officer/management analyst for Westminster Fire Department. Wilson served on Lakewood City Council from 2005-2013. She and her husband have three teen boys in Jeffco schools. She has a bachelor of science from Colorado State University, Ft. Collins and a master of business administration from University of Colorado, Denver.

Kathleen Askelson

Kathleen Askelson, chief financial officer
Salary: $137,940
Job description: Establishes strategic direction and provides leadership of the financial services organization within Jeffco. She is in charge of maintaining a multi-year financial outlook, creating an annual budget and providing financial reporting in accordance with standards and state statutes. She oversees operational functions including accounting, budgeting, purchasing, disbursements, cash management, risk management, payroll and financial planning, analysis and reporting. Oversees a budget that exceeds $1 billion and a department with more than 50 staff members.

Bio: Askelson has been with Jeffco Public Schools financial services since 1999. Before becoming the chief financial officer in September 2014 (permanently in January 2015), she was the executive director of finance. Askelson came to the district from a finance position at a private, nationwide child care company. She is a certified public finance officer and is on the special review executive committee for the Government Finance Officers Association. Askelson was appointed and served two terms on the governor’s Government Accounting Advisory Committee and was a member of the Colorado Department of Education’s Financial Policy and Procedure Committee for 17 years. She and her husband live in Jeffco and their two children are Jeffco alumni.

Amy Weber

Amy Weber, chief human resources officer
Salary:
$141,075
Job description: To develop and implement comprehensive systems, programs, processes, and procedures in the areas of employment, personnel record maintenance and record retention, job classifications and compensation, performance management and evaluation, benefits administration, recruitment on-boarding, leave programs, substitute teacher programs, unemployment, and employee assistance programs. Weber also works with the district’s unions and serves as lead negotiator with union officials.

Bio: Weber has directed the work of Jeffco human resources for almost 11 years. In 2014, the position was elevated to cabinet-level. Before joining Jeffco schools, she worked for 10 years in Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, Va., also in human resources. She has a master of business administration from the University of Maryland and worked in management consulting. She has two children, one a Jeffco graduate and the other a Jeffco senior.

Brett Miller

Brett Miller, chief information officer
Salary: $136,500
Job description: Leads the Information Technology (IT) department and serves as technology leader and innovator for Jeffco Public Schools, overseeing the district’s technology-related strategies and initiatives. Plans for the organization’s technology needs and addresses any tech-related problems.

Bio: Miller started with Jeffco Schools in September 1988, became chief technology officer in 2007 and chief information officer in 2014. Miller is a long-time Jeffco resident and a product of Jeffco schools. He worked in technology for a data processing firm in the oil industry before joining the district in 1988. His wife and four children — who have all attended Jeffco Public Schools — live in Arvada.

Craig Hess

Raymond Craig Hess, chief legal counsel and employee relations
Salary: $155,040
Job description: To provide district-wide, general in-house legal support including leadership for compliance with federal, state and local laws relating to staff, students and the public. Directs all employee relations activities. Represents the Board of Education and superintendent concerning labor relations with employee organizations. In these roles, Hess provides oversight of the district’s legal activities, employee relations, and the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) program.

Bio: Before joining Jeffco in October 2014, Hess was the employment law associate general counsel for the University of Colorado Health System. He was responsible for integrating five geographically separated hospitals’ Human Resources Compliance and Employee Relations teams into one system-wide division. Before that, Hess worked at Qwest Communications International, Denver Health and Hospital Authority and as a senior assistant attorney in the litigation practice group at the City and County of Denver. Hess also served eight years as a United States Air Force judge advocate general officer.

Hess has been involved with law school and high school mock trial programs for several years. He has served as an adjunct faculty member of the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law, and as an assistant coach of the law school’s trial team. He has also served as the chairman of the Colorado Bar Association High School Mock Trial Committee.

Karen Quanbeck

Karen Quanbeck and Kristopher Schuh, interim chief school effectiveness officers
Salary: $126,624; $126,784
Job description: To provide direct supervision of all district schools through achievement directors to increase student achievement, ensure quality school leadership, improve school effectiveness, inspire innovation and monitor safety. Partners with the chief academic officer and chief student success officer to oversee the rollout of all district targets, priorities and strategies in Jeffco schools. Also must plan, manage and direct training for all achievement directors and supervise and provide feedback to improve their performance.

Kristopher Schuh

Bio: Quanbeck started her career as a high school social studies teacher in Minnesota before moving to Colorado to work as a middle school teacher in the Adams 50 (now Westminster) school district and later in Jeffco. She has worked for Jeffco for over 20 years as a teacher, principal and central administrator for both the elementary and secondary level. She was an achievement director before she stepped into the interim position in March. She has two children in Jeffco schools, one in middle school and another in high school.

Bio: Schuh began his teaching career in Wisconsin after a university education in Minnesota and Spain and moved to Colorado to teach U.S. History and Spanish and coach at Mullen High School. He has worked in elementary, secondary and district levels for Jeffco Public Schools, including as a school counselor, coach, assistant principal, principal and achievement director. He stepped into the interim role in March. Schuh’s family is “all Jeffco,” as his wife is a teacher and their two daughters are elementary and middle school students.

Steve Bell

Steve Bell, chief operating officer
Salary: $163,865
Job description: To develop, direct and implement the district’s support services and provide general management of day-to-day operation of service divisions including Athletics and Activities, Food and Nutrition Services, Custodial Services, Environmental Services, Facilities Management, Planning Construction, Security and Emergency Management, Student Transportation and Fleet Maintenance.

Bio: Bell joined Jeffco Public Schools in May 2010. Before joining Jeffco, Bell worked in the investment banking industry. His job responsibilities included the oversight and management for the origination of municipal accounts. Bell is a 50-year resident of Jefferson County, attended Jeffco Public Schools, and is an Arvada High School graduate. He has been active in the Jeffco community, serving on civic organizations including St. Anthony Hospital Foundation, Jeffco Economic Development Corporation, the Arvada Chamber and Jefferson Education Foundation, where he served as president for two terms and then as a foundation trustee.

Helen Neal

Helen Neal, chief of staff for superintendent and Board of Education
Salary: $95,535
Job description: To manage actions and decisions impacting the Board of Education, superintendent and cabinet and advise and counsel district leadership to help the district provide clear, complete, and accurate communication to external and internal audiences. Neal manages all content on webpages and in Board Docs — the platform for sharing public meeting documents — and manages the board’s meeting schedule and agendas while serving as staff support during their meetings. She supervises one office support position in the superintendent’s office.

Bio: Neal has worked with five superintendents and many board members of Jeffco Public Schools since her hire in 1998. Prior to coming to Jeffco, she was public information officer for the Aurora city manager, mayor and city council and worked for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs on special projects for the Economic Development Commission and the Colorado Film Commission. She and her spouse are empty nesters and have two children who are Jeffco graduates.

Kevin Carroll

Kevin Carroll, chief student success officer
Salary: $137,940
Job description: To develop, direct and roll out systems and programs to serve students and families who require educational, physical and emotional support beyond standard programming. Provides leadership and management for the following departments: special education, gifted and talented, health services, homebound instruction, student services, healthy schools and student engagement.

Bio: Carroll will complete his second year as Jeffco Public Schools’ chief student success officer in February. He has served the students, families, and staff of Jeffco for 29 years in the roles of teacher, dean of students, assistant principal, and principal. He has 16 years of experience as a principal at all three levels: elementary, middle and high school. Carroll completed his undergraduate studies at Metropolitan State College, his master’s degree at Regis University, and his principal licensure studies at the University of Denver. Carroll is a Jeffco alumnus, having graduated from Wheat Ridge High School, and resides in Jeffco where his wife is a teacher and his two children attend their neighborhood high school.

Tom McDermott

Thomas McDermott, special assistant to the superintendent
Salary: $68,000
Job description: The special assistant to the superintendent is a 10-month residency program through Harvard’s Doctor of Education Leadership program. The resident serves under the direct supervision of the superintendent on identified projects of strategic value to Jeffco Public Schools. He participates on the superintendent’s cabinet, assists the superintendent in outreach opportunities to the community, provides feedback on superintendent’s strategic initiatives such as Jeffco University and Jeffco Generations and will complete a capstone project centered on the implementation of Jeffco’s strategic vision.

Bio: McDermott is a doctoral resident in his final year of the doctor of education leadership (Ed.L.D) program at Harvard University. Originally from Long Island, New York, McDermott taught and led in traditional public and charter schools in Phoenix and Brooklyn. He later joined the Achievement Network (ANet) as the director of school support in Boston before beginning his doctoral work in 2015. McDermott joined the Jeffco team in July 2017.

State of the Schools

Detroit’s first State of the Schools address aims to ‘bring all the parties to the table’  

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn

There’s a State of the Union address, a State of the State address and a State of the City address.

Now, Detroiters will have a State of the Schools address.

“We thought it was important to do something just about schools,” said Jamila Martin, co-director of 482Forward, a citywide network of parents, students and educators that is sponsoring the first of what it hopes will be an annual event.

The State of the Schools will feature presentations from Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti as well as the leaders of two charter school authorizers — Grand Valley State University and Central Michigan University — that collectively oversee 25 of the city’s 60-plus charter schools.

All three speakers have been asked to bring data on their schools in a format that will allow for easy comparisons. Vitti has made no secret of the fact that he is competing with charter schools for students, and charter advocates have chided him for not working collaboratively with them.

Including charter schools in the event was a priority, Martin said, because most of the public’s attention over the past two years has focused on Detroit’s main school district.

The district, after years of state emergency management, was in so much debt that it only avoided bankruptcy last year when state lawmakers put $617 million toward creating a debt-free Detroit Public Schools Community District. Since then, eyes have been on the district’s first elected school board and the board’s hiring of Vitti last spring.

“That’s all important,” Martin said, “but it tends to obscure the fact that half of our kids are in schools that are not part of DPSCD.”

The State of the Schools event, which will be held at the Gesu Catholic Church in northwest Detroit from 6-8 p.m. on October 25, will be moderated by reporters from Chalkbeat and Bridge Magazine.

Organizers are asking people who want to attend in person to register in advance. For those not able to attend, the event will be carried live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

A parent, a student and a teacher will each play a formal hosting role in the event.

“This an opportunity for accountability,” said Jimmie Jones, an event host who has worked in both district and charter schools and sends his daughter Trinity, 7, to a charter.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there. There’s a lot of finger pointing,” Jones said. “This is an opportunity to bring all the parties to the table and unpack all of the rhetoric … and make it understandable and relatable to people.”