This type of reform has been embraced by the Obama administration and encouraged by its Race to the Top program, a competition among states for $4.35 billion in grant money. Colorado stands to win between $60 and $175 million if its application, which must be submitted by January 19, is accepted. States will be chosen based on factors such as the strength of their teachers and school leaders, and their strategies for improving struggling schools — a factor experts say is key.

"If you can't show the public and the U.S. Department of Education that you're serious about closing down underperforming charters, you're going to run into trouble with the community for closing down neighborhood schools (instead) — and you're going to run into trouble with the Department of Education," Gottlieb says.

This kind of reform was also at the center of the recent school board election, which pitted a slate of union-supported candidates — many of whom were more skeptical of charter schools — against so-called reformers, who were seen as being in favor of them.

Two union-backed candidates — Andrea Merida and Nate Easley Jr. — won on November 3, along with one reformer, Mary Seawell. On November 30, the outgoing board voted on the turnaround package hours before the new candidates were sworn in (with the exception of Merida, who had herself sworn in by a judge earlier that day so she could vote on the reforms). Some people were outraged at Merida's action, but others felt that the new boardmembers should have been given the chance to vote on the plans.

The seven-member board voted unanimously to shutter P.S. 1, despite the school's efforts to rally the troops and campaign against closure.

Peña said that this time around, the decision wasn't hard to make. "We've given them multiple opportunities and they just haven't figured it out," she says. "We can't keep making excuses for programs that are chronically failing children."


Spencer Isensee finishes his presentation about Sonia Sotomayor, which is dotted with several more curses and admonishing looks from his teacher.

Next up is Jeremy Sandoval, a seventeen-year-old who recounts the civics class's lessons on current events. "Something that I thought was extremely funny was that Barack Obama just won the Nobel Peace Prize," he says, "and the ironic thing about that is that he just also sent 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan."

Sandoval first enrolled in P.S. 1 three years ago. After his first year, though, his mom wanted him to go to a "normal" high school, so he transferred to Englewood High. But he hated it and skipped school 85 times that year. This year, he's back at P.S. 1. "It was a big change," he says of transferring to 850-student Englewood High.

"It's all huge and they don't know anyone's name," he says. "There's no atmosphere. You come here, and it's all love and everyone knows you."

That's the number-one reason students give for why they like P.S. 1, why they show up, why they don't want the school to close.

Tiffany Clymer, a petite seventeen-year-old junior with bleached-blond hair and dark eye shadow, used to go to Dora Moore middle school, where she says the teachers ignored her questions and heaped attention on the "smart people" instead.

"Here, the teachers are your friends," says Clymer, who has attention deficit disorder and trouble concentrating. And she gets good grades. Three years ago, she was an eighth-grader who read at a fourth-grade level. Now she reads at a twelfth-grade level.

Parents and grandparents like the school for many of the same reasons.

Yvonne Johnson has heard the district's explanation for closing P.S. 1, and she's read about the school's low test scores and lack of academic rigor. But to her, that's not the point. "I hate numbers, I hate numbers, I hate numbers," says Johnson, who is raising her three grandchildren — fifteen-year-old D'Von, fourteen-year-old D'Vonte and thirteen-year-old Tavier — and drives them to P.S. 1 every morning. "You're throwing kids away for numbers. They need to forget the numbers, forget the grades they're making. They need to realize other schools gave up on [these kids] and they're graduating from P.S. 1."

Laurie Eisenhart, a single mom whose seventh-grade son, Colton, has ADD, is also disappointed. "It's like I found this great place for him and now they're going to make him leave," she says. "Are you kidding me? Because of CSAP crap?"

Jen Derosby, who has taught at P.S. 1 for nine years, disagrees with the district's belief that teachers at P.S. 1 use students' circumstances as "excuses." She and other teachers say they believe in their students and think they can achieve but recognize that they may need extra help, extra attention, extra problem-solving to get there. "If we did care about these kids, we'd talk about how race and gender and socioeconomic status affect their learning," she says. "Does that mean they can't learn? Hell, no. But to ignore that, to be like, 'Little robots, learn, learn, learn!' is silly."

"It's sort of like they're supposed to walk into the halls of the school and they're just supposed to drop off their baggage and suddenly just be focused on their education," adds principal Laffoon. "That's doesn't happen."


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