DPS board briefed on latest innovation plan

Denver Public Schools are the biggest users of the innovation schools law but more are on the way, and school board members were briefed Monday on the latest district proposal.

Board members are considering a request for innovation status from Creativity Challenge Community, a new elementary school that was approved late last year to be co-located at Merrill Middle School in southeast Denver.

The innovation application, reviewed at a Monday night board work session, is supported by DPS staff. It will be voted upon at the board’s meeting Thursday evening.

Known as C3, the new school is designed as a choice K-5 program with an emphasis on hands-on learning. It will be open to anyone in the district, but with a preference for students in the Cory, Ellis, Steele, Bromwell and Steck neighborhoods.

The C3 focus is on adding creative thinking skills to the curriculum, mastering 21st Century critical and readiness skills and using community partners including the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Center Theatre Academy and the Young Americans Center for Financial Education.

Like most other innovation schools in the district, C3 is proposing a longer school day. It will also feature half days on Fridays so students can have learning experiences on-site with community partners.

Placing C3 at Merrill was opposed by some in the surrounding neighborhood, but the move was approved by the board Nov. 17 on a 4-3 vote.

“Our mission was always about innovation. I felt it was a natural for us,” said Julia Shepherd, currently the principal of Cory Elementary, who will be principal at C3.

Shepherd said C3 so far has secured 127 statements of intention to enroll from families who want to send their children to the school, and that some open positions there had attracted more than 100 applications.

C3 plans to open this fall with about 50 first and 50 second graders, with kindergartners sent to the nearby Stephen Knight Center for Early Education. The school eventually will serve grades K-5.

DPS is the state’s innovation school leader, having had 19 approved since the passage of the 2008 Innovation Schools Act.

The district is currently embroiled in a 2011 lawsuit filed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which challenged DPS’s approval of innovation status for schools that did not yet have staffs in place. State law requires that at least 60 percent of a school’s faculty vote to approve a waiver of personnel rules under the district-union collective bargaining agreement.

Lawyers for the district are seeking dismissal of that suit, and oral arguments on that motion will be heard in Denver District Court on Feb. 22.

Board member Andrea Merida alluded to that in questioning Shepherd on the innovation application.

“So, you’re bringing forward an innovation proposal before you have a staff,” said Merida. “That’s not really consistent with the Innovation Schools Act. Okay, well, that’s another issue; that’s being dealt with.”

Board member Arturo Jimenez also referred to that controversy, asking Shepherd if a vote in support of innovation status was planned for her faculty when it is in place. She said that it is.

The district has three more innovation applications awaiting approval by the State Board of Education. They are McAuliffe International School, West Generations Academy and West Leadership Academy. The latter two are scheduled to open this fall on the campus of West High School.

And Grant Middle School is expected to file an innovation proposal next month.

See the C3 innovation application here.

Also Monday night, the board discussed its unified improvement plan in the wake of being accredited with “priority improvement plan” status by the Colorado Department of Education for the second year in a row. DPS is one of 18 districts in the state tagged with that label, the fourth lowest out of five performance categories that CDE uses.

Jeannie Kaplan
Jeannie Kaplan
“The question becomes at what point do we say we really need to do things significantly differently,” said board member Jeannie Kaplan, a frequent critic of the district’s reform policies.

“The short answer,” said Superintendent Tom Boasberg, “is, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Every day, in every meeting, we talk about the extensive ways we need to do things better.”

“There’s no magic answer,” Boasberg added. “Everything is on the table – and should be on the table, and it is our job as the leadership team to question every assumption.”

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

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.