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

November Newsletter: Turnarounds, Innovation Schools, and Arts

I want to wish you all a warm Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. My family gathers in Los Angeles with old and new foods and friends. We always have traditional foods like roast turkey, mashed potatoes and Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry relish. This year, the Persian side of the family will add some tasty lamb appetizers to the menu. We also have a custom of inviting a few new neighbors and friends to the table. Adding new foods and faces enriches and enlivens our Thanksgiving tradition.

Post election, Denver Public Schools has much to be thankful for. Voters overwhelmingly passed the school bond and mill, demonstrating support for initiatives to improve aging buildings and expand programming in the arts, early childhood, and tutoring.

A+ Denver has been busy reflecting on two central reform efforts to transform low performing schools and create opportunities for achievement gains: Turnaround strategies, and Innovation status. We also took a close look at arts education in Denver, as we believe that as our city grows culturally richer, we must ensure that kids have access to emerging opportunities.


Turnaround strategies are probably the most important reform issue in Denver or the nation because so many students are impacted. In Denver alone, over 2500 students attend schools designated for Turnaround, a designation applied to the lowest 5% of schools in the country. We must get Turnaround strategies right. Far too many students are trapped in schools where the longer a student stays, the further behind grade level she falls. We are thrilled with some initial results in far northeast Denver, and will work with DPS to help scale, sustain and replicate these efforts.

Innovation Schools

Innovation schools are schools that have applied for and received varying degrees of autonomy over budgets, staffing, programs, and time allocation. The first Innovation schools have now had autonomy for about five years. In partnership with the Colorado Education Association, Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association, University of Colorado-Denver, and DPS, we released a second report reflecting on this important reform strategy. Initial findings included:

  • Innovation school staff members report significantly higher levels of commitment to outcomes, decision-making, ownership and accountability;
  • Overall, strong academic growth across subjects is apparent in most Innovation schools (the district overall is showing growth as well). Among Innovation schools, some are seeing rapid gains while others are not. Questions remain about what is happening at each school to achieve/not achieve gains;
  • Staff turnover in Innovation schools remains high compared to comparison schools – particularly in schools that received Innovation status most recently.


Arts education is an issue often considered secondary to academic achievement. A+ Denver believes that there are ways to elevate the arts without losing focus on academics. We recently released a reportcalling for a more deliberate strategy and vision for the arts in schools. We have begun sharing the findings and recommendations – most recently with the Denver Commission on Art and Culture.

Finally, A+ hopes the controversy in Northwest Denver over North and STRIVE Prep’s proposed co-location is resolved immediately. We are troubled by the misinformation being shared about STRIVE and North High School’s capacity. Northwest Denver currently has the fewest quality seats of any area in Denver. North high has just made one year of progress and we hope will continue to do so, but the newly renovated ($37 million) building remains underutilized. There is plenty of room at North for another small school of 400 students. Meanwhile, STRIVE Prep manages many of the highest performing schools in Denver and has successfully collocated with other schools at Lake and Cole. We therefore believe that the best resolution to this problem is to support the co-location North and STRIVE Prep. Here’s hoping the themes of diversity and community over this holiday week bring the community in NW Denver closer and not farther apart.

Have a great Thanksgiving.Sincerely,

Van Schoales