DPS discusses the future of innovation schools and teachers’ rights
DENVER — A few years ago, Denver Public Schools adopted an innovative model, which allows schools to design their own “playbook” with input from teachers, parents and the community.
“We didn’t want to be a traditional school,” said Alex Magana, executive director of Grant Beacon Middle School and Kepner Beacon Middle School. “We didn’t want to just follow these guidelines, these rules. We wanted to create our own playbook.
But this model is now under threat. The DPS board has proposed executive limitations on innovative schools, saying teachers have no choice but to opt out of these schools. The teachers’ union says it violates teachers’ rights.
There is now a lot of resistance against this from parents and teachers in innovation schools.
“Literacy is the top priority here,” said Victoria Bailey, Librarian and Kepner Beacon and Grant Beacon Schools. “In many schools, physical libraries are a thing of the past. There are no staff for a physical library.”
Bailey says this is just one of the many ways innovative schools improve education.
“We can tailor our schools to suit our community, based on our demographics,” she said.
Magana says the proof is in the performance. In just two years, the innovation model has taken both schools from some of the worst performers in DPS to the top of the class.
“We’re the top performing school with the same student population,” Magana said of Grant Beacon Middle School. “From yellow to green in a year, then we maintained green, almost blue status in the school’s performance framework.”
Enrichment is one of the ways they succeed.
“We have one hour of enrichment during our regular school day, twice a week,” said Elizabeth Walters who helps coordinate enrichment classes.
Students have about 20 enrichment courses to choose from each term, which often helps them tap into their strengths and curiosity at no cost, says Walters.
“We have Lego robotics, video game design, a really cool Shark Tank course, like the TV show where kids can design a commercial product,” Walters said.
What is unclear is why the board is ready to move forward on this matter now. We reached out to a few board members and received no feedback except for one who told us they would “listen first, talk later”, perhaps after a meeting. Zoom scheduled for Wednesday evening on innovation schools.
These teachers promise to fight for a teaching model they believe in.
“I have seen the growth of our students. I saw the data. I know it works,” Bailey said.
“Innovation is not a dirty word,” Magana said. “Innovation is a positive word. Yet for some reason – here in DPS, we view it as a negative.”