The importance of identifying best turnaround practices, and the policies that support them, is critical, both in Denver, and across the country. In Denver, 20% of students are enrolled in orange and red schools: schools where, on average, nearly 90% of the students are low-income and students of color, and where proficiency levels are, on average, 16 percentage points lower than the district average. For example, only 27% of students are proficient in writing in the district’s red and orange schools, compared to a district average of 44%. Changing the narrative at these chronically underperforming schools is absolutely necessary to reach the strategic goals outlined in the Denver Plan 2020.
These efforts become particularly important as the district shifts to a more decentralized model, allocating more resources and decision-making authority to the school level. This approach comes with both challenges and opportunities: DPS will be able to focus more attention and central resources on its lowest-performing schools, improving its ability to provide contextualized supports, while still enabling turnaround leaders to choose the educational programming, curriculum, and professional development best suited to the school. However, fundamentally changing the relationship between district and school now puts an even larger responsibility on the school leader. The district needs to rethink the supports it provides these leaders, and needs to ensure it has high quality candidates to lead the school across the turnaround process.
With this in mind, Denver Public Schools asked A+ Denver to host a series of consultancies with DPS and outside experts to review school turnaround best practices. We appreciate the time and thoughtfulness of the district and charter leaders, business leaders, and community members who joined this Turnaround Roundtable, who tackled questions like how should Denver approach the task of drastically improving student growth and outcomes at its lowest performing schools? How can district policies and practices support turnaround school leaders and their teams? How can policies promote operators with an ambition and ability to serve students in a turnaround environment?