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 [email protected] 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.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.