Board of Education Update – June 6, 2019 Focus on Achievement

Road to Reading Partnership Fuels Holistic Approach to Preparing Young Learners for School

At the June 6, 2019 Focus on Achievement session the Denver Board of Education heard an update on the progress of the Road to Reading initiative – a program that ensures children from birth to third grade have the language and literacy supports they need to succeed in school and life. The partnership is a collaboration across the community, involving more than 60 partners, and led by the City and County of Denver, Mile High United Way, Denver Public Library and the Children’s Museum.

Research shows students who are reading at grade level by third grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school. In support of the initiative, DPS has committed to administrator and teacher effectiveness, high-quality instruction and learning environments, data-driven improvement, and family and community engagement for children from birth to third grade.

Highlights from 2018-19

Board members Happy Haynes and Barbara O’Brien presented the group’s achievements from the past year, which include developing unified messaging focused on child well-being and literacy support and releasing community-driven micro-grants to support the Birth to Eight Roadmap’s alternatives to Pre-K recommendations.

Board members also reviewed goals for next year, which consist of building a stronger communications network to make families and providers aware of services in their neighborhoods, developing citywide kindergarten readiness messaging, streamlining Road to Reading workgroup meetings to serve the larger needs of the early childhood community and more.

Read the full presentation here.

ELA DAC Provides Feedback from Families and Recommendations for the 2019-20 School Year

The board heard an update from the English Language Acquisition District Advisory Committee (ELA DAC), which provides to the parents of the more than 40,000 DPS students who speak languages other than English an opportunity to engage with district leadership on important issues.

During the 2018-19 school year, the ELA DAC met with groups of parents and covered numerous important topics. Data on participation rates showed a significant presence of ELA families at every ELA and Family and Community Engagement (FACE) combined district event, including Superintendent Parent Forums and the Family Leadership Institute. ELA families also attended districtwide events at higher rates than non-ELA parents.

ELA DAC members provide feedback for 2019-20

At the end of each school year, the ELA DAC meets with families to gather feedback, suggestions and recommendations for the next school year. ELA DAC board members, along with DPS parents María Cristina Muñoz and Marisol Vasquez, provided the board with the families’ recommendations on the information and resources they would like to receive, which included:

  • Whole Child and mental health support, with an emphasis on suicide prevention, sexual identity, behavioral issues, depression, anxiety and other key topics.
  • Better understanding of culturally responsive education and the educational methods applied in the classroom that take into consideration students’ cultural backgrounds, as well as what equity looks like in the classroom.
  • More information around special education, including gifted and talented education.
  • How to incorporate collaborative teamwork at the school level, including information on volunteer opportunities and tips for joining forces with teachers and other school staff.

“One of the things that many parents ask about is are there any programs that not only help our kids but also help us grow as a family. I think it’s important to promote ELA for others. We want our kids to feel proud of their language, learn the language in this place that they live and at the same time nurture their own cultures,” said Vasquez, a mother of both a DPS kindergartner and recent DPS graduate.

The full presentation is available here.

Board, Innovation Leaders Reflect on Impact of Innovation Status

Also at the meeting the board engaged in a discussion with the Portfolio Management Team and innovation school leaders about the history and initial learnings from the first decade of innovation status in DPS. District-run innovation schools are district-managed public schools with a strategic plan that allows waivers to specific district policies, state statutes, and collective bargaining agreements with the goal of increasing a school’s agility, autonomy and ability to adapt to students’ needs and drive academic progress. Innovation schools are governed by the Innovation Schools Act (§ 22-32.5-107, C.R.S).

Voices From the Field

The board had the opportunity to the perspectives of a panel of innovation leaders:

  • Tomi Amos, Executive Director, Northeast Denver Innovation Zone
  • Joe Amundsen, Director of School Improvement
  • Ginger Conroy, Innovation School Leader, Denver Center for International Studies at Ford
  • Frank Coyne, Lead Partner, Denver Green School
  • Kimberly Grayson, Innovation School Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Early College

“The idea of community-driven, district-supported schools in some ways is really reflective of what we’re trying to do with these schools, and the essence of what innovation is supposed to be about,” said Joe Amundsen. “The learnings I’m trying to take into this work moving forward are, how do we capitalize on those things that give us clarity of purpose — vision, mission, model, buy-in — and what flexibility do schools need to execute that the entire school community can get their hands wrapped around for support.”

“When I think about student outcomes, I think innovations have impacted all four schools in my zone in very different ways,” said Tomi Amos. “We’ve seen some significant progress in terms of the ability to tailor programs. All four of our schools have been able to come together and think about IB philosophy and framework together.”

“Innovation has helped us to increase student and faculty culture. When you’re able to push teachers to do better, the outcome is student achievement: pushing students to do better. Our school offers both department collaborations and planning periods, so teachers are able to collaborate with other teachers of like content. We’re really pushing whole child supports and making sure our students feel safe with the addition of more counseling staff and a trauma-informed social worker,” added Kimberly Grayson.

“Over time, we were able to move Ford from a red school to a green school according to the SPF. Being able to, as a leader, operate flexibly outside of what DPS was doing was very necessary. We could not have gotten the school to where it is now had we not had the flexibility,” said Ginger Conroy.

“For us as a school, founded by a bunch of DPS educators, we’ve never not known innovation as part of our landscape. It has allowed our school to become a high-performing school,” said Frank Coyne.

“To the extent that we could work collaboratively together to talk about challenges and where greater guardrails are needed, that would take a huge lift off of school leaders and we might see better correlations between the status and improvements that some people thought innovation status was meant to have,” added Tomi Amos.

The board concluded the conversation with plans to continue this dialogue. “The candor and the leadership you have exhibited are deeply appreciated. Thank you for bringing these discussions to hold all of us accountable for what will be best for kids,” said Anne Rowe, board president.

Learn more about innovation schools here, and read the full presentation here.