DPS school turnaround: Those opposed to plan have their say, but board approves it anyway

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Last night, the Denver Public Schools board narrowly approved a turnaround plan for six struggling schools in far northeast Denver, including Montbello High, largely by hiring entirely new staffs or replacing them with charter schools. But first, the seven board members listened for hours as supporters and opponents of the controversial plan had their say.

It started before the meeting, when throngs of people gathered outside DPS headquarters, 900 Grant Street, to make impassioned speeches for television cameras and five o'clock news viewers. Then they funneled inside, where they filled the board room, clogged the hallways and were herded into a fourth-floor cafeteria.

Televisions and folding chairs were set up in the cafeteria and the front hallway, and those who couldn't fit inside the board room strained to listen to the meeting being broadcast on TV. A flustered DPS staffer escorted those who signed up to address the board in and out of the board room. Whenever a new group came out or went in, the noise level in the hallway flared up, causing those watching the TV to shout "Shhhhh!" or "Silence!"

Many of the spectators were parents or teachers. Among them was a group of teachers from Cowell Elementary in northwest Denver, who were there opposing the plan in solidarity with northeast Denver teachers. They did not want to be identified.

"We've seen it at Manual," said one teacher, referring to the district's prior turnaround of Manual High School, which many say was executed poorly. "A lot of kids got lost in the shuffle. Nobody cared what happened to those kids. But kids aren't replaceable."

Teachers from northeast Denver were also there in force. Jill Ohmert, a kindergarten teacher at Oakland Elementary, which will now be replaced with the SOAR II charter school, said she opposed the turnaround because SOAR doesn't have a plan for teaching English language learners. At Oakland, she said, 70 percent of the kids speak Spanish.

"If they want dual-language instruction, where are they going to go?" she said.

Earleen Brown doesn't have any kids in DPS -- not anymore. But she showed up last night because as a resident of Green Valley Ranch, she cares about the quality of the neighborhood schools and the education of local kids.

"I'm opposed to the plan because the numbers don't balance," she said. "What happens to the ones not accepted (to the charter schools)? They don't have any place to go."

Supporters of the plan were also in attendance, wearing matching blue T-shirts that read, "We demand GREAT schools" and toting signs of their own.

In the end, the board mostly voted along now-familiar lines: four in favor, three opposed.

More from our Education archive: "Andrea Merida, rule breaker: Profile of Denver Public Schools' controversial board member."

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