Equity

School board moves a step away from neighborhood middle schools in northwest Denver

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with reporters in February.

After months of planning and angst, the Denver school board voted tonight to approve a shared enrollment zone for middle school students in northwest Denver.

Denver Public Schools has been introducing shared zones — where students aren’t automatically assigned to a single school, but are guaranteed a spot at one of a number of schools. — in neighborhoods across the city in what officials say is an effort to foster integration and promote school choice.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the new approach to school assignments will “promote opportunity and equity within northwest Denver…and promote integration and equity in our school district, which are foundational principles of our democracy.

“The narrower you draw your boundaries, the more likely you are to see schools that are less diverse,” Boasberg said. “The broader you draw the zone, the more likely you are to draw greater diversity.”

Those issues have been pressing in northwest Denver, which includes middle-class neighborhoods and rapidly-gentrifying areas, as well as the largest housing project for lower-income families in the state, Quigg Newton.

The board had voted to close the middle school at [email protected] Mann, a pre-K-8 school near the Quigg Newton project, earlier this spring, citing low enrollment and difficulties adequately staffing the school to serve English language learners. That required the district to redraw middle school boundaries in the region.

The new enrollment zone in northwest Denver will include STRIVE, Skinner Middle School, Denver Montessori Jr/Sr High School, and Bryant-Webster. Trevista will remain open as a K-5 school.

Boasberg commended the principals at each of the schools involved in the zone. “We have a common set of values, equity and integration,” he said. “They put aside the fact that some are district, some are charter.”

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was the sole vote against the plan. Jimenez raised concerns about whether the zone would genuinely foster integration, whether choices would be accessible to the neighborhoods neediest students, and about transportation plans for families in the region.

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

Some residents of northwest Denver had raised concerns about the fact that each of the schools except Skinner has a specialized focus. Some with children at Skinner were concerned that the school would become overcrowded. Others were concerned that the proposals would automatically assign students to STRIVE, a charter school. Still others were concerned that some of those avoiding STRIVE were biased or misinformed about the charter school’s model.

Dozens of families and employees at the affected schools appeared at a board public comment session last week to share their thoughts on the plan.

The new zone gives preferences to students with certain backgrounds at certain schools: Students who already attend Skinner will be given preference at that school. Students with Montessori backgrounds will be given preference at the Montessori school. And students who have been attending dual language elementary schools will be given preference at Bryant-Webster.

Board members said the district plans to provide for transportation and will evaluate how transportation options are working and how enrollment patterns are playing out each year.

“It’s a dynamic, changing neighborhood,” said board member Mike Johnson.

“The legal environment makes it so challenging to do the things we’d hope to do to create equity,” said board president Happy Haynes. “The district’s been very creative in finding ways, through choice and through shared enrollment zones, to address equity issues.”

The district also voted tonight to approve a three-year placement of Denver Montessori Jr./Sr. High School at the Smedley building in northwest Denver.

The board rejected an amendment proposed by Jimenez that would require the district to create a new, district-run middle school in northwest Denver before moving any other new or existing program into the region. Board members said they were not sure how that amendment would align with a new policy that dictates how schools are placed in buildings.

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 [email protected]

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

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.”