By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Although a DPS advisory committee recommended closing P.S. 1, the school board bucked the recommendation in a 4-3 vote and granted P.S. 1's charter renewal. But it also put P.S. 1 on probation and demanded that it improve its student performance.
Theresa Peña, who still serves on the school board, remembers it as a difficult decision. "None of us felt good about the academic environment at P.S. 1," says Peña, who voted to close the school. But there was nowhere else "for the students to go. You either lose those kids or keep it open and compromise their educational environment."
Conditions at the school improved slightly, and in 2008, that same advisory board recommended that the school be given another chance. But Aybar left the same year to take an education policy job in Governor Bill Ritter's office. (She didn't return e-mails or phone calls seeking comment.) And by the time P.S. 1 applied for another renewal, in late 2009, with more dismal test scores to show, it was out of second chances.
In early September, a team of DPS evaluators visited P.S. 1 in connection with its charter-renewal application. They found that while the students seemed happy, their academic performance was abysmal: Just 37 percent were proficient in reading, while only 7 percent were proficient in math, according to their scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests, or CSAPs — tests that all Colorado students in grades three through ten are required to take.
And although an independent analysis of P.S. 1's test scores commissioned by the school showed that students were doing better on the tests — even if they weren't passing them — and that students who had been at the school longer did better than those who had recently enrolled, the scores were still bad. And there was no doubt that they were worse than in 2003, when two-thirds of students scored proficient.
DPS evaluators also noted that the kids seemed uninterested in their schoolwork and that the building was "cluttered and dirty." Their final recommendation: Allow the school to stay open for one more school year, then close it in 2011.
A second evaluation, done by the state Department of Education in late October, echoes the first. It takes note of the "exemplary" relationships between students and teachers at P.S. 1: "A positive can-do attitude permeates the culture."
But, it also says, "there is a learning environment of low expectations of students at P.S. 1. The use of excuses as to why students cannot achieve must be eliminated. It's imperative that staff move beyond a focus on family circumstances, poverty, lack of skills and knowledge.... P.S. 1 may be the last hope for some of their students to have a chance at success in life. If a learning environment of high expectations is not present, some students will only continue down a very tragic life path."
Education policy expert Gottlieb agrees. "Test scores aren't everything," he says. "But there are a lot of times when parents and kids love schools that suck, and they don't always know best. If the reason kids like [a school] is because the teachers are nice to them and don't push them, that's not a good reason to stay at a school."
Principal Laffoon defends accusations that P.S. 1 has low expectations.
"Saying you're just going to pass a kid because you feel compassion for their situation and so you're going to give them a grade they don't deserve or give them credit where they don't deserve it — that's low expectations. I don't think we do that," says Laffoon, who was a teacher at P.S. 1 for ten years before becoming principal last year. "Their credit in class is tied to their mastering outcomes that are standards-based."
Still, at the November 9 board meeting, Superintendent Boasberg announced plans to "turn around" the district's three lowest-performing schools and its three lowest-performing charters. The turnaround plan for each school differed. For some, he recommended revamping their structure. For others, he suggested sharing space with high-performing charters, such as West Denver Prep, a middle school with a rigorous application process and an academic program that's produced high test scores and is hailed as a success story. For P.S. 1, it meant closure.
In crafting the plans, Boasberg says, it didn't matter to him whether low-performing schools were district schools or charters. "I think we've been very clear that we've got the same exact standards, the same rigorous standards, for all our schools, whether they're district-run schools or charter schools," he tells Westword. If a school is failing, Boasberg says, the district has to do something about it.
Some boardmembers thought P.S. 1 should have been closed immediately.
"This is just another example with DPS where we say, 'We're going to close it, we're going to close it...if you don't get better, we're going to close you,' and then we never do it," outgoing boardmember Michelle Moss said at the meeting. She noted that P.S. 1 serves high-risk kids, including scores of special-education students, but said she'd had enough. "I'm not sure they're educating special-ed kids. I'm not sure they're educating anybody. I mean, you look at what they're doing in terms of their performance; it's appalling. And it has been appalling since I've been on this board."