At a recent meeting of southeast Denver school administrators, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the gathering “it appears the (Board of Education) votes are there to make it a done deal,” …
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At a recent meeting of southeast Denver school administrators, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the gathering “it appears the (Board of Education) votes are there to make it a done deal,” according to Alex Magaña, principal of Grant Beacon Middle School, 1751 S. Washington St.
The DPS Board of Education will meet this month at its 900 Grant St. offices to consider whether or not to reopen Byers, in addition to other issues of importance to the district. The board will meet June 6 for a “Presentation of Community Process Summaries.” On June 27, a public comment session will be held in the 1st floor board room. Finally on June 30, the board will meet to vote on the issues at hand. To speak at the public hearing, call 720-423-3210 by 5p.m. on June 26.
DSST, founded in 2001, currently operates three charter schools – DSST Stapleton High School, DSST Stapleton Middle School and DSST Green Valley Middle School – focusing on science, technology, engineering and math as the heart of its curriculum. DPS has approved DSST to open three additional secondary school campuses (grades 6-12) in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
An aggressive pro-Byers/DSST campaign by members of several south Denver neighborhood groups has flooded the DPS administration and board with petitions, emails and phone calls urging the move be made. Proponents argue that local schools are not offering a “rigorous” enough level of education, and the high-profile DSST program – which boasts a 100 percent college-enrollment rate of its graduates – is needed to keep local families On the other side of the debate is a dedicated group of parents and school personnel who insist the level of education now provided at the neighborhood schools – Grant and Merrill middle schools, and South High School – far exceeds its reputation from years past, and DPS and local families are better served by providing additional support for the neighborhood school structure, rather than spending big dollars to bring a new school into the local mix. They are concerned that placing DSST in their catchment area will dilute their student base.
A recent letter sent to the Board by a group opposing the DSST/Byers move states, “Grant Beacon Middle School, which in years past was struggling, has implemented the College For Every Student program; provides innovative Honors curriculum; (and) is ranked third in growth on the School Performance Framework. This dedication on the part of (the school’s) administration and staff should be held up as an example of what a school can achieve. (It is wrong) to foster the perception that a school that has accomplished so much is an unsatisfactory choice for our children.”
Also of interest is the DPS administration’s long-held position that the Byers building is no longer a viable structure, and should be sold.
District 7 City Councilman Chris Nevitt believes the landscape has changed. “I think DPS is hearing (the pro-DSST voices). I don’t know that it’s a done deal yet, but members of the board are certainly sensitive that there’s an outpouring of support.
“The placement of high-performing schools and reorganizations have been difficult for the district at times. They (DPS) have had to swim upstream on a number of these and this time they’re seeing a community that says, ‘Why fight elsewhere? We want it. Bring it here.’ I think they’re now thinking about how to make that happen. I mean, no one wants to spend $10 million on anything right now, but do we spend $10 million at Byers, or $25 million on a new school somewhere down the road?”
District 1 DPS School Board member Bruce Hoyt represents the southeast quadrant, and insists the matter remains to be resolved. “No decision has been made for a DSST at Byers or not at Byers. I’m completely open-minded one way or the other. I want to look at the relevant facts.
“Gauging the community is a difficult thing,” said Hoyt. “Supporters (of DSST at Byers) have been more organized and expressed themselves more often. But, at southeast community meetings (held over the past several months to provide an open dialogue between DPS staff and the community), if you went table by table, you found a lot of division table by table. There’s lots of work yet to be done. Let the information continue to flow.”
Kerry Ziller has a daughter attending Merrill, and one at South. Another daughter graduated from South last year. Ziller is an ardent supporter of neighborhood schools. She feels parents need to evaluate schools by more than “test scores and out-of-context statistics.” Both Merrill and South have large numbers of international students for whom English is a second language. While they enrich the academic culture for all students, their deficiencies in English in some cases lead to lower test scores.
“I certainly wouldn’t want the programs taken out of Merrill or South to up the test scores. Students in ELA programs (English Language Acquisition) bring such positive contributions to the school community. It’s an advantage for all students – to be capitalized on – not a disadvantage to shy away from. When you’re talking about what’s going on in Sudan, students learn from kids that have lived there, and can really explain what it’s all about. It’s not just a page in a textbook to be memorized.”
Kendra Black is co-chair of the Partnership for Southeast Denver Schools. Black told The Profile, “I’m in favor of thoughtfully placed charter schools, but not at the expense of neighborhood schools.
“What I think DPS is doing is focusing on charter schools as ‘the’ solution rather than simply ‘one’ solution. I’m also aware from my work at GW, TJ and South, that many students leave DSST and enroll in these traditional high schools because DSST is not a good fit or because they are asked to leave for performance or behavioral reasons. It’s not for everyone.
“I have heard it said by several DPS representatives that the introduction of DSST into southeast Denver will somehow improve our neighborhood schools by providing competition. I cannot find one instance of a charter school improving a neighborhood school, but I can find numerous cases across the country of charter schools negatively impacting neighborhood schools.”
Bill Kurtz is CEO at DSST. He believes, “While we might not be for everyone, we have a very high re-enrollment level. Of the students entering our program as freshman, 65 percent continue to graduation. We’re not satsified with that, and are working to get that figure up to 80 percent. One of the reasons we developed our middle school program was we had some students leaving us, because we asked them to repeat a year to get better prepared for our curriculum.”
Kurtz said DSST continues to be interested in the Byers location and “continues to be grateful for the community support we’ve received. My understanding is the DPS board and superintendent are evaluating the options and soon will be ready to make a recommendation. It does appear there’s interest from their perspective to explore it more.”
For information, call the DPS Board of Education at 720-423-3210.
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