DPS reform at a daring pace

DPS reform at a daring pace

The district needs improvements on the city's north side to reverse the slide in test results and enrollment.EditorialDenver PostJanuary 13, 2007
Denver Public Schools announced a flurry of reforms - some little, some big - in recent days, and it left some wondering if the wheels of change aren't spinning a bit too fast. DPS really hasn't much choice. Its challenges are overwhelming, especially in the northern part of Denver, and improvements should be made as soon as practical.
Lagging academic achievement and woeful dropout rates spell continuing trouble if not addressed.
DPS needs to institute broad and immediate reforms for its low-income students if it's going to reverse these trends. Even so, it's important that the district proceed carefully. Premature action would likely undermine the chances for success.
Brad Jupp, DPS senior policy adviser, shares that concern, and said administrators held back on some changes, fearing a lack of focus. "We believed we weren't going to be able to sustain the focus needed to succeed," he said.
The district was on the verge of closing Del Pueblo Elementary and Horace Mann Middle School in northwest Denver due to poor test results and declining enrollment. Instead, officials wisely stopped short and asked a citizen committee to look more closely at options for the schools.
Meanwhile, DPS is proceeding with these items:

A new school for preschool through eighth grade in the old Cole Middle School building in 2008.

A Montessori school will be added to northeast Denver by 2008.

A magnet school for the highly gifted and talented will be added to northeast Denver.

School boundary lines will be eliminated for middle school students in the Manual neighborhood as well as three northwest Denver schools, creating more "choice" options.

Teachers at Garden Place and Johnson elementaries will have to reapply for their jobs.

Valdez Elementary will become a Montessori preschool and kindergarten and a dual-language school from preschool through fifth grade.

All this while North High School is undergoing a massive transformation.
On top of all that, DPS is weighing whether to sell its headquarters at 900 Grant St., a cost-saving maneuver that could set a useful tone by relocating DPS administrative staff to the schools themselves.
Even the list of initiatives is exhausting. But Jupp puts it into perspective: With 140 schools, and most needing some type of kickstart, it would take more than a century if DPS concentrated on one school each year.
Still, even if DPS had the resources to move more quickly, the changes will ruffle some feathers among parents, teachers and others, underscoring the value of proceeding at a manageable pace. As these proposed changes go forward, the community has a chance to ask tough questions of DPS.
Are there enough resources to pull them off successfully? How will teachers be trained to teach new curriculums? Where will all the new teachers come from for the schools where this year's teachers have been told they need to reapply?
DPS is seeding the new programs with $1.8 million in yearly revenue from a 2003 mill levy for "school innovation programs."
Bennet knows well that the district is in "financial straits," but said that "we need to make strategic investments to generate revenue."
Thousands of Denver children have walked away from DPS in recent years for other districts and private schools.
The new Montessori programs won't come cheap, but could end up paying dividends. DPS is adding only one Montessori this year, and a second in 2008 to control those extra costs and the training required of teachers. Montessoris are highly hands-on learning centers that are often physically structured differently from traditional classrooms and can include a range of ages in each grade, depending on skill.
Turning around an urban district is not painless, and DPS needs to be transparent and flexible as it moves forward. Each success will bolster DPS's experience and credibility as it moves deeper into the crucible of change.