Let me tell you a little about a jewel of the Westwood neighborhood, a great elementary school called Munroe Elementary. It’s led by a talented principal, new to DPS, Dr. Abigail Brown. She took the helm of Munroe in August 2009, and since then has worked very hard to shape the culture of the school. A fluent Spanish speaker, she has upwards of 100 parents that come to meetings.
I spoke to the DCTA representative on site, who calls Dr. Brown “a godsend.” I’m not exaggerating here. He reports extreme overall satisfaction with the principal, with a near-100% sense of commitment and collaboration from among the staff. He says that she has turned the school around and has gotten buy-in from every teacher on her initiative to turn Munroe from red to green…which is actually the school’s unofficial staff motto. He even reports that she has no problem following the guidelines of the teachers’ contract.
So far, so good, right?
Munroe is right now the only “red school” in all of Southwest Denver, or “accredited on probation.” This is how their growth in the last few years has mapped out:
- Math, 33% at/above proficient
- Reading, 43% at/above proficient
- Writing, 32% at/above proficient
- Math, 35% at/above proficient
- Reading, 46% at/above proficient
- Writing, 33% at/above proficient
- Math, 37% at/above proficient
- Reading, 47% at/above proficient
- Writing, 36% at/above proficient
Statistically speaking, they have been stagnant, which justified the change in leadership. Munroe has just taken the CSAP, and I’m excited to see the change.
But Munroe has recently been forced onto my immediate radar screen because of what the district has been doing behind the scenes. Here’s what I mean:
- On February 18, 2010, the district releases a “Call for Quality Schools” RFP, saying “There is a need for significant interventions at the elementary level in Southwest Denver to increase the number of high performing seats. This may include school turnarounds, replacement of existing schools, or the introduction of new high performing elementary options.”
- On April 1, 201o, the district informs the Board that some schools, including Munroe, would be engaged in an “Expedited Diagnostic Review conducted by the Colorado Department of Education.”
Keep in mind that before the district decided to close Lake Middle School (that was the original intent that they were forced to change), they scheduled a review by the Colorado Department of Education. So of course, this starts to seem a little strange to me, especially since as of the time that all this activity starts to happen, the school hadn’t even taken its CSAPs, nor had the new principal been there for a year.
So, being fairly keen about the facts, I decide to do a little fact finding. “Is the district justified in taking these steps,” I wonder. I called the principal and talked to her and set up a time for a visit. I asked for help contacting parent leaders, and she gave me the email address of the parent liaison. I exchange emails with the liaison, asking her for parent contact information. She tells me that she’ll get back to me, and then I get this email from Pat Slaughter, the district’s K-8 executive director:
I left a message for you at the 303-325-5600 number. I spoke with Abigail Brown, principal at Munroe, about your concerns regarding the external review that CDE will conduct at Munroe on April 27. Know that we view this as an opportunity for the school to gather additional information on school culture, organization, and performance from an external source to support the principal and school leadership team with their planning process and efforts for continuous school improvement at Munroe. I’m glad that you will have an opportunity to visit Munroe. Abigail and team have made good progress under her leadership this year. We don’t plan to convene a group of parents to meet with you on Friday. There will be a parent meeting in May to share the results of the review. We will share the date with you so you can attend.
In other words, I take this to mean that the school staff was told to NOT help me get in touch with parents.
Why? Why is DPS so intent on interrupting the positive progress of schools that struggle? Why waste the talents of such a great principal leader and committed staff by upsetting the apple cart? Why does it seem that DPS intends to close the school and replace it with a “high-performing elementary school”?
I did finally get a chance to visit the school, though, and I am enchanted with what I found. I saw data charts proudly drawn up by 3rd graders, displaying their individual growth on their interim assessments, hanging from the walls of the school. I saw calm classrooms and energetic teachers. I saw a principal and assistant principal just bursting with pride as we walked from room to room.
And I saw this classroom, that Dr. Brown calls “magical.” Look at the calmness of the kids and how intently they’re working on their poems about ice cream and the accompanying pictures. Watch how no one is being disruptive, how everyone is in their place or is passing in an orderly fashion to where they need to go, engrossed in their work. All this to the tune of Mozart’s Horn Concerto Number 4, second movement. Yeah. This is a classroom full of kids that are purposefully going about the work of learning…a lot. Good job, teacher!