Huge Shake-up Aims to Resurrect Denver School System

The kids from Smedley Elementary School arrived at the Denver Public Schools headquarters around 5:40 p.m. Monday. Wearing blue shirts and cherubic expressions, the children filed past a Board of Education that had all but decided their fate and the fate of 3,000 more students at seven other struggling elementary schools.

Their buildings will close and they will be transferred.Here comes the revolution.

There were “huge risks” to closing eight schools and re-inventing the curricula at five others at one time, school board member Lucia Guzman admitted.

Huge risks and no other viable options.

“This is not the closure of children,” Guzman said. “This is not slamming the door in the face of parents. It is for them. For too many years the children of this district have not received the quality of education they deserve.”

In what superintendent Michael Bennet believes is the third-largest center city school shake-up in America, the promise – and gamble – is that things will improve.

If you’re born in America of poor parents or parents with little education or parents who don’t speak English, Bennet said, “the odds are stacked against you. It is the obligation of the school system to make sure that the odds aren’t near as long as they are today.”

“It will take the energy of an entire city to do what we want,” the superintendent warned.

Even then, it might not be enough. And yet, as board member Bruce Hoyt pointed out, “To embark on school closures is a terrible thing,” but a thing that sometimes becomes “absolutely necessary.”

Nothing was going to happen to public education in Denver without a radical change. A shrinking student population left dozens of schools under-used. The upkeep for those schools drew money from instruction. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the city’s schools performed poorly on standardized tests and many lost students who abandoned failing neighborhood schools. What board members called “nibbling around the edges” wasn’t working.

“There are still 100 schools that need to turn themselves around,” school board member Kevin Patterson warned, shortly before he and his colleagues closed the eight schools, re-invented five others and embarked on a non-traditional “new school development program” for high schools. “We have to do something better for kids with a sense of urgency. We have to do what we can as quickly as we can.”

The revolution in Denver Public Schools has hardly gone at the speed of light. The restructuring began in earnest with Bennet’s hiring 2

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