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It appears that the district’s “student-based budgeting” has actually created havoc at Smiley Middle School, which is an IB program in northeast Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood.  The board received this letter from a Smiley parent yesterday:

I urge you to consider Smiley Middle School a viable and valuable asset to DPS. As a Smiley parent and a Park Hill resident, I am a strong supporter of the school. The teachers, administrators, students, and parents at Smiley are trying desperately to keep our school on a path to success. This school is a tremendous asset to DPS with the rapid growth of young students from Stapleton who will very soon be in need of a great middle school.

I know a great many Park Hill neighbors with young children who are counting on Smiley to be there for their kids.

Please cease your seemingly endless efforts to sabotage our school!



More background from another parent is as follows:

The most recent (parent) meeting held over 80 parents! Our problem stems from Smiley being underutilized, and there is a growing neighborhood movement to “take back” our neighborhood schools, but DPS has long been a seeming enemy to Smiley in terms of support. I believe, that now, with the surging population and overcrowding of schools at Stapleton, it is the ideal time to boost, not supress, the efforts being made at Smiley. It is a very large school building, and should be viewed with a eye to the near future.

Here are the bullet points:

  • Last year Smiley Middle School was projected at 220 students for the new school year. Venture Prep was projected at over 500 students. The actual number of students who showed at both schools was – Smiley was 28 students over projection and Venture Prep was 140 students short. The Smiley administration working with DPS arranged staffing for 24 teaching positions for our students. That was based upon our enrollment, federal monies, class relief, etc. Using all of these resources we were still only able to have part time Spanish, music, and physical education. We did not have a full time IB coordinator which is a requirement of IB. Lake Middle School in Northwest Denver, which even had fewer students than us, was provided these resources. When the IB authorization team was here earlier this year they questioned DPS about support for Smiley Middle School and its lack of resources. The district committed to making Smiley Middle School an IB school.
  • This year Smiley Middle School has a projected enrollment of 250 students. That is an increase of 30 students over last year’s projection. It is less than that current enrollment at Smiley now which is 259, based upon the number of lockers that I have assigned to students. So the district admits that we will begin the school year having more students than we did last year at the beginning of the school year. For your information, Venture Prep’s projection will be 150 students less than last year. We may even get our rooms back from them.
  • Even with the projected increase in enrollment for next year the District is providing us with fewer resources than last year. It looks like we will lose two math teachers. We will lose one language arts teacher, one special education teacher and ½ social studies teacher. We will not have full-time elective teachers – losing full time technology and music. We would gain an additional ½ time student advisor and ½ time person to do testing and a full time Spanish teacher who is now half time. Mrs. Victor has requested additional funds from the district and we should hear about this on Monday. The bottom line is that even if we get all the monies requested, we will lose a math Teacher, a special education Teacher and the full time technology Teacher and full time art Teacher. The reductions will make it impossible for us to meet the standards that IB has for their schools. The district knows this and does not seem to care.

As I take a quick look at the data, I immediately see that 28.8% of Smiley’s students are classified as “special education,” according to the 2011 October count.  If what this parent is saying is true, it would make no sense to drop a SPED teacher.

It should be noted as well that this is a co-located building.  Smiley shares their space with Venture Prep, a charter school.

The underlying issue here is the student-based budgeting (SBB) model.  The previous board adopted this funding structure, and it’s billed as a way to promote equity in schools.  The central concept is that a certain amount of dollars follows the student, and weights are added for certain things like English learner or disability support, simply because these types of supports are more expensive.

Sounds good, right?  The problem is that, like it or not, we fund schools based on head count.  So, as students drop off, we’re less able to “buy” services like counselors or foreign-language teachers, etc.  The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a very rigorous and robust program that insists on a whole-child approach (read more about the IB’s Middle Years Programme, as instituted at Henry Middle School, here).

In the case of a phase-out school, like Rachel B. Noel Middle School in Montbello, they’re losing most of the services of the counselor and school nurse, simply because the head count has dwindled.  These high-need kids will only have their nurse and counselor one day a week next year, because the 6th and 7th grades will be phased out.  This is not equity.  This is the starvation of a school community.

The solution, in my opinion, would be to have the district commit to a stable funding source for now as new kids are brought on board and so that existing kids don’t feel any impact.  The district needs to create a stable feeder pattern between some of the neighboring elementaries, like Smith and Ashley, so that Smiley can be assured of a constant stream of new kids.  Then, the district needs to academically support the students at Smith and Ashley so that they come to Smiley ready to hit the ground running.  It might even be necessary to launch an elementary IB program at these schools.

We know how to do this in southwest Denver, with our own IB feeder of Sabin, Henry and Kennedy.

Finally, the district has to realize (and Smiley parents have to get warm to the idea of) how many English learners are in the pipeline and who will need to be supported at Smiley.  As of 2011, Ashley had 191 English learners, and Smith had 150 (though those numbers aren’t broken out by grade).  Even if we’re only talking about 50-odd kids a year, that headcount will make a drastic difference.

At any rate, the Smiley community is live broadcasting their meeting with the district tonight.  If you want to watch online, check it out at 6 p.m. below.

There’s also a link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/smiley-middle-school



Live stream videos at Ustream