The battle over DSST at Byers
As some of you may realize, in 2010, the board approved two more DSST charter schools, but the locations have not been specified.
The former Byers Junior High
This practice of approving a school without its location is a policy that needs to be stopped, simply because it shows that the decision is about charters and not about what’s right for a neighborhood. If we are to prescribe a fix for a particular problem (whether I agree it’s the right fix or not), it doesn’t make sense to prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution.
But I digress. In short, we will soon be approving the placement of the 4th and 5th DSST schools, and there has been a battle brewing over where to place the one opening in 2012/13. I received this email from a member of the southeast Denver community today, on behalf of other parents:
Denver School Board Members,
We are a concerned group of parents, educators, and community members asking you to listen to our voices regarding the proposal to locate a Denver School of Science & Technology (DSST) campus in the empty Byers building at 150 S. Pearl St. We believe placing DSST in the Byers location will not be an effective action if the DPS board truly desires to represent the community’s needs and also wants to meet the board’s own goals for a quality educational system.
- Placing DSST at the Byers location is contrary to the wishes of the overall community. Many of us have attended or received the data from all the SE Community School Meetings at South High School, and we have been impressed with the commitment of DPS to engage parents and community members and to actively listen to our input regarding educational issues. As passionate supporters of our neighborhood schools, we were very pleased to see that the data presented at these meetings and on the DPS website clearly established parents’ and community members’ strong support for improving existing middle schools – such as Grant and Merrill – rather than spending money on additional schools such as DSST.
- Our existing neighborhood middle schools are not at enrollment capacity. Grant Beacon Middle School and Merrill Middle School are at approximately 70% and 50% capacity, respectively. It does not make good business sense to use valuable resources to add yet another school to the area rather than support the excellent schools we have with much-needed recruitment and funding. We need the support of DPS to continue to encourage dedicated students to attend our existing schools, not pull students away.
- DPS and the community need to recognize and support the gains our existing schools have made. Insisting there is a need for DSST implies that our existing middle schools cannot adequately provide a quality education for students. We have been working tirelessly to overcome the misconception that our schools are not a good choice for parents and students, and we need DPS to help keep this momentum going.
For example, Grant Beacon Middle School:
Is a College Beacon school, which represents the school’s commitment to improve student performance. The Beacon Plan allows Grant to have smaller class sizes in reading, writing and math.
Is ranked third in academic growth on the School Performance Framework, which can be attributed to the focus of the school to prepare all students for the next level of education.
Has shown an increase in student body growth from 315 students to 375 students in the last four years.
Offers an innovative Honors curriculum and engages students in Enrichment classes.
Provides professional development to other schools.
Promotes a strong a sense of community and neighborhood pride.
Merrill Middle School is ranked first in academic growth on the School Performance Framework. Merrill also offers Honors programs and Enrichment classes, as well as an ELA Newcomer Magnet Program serving students who represent over 30 countries and speak over 35 languages and dialects.
In years past, these schools were struggling: the dedication on the part of school administration and staff and the effort of students, parents, and the community to improve these schools should be held up by DPS as shining examples of what schools can achieve. We cannot continue to foster the perception that schools that have accomplished so much are unsatisfactory choices for our children.
- Locating DSST at the Byers facility would not support the Denver School Board’s stated goals of capacity, autonomy, and accountability. In describing the Theory of Action on their website DPS vows to focus on the recruitment, retention, development, and rewarding of excellent teachers and principals, provide critical support to enable schools that have existing successful leadership to direct their skills to drive optimal results, apply the School Performance Framework to measure school progress, and use incentives to reward the accomplishment of district goals. To meet these essential imperatives, it makes perfect sense for DPS to reward the educators at schools such as Grant for their hard work in achieving tremendous SPF growth and focus critical support and resources to enable existing schools to continue to attain optimal results. We would like to know the school board’s plan for continued implementation of these goals at our existing schools and we are dedicated to partnering with DPS to accomplish these objectives.
- We must consider all options for the Byers facility and make an effective decision. We recognize the need to utilize the Byers facility but ask the board to explore other options for this building that would benefit the community. We think the following questions need to be answered. Is the placement of DSST the most cost-effective use of this building when filling the classrooms of our existing middle schools is still an issue? How can DSST contribute to encouraging the social trends of building community, reducing commuting and our carbon footprint, and forming strong neighborhood bonds, when the lottery system they utilize for enrollment ensures that many students from outside the area will be commuting to school and neighborhood students are not guaranteed admittance? Does the DSST program serve the needs of all students – ranging from those who are struggling to those considered high achievers?
In conclusion, we encourage you and strongly request that you actually visit our existing schools, such as Grant and Merrill, have conversations with our parents, students, and educators, discover the innovative programs we are implementing, experience the inspiring stories of achievement from a diverse group of students, feel the sense of community we have fostered, and share in our sense of pride for the achievements we have made with the support of the Denver Public School system.
As Denver residents, parents, community members, and voters, we feel we have made the right decision in committing to our local Denver public schools and by supporting DPS. We hope that you will recognize the commitment that we have made, and make the right decision to spend resources and time to guarantee that our existing schools will achieve their potential and continue to grow to be the outstanding schools that all our children deserve.
We appreciate your time and support. Thank you.
Now, I agree with everything that Ms. Kailey has to say in this letter. It underscores my personal feeling that it’s time for us to reinforce and properly support the schools that are already existing before we start prescribing other fixes. Ms. Kailey points to the very hard work that she and the rest of the community have been doing in support of the kids of southeast Denver.
Here’s my problem. The board, as I said before, has already approved charter schools without knowing where they’ll end up. In order to create yet another win-win situation for my district in southwest Denver, I asked the district to make use of open land at the Colorado (Loretto) Heights campus near Hampden Avenue and open the 4th DSST campus there in 2012/13. Had I not offered that compromise, the Kennedy High community would likely have had yet another anti-collocation fight on their hands. This compromise allows Kennedy to keep on its upward trend without interference, presents more choice for families in the area, opens up some middle school seats (we are bursting), and could likely reel some of the southwest Denver diaspora back in from Jeffco.
I will be asking for a proviso to our resolution, that we find a way to focus recruitment priority to Denver residents first, so that we’re not suddenly swamped with students from Littleton, say.
Also, the district will be recommending the placement of the 5th DSST in the former Byers building, to be opened in 2013/14.
I am not supportive of any more DSST locations for the time being. We have to figure out why there is an approximately 34% wash-out rate, why there is a roughly 45% free-and-reduced-lunch population rate, and what is happening in terms of remediation for its graduates.