Green Light

Denver board approves dramatic expansion for charter network DSST

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
DSST Cole High freshman Jayr Cardenas is the first to arrive for the school's morning meeting.

By 2024-25, local charter school organization DSST plans to have 22 schools in Denver enrolling as many as a quarter of the city’s secondary school students.

The network’s plan to add eight new schools to its already-growing set of schools was approved by the Denver Public Schools board at its June meeting on Thursday night. DSST currently has nine schools and had already been approved to open five more.

“We’re thrilled,” said Christine Nelson, DSST’s chief of staff. “We’re excited about what this means for Denver schools.”

The board also approved its 2015-16 operating budget, which includes raises for teachers and principals and funds to hire new teachers, and a series of new school plans at the last meeting of the school year.

Check Chalkbeat’s board tracker to see how the board voted on each of the items at tonight’s meeting.

Growing network

The new DSST schools approved tonight include a pair of middle schools and a pair of high schools focused on humanities — a new subject for the network — and an additional two high schools and middle schools focused on science and technology.

The expansion would make DSST the largest charter network in Denver and in Colorado — and, at 10,500 students, larger than most of the state’s school districts. Denver Public Schools currently enrolls just under 90,000 students.

DSST’s plans to expand drew well over 100 supporters to a board meeting last week. Many spoke in favor of the board approving new DSST schools.

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was the sole vote against the expansion.

“It should probably garner national attention that by voting to approve a great number of DSST schools, in additional to 14 we already have, we are turning over a great part of our portfolio to these schools with very little accountability to the public,” Jimenez said.

“Because they use public money and serve public school students doesn’t make them public schools,” he said. “They are private organizations with their own boards.” Jimenez raised concerns about the schools’ financial transparency.

Jimenez also said it is not clear where so many new schools will be placed, given that the district has very few open facilities. He said he believes one DSST school will eventually be placed in the Horace Mann building in northwest Denver that currently houses Trevista, an elementary school that currently serves mainly students from the Quigg Newton housing project.

Board president Happy Haynes and members Landri Taylor and Mike Johnson spoke in favor of approving the new schools.

“The eyes of the nation may well be upon us in this decision,” Haynes said. “And what they’re going to see is this district recognizes that the school that are the top performing schools in our district by far, these schools that, when we talk about the equity issues you discussed earlier tonight, are showing the district the way on achieving one of our extremely important goals around closing the opportunity gap.”

“We disagree about whether these are public or private schools,” Haynes said. “I feel very strong in my sense of accountability and in our ability to hold these schools accountable.”

Other new schools

The district also approved “redesign” plans at four schools in southwest Denver and new charter agreements for Rocky Mountain Prep, Downtown Denver Expeditionary Learning School, and Banneker Jemison STEM Academy. The district temporarily rejected a proposal from a group hoping to open new online learning centers in Denver.

University Prep’s plan to run Pioneer Charter School, first floated earlier this year, was also approved. The board of Pioneer, one of the district’s first charter schools, surrendered the school’s charter earlier this spring formed an unusual agreement with the board of the University Prep.

Several proposals for new schools, including a district-run dual language program, were withdrawn between this winter, when applications were solicited, and May.

The district is still soliciting applications for schools to open in southwest Denver.

 

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.