The class of 2021 will be the first to abide by new high school graduation requirements approved Thursday night by the Denver school board that mandate students demonstrate proficiency in English and math in addition to earning a certain number of credits.
The board also passed several other measures at Thursday’s well-attended meeting, including the expansion of a rising turnaround school in far northeast Denver and the termination of more than 40 teachers who fell short of performance expectations.
Denver Public Schools will continue to require high school students take a year of physical education and a year of arts-based or career and technical education classes after public outcry caused the district to scrap a recommendation to eliminate those requirements.
Board members said they never meant to diminish physical education. In proposing to make electives optional, they said their intent was to allow students to choose what interests them.
“Even though this got a little messy, sometimes when things get messy, that’s when we can do a great job,” said board president Anne Rowe. “And I think we can.”
The new graduation criteria will require students take four years each of English and math, three years each of science and social studies, one year each of physical education and art or career and technical education, and eight electives. That’s similar to the current criteria.
What’s new is that students will also have to demonstrate “college and career readiness” in English and math to graduate. There are 11 different ways they can do that, from earning a C or better in a concurrent enrollment college-level class to completing a project.
Students will also be required to make Individual Career and Academic Plans, or ICAPs. The plans are partly meant to help them map out the courses they will take.
DPS is one of many districts revising its graduation requirements to match Colorado’s first uniform set of expectations for earning a diploma. The shift toward homogeneity grew out of a 2008 education reform law called the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, or CAP4K, although districts still have considerable leeway in determining the specifics of their requirements.
McGlone Elementary in far northeast Denver is set to begin serving sixth graders next year as part of a three-year expansion unanimously approved by the board.
The school, which currently houses preschool through fifth grade, will eventually add seventh and eighth grade, too. That will fulfill a district need for up to 270 more middle school seats in that region of the city, where a growing population has led to crowded schools.
Dozens of McGlone teachers, students, their parents and a few of their baby siblings packed the board meeting, filling the chairs and standing around the edges of the gymnasium. They wore red T-shirts emblazoned with the school’s new name — McGlone Academy — and its de facto mantra: “#HappyKidsLearnMore with the #McGloneFamily.”
Several students testified in favor of the expansion. A first-grade girl wearing bows in her pigtails, bobby socks and shiny black shoes stood on a chair so she could reach the microphone, reading a statement full of words like “narrative” and “growth” without a hiccup.
“We are Montbello,” she said. “We are the McGlone family.”
Added fifth-grader Janneyla Martinez, “McGlone should have a middle school because the longer we’re here, the stronger we will become.”
Board members were enthusiastic about the plan.
“You are why I’m here,” said new member Rachele Espiritu, who represents northeast Denver. “I’m proud to be wearing a red shirt with you.”
While the school will squeeze the 60 additional sixth graders into its current building next year, it will need additional space to serve seventh and eighth graders. The board committed to providing that space, which the district estimated could cost $6.5 million to build.
The board also voted unanimously to terminate the contracts of 141 probationary teachers who work at district-run schools. Probationary teachers have fewer than three years of being rated effective — essentially, they don’t have tenure.
Chief Human Resources Officer Debbie Hearty told the board about two-thirds of the 141 teachers were being terminated because of factors such as declining student enrollment at their schools, which can result in the schools needing fewer teachers next year.
Even though those teachers’ contracts must be formally non-renewed, Hearty said the district is “actively supporting them to find new positions in DPS.” She noted she expects many will.
However, she said 43 of the teachers were terminated because they did not meet performance expectations, despite what she described as “significant support.”
Two teachers whose contracts were not renewed addressed the board, expressing concern with the way they were rated and questioning the terminations in light of DPS’s teacher turnover rate, which was 22 percent this school year, according to state statistics. When they finished speaking, several union members in the audience clapped loudly.
The board approved the terminations without comment.
Hearty noted that the number of non-renewals was lower than last year and the year before, when there were 156 and 161, respectively.
She also said the district “confirmed that there was not disproportionality with respect to the representation of racial and ethnic subgroups in the non-renewal process,” though she did not specify how many non-renewed teachers are members of those groups.
Districtwide, 74 percent of teachers this year are white. Seventeen percent are Latino, 4 percent are black, 3 percent are categorized as “multiple ethnicity” and 2 percent are Asian.
— The board unanimously approved co-locating the Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design high school at Morey Middle School starting in fall 2017.
— The board voted unanimously to increase the price of school lunches by 10 cents next year. The increase does not apply to students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.