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DPS Approves 10 New Schools

By Nancy Mitchell, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO
The Denver Public school board late Thursday approved the opening of 10 new schools beginning in fall 2010, including the district’s first immersion school in Chinese and four more campuses of the high-performing Denver School of Science and Technology.
The votes came at the end of a standing-room-only, five-hour meeting in which several speakers heatedly urged the board to focus less on approving new charter programs and more on improving existing neighborhood schools.
Of the 10 new schools, nine are charters. The tenth, the Denver Green School, was created by Denver Public Schools teachers and principals and will use the environment and sustainability as its overall theme.
“People are asking for support of our neighborhood schools,” said Deborah Ortega, who has four grandchildren in DPS. “It should not be like pulling teeth to get support for our neighborhood schools when the perception is that open arms are given to charter schools.”
This fall, eight schools are scheduled to open in DPS as part of the district’s process soliciting proposals for new school models. Six of those eight are charters.
Much of the fear around the new schools stems from where they might be located. The 10 new schools approved Thursday do not have specific sites. Instead, board members plan to approve locations in October or November.
That worries those who fear their neighborhood schools will be forced to share building space with a new charter program. Of the six charters opening this fall, four are going into neighborhood schools though many parents and teachers at those schools did not want to share their buildings.
“My concern is this process is backward,” said Amber Tafoya, who described herself as a future DPS parent. “In order for us to have full community support for a charter, we must know where it’s going.”
Re-igniting an old debate
DPS launched its request-for-proposal or RFP process a year ago in the hopes of quickly importing high-performing middle and high school programs, areas where traditional city schools have struggled.
The process wasn’t intended only for charter schools but they’ve made up the overwhelming majority of applicants. And DPS’ approval of 15 new charters in two years seemed, at least on Thursday, to have re-ignited the debate between traditional and charter school advocates.
“Charter schools, it’s a business,” said Joseph Salazar, co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum. “It’s a business to make money, that’s what charter schools are about.”
Ortega, a member of the Latino Forum and the recently formed Denver Education Advocacy Network, urged the board to postpone any vote on the new schools until DPS staff had completed a “cost analysis” of each proposed charter as well as an analysis of its academics.
“We think the board should postpone the action so that all communities across the city can know exactly where these charters are being proposed to go,” she said.
“And to take a vote before we know where they’re going to go – there are going to be a lot of pissed-off people showing up at their schools in September finding out their school has been targeted for a charter.”
Patrick Ridgeway, one of the parents who founded the popular Academia Ana Marie Sandoval school in northwest Denver, said DPS is turning to charters because it doesn’t know how to improve its own schools.
“Why can’t the district partner with me, partner with these people,” he told the board, indicating the jam-packed audience, “partner with teachers? Don’t sit up here and make decisions for me because I’m capable of doing it, I’m capable of working.”
DPS’ “90 percent” talking point
In response, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said teams of experts had reviewed the new schools applications and that the public had opportunities to view them and weigh in on their merits.
“Ninety percent of our students go to our existing traditional DPS schools,” he said, repeating an increasingly common refrain. “Ninety percent of our focus and our time and our energy and our money go, and will go, and will continue to go, to make those schools as strong and as effective as possible …
“In addition, we welcome the introduction of high-quality new schools and new programs,” he said. “I don’t see in any way those two things being oppositional or in contradiction. I think we as a district need to do both.”
Board members voted mostly unanimously to go along with staff recommendations in approving the 10 new schools and rejecting four others. They deviated only once, in rejecting an application from Global Village Academy, another language immersion school that staff earlier recommended they approve.
Board members Jill Conrad and Kevin Patterson voted to approve Global Village, with Conrad citing the need for more language instruction in Denver schools. But four board members voted against it.
A seventh board member, Michelle Moss, was absent. She is recovering from surgery for cancer.
Board members also approved placing one of the Denver School of Science and Technology campuses at the Green Valley Ranch ECE-12 now being built.
“This is really how we should be doing the charter process,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, referring to approving a school in a specific location.
Jimenez said he has received numerous calls from parents in Northwest Denver, the area he represents, who prefer to emphasize traditional neighborhood schools over charters. He said he received more than 25 calls on Thursday alone.
“In Northwest Denver, we would like to focus on the existing public schools,” he said, sparking applause from the audience.
Board member Jeanne Kaplan, who has raised concerns about paying attention to neighborhood schools, said she has “come to the conclusion there definitely is a need for charter schools.”
“But we really do need to focus on our neighborhood schools as well,” she said. “I don’t think it needs to be an either/or.”
A new advocacy network
Speakers on Thursday repeatedly hammered DPS for failing to listen to parents and community members.
“No one returns phone calls,” said Lisa Bailey Martin, a parent and DPS employee who sought help with a student discipline issue.
“No one from downtown” – DPS headquarters – “has found the time to meet with parents,” said Roxana Witter, one of a dozen parents who showed up to complain about the lack of rigorous algebra classes in city middle schools.
Members of the Denver Education Advocacy Network, or DEAN, complained the district’s response to their request for data on the charter school applicants was incomplete.
“We want transparency,” said Ortega, a former Denver City Councilwoman. “We want data-driven decision-making.”
Evan Icolari, one of the founders of DEAN, said DPS’ perceived lack of attention to parents and community members is one reason the group was launched. That feeling intensified after the district announced charter programs would be placed within existing neighborhood schools.
“We started just brainstorming about what we could do,” he said of the founding trio of dads in Northwest and Southeast Denver, “how could we take all this energy out there that was really sort of screaming into the wind as individual voices and make it a stronger, louder, more cohesive voice.”
The idea is that DEAN will serve as an umbrella for parent groups across Denver, from the Northwest Parents for Excellent Schools to individual parent clusters at schools such as Smiley Middle School.
Icolari said DEAN also wants to build a web site and serve as a repository for documents and research that parents and others can tap into.
“People who are taking a stand for a certain thing at their school or within their quadrant can use the information that others have gathered in their efforts to make change,” he said.
While some speakers raising concerns about charters identified themselves as DEAN members, Icolari said the group isn’t necessarily about taking a stance on any particular issue.
“We really, really want to stay focused on data-driven decision-making and process-driven decision-making,” he said. “We aren’t simply about passionate arguments. We want to assist and encourage DPS to make decisions that are based on verifiable data.”
Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@pebc.org or 303-478-4573.

School groups approved Thursday for opening in fall 2010 or later:
1. Denver Green School, ECE-8, 442 students, one school opening in 2010, Southeast quadrant
2. Denver Language School, K-8, 550 students, one school opening in 2010, Northeast quadrant
3. Denver School of Science and Technology, 6-12, 850 students per school, four schools, opening 2010 to 2013, Far Northeast for 2010 school
4. West Denver Prep, 6-8, 300 students per school, two schools opening in 2010, Northwest quadrant
5. KIPP Academy Middle School, 6-8, 380 students, one school opening in 2011, Northeast or Far Northeast quadrants
6. SOAR, K-5, 428 students, one school opening in 2010, Far Northeast quadrant

Schools scheduled to open this fall:
1. Envision Leadership Prep Charter, co-located in Smiley Middle School in Northeast Denver.
2. Cesar Chavez Charter Academy, to be located in former DATA Charter School building in Northwest Denver.
3. Manual Martinez Edison Charter, co-located in West High School in Central Denver.
4. West Denver Prep Charter, co-located in Kunsmiller Middle School in Southwest Denver.
5. Justice High School Charter, located at 4760 Shoshone in Northwest Denver.
6. KIPP Collegiate Academy Charter High School, co-located in Rishel Middle School in Southwest Denver.
7. Math and Science Leadership Academy Innovation School, co-located in Rishel Middle School.
8. Kunsmiller Academy of Creative Arts, Kunsmiller Middle School.

Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters

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