Colorado Turnaround Schools – Rays of Hope

Those concerned with our public schools often focus on the failures. They are numerous and should never be tolerated. Even accepting the compromise of mediocrity signals a foreclosure on the promise of tomorrow.

Still, our attention to the shortfalls should not blind us to successes where they can be found. With the recent release of the first Transitional Colorado Assessment Scores, we can better judge the early results for targeted Turnaround schools funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s School Improvement Grants.

There is good news to share. It should be both celebrated and examined, so that the building blocks of success can be introduced more broadly. It’s still early in the game, but we’re learning what is working, and what is not.

The 2010 Denver Plan formalized the intent of Denver Public Schools to “focus on turnaround strategies in our low-performing schools and welcome high-quality new programs and schools.” Two years later, intention matched with execution is yielding results.

Prioritizing the considerable challenge of fixing some chronically underperforming schools is producing positive change for the Denver Summit Schools Network in the city’s Far Northeast – one of the two Denver schools networks receiving federal turnaround funding. Dedicating staff within DPS to School Turnaround, and teaming with experienced outside partners, underscores the seriousness of the district’s commitment.

In tackling turnaround, the greatest – and most important – challenge posed in public education, Denver’s attitude and approach is worthy of emulating. Westminster 50 joins Denver’s Far Northeast schools as another positive story worth telling.

This report highlights the significant progress seen two years into Colorado’s participation in federally funded school turnaround efforts, offering recommendations that can be applied elsewhere. It also acknowledges where little has been accomplished; the situation in Pueblo, for example, is bleak. But the evidence convinces us that, while moving a school from intensive care to recovery is difficult, best practices married to district and community-level commitment – supported by adequate funding – can put the rescue of many more troubled schools well within reach.