Great Schools in Every Neighborhood
At the October 15, 2018 work session, the Board of Education heard about several key components to reaching our Denver Plan goal of Great Schools in Every Neighborhood. Students and families thrive when they have high-quality schools. DPS is committed to dramatically increasing the quality of schools available in every neighborhood to ensure that every student in every community throughout the district has access to great schools.
How will we reach this goal? We believe that schools need to be supported, evaluated and held accountable for their results. We also believe in embracing innovative new schools instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.
Checking School Progress: the School Performance Framework
The Board of Education reviewed the 2018 School Performance Framework (SPF) results. The SPF, which is like an annual report card for DPS schools, measures many important aspects of a school’s academic performance, such as how much students are growing academically every year, how well the school serves and challenges all of its students, and how satisfied students and parents are. In DPS, we believe what is most important is not where kids start, but how much they grow. The SPF provides essential feedback for a school, helping it to focus on its strengths and make progress in key areas where improvement is needed.
“We have made much progress in DPS, yet we know we still have much work to do, especially to improve opportunities for our traditionally underserved students. Our SPF ratings reflect both that progress and the work that lies in front of us to meet our shared goals,” said Superintendent Boasberg.
Board Member Happy Haynes said she feels strongly that the Academic Gaps measure helps our families understand their own child’s prospects for success in any given school, and she feels this is incredibly important to the district’s commitment to equity. She also said she appreciates the district’s efforts to continue to simplify the SPF so it’s easier to understand. Board Member Lisa Flores said there are ongoing concerns among schools who are not meeting expectations on the Academic Gaps measure about both methodology and whether they are receiving adequate support to close opportunity gaps for historically underserved students.
Supporting Schools: the Tiered Support Framework
The board also heard how the Tiered Support Framework helps DPS strengthen our district-run and innovation schools by investing the people, time and resources that all schools need to succeed.
We want the process of prioritizing support to be consistent and transparent, so we base our levels of support — called tiers — on school performance data. The schools with the biggest challenges receive the most intensive support to help them meet their extraordinary needs. When supporting schools, we give principals the flexibility to choose what works best for their school community.
Intensive supports are resulting in better schools for DPS kids. This year, 21 of 23 — or 91% of schools receiving intensive supports improved their overall SPF rating to yellow (approaching expectations) or green (meets expectations).
Read the full presentation here.
Holding Ourselves Accountable: the School Performance Compact
Accountability is one of the district’s Shared Core Values, which means it lives at the heart of all of our work. In DPS, we take responsibility for our individual and collective commitments. We grow from our successes and learn from our failures as we strive for continuous improvement.
When schools do not meet expectations for academic growth and achievement on the School Performance Framework, DPS provides intensive support to help them get back on track, as detailed in our Tiered Support Framework. If schools are still not able to show improvement after significant support efforts over time, we believe that the students served by these schools deserve more significant changes in their learning environment.
The School Performance Compact (SPC), which went into effect in fall 2016, sets out a clear process for how DPS will identify the most persistently low-performing schools. The board discussed revising our implementation guidelines for the SPC, moving away from an approach based on bright-line rules to one with greater flexibility.
In discussing their work in leading a board team reviewing the SPC, Board Members Angela Cobian and Jennifer Bacon stressed the vital role the community plays in school improvement and what a strong school improvement plan reflects. Board members’ discussion focused on the importance of establishing a clear process and timeline for schools to work with communities to identify supports they need from the district, as well as the need to take into account the different contexts around each school.
The proposed new guidelines would ensure the board is able to choose among multiple policy options, including a one- to two-year timeframe for improvement or restart (and closure in the case of low enrollment).
In December, the board will review improvement plans of struggling schools with consecutive years of low student growth and consider district recommendations before making final decisions about next steps for those schools.
“We want to acknowledge that some stakeholders may have thought the SPC was suspended, and we don’t want to create additional stress. What we really wanted to do was to refocus the process on school improvement,” said Board Member Jennifer Bacon.
Encouraging Innovation: New iZone Application
Established under the Innovation Schools Act of 2008, innovation schools are DPS schools that — through the votes of teachers, school leaders and community members — elect to waive certain requirements of state education laws, collective bargaining agreements and/or district policies. The Act also makes it possible for groups of schools to submit a plan to create an innovation school zone, or iZone. The schools in an iZone must share “common interests, such as geographical location or educational focus.”
An innovation zone application must first be developed and approved by the staff of all the schools in the iZone, then by the DPS Board of Education and finally by the State Board of Education. The DPS board must review iZones every three years, and also approve which schools are permitted to enter the Zone.
Board Member Jennifer Bacon said she wants to better understand specifically what iZones are waiving as applications come forward, and also to have the opportunity to reflect and learn as a board about how iZones are working.
The Luminary Learning Network (LLN), the district’s first iZone, was established in 2015, followed by the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone in June 2018.