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.”

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

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.”