4th Annual Denver Community Accountability Report Card

Through a decade of grassroots organizing, the parents and youth of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos (PJU) have worked towards dismantling the institutional racism and overuse of police in the school-to-jail track in Denver Public Schools (DPS). Because of PJU’s policy and campaign victories, DPS discipline policies and practices are frequently lifted up as national models regarding how to stop the school-to-prison pipeline track across the country, particularly for communities and students of color.

While passing policies is no easy task, ensuring they are faithfully implemented is an even more difficult endeavor. In our Campaign to End the School-to-Jail Track in Colorado, we are now focused on holding power accountable for fidelity and implementation of the new policies and laws. Through this work we have demonstrated the immense power that exists within communities of color, and how youth organizing in particular, can be a driving force for systemic change and reform.

In Denver, we have made significant gains that have brought us to a new reality that calls for new strategies. In 2011, we issued Books Not Bars, our first accountability report card to the district. It assessed the district’s progress and shortcomings in implementing the new discipline code (JK/JK-R, 2008). Youth-driven solutions were developed to improve areas of concern. We have repeated this accountability process annually to reach the crossroads we are now at.

Across the district’s 185 schools, there is progress but it is extremely uneven. Some schools have charged forward embracing the change. Others are resisting it, even fighting it. And many more have become open to change and are tinkering and struggling to figure out how to make it work in their schools.

This report card is a next-generation tool to evaluate how individual schools are advancing or not, and to move us forward under these new conditions. We continue to look at the district as a whole but, for the first time, we also are able to evaluate implementation on a school-by-school basis. This report card shows how each individual school is doing in ending the school-to-prison pipeline inside their walls and how they compare with their peers.

This new report card also connects discipline with other core measures of a healthy school environment: attendance, student turnover, and academic achievement. School discipline is a critical window into what makes students and families feel their school is a place they want to be, where they feel valued and respected, and where they feel truly free to learn. When students feel their school does not care about them or their education, when they feel disrespected or devalued at school, then students leave, tune out, act out, and are not free to learn.

There is no other such tool in the country and we are proud to be the first. We deeply appreciate the district’s central office for having the courage to take this step with us, especially Superintendent Boasberg and the Division of Student Services. We continue to rely on their steadfast commitment to our larger vision of ending the school-to-prison pipeline for Denver’s students and families. Their motto is “We are leaders in ending racial disparities; we foster safe and equitable schools” and that motto means more each year they sit down with us to grapple with this urgent and difficult mission.

We begin in Section One by highlighting the most significant findings of our analysis. In Section
Two we grade the district’s performance in key categories and show which schools are doing
best and faring worst in each category. In Section Three, we present solutions for action on how to best move forward from here. In Section Four, we present data for every school in DPS so that they may be compared equally with their peers. In Section Five, we present brief snapshots of what the data looks like in our charter schools, alternative schools, and different regions of DPS.