big choice

Denver Public Schools heralds high participation, match rates in choice process for 2017-18

PHOTO: Provided by Denver Public Schools
Parent Becky Wiggins and student Jael Iyema joined Susana Cordova, DPS deputy superintendent and Christina Sylvester, principal of Merrill Middle School for a press event about school choice.

The number of Denver students who participated in this year’s school choice process and who were matched to their school of choice stayed about the same as last year, according to data released Friday.

Denver Public Schools celebrated improvements, including spotlighting Merrill Middle School, a traditional district-run school that has increased the number of neighborhood students staying in the boundary school to about 60 percent from 47 percent five years ago.

Principal Christina Sylvester called the change “a tremendous increase,” and said the school was proud to be accepting 200 new students next year.

“We celebrate our diversity, we celebrate housing one of only two newcomer centers in Denver Public Schools,” Sylvester said. “We know that our diversity enhances the fabric of our school community and we’re so excited that neighborhood families are excited about that as well.”

A newcomer center is a program located within a select number of schools for students who are new to the country and may have had interruptions in their education.

DPS officials released the data for this year’s school choice process on the same day they planned to notify families of the results of the process for 2017-18 enrollment.

The choice process, now in its sixth year, allows families in Denver to list their top five school choices for next year. One form is used to enroll in any district school, including traditional district-run schools, magnet schools and charter schools.

“We know that our families thrive when their kids are in great schools and that’s why it’s a top goal for us,” said Susana Cordova, deputy superintendent for Denver Public Schools. “Our families have the opportunity to choose the best fit and focus for their kids and whatever works best for their families.”

But she added, “We always encourage families to look first at their neighborhood school.”

Overall, more than 23,000 families used the form to pick their school for next year.

DPS especially encourages the process for students entering transition grades of kindergarten, sixth grade or ninth grade. Among those students, 87 percent of kindergarteners, 87 percent of sixth-graders and 73 percent of ninth-graders participated in school choice process. The rates were almost identical to participation rates last year.

There were slight differences when it came to the number of students getting matched to their first-choice school among students entering high school. Of students filling out a choice form to enter ninth grade in the fall, 79 percent were placed into their first pick compared to 86 percent last year.

Officials attribute that drop to greater demand and a smaller number of available seats at East High School, a school that consistently gets listed as the top choice by hundreds of students.

A high proportion of students from Gilpin Elementary School, which the school board voted earlier this year to close, also were awarded their first choice. Of 136 Gilpin students who filled out a choice form, 130 got their first-choice school. Four students are leaving the district and did not fill out a form.

For Gilpin students, the top-choice was Whittier Elementary School, about a half mile away from Gilpin. DPS officials had suggested to Gilpin parents upset about the school closure, that they could consider other Montessori programs, including one at Garden Place Elementary and had assured families that they would get priority to attend those programs. But they weren’t a big draw for Gilpin students. Of the 136 who filled out a form, 12 listed Garden Place as their first choice and four listed the Montessori program at Lincoln.

The district on Friday also highlighted the number of open spots filled in high-performing DPS schools in the district: 92 percent, compared to the 67 percent of spots filled at low-performing schools.

“That means we have thousands more kids in our top performing schools in the city so that’s really good news for our students, really good news for our families,” Cordova said.

Last year, high-performing schools were more full than this year, and low performing schools were emptier. DPS officials said that change was in part because of fewer schools landing in their top ranks of high performance.

Day without a Teacher

These Colorado school districts are canceling classes for teacher protests

Empty Chairs And Desks In Classroom (Getty Images)

Thousands of Colorado teachers are expected to descend on the state Capitol Thursday and Friday to call on lawmakers to make a long-term commitment to increasing K-12 education funding.

These Colorado districts have announced they’re canceling classes because they won’t have enough teachers and other staff on hand to safely have students in their buildings. They include eight of the state’s 10 largest districts, serving more than 400,000 students.

Some charter schools, including DSST and STRIVE Prep, are joining the teacher demonstrations, and others are not. Parents whose children attend charter schools in these districts should check with the school.

Unless otherwise noted, classes are canceled for the entire day on Friday, April 27.

  • Jeffco Public Schools, serving 86,100 students (classes canceled Thursday, April 26)
  • Denver Public Schools, serving 92,600 students (early dismissal scheduled for Friday, April 27)
  • Douglas County School District, serving 67,500 students
  • Cherry Creek School District, serving 55,600 students
  • Adams 12 Five Star Schools, serving 38,900 students
  • St. Vrain Valley School District, serving 32,400 students
  • Poudre School District, serving 30,000 students
  • Colorado Springs School District 11, serving 27,400 students
  • Thompson School District, serving 16,200 students

Teachers who miss work to engage in political activity generally have to take a personal day to do so.

This list will be updated as we hear from more districts.

Future of Schools

Indiana lawmakers are bringing back a plan to expand takeover for Gary and Muncie schools

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

It’s official: Lawmakers are planning to re-introduce a controversial plan to expand state takeover of the Gary and Muncie school districts when they come back May 14 for a one-day special session.

Indiana Republican leaders said they believe the plan, which would give control of Muncie schools to Ball State University and strip power from the Gary school board, creates opportunities for both districts to get on the right track after years of poor decision-making around finances.

“Two state entities year after year ignored requests from the legislature to get their fiscal health in order,” said Senate President David Long. “We understand there’s going to be some politics associated with it.”

But Indiana Democrats strongly oppose the takeovers, and House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, a Democrat from Austin, said bringing back the “heinous” takeover plan is too complicated to be dealt with in one day. Democrats had cheered when the bill unceremoniously died last month after lawmakers ran out of time during the regular session and lambasted Republican for calling for an extension to revisit it.

“This is not a thing that can be idly approved without full consideration,” Goodin said. “Because you are talking about the latest step to take the education of our children out of the hands of local school boards and parents and placing it under the control of Big Brother.”

But lawmakers’ push to expand district takeovers come as the state’s education officials are stepping back from taking control of individual schools. In this case, as with last year’s unprecedented bill that took over Gary schools, finances appear to be the driving motivation behind lawmakers’ actions, not academics. Typically, state takeover of schools has come as a consequence for years of failing state letter grades.

Gary schools have struggled for decades to deal with declining enrollment, poor financial management and poor academic performance. Although the Muncie district hasn’t seen the same kind of academic problems, it has been sharply criticized for mishandling a $10 million bond issue.

“All I had to hear is that a $10 million capital bond was used for operating expenses,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said, since those funds are intended to make improvements to buildings. “Fiscal irresponsibility is paramount, but also fiscal irresponsibility translates to educational irresponsibility as well.”

Bosma said that Ball State and Gary officials were on board with resurrecting House Bill 1315. Another part of the bill would develop an early warning system to identify districts in financial trouble.

The provisions in the bill would only apply to public school districts, but other types of schools, including online charter schools and private schools accepting taxpayer-funded vouchers, have had recent financial situations that have raised serious questions and even led to closure.

Bosma said those schools have their own fiscal accountability systems in place, but recent attempts to close gaps in state charter law and have private schools with voucher students submit annual reports to the state have gone mostly nowhere.

Both Bosma and Long said their plan to reconsider five bills during the special session, including House Bill 1315, had passed muster withGov. Eric Holcomb. But district takeover was not mentioned in Friday’s statement from Holcomb, nor did he say it was one of the urgent issues lawmakers should take up when he spoke to reporters in mid-March.

Instead, he reiterated his support for getting a $12 million loan from the state’s Common School Fund for Muncie schools and directing $10 million over the next two years to the state’s Secured School Fund. The money would allow districts to request dollars for new and improved school safety equipment and building improvements.