DPS: A Very Different Kind of Choice

Mar. 24, 2017
Students at Bryant-Webster Dual Language School.
Students at Bryant-Webster Dual Language School.

“Choice, first and foremost, should be about having a great school in your neighborhood and making sure all of our schools serve all of our kids.”

Dear DPS Community,

Supt. Tom Boasberg

Supt. Tom Boasberg

In casting his vote against the nomination of President Trump’s pick for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, U.S. Senator and former DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet stressed how fundamentally different Denver’s policy of school choice is than the policies espoused by now Secretary DeVos. The critical differences in Denver’s system, ranked as the best school choice system in the country, include:

  1. An emphasis on the importance of neighborhood schools.
  2. A focus on equity with requirements that all public schools serve all students.
  3. A level playing field with the same enrollment rules for district-run and charter schools.
An Emphasis on Neighborhood Schools

Our first priority is to provide great schools in every neighborhood to strengthen neighborhoods throughout the city. And we encourage all families interested in school choice to look first at their neighborhood schools. Every DPS student is guaranteed enrollment in their neighborhood school.

At the same time, we know there is more than one way to be a great school and different kids thrive in different environments. If a neighborhood school isn’t the best fit for a child, families should have the freedom to choose the model and focus they believe works best for their child. But in no case should a family ever have to put their child on a bus to attend a great school.

Equity: Our Schools Must Serve All Kids

All of our public schools should be open to, and serve, all kids. With the exceptions of the Denver School of the Arts and Polaris Elementary, no public school in Denver (district-run or charter) may impose any admissions criteria or selectivity in enrolling students.

That’s why we oppose private school voucher programs, which allow private schools to pick and choose which students they serve; this means they could refuse to admit, for example, students with disabilities. Public money should be used for public schools serving all students.

In Denver, all of our schools must serve all students who enroll, regardless of whether, for example, a student has a disability or is an English-language learner or is off-track academically.

Families explore school options at the DPS Great Schools Expo in November.

Families explore school options at the DPS Great Schools Expo in November.

We know that in a city where neighborhoods are marked by very different degrees of social and economic integration, we must focus on how our enrollment systems can lead to integration rather than segregation in our schools. That is why our Board of Education recently called for a new task force to look at how, in the face of rapidly changing housing patterns and gentrification in Denver, we can improve integration in our schools.

All Schools Play by Same Enrollment Rules

In Denver, we have a single enrollment system in which all schools play by the same rules; admissions, transfers and waitlists to and from all schools (district-run and charter) are controlled by the district’s choice office. Unlike other cities, many of our charter schools serve boundaries in which they give priorities, like district-run schools, to students who live in that boundary and set aside places for highly mobile children who enter mid-year.

Some choice models nationally emphasize choice over quality, which can lead to a profusion of lower-quality choices that don’t lead to increases in student achievement. But lots of low-quality choices serve no one. In Denver, we hold all our schools to the same high standards of accountability through our School Performance Framework. Similarly, our processes for starting new schools are open to all applicants.

In DPS, we have seen dramatic progress over the past decade as we have focused on the quality of our schools. Most recently, the independent Education Resource Strategies reported on a Stanford study that found that, of the nearly 300 school districts in the United States serving at least 25,000 students, DPS has had the second-highest academic growth in the nation.

We believe and would encourage others to consider in this national discussion that choice, first and foremost, should be about having a great school in your neighborhood and making sure all of our schools serve all of our kids.


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DPS Supports Immigration Day of Action

Thomas Jefferson High School Senior Yonis Noor, Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova.

Thomas Jefferson High School Senior Yonis Noor, Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova.

Mayor Michael B. Hancock declared Tuesday, March 21, as the “Denver Immigration Day of Action,” joining cities across the country in reaffirming their commitment to supporting immigrants and immigrant communities. DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova joined other civic leaders on the front steps of the City and County building to highlight the contributions immigrants have made to the city of Denver.

Yonis Noor, who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and is now excelling at DPS’ Thomas Jefferson High School as a senior, made remarks to the crowd. He recalled the experience of coming to America at the age of six, “learning a new language and getting used to a new culture was very difficult, but it was all worth it.”

“I will be the first person in my family to go to college,” said Yonis, who hopes to go into either environmental science or engineering. “I couldn’t have done this without being in America, and I want everyone else to have the same experience.”

Learn more about how DPS is supporting all students on our Safe and Welcoming School District webpage.

Class of 2017 Graduation Dates Announced

It’s almost time for cap, gowns and “Pomp and Circumstance” as our Class of 2017 gets ready for graduation. See when your school’s graduation ceremony is taking place here. Charter school dates are coming soon and will be posted as they’re available.

Students Celebrate Their “School Without Borders”

Students celebrate multiculturalism during Ellis' fair.

Students celebrate multiculturalism during Ellis Elementary’s school fair.

Ellis Elementary students — who together speak over 20 languages such as Arabic, Burmese, Karen and Spanish — hosted an event Wednesday celebrating diversity and their “school without borders.”

More than 500 students, families and educators gathered for this first-ever Ellis celebration. Students’ families hosted a café where attendees sampled food from around the world. A simultaneous resource fair was held at the school with information on immigrant rights and health care.

The event showcased students’ multicultural art and family portraits. The portraits on display were joined by narratives about the family’s history, culture and background.


Coming Up…