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Tonight I was at the community meeting on the turnaround strategies this evening at Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College in the Montbello neighborhood.  It was an interesting event for many reasons.

First, I’m glad to say that the room was packed.  We gathered all in the “cafetorium” first, then broke out into separate rooms focused on elementaries, middle school and high school.  I spent most of my time in the high school room.  Some of the most prominent questions were along the lines of:

  • Why not invest the money you’re going to spend on busting up on schools, in our existing schools instead?
  • What assurances do you have that our kids won’t be displaced?
  • Why don’t you just let the new principal run this school?
  • How is this different from the experiments of Manual High?

These are fair questions.  I am not sure that any of them were adequately answered.  For me, the most disturbing question was the second one.  From what I gather, the new Montbello will be three different schools, each phased in one grade at a time, starting with the 9th graders.  So, I don’t know, doesn’t that mean that the upperclassmen have to go somewhere else while the phase-in happens?  Where would they go?  It’s not like they live in the near northeast and can easily choose between Manual or East.  Until someone shows me something different, it appears that there would in fact be displacement of students, just like at Manual.

But we “collaborative reformers” are always attacked because we don’t ever offer any solutions.  So…what would I do if this were a high school in southwest Denver?  Now, mind you, I don’t pretend to know all the intricacies of what happens at Montbello, since this is one of Nate Easley’s schools.  This is my rough outline of a game plan, again, not knowing everything about the situation.

  1. Ask CDE to make a formal review of the teaching and learning situation in the building.
  2. Contract with master teachers from all over the state to immediately begin conducting classroom observations.
  3. Implement an emergency, 360 degree evaluation of every teacher in the building.
  4. When ineffective teachers are found, exit them out of the profession with dignity.
  5. Reinforce the English-learner program at the school, assuring for academic rigor in the mother language, where needed.
  6. Lock down the campus.  For the first year, no one has any off-campus privileges.
  7. Segregate the 9th grade in a separate wing or floor, with different start times.
  8. Institute a 9th grade triage approach to address literacy and math skills deficiencies where found.
  9. Fill out the “specials” offered, like arts, music, sports, etc…the things that keep kids coming to school.
  10. Create a partnership with a local high-tech industry (green industry?) or with the carpenters’ or sheet metal union to create an apprenticeship or school-to-job track for those that prefer that course.
  11. Bring over courses from CEC Middle College to round out the career-technical (CTE) course offerings.  Open these courses to every student as electives.
  12. Improve upper track academic course offerings
  13. Leave the program alone, while monitoring and gathering data, for the next 2-5 years.
  14. Incentivize the principal to stay at least 5 years.  If he becomes the highest-paid in the district, then so be it.
  15. Leverage the new investments recently made in anti-gang resources to keep school safe.

As I sat there and listened to angry parents and community members, it seemed clear that although there seemed to be some sort of community process, this whole program was only rolled out to around 40 people.  The proposed plans did not sit well with the assembled group of people as they were developed.  It seemed to me that community really should have been given the blow-by-blow, perhaps via some sort of website.  We have a model in this type of community engagement, which is the recent zoning process the City of Denver just completed.  We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.

I suppose A-Plus Denver deserves some sort of recognition and thanks for trying to get this process off the ground, and to a great extent, they succeeded.  What doesn’t sit well with me is the feeling that this was already decided upon back in May or so, and the whole exercise was intended to simply get community buy-in.

Well, the assembled crowd resoundingly expressed something other than buy-in.

Now to the table to see if I can draw up some sort of a deal, in case community doesn’t feel motivated to pressure their board members.  I cannot support the proposal in its current state, not with so many details left undefined or so much experimentation on kids that deserve so much better from us.