Pishney's husband got an engineering job in Denver, and the couple moved here. A talented seamstress with a love of cooking, Pishney began sewing and selling fancy aprons. Four years later, when they moved to Dallas, Pishney got back into teaching, working in both private and public schools.

After she and her husband divorced, Pishney moved back to Denver in 2002. She'd loved living here, and had her sights set on teaching at one school: Bromwell.

In a city school district plagued by city school district problems, Bromwell is a standout: a K-5 school known for having academic rigor, active parents, very bright students — and few of the challenges associated with large populations of at-risk students.

Mary Pishney is known as Miss P to all her students — and their parents.
Mark Manger
Mary Pishney is known as Miss P to all her students — and their parents.
Bromwell principal Jody Cohn gave Mary Pishney her first negative evaluation.
Mark Manger
Bromwell principal Jody Cohn gave Mary Pishney her first negative evaluation.

That's largely due to Bromwell's location, on the corner of East Fourth Avenue and Columbine Street in Cherry Creek, where old bungalows and ranch houses have given way to high-priced duplexes. Houses in the nearby Denver Country Club neighborhood and along Seventh Avenue Parkway sell for up to $2 million, and the area is populated by doctors, lawyers, CEOs and politicians like Michael Bennet, who was superintendent of Denver Public Schools until he was tapped by Ritter in January 2009 to take a vacant U.S. Senate seat.

"The people who live in this neighborhood have big homes," says one parent. "They're pretty successful, which means they're pretty smart. Eighty percent of the kids at Bromwell would be way above the average of the typical DPS student. Bromwell is like a mini private school."

Fewer than 10 percent of Bromwell's students were low-income and minority this past school year; the overall district stats are 70 percent poor, 75 percent minorities. Out of 161 schools, Bromwell is one of only nine rated "distinguished" by DPS; in 2008 it was chosen as a prestigious national Blue Ribbon School. Realtors selling houses within the Bromwell boundaries regularly list the school as an attribute on For Sale signs, and hordes of parents who live outside the boundaries request that their children be allowed to attend Bromwell through the district's choice policy.

Those parents whose children get to attend Bromwell are very involved, inside the classrooms and out. The school PTSA raises hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to help pay for a part-time dance teacher and full-time art and music teachers, as well as teachers' aides in every classroom — luxuries that most other Denver schools can't afford. One of Bromwell's biggest fundraisers is the annual auction, which this year included such items as a South African safari, a day of skiing with Olympian Michelle Roark, and Latisse eyelash-growing treatments.

"I ask the PTSA, I say, 'I need this,' and they make it happen," says Cohn.

That's partly what attracted Pishney to Bromwell.

"I wanted to teach at Bromwell because I'd heard it was wonderful," Pishney recalls. "It would afford me the opportunity to do my thing: to have my poetry, to be able to do rough drafts and use a dictionary and thesaurus, and play classical music and put on my plays. Not a lot of schools will let you do that."

Bromwell didn't have any openings, though, so Pishney took a job teaching a combination fourth- and fifth-grade class at Carson Elementary in the nearby Hilltop neighborhood. "I raised test scores," she says. "My kids' CSAP scores were phenomenal." Her students were also adept at writing poetry. On a whim, Pishney submitted nineteen students' poems to a national poetry anthology project; twelve were accepted, she notes.

Bromwell's then-principal, Dennis Thompson, happened to stop by Pishney's classroom on a tour of Carson, and asked her to apply when a first-grade teaching spot opened up. "I said, 'I'm tickled pink, because I love the little ones!'" she remembers.

Pishney's first years at Bromwell went well. Parents began requesting that their children be put in her class, many of them attracted by her emphasis on memorization. Pishney has her students memorize a poem a month, a practice that she thinks greatly increases intelligence. "All they have to do is, I repeat it in the morning and they practice it once at night," she says. "And that's it. And it's shown by many universities that this actually increases IQ."

Chuck Crowley's daughter was in Pishney's second Bromwell class. "The first time I saw her, I thought, 'Who is this little old lady who is going to get her ass kicked by these kids?'" he remembers. "And, boy, was I wrong. She had complete control of that classroom. She got so much out of those kids."

"She's so sweet," says Crowley's daughter, Alexandra, who will start seventh grade in the fall. "I don't know of a kid who said 'I hated her.'"

When Melissa Pace's family moved to Denver, she quickly realized her son "was at the bottom of the Bromwell barrel," she says. He couldn't read or write, unlike most of the other kindergartners. Although he caught up a bit that year, "he didn't love to read, because he was so far behind everybody," she recalls.

But Pishney, her son's first-grade teacher, changed all that. "She got him up to the end-of-second-grade reading level by the end of the year," Pace says. The poetry memorization also boosted his vocabulary. "His vocabulary was superior to any first-grader I had ever been around. He still speaks like an old man. We'll be at a family function and he says something, and it sounds like my Great Aunt Helen just spoke. I think that's great."

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