DPS graduation, college-going rates rise

Tom Boasberg

More Denver Public Schools students are graduating from high school and going to college, according to figures released Thursday about the Class of 2009.

DPS’ overall graduation rate climbed 3.2 percentage points, to 52.7 percent – the biggest jump in graduation rates since 2003, according to district statistics.  In 2008, DPS graduated 2,879 students out of 5,818 who started high school four years before and in 2009, the district graduated 2,893 students out of 5,494. 

In addition, the number of spring 2009 graduates enrolling in a college or university this fall increased by 7 percentage points, to 49 percent.

“This is the critical issue for the Denver Public Schools – to be dramatically increasing the number of our students who are graduating high school prepared for college and career,” DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said during an afternoon press conference at North High School.

“These are the most significant increases we’ve seen in many years,” Boasberg added. “However, we’ve got much, much work to do.”

North’s graduation rate increased by 12.1 percentage points, to 58.2 percent, making it the district’s top high school in growth. In sheer numbers, that represents an increase in graduates from 142 in spring 2008 to 189 in spring 2009.

Johnny Alvarado, a May 2009 North grad, attended Thursday’s press conference and credited the Denver Scholarship Foundation’s Futures Center at the school with helping him get to Regis University this fall.

The Futures Center assists students and families in learning about colleges, filling out applications and applying for scholarships and other financial aid.

Johnny Alvarado

The foundation, seeded with a $50 million gift from Denver oilman Tim Marquez and his wife Bernadette, also provides scholarships to DPS graduates.

“I wasn’t even thinking about going to college when I first came here,” Alvarado said. “But after I found out about the many opportunities I have here, I just took them and ran forward with them.”

But even as Boasberg praised the progress made, he also said the pace of growth needs to accelerate. He termed a 53 percent graduation rate as “not acceptable.”

“I don’t believe modest changes are what we need if we’re going to have dramatically different and dramatically better results,” he said, “and we need to have dramatically better results.”

The district’s goal is to increase its graduation rate by 5 percent each year – this year’s 3.2 percent growth falls short of that goal.

Boasberg said the district’s intense focus on college-readiness has resulted in other gains, including:

  • The number of students taking college classes while still enrolled in high school increased by 56 percent this year.
  • The number of students taking rigorous Advanced Placement or AP courses increased by 32 percent this year.
  • The number of students taking AP courses and passing the final AP exam, which earns them college credit, increased by 23.5 percent this year.
  • The percentage of high school juniors scoring a 20 or better on the ACT college-entrance exam increased by 2 points, to 28.2 percent.

Those indicators show the level of rigor in high school is increasing as the high school graduation rate increases, Boasberg said.

That’s important because, in years past, as some Denver high schools have seen their graduation rates increase, they’ve also reported a higher number of graduates requiring remedial classes in college. (See story here.)

For example, Abraham Lincoln High School’s graduation rate increased by 20 percentage points between 2006 and 2008. But the number of Lincoln grads requiring remedial work in college grew by 35 percentage points during those same years, according to state documents.

“It’s something we see as a central challenge – graduating students prepared for college and that means no remediation,” Boasberg said.

Lincoln’s graduation rate dropped slightly this year, down 3 percentage points to 64.9 percent. Montbello and South high schools also saw slight declines in their graduation rates, with each down 1.9 percentage point. South’s graduation rate was 67.4 percent for the Class of 2009 while Montbello’s was 57.4 percent.

West High School had the lowest graduation rate, at 50.9 percent, but that figure represents an increase of 3.6 percentage points over spring 2008.

The Denver School of the Arts had the highest graduation rate, at 97.3 percent, an increase of 2.3 percentage points, followed by the Denver Center for International Studies at 90 percent, a decline of 5.7 percentage points from 2008.

North, with its 12.1 percentage point gain, led all other high schools in growth.

Ed Salem

Principal Ed Salem credited initiatives such as the school’s three-year partnership with the Denver Scholarship Foundation and the addition of web-based “credit recovery” classes that allow students to make up failed courses on their lunch hours, after school and on Saturdays.

Next fall, North will begin offering an AP course, human geography, to freshmen in an effort to get them on the path to college. Salem said he wants to enroll all freshmen in the course by fall 2011.

“It’s motivating,” he said of Thursday’s data as he stood in front of a wall covered with colorful banners showing where North students are going to college. “It really validates the work we are all doing here.”

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

Click here to see a breakdown of DPS graduation rates by high school.

Click here to see a report containing historical data, including how graduation rates are calculated on p. 3.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede