Denver Public Schools Making Big Changes

By Kimberly Sawatka
In case you missed it in recent weeks, the Denver Public School System (DPS) has released new information for the Denver Plan, laying out a set of goals to improve student achievement and school quality. This strategy will allow schools to become more autonomous, giving principals more authority and selection to buy their own curriculum, school-based testing programs, professional development plans, and theoretically more choice over the programs and employees for their individual schools.
Originally generated in 2005 the plan was designed to improve schools by 2020. The key strategy of the plan is to allow districts to have more flexibility. When the plan was formed, there was little opposition from school leaders since DPS has suffered in past years from high principal and teacher turnover. The program was created not only to help students, but also retain quality teachers and principals.
The model of decentralizing power among the district administration is not a new concept. It has gained momentum over the years, paralleling the growing educational choice movement. Many states look to the Recovery School District in Louisiana and the Achievement School District in Tennessee as examples for this type of school system.
DPS is broadening its reach in many areas to find better ways of learning to improve students’ educational experiences. The district is hosting a program called imaginarium. According to the programs website, “Teachers can now test personalized learning in fun and low-stakes summer school classrooms.”  This summer, students and teachers are partnering together over three weeks to test innovative ideas for technical learning. Students are exposed to new experiences and hands-on learning while being encouraged to ask questions and find solutions on their own. Grades are not included in the summer phase since it is part of a pilot program for later integration into other Denver schools. The imaginarium program not only focuses on personalized learning, labs and peer-learning, but it also allows for teachers at both public and charter schools to learn from one another.
Five years ago, DPS created “enrollment zones” allowing parents to become more involved in their childrens’ schooling. Student are no longer assigned by their neighborhood to a school. Parents have the option to choose schools within the zones. The system still has kinks, but it is a progressive step by the district to create higher quality schools and integrated populations.
DPS is one of many school systems within the state of Colorado, and it is one of the few making some drastic changes to improve students’ educational environments. With new strategies in place allowing for more flexibility within the individual Denver schools, the spotlight is on DPS as the rest of the state watches and cheers on the district for making essential reforms to the system

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