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Some things are so outrageous that they deserve all the sunlight we can possibly direct onto them.  I got this email today from Superintendent Boasberg’ staff.

Dear Board Members,

On December 6 and 7, Denver Public Schools will be hosting leadership from the Gates Foundation and almost a dozen school districts throughout the country, including LA, New York, Nashville, and New Orleans, to announce a new initiative created to strengthen district-charter collaborations in the participating districts (please consider all of this information to be embargoed until Tuesday, Dec. 7).

DPS has been a national leader in establishing a core set of equity principles articulated in the Denver Plan that guide all of Denver’s public schools: equity of access, accountability, and opportunity:
·         All students must have access to all schools.
·         All schools must be held accountable to the same standards of performance.
·         All schools must have the same opportunities to utilize district resources and facilities.

The creation of a center-based program at Omar D. Blair charter school and an attendance area for West Denver Prep’s campuses in NW Denver are evidence of this commitment.

In the last few months, DPS, along with 8+ big-city districts, developed a district-charter collaboration compact that embodies these key principles and identifies future areas of partnership to guarantee all schools provide all students with access to a high quality education.  Through this compact, DPS and Denver charter schools committed to the belief that all students can achieve and deserve the highest quality public schools. It is the collective responsibility of all public schools in Denver, district-led and charter schools to ensure all students have access to an excellent education that successfully prepares them for college and career.

Driven by these shared beliefs, this District-Charter Collaboration Compact represents an unprecedented commitment among district and charter leaders to improve the ways they work together for the benefit of all students in the city.   Through its bold agenda to increase the number of high quality school choices, Denver has served as a national leader and model in this work, which is why it is fitting that the Gates Foundation would choose to launch its national initiative in Denver.  Denver Public Schools has worked with the charter community to make real our core principles of equity of opportunity, equity of access and responsibility, and equity of accountability, as illustrated in the following recent measures:
·         Charter schools, in aggregate, serve students populations that nearly mirror district averages in terms of free/reduced lunch status (73%), ethnic minority percentages (75%), English language learner status (30%), and special education status (11%).
·         In 2010 Omar D. Blair became the first charter school in DPS to open a special education center program for students with multi-intensive needs in a charter school, and additional center programs are slated to open in charter schools this fall.
·         Charter schools share equitably on the same pro rata basis as district run schools in funding the cost of center programs for severe needs students throughout the District. To ensure all students in DPS are afforded the highest quality education, Denver has committed to closing or restructuring the lowest performing schools, including the 6 lowest performing charter schools in the last 3 years.
·         The District’s multi-measure School Performance Framework (SPF) treats district-run and charter schools equally; three of the top five performing schools in Denver Public Schools in the fall 2010 SPF are charter schools.  Statewide, four of the top five schools demonstrating the most academic growth in the 2009-10 school years were DPS schools, of which three are charters.
·         District and charter leaders serve on joint teams to ensure equity regarding special education and the enrollment practices and procedures.

Further commitments Denver charter schools have agreed to in the Compact include:
·         Locating new schools in the highest-need areas, aligned to district plans and connected to district feeder patterns. Demonstrate parent support for new school applications and participate in ongoing parent engagement.
·         Providing access and high quality support services or programs for all student populations, including English language learners, high risk students, students with mild-moderate needs, and students transitioning out of alternative schools.  Commit to providing access and high-quality support services for students with severe needs as appropriate, guided by an equitable allocation process of center-based programs and corresponding resources.  Support the comparable representation of all student populations in charter schools
·         Providing access and high-quality support services for mid-year entry students in accordance with the district administrative transfer process and agreed upon district-charter school enrollment policies. Ensure that mid-year entry students are provided equitable access to schools across the district.
·         Partnering with Denver Public Schools to implement a common and coordinated choice enrollment system.
·         Make available to district educators, where feasible and at cost, professional development opportunities.

In recognition of Denver’s leadership, the Gates Foundation is hosting a breakfast especially for the Denver Public Schools Board of Education and DCTA representatives.  This will provide you an opportunity to dialogue with Gates Foundation leaders, Vickie Phillips and Don Shalvey, about Gates’ on-going investment in Denver, including this district-charter initiative and Denver’s educator effectiveness grant.  Breakfast will take place from 7 – 8 am on Tuesday, December 7th at the Westin Tabor Center. Please rsvp to (redacted by me).

Finally, the two-day Gates Foundation event will culminate on December 7th with a national press call and local press conference to launch its national district-charter initiative.  Until then, all information regarding the District-Charter Compact and initiative is embargoed.  Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact (redacted by me)  and please do keep all information regarding this subject confidential until the official press release on Tuesday, December 7th.

We are encouraged by the district-charter commitments and confident future collaboration proposed will address students’ and parents’ demand for increased quality, access, and resources.

Now, this is alarming to me for many reasons:

  1. Since when does the Superintendent have the authority to enter into far-reaching agreements with any entity, in a move that could drastically change the makeup of our “portfolio of schools”?  This potential sweeping change is a policy decision that only the Board of Education can authorize.
  2. Does the district not understand how wary Denver taxpayers are about charters and failed implementation strategies?  How can they possibly spin this to the public?
  3. We have just received a very stern warning from the Colorado Department of Education about our ratings.  According to the newly released data, the Denver Public Schools is categorized as “accredited with priority improvement.”  This is the second-to-last rating from CDE, and we are the only large school district to get this rating.  This means that we are to supply an improvement plan to the CDE by January 15, 2011.  Why are we making backroom deals when we should be giving serious thought to improving these ratings instead?

This development is flat-out deplorable, and it’s a further indication of how much we’re failing our students.  Instead of making these deals, we should be thinking very hard about how much we’ve veered away from the promise of the Denver Plan.  As you may recall, I uncovered the fact that we have not received CDE approval to change the plans for turnaround in the Montbello schools and for which we received turnaround funds.

And they want us to keep this information away from the public.  Sorry, Southwest Denver, but this kind of backroom dealing while our kids are floundering does not deserve that kind of secrecy.  Call the district and let them know what you think about this situation.