Dear Members and Friends,
Welcome back from spring break! Hope you ate, drank, slept in, and caught up on YouTube cat videos.
Things in Denver Public Schools have been shifting in recent weeks. At the home office, a big reorg is taking place, with lots of shifting jobs and reporting structures. While we believe this is long overdue, we hope it will simplify–not complicate–the district’s relationship with schools. We often hear that DPS has multiple departments asking schools to complete a litany of tasks with little prioritization or agreement about which will raise student achievement most.
We hope these changes help DPS to innovate. The district is also pushing new ideas: DPS is beginning to pilot an Innovation Management Organization, non-CMO like structure, within the district. In other words, a successful principal may replicate an existing district school, and serve in an oversight capacity over multiple schools instead of as principal of one school.
The testing window is now over for the new PARCC tests. Despite the anti-testing mania that swept the media, there were few major problems with the computer-based assessment. Kids were asked to write more short answer responses and do more complex problem solving than was required for TCAP. This will hopefully measure more than just the ability to memorize facts, and give teachers more latitude to teach the kinds of skills we all know are important. We’d love to hear your stories about how PARCC testing went – please send us a note about your experiences.
This round of testing is a part of a larger conversation about standards, testing, and accountability. Encouragingly, DPS is one of the few Colorado districts holding the line on graduation standards, common core, and a streamlined, but still rigorous assessment system. Yet there is pushback in the legislature. A+ Denver signed onto a letter to the Colorado General Assembly and Governor Hickenlooper supporting fewer standardized assessments, without undermining the measurement and accountability systems critical to school improvement.
Many of you know that we have been fairly critical of Colorado’s school turnaround results. Few turnarounds, particularly non re-start schools, have shown much improvement (either here or anywhere else). Under Tom Boasberg’s leadership, the district reached out to A+ to organize a series of roundtable discussions with community members on school turnaround processes. One of the early outcomes from these discussions was a shift in policy to add a “year zero” of planning for any school turnaround. In other words, the district will identify the low performing school earlier and hire a principal more than a full year ahead of opening – rather than 3-6 months before. This allows the principal to create a school and staffing design, and connect with the community well ahead of opening. Ashley, DCIS at Fairmont, and nearly all charters spent at least a year planning before opening their doors.
School Performance Framework
Thanks in part to our advocacy and that of our partners, the SPF will be changing over the next two years (next year is a bit of a challenge with PARCC results needing to be normed with new growth metrics). Ultimately, we believe the SPF needs to drive the district toward realizing the 2020 goals, and the more closely tied the SPF metrics are to the strategic goals, the better. We will release a separate response to the SPF changes within the next two weeks.
For those of you that missed it, Rick Hess spoke at DU about his latest book The Cage-Busting Teacher. Citing a litany of statistics on teacher disengagement in school and district decision-making, and policy debates, Hess called on teachers to break norms, offer solutions, and help shape changes to the education system.
We’ll host a few event events this spring, including one on teacher compensation. The teacher compensation discussion will be with TNTP and include representatives from DPS, DCTA and the U.S. Department of Education. Look for details on dates, times, and place.
Changes at A+
A+ Denver has moved! Thanks to the generous support of the Gates Family Foundation, approximately fifty education reform advocates from six organizations are co-working at our new location, 1390 Lawrence Street. If you’re coming by, parking is available on the street or at the DCPA lot at 14th and Arapahoe.
Finally, we’re pleased to welcome Hayley Reddish as our new Director of Operations. She has taught at Rocky Mountain Prep and was a founding staff member of Reading Partners Colorado, a nonprofit focused on early childhood literacy. Before moving to Colorado, Hayley worked in public relations in Washington D.C. Hayley earned her B.A. in Public Policy and Environmental Science from The College of William and Mary and her M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Colorado Denver.
Arts at Ashley Elementary
We recently visited Ashley Elementary to talk with Principal Zachary Rahn and DSA Principal Bill Kohut to learn about their collaboration to bring arts education to Ashley students.
DSA students work with Ashley students after school in all eleven DSA majors, helping Ashley students – from Kindergarten on – build their art portfolios. To see some of the fruits of this collaboration, you might check out their end of year film festival. More information will be available at ashley.dpsk12.org.
We’re particularly excited about this program because it shows that arts education can not only be possible, but can be innovative in a turnaround school. This DSA/Ashley collaborative teaches important skills to high school and elementary students and helps build a pathway for low-income kids in Denver to access rigorous art programs.
We want to hear from you!
Educators across the city are doing great things, and we want to hear about it! At A+ Denver we’re always on the look out for excellent programs in all schools.
We’re particularly interested in:
Teacher leadership and distributed leadership
To share your approach with us, email Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.