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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: August 2019

Summer vacation has concluded and most educators have found themselves back in the classroom, but the time “off” didn’t leave us short of education updates. A+ begins the school year with plenty of news to share including a preview on a new report examining the history and future of initiatives for educators in Denver, a new shared space for community engagement reflections from our Advocacy Director, a first-ever partnership event with ed. groups, + (surprise!) so much more. Oh and did we mention puppies?

A+ Updates

Denver’s Next Journey: Investing in Teachers


This is Frida, we’re not sure what type of dog she is or where this sweet girl came from, but she was recently adopted by A+ Colorado’s Director of Research. As you can tell, they are hard at work on the upcoming release of Denver’s Next Journey: Investing in Teachers, the 5th brief of a 6-part series covering a new era of Denver Public Schools with a focus on equity and engagement.

What you can expect from this report:

A+ explores how Denver Public Schools has tried different initiatives to try and create a more effective workforce. This includes: an overview of teacher demographics in the district’s schools, different iterations of Denver’s controversial compensation structure, experiments in teacher evaluations, diversity initiatives, and other professional development supports and programs. As with all our briefs in this series, we end with essential questions for the district and community to see how Denver can accelerate improvements.

Hurry and catch up on previous Denver’s Next Journey briefs before the new one drops.

Denver Schools Lift All Students

On Wednesday, August 14, a room full of 150 community members joined A+ Colorado, RootEd, Transform Education Now (TEN), and the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs for Denver Schools Lift All Students. At this event, we heard from Dr. Macke Raymond from CREDO at Stanford on her recently released
research which highlights major findings about the academic performance of students in Denver. We also had the opportunity to hear from local Colorado education experts as the community reflected on these findings and discussed how we can accelerate students’ learning and improve schools while dismantling systems of unequal education across the city.

For those who were unable to attend, we will soon have video footage of the event to share. A special thanks to Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova, Pastor Vernon Jones Jr., Charles Dukes, and Jason Gaulden for helping facilitate the community conversation around this research.

The A+ Colorado Team Continues to Grow

Nate Faflick joins the A+ Colorado team as the Development and Communications Associate. Nate takes pride in being raised within an inner-city public school system. His background in community organizing and advocacy have focused on closing the racial wealth gap and protecting access to healthcare for low-income people and vulnerable populations. Nate has been published in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian social services, and the Journal of sexuality and culture. Nate recently completed an internship in Washington D.C. at a non-profit focused on developing a diverse talent pipeline for congressional internships. In his free time, Nate enjoys spending time outdoors camping, biking and playing with puppies.

A+ Ventures with Voyce

At A+ Colorado, we are actively engaged with the work and initiatives led by local grassroots organizations. A principle goal of our organization is to be involved and supportive of these community led efforts. We strongly believe that one of the first steps to doing this is through attending community events and listening. After listening and understanding, we hope to build on these relationships with local groups to support them in their efforts to transform public education in Colorado.

A+ hopes the community enjoys and learns from a new series of Community Engagement blogs we will be releasing which will highlight the great work going on throughout the state. To kick this series off, we start with attending Ventures with Voyce while learning about some unique initiatives student groups are advocating for.

Have an upcoming community event? We would love the be there. Please reach out and let us know.

News to share

Past, Present, and Future of the SPF

Denver Public Schools kicked off a nine-month committee process to evaluate and re-envision the district’s School Performance Framework (SPF). (See the first meeting presentation here). At A+ we have voiced that there are important changes that need to be made to the School Performance Framework, particularly to make the SPF more transparent and relevant. But to know where we are going, it is important to know where we have been. That’s why we looked at 20 years of how Colorado and Denver have been working on Communicating Good Schools. Here is what we have learned: the Denver SPF is by no means the first or the only way people in Colorado have tried to understand and communicate student learning or experiences in schools, and the district has been on the front lines of better understanding the impact of schools on student learning.

We hope that A+’s report can be a resource and learning tool as the district and community collaborate toward more/different/better transparency around “quality” schools. We will also be following and reporting back to you on the Quality Schools Task Force. Selected to represent a diversity of perspectives, we are hopeful that conversation will be robust about how to communicate learning and outcomes to families and students, and address inequities in our system. Yet the people on the committee can only represent their own view point and the district must be clear about a) the committee’s decision making power and b) its plans for how the broader community can engage in this important conversation with the committee. We believe that this conversation must be both contextualized and incorporate broad experience, and encourage people to get involved to ensure their perspective is heard. The next meeting is September 11, 2019 4:30-7:30 at North High School. View slides from the first meeting on August 14, 2019.

Making Equity More Than A Buzzword?

In her entry plan, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova names that she is working to make DPS “an equity school district” – in which equity is the identity, rather than a commitment, of the school district. As a step, Dr. Antwan Jefferson’s audit of different “equity” initiatives including board resolutions, community task forces, and district plans, offered a common understanding of what equity could mean in DPS:

“The system of acknowledging and dismantling the various forms of racism against marginalized groups enacted in schools and throughout the district, in order to ensure that all students, educators, families and communities have the resources, supports, opportunities, and environments necessary for children to learn and develop in school.”

Yet a challenge that runs through the document is how to translate rhetoric and ideals into practice and a districtwide equity plan. Dr. Jefferson offers important ideas both around pedagogy, and how to open the conversation around equity through community oversight and public data sharing. If and how the district operationalizes the learning in the document will be telling. If the Board’s resolution in June to eliminate the use of handcuffs with elementary students tells us anything, it is that the focus on equity – on acknowledging and dismantling the various forms of racism enacted in schools and throughout the district – must be at the forefront of every conversation, policy and practice in the district.


The Colorado Department of Education has recently released the annual update on the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS). This exam, which is administered yearly, tells us how Colorado schools are supporting students to meet grade-level standards.

Colorado School Districts with the Largest Increase in Percent of Students Proficient in Math (2016-2019)

Chalkbeat posted a tool that lets you see how a specific school performed. At A+ we are often interested in districts as a unit of change. Taking advantage of 5 consecutive years with the same test, after a transition away from CSAP, we now have a better base by which to make comparisons and see which districts are really seeing positive movement over time. Here’s a quick look at some of our high-level takeaways. Congratulations to students and educators in Steamboat Springs Re-2, Salida R-32 and Eaton Re-2 for your significant gains in math proficiency!

Note: Data released by the Colorado Department of Education, particularly between 2015-2017, have been subject to an evolving set of reporting rules that have suppressed large amounts of information at the school and district level.   We did not include districts that did not have data reported at the district-level in 2016. We also limit this analysis to districts with more than 1,000 students to avoid volatility over time due to very small cohorts. 

Still have questions? Stay tuned for our annual Outliers Report coming later this fall. Can’t wait that long? We love to talk data; visit our A+ Answers page or the Community EdData Hub and we can help you explore a particular question.

New Schools for Colorado

As advocates of diverse learning opportunities and programs, we are excited about a number of new and interesting schools that either just opened or are planned to open in the next year in Colorado. In Aurora, this year sees the opening of Aurora Science and Tech Middle School, which will grow to a high school and is part of the DSST charter network; Empower Community High School, a student and community-designed high school that explicitly centers around student-led learning and decision-making; Aurora Community School, which will grow into a K-8 school open 6:30am to 6:30pm focuses on project-based learning and bringing in Aurora’s rich resources through community partnerships to better support student learning.  

Denver just approved two bold new schools. The The French American School of Denver will serve K-8 students and focus on French immersion and biliteracy. The Michelle Obama STEAM Academy which is designed by and for members of the Far Northeast Denver community is a STEAM project-based high school modeled after historically black colleges.

In Cherry Creek Colorado Skies Academy, which is at the Wings Over the Rockies campus, opened this year and offers middle schoolers a project-based curriculum 

A+ looks forward to following the progress of these schools and other new school designs in Colorado. 

A+ Intern Spotlight

Luke Hendricks, Summer Research Intern
Senior, Denver School of the Arts

Luke Hendricks, an orchestra major, has served on the Student Board of Education in Denver Public Schools for 2 years, and during this time he has taken an interest in public policy. Luke has worked with and co-led the Denver School of the Arts Challenge 5280 Team in presenting a policy to increase equitable access to arts education in Denver Public Schools. While interning at A+ Colorado he has enjoyed researching the 2019 school board elections and creating an informational guide designed to educate students on important issues for the election. Learning from educational advocates on how to research, write, and edit informational reports has helped Luke gain a broader understanding of the Colorado education system and the importance of research-based policy in ensuring equitable school systems. In college, he aspires to major in neuroscience and public policy. Luke also hopes to continue strengthening student voice within DPS and Colorado as a whole.

Luke’s free time consists of
: hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, and working as a lifeguard
Hogwarts House: Slytherin
Trivia Category: Sports and Leisure
Jean Hsu, Summer Communications Intern
Sophomore, University of Pennsylvania
Jean Hsu is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Communications and minoring in Consumer Psychology and Fine Arts. Growing up in Los Angeles, she developed a passion for dancing, photography, and film. She is currently the business manager and part of the PR team for Penn Hype Dance Crew, as well as a member of the Penn Asian Pacific American Heritage Week Marketing Board. At A+ Colorado, Jean created a graphic fact sheet for the upcoming Denver School Board Elections to inform the community about candidates and district issues. In addition, she has worked alongside Katie in managing A+ Colorado’s social media accounts, as well as designing and writing press releases, newsletters, blog posts, and evites. In the future, Jean wants to continue working in the communications and marketing field, while also pursuing her passion in film.Jean’s free time consists of: creating digital art & aesthetic films, watching Naruto, and dancing with friends
Hogwarts House: Hufflepuff
Trivia Category: Pop Culture

A+ Answers

An A+ community member asked us, “With the “expanding concurrent enrollment” bill on the table, I’m curious, what schools in Colorado are doing concurrent enrollment the best?”

In Colorado, 15% of high school students are participating in concurrent enrollment, statewide. See the full list and A+ Answers here

Upcoming Events

Sept. 11 | Quality Schools Task Force (Reimagine SPF Committee) Second Meeting

Denver Public Schools has launched a 10-month task force to reevaluate the School Performance Framework, the tool DPS uses to rate schools, target resources to struggling schools, and communicate school quality to families and communities.

Sept. 25-28 | Biennial of the Americas Festival: Empathy in Action

This year’s festival theme is “Empathy in Action” and will showcase the people and ideas across North and South America, including A+ Colorado’s President Van Schoales, that are moving beyond divisions to build solutions to the most important issues we face together.

A+ In the News

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