School & District Management Opinion

Denver Public School System Exemplifies a Healthy Educational Ecosystem

By Tom Vander Ark — March 13, 2017 2 min read
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By Tom Vander Ark and Emily Liebtag

Denver continues to lead when it comes to providing school choice for students and families. Within the Denver Public School system, there are charters, innovation schools and traditional schools--all of which are accountable to the same standards, share enrollment and transportation and receive the same funding.

Denver’s portfolio approach keeps district, innovation and charter schools on a level playing field when it comes to incubation, funding, enrollment, transportation and accountability.

District schools operate under the full district rules and regulations, innovation schools have freedom over people, time and money and charter schools operate under the provisions of their charter. Of the 223 DPS schools, 38 are Innovation Schools (educating 19% of Denver students) and 55 are dependent charters (serving 18%). The Imaginarium, the district’s new school incubator, supports all three types through coaching, professional learning and design thinking processes to inspire education transformation.

Some of the high-performing home-grown options include the two dozen schools in the STRIVE Prep and DSST networks. Chris Gibbons, founder and CEO ofK-12 network STRIVE Prep, shared that he notices how parents have become increasingly aware of the choices that they have for their children.

Like STRIVE, DSST schools have adopted blended learning strategies. In a few years, almost a quarter of Denver graduates will come from DSST high schools.

We also visited Kepner Beacon Middle and heard how this innovation school, led by Principal Alex Magaña, in its first year is already thriving in the Denver Public School system.

We sat down with several key leaders in DPS to hear about the challenges, successes and desired outcomes of their approach. We also visited several of the schools you’ll hear about in this podcast to understand how each school, or network of schools, within the system has a different feel and principles but a common mission and commitment to providing great schools in every neighborhood.

In this podcast we hear from:

Superintendent Tom Boasberg on creating and sustaining a portfolio leadership agenda in a diverse district.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg pictured with DPS Portfolio Manager Jennifer Holliday

Board Members Barbara O’Brien and Happy Haynes share how the board plays an important part in moving the district forward and garnering community and local business support.

Happy Haynes sharing her work on the DPS board

Executive Director of KIPP Colorado Kimberlee Sia on how KIPP works within the DPS system and provides a high-expectations, family focused and college preparatory environment for many of the students in the area.

KIPP Colorado Executive Director Kimberlee Sia

We noticed the same commitments at KIPP 3D and Dream Prep in Houston, Texas.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.