shakeup at the top

DPS plans for cuts, additions, and shifts in central office

Denver Public Schools is cutting approximately 110 positions and adding several dozen new roles to its central office as part of a restructuring officials say is aimed at shifting more resources and expertise to schools.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer, said the changes are part of an effort to meet the goals of the Denver Plan 2020 and to educate teachers about how to teach using the Common Core State Standards. Most of the changes are in the departments Whitehead-Bust oversees.

The restructuring is coming in advance of the district’s new academic strategic plan, which will be released later this spring.

Some of the changes related to this restructuring, including an expansion of the district’s teacher-leadership program and cuts to its peer observer team, were announced earlier this year.

“As you push more expertise in the schools, it begs the question of what’s changing in the central team,” Whitehead-Bust said. “You now want to make sure your district roles are aligned to schools and leaders’ specific needs.”

Some of the changes:

  • The Office of School Reform and Innovation, known as OSRI, will be divided into two separate departments. An Innovation and Strategy department will develop and support new schools and programs like blended learning, and a Portfolio office will focus on managing charter schools.
  • The district is cutting its “curriculum coordinator role” and replacing it with two or three dozen “content specialists.” Content specialists will spend 80 percent of their time in schools, while curriculum coordinators were largely based in the central office.
  • The district is cutting its Collaborative Strategies for Reading team, a federally-funded group of 25 who led a reading program. The federal grant that supported the team is coming to an end, and Whitehead-Bust said the district had determined that it was not getting the results it had hoped for from the program. She said some components of the training will be continued.
  • The district is reducing the size of its teacher effectiveness coaching team from 72 to 54. Whitehead-Bust said some of the mentoring, coaching, and evaluating components of this job would be filled by teacher leaders. The district is also cutting a half dozen “executive director” positions in the academic office.

Whitehead-Bust said that she was unable to say exactly what the ultimate budget impact would be. She said the end of several grants means that the central office would be “leaner” next year. The district’s school board will vote on a budget later this spring.

Nine director-level positions on the new organization chart are listed as vacant, including the deputy chief of academics, who oversees curriculum and instruction and professional learning teams, and executive director of portfolio management, who oversees the new team focused on charter schools.

In an email to teachers and school leaders, Whitehead-Bust and Chief Schools Officer Susana Cordova said that the changes were partly prompted by feedback from teachers and a report from the Council of Great City Schools that said the district was not doing enough to prepare its teachers for new academic standards.

The email says the district is focusing on making sure teachers are more equipped with curricular resources that are aligned to the standards; on making sure support staff can help teachers with standards alignment; and making sure district professional development is aligned to standards.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.