Saturday, January 14, 2017

Making national news: Gilpin, a turn around school turns around, gets closed anyway

Today NPR used the closing of Gilpin School in Denver as an opportunity to shed light on the issue of school choice.  The Denver School Board has cited figures to support their school choice activities, but others say it has  widened the equity gap of education between the more privileged and the less privileged. The closing of neighborhood schools is a burden than falls more heavily on the poor because of transportation difficulties to schools farther away and that the openings in the higher performing schools are filled by the more privileged. Full disclosure: the teacher featured in the article, Tanya Streicher, is my daughter.  This  is an update that was posted on my blog January 14, 2017 that shows how the School Board made sure it got its way in spite of score improvements.

Prior posting of a prior posting: Jan 14, 2017. This is an update of a prior posting. It is an example of where school choice as an ideal goal went awry. in this update is a letter to the Denver School Board, which includes a statement by Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, and an added comment of why he opposed Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. For those interested in the school choice issue, this case may be instructive. Devos, an advocate for diverting public school funding to charter and private schools, was successful in her advocacy in Michigan. The result is that Michigan, once in the middle of the pack in test scores in reading and math plunged to the lower 40's in state rankings.The turnaround school turned around and got closed anyway. For those concerned about public education, be aware that Denver Public Schools mysteriously changed a critical score from the consultant's score to a lower one, resulting in closing the only self integrated walk to neighborhod elementary school in 5 Points, Gilpin Elementary Montessori, replacing it with DPS administration offices and a smaller charter school. In 5 months Gilpin increased its score by 8 points reaching the score needed to keep it open by DPS' own criteria....until DPS changed the score on its own.  Attempting to placate angry parents, DPS proposes a consolation prize: opening a small Montessori school within another at risk school.  There is strong evidence that DPS planned to use the upper floors for their own admin space and turn over the lower floor to a charter school. That Gilpin's scores improved so much to meet the criteria for non closure appears to have become an inconvenient truth for DPS.
 a mile away

Update February 11, 2017 and March 3, 2017

From the parents opposed to closing Gilpin Elementary School

Dear Denver Board of Education:

Although it may be presumptuous, I would like to remind you that when Bennet paved the way for Denver’s aggressive education reform movement he did so with a moral objective.
On his February 6th speech last week on the senate floor, Bennet stated:
“We must create space for innovation and school autonomy. And we must also provide choice to parents and kids.
But, our goal is not and should not be school choice for choice’s sake. For a youngster in a low-income family, there’s no difference between being forced to attend a lousy school, and being given the chance to “choose” among five lousy schools.
That’s no choice at all. It’s certainly not a meaningful one.
The goal is and must be to offer high-quality education at every public school, so that parents can choose among great schools in their neighborhood.
We must refuse to accept the false choice that you either support school choice — in whatever form — or defend the status quo.
Just as we must reject the idea that you cannot support public schools and advocate for change.
This old rhetoric and manufactured political division will not work for our kids. We need to rise above the narrow, small politics that consume our attention and permit us to avoid making tough choices.
Instead, we must recognize that a 21st century education can and should look different. And, no matter what approach or method of delivery, it must be high-quality.
The good news is we know it’s possible to reverse course and create meaningful change. Several cities around the country have already begun creating road maps to this 21st century approach.
Denver is one of them.
In Denver, we made a deal: create a public choice system that authorizes charters, creates innovation schools, and strengthens traditional schools.
We empowered schools through autonomy and worked to create a culture of shared learning and innovation focused on all ships rising.
We demanded quality and implemented strong accountability. High performing schools were rewarded, replicated and expanded. Low performing schools had to improve or be shut down.
We made tough decisions. We closed schools. I sat in living rooms and classrooms and gymnasiums with parents urging them to demand more from the school district, even if it meant their child had to go to a different school.
Along with concerned citizens, teachers, and principals, I went door to door to enroll kids in new schools.
Denver created innovative teacher and school leadership policies. We tried to rethink the tired model of the last century and create a new career for this one.
That’s why today in Denver you will find teachers teaching other teachers (and being paid for it), knowing that their job is not only to educate their students but to improve the honorable craft of teaching.
We used the levers of federal law, strong accountability, and civil rights protections as the backbone of change. We could not have made the changes we did had it not been for the national demand for improvement in our schools.
And the courage of our community to demand something better for our children.”
In opposition to the nomination of DeVos, Bennet later stated,
“A commitment to choice without a commitment to quality serves ideology rather than improvement, and a commitment to competition without a commitment to equity would forsake our democratic ideal that a free high quality public education must open the doors of opportunity to all.”
As you see it, you are closing a failing school, you are solving a problem. As we see it, you have created the problem by mismanaging the school and not listening to or acting upon the wishes of our community since Gilpin became a public Montessori neighborhood school. We have been working to make this school successful in spite of your corporate reform policies. Communities across the city for years have said no – stop closing our schools and work with our communities - together we can improve. Feeding money into struggling schools is fruitless when, at the same time, you have changed administrations and not allowed them time to implement changes. Our enrollment declines are amplified if not caused by the charter schools you have put into our area. If you can close our school due to low enrollment, then you should not have put in the charters nearby. We are demanding that the idealistic reforms you use to guide your policy be tempered. We demand that you reverse your decision to close Gilpin and give us a real chance to succeed.
Boasberg has been very clear that the district has provided Gilpin extra supports to turnaround our neighborhood school. This is true of course but what the Superintendent and board members have all failed to acknowledge and take ownership of is that at the same time these supports have been given, the district has been working against Gilpin’s success as well. While it may be inadvertent and I do believe everyone here has the best intentions to help kids succeed, Gilpin students are disproportionately affected by your reform agenda.

[it takes a village.png]The resources spent in new schools could have been used to bolster the existing persistently low performing neighborhood schools. In learning about all of this I have discovered that for years parents and community members who are against school closure have been isolated and ignored by DPS! Gilpin’s situation now is reminiscent of the closure and subsequent roller coaster of program and administration changes of Manual High School. How can a school ever achieve progress when it is constantly unsettled? The vulnerable population that Gilpin and Manual serves craves consistency and the ability to maintain relationships that serve as a foundation for trust and then confidence to face a challenging world. Michael Bennet likes to say that when approaching education management, you should think about the kids a school serves as your own. Is this how you would treat your own children? Can you even imagine what it is like to live in our neighborhood? Have you hung out here? You believe that you are doing these kids a favor by sending them off to a new school? Do them a favor and work within the community that they are already in. Do not tell me that it is impossible to advance positive change in this way.

The African proverb, "It takes a village" is a timeless saying and is really an appropriate anecdote for how lasting inequalities in our society could be better dealt with.
[Text Box: “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.”  Mural at Mestizo Curtis Park Pool, 3 Blocks from Gilpin Elementary]I have noticed that the Superintendent forums are filled with advocates for traditional neighborhood schools. They are activating because, historically and now, DPS has not truly engaged them as parents and community members who have a say in their children’s education. DPS makes it look like they are requesting participation in the development of the district’s success. But time and time again, these advocates are flat out ignored and given the run around.
The end of bussing occurred at the same time as the education reform agenda was put in place. Manual was a high achieving school prior to the end of bussing and since, the school has re-segregated and decreased in performance. A decade later, you are closing Gilpin, a self-integrated school. That you have not ensured the stability of the school administration is directly related to the school’s struggling performance. How dare Boasberg blame Gilpin’s teachers and staff for failing the SPF. He actually told them that it was their fault Gilpin failed on the day the closure recommendation was announced.

The Gilpin community is not asking you to maintain the status quo!

The community's want for a walkable, neighborhood elementary school in Curtis Park is not based on some nostalgic Ozzy and Harriet fantasy (statement by board member Flores - It is a practical desire to send your child to a school close to home. There is nothing nostalgic about wanting a school that anchors a community of children who, as neighbors are destined to grow up with one another. It is an inconvenience to commute across city neighborhoods, walking a mile or even getting children to their bus stop as these add significant amounts of time to an already busy morning.

There will certainly be families who choose to go to a non-neighborhood school for a variety of reasons and extenuating circumstances. Is it not a consensus, given there were great schools in every neighborhood, the majority of families would attend the school closest to their home?  It is a practical, logistical request.

Gilpin is the only integrated elementary school in NNE Denver (See A+ Colorado’s report:

Parents meet with 3 DPS school board members to present data against Gilpin Closure

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