These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

2012 Public Education Game-Changers in Denver

We want to wish all of you warm holiday wishes. 2012 has been a remarkable year for change at A+ Denver. We’ve grown from a staff of two to a staff of five with the latest addition of Sari Levy as Senior Advisor. We have engaged in key areas of reform, including Innovation schools, enrollment practices, turnarounds, and colocation. For an account of A+’s work in 2012, please find our annual report here.

None of this would have been possible without our extremely hard working board, our members, andfinancial supporters. Without you, we could not be an effective change agent for Denver’s students. Thank you. We also want to thank the Gates Family Foundation and Walton Family Foundation for being the first foundations to make multi-year investments in A+ Denver.

While we often talk about the change that we still need to see in Denver Public Schools, we want to recognize that some incredible things are underway. We thought we would call out a number of individuals that we believe have been public education “game-changers” in 2012.

In asking for nominations (we had over 60) we chose our “game-changers” by looking at the A+ Denver principles and projects to see who will have a lasting impact for specific areas we care deeply about and that are at our core. Each of these individuals has student success at the center of their work, whether they are working at the policy, program, district, or classroom level.

First Annual Game-Changer Awards

AccountabilityRobert Hammond (Colorado Commissioner of education) and Keith Owen (Deputy Commissioner)- for keeping an eye on accountability, despite strong pressure to back down.

ArtsMonika Vischer (El Sistema and Colorado Public Radio) and Barth Quenzer (DPS Arts Teacher, Brown), for bringing quality music instruction to low-income students and demonstrating what a quality arts classroom looks like, while helping develop district-wide assessments.

AwarenessAndrea Merida (DPS Board) and Jeannie Kaplan (DPS Board), for provoking dialogue (and sometimes division) and forcing everyone to be on their toes and work harder to inform Denver citizens or Denver community.

Data-Driven PracticeAlyssa Whitehead-Bust (DPS) for turning around and building the capacity of the new schools and innovation office with a focus on results.

Effective CollaboratorJennifer Walmer (DPS Chief of Staff)- for working effectively with a diverse array of interests in and outside of DPS to move an agenda on behalf of Denver students.

ElementaryDavid Singer (University Prep) and James Cryan (Rocky Mountain Prep), for creating new elementary school designs with enormous promise that are likely to be early childhood, elementary, and blended learning models.

High SchoolJohn Fry (High Tech Early College High) and Antonio Vigil (Strive Prep SMART High)- for starting new high schools with some of the longest names in the city (and for showing us how to create engaging high-quality learning environments for all of their kids.)

LeadershipMary Seawell (DPS Board President)- for leading the board in very challenging times and holding the district accountable for results.

Policy – Colorado Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino and Colorado Senator Mike Johnston– for proving that you can be education reform legislators, be pro-teacher and rise to leadership positions in the legislature.

Quality ChoiceScott Laband (Colorado Succeeds)- for managing the development of Colorado School Grades to help families navigate the growing number of complex school choices they need to make for their kids, and for helping the business community to more seriously engage in public education.

TransparencyNancy Mitchell (former editor of Education News Colorado)- for setting the standard for quality news reporting on education issues in Colorado.

TurnaroundMatt Spengler (Blueprint) and Allen Smith (DPS), for creating one of the first effective turnaround district and provider partnerships in Colorado that has begun to bear fruit in far NE Denver.

Denver Public Schools is a billion+ dollar system with over 160 schools and more than 13,000 employees. Moving DPS from a system that was designed to sort and select to a public education system that educates all will take many more reforms, innovations, and support from all of us. It will take all of our “game-changers” and many more to join the movement before we create a system of schools that meet the needs of a changing economy and society.

Last, our hearts go out to everyone in Newtown, Connecticut. We can only hope that this horrific crime might inspire our state and national policy makers to do more to curb gun violence in this country. We find it remarkable that after more than 25 mass shootings from all corners of America since the killings at Columbine 14 years ago, that little has changed other than the increasing frequency of these tragedies. It’s time for our legislators, governor, Congress, and our President to do something.

We wish everyone a warm and safe holiday season.

A+ Denver Team