CHARTER MEMBERS

WHEN TWO DPS TEACHERS DECIDED TO OPEN A NEW SCHOOL, THEY DISCOVERED THEY HAD A LOT TO LEARN.

For that matter, the school would need a building. Booth and Danks hoped to get one from DPS rather than spend tax dollars on another property. "We believed," Booth says, "that in a district like Denver there were vacant buildings, underutilized buildings or school buildings not being used as schools that we could use."

The two teachers clearly hadn't thought things through, say some boardmembers. "Their proposals kept changing," remembers DPS boardmember Lynn Coleman. "First, their budget was one thing; two weeks later they cut it in half. First, they wanted 120 percent (of money given to the district per child), then it was 100 percent."

Although some boardmembers thought Thurgood Marshall's educational components, at least, were to be commended, Coleman disagrees. The requirement that students become bilingual in three years was particularly troubling, she says. For that matter, Coleman was no fan of Danks's budget studies.

Coleman says she understands Danks's concerns over class size, though. "I've been critical of the administration myself for money spent outside the classrooms," Coleman says. "At the same time, I understand some of that spending. Denver simply has more programs--such as magnet schools--than other metro-area school districts."

And they didn't leave much room--or money--for charter schools.
Thurgood Marshall supporters appealed the school board's decision to the Colorado Board of Education. Last April the state board ruled in the charter school's favor, telling DPS boardmembers to negotiate with the school's backers.

Up to that point, the DPS board had refused to consider letting Thurgood Marshall into one of its buildings. But now, as part of the negotiations, it offered a list of building possibilities.

Morey Middle School, in the heart of Capitol Hill, wasn't on the list, but Booth had read in the paper that it might be closed. It was a beautiful old building located in an area that would be perfect for their concept.

But teachers, parents and Morey students protested any takeover, even after Booth offered current Morey pupils first crack at enrollment in Thurgood Marshall.

Next she turned to Slavens Elementary, which was being used for administrative offices. Booth asked not only for the building but for half of the computers, furniture and other equipment on the premises as well. The school district balked, arguing that replacements would cost $200,000.

While the board continued to dicker with Thurgood Marshall supporters, it approved one charter proposal and accepted the application of a second.

Denver's first official charter school was Clayton Charter School. Actually, Clayton had been in business before the charter law was passed, subsisting in part on foundation money. The school has only kindergarten through second-grade students, all con-sidered "at-risk" due to economic or family circumstances.

DPS also accepted a charter application for the Denver Youth Academy, which would be run by Denver Area Youth Services, a nonprofit organization that provides programs for inner-city youth including job training and counseling. Youth Services planned to run the academy as a middle school, but it would start with 120 students in just the sixth and seventh grades. The charter school hoped to open in fall 1994, but first it, too, needed to find a building.

Still, DPS had accepted two charter applications. With that in mind, Thurgood Marshall's supporters submitted a second application to the school board. Again, they were turned down. And again, they appealed that decision to the state Board of Education.

The law establishing charter schools provides that on a second appeal, the state board makes the final decision as to whether a charter should be granted. In July 1994, the state board again decided in favor of Thurgood Marshall and ordered DPS to grant the charter. The school district ignored the order.

By now, Danks had taken unofficial leave of the project--and medical leave from DPS. She says she was exhausted by the battle to get Thurgood Marshall going.

"It's hurdle after hurdle after hurdle," she says. "Cordia and I are both strong-willed and determined after we get on a path...but it wears you out. I know why people just give up; I mean, you have to grade papers and do your job and then go jump through all these hoops.

"The fact there are so few charter schools in Denver, I think, is proof that the DPS central administration is unwilling to change and views charter schools as a threat."

Although the DPS board still refused to grant a charter, it continued to negotiate with Thurgood Marshall's remaining supporters. And they still hoped to open by the fall of 1995.

DPS suggested two more building possibilities. One was the old Harrington Elementary School at 39th Avenue and Steele, in an industrial area known for gang activities. But the neighborhood opposed Booth's suggestions for ensuring the safety of her students, such as blocking off streets around the school to prevent drive-by shootings.

Much more appealing was the former Ash Grove Elementary School--at least until the Virginia Village/Ellis Coummunity Association heard about the proposal.

The neighbors of Ash Grove and the proponents of Thurgood Marshall like the area for many of the same reasons. It's a nice, well-kept, older neighborhood lacking the graffiti and youth crime found in some parts of the city.

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