Dear Team DPS/DPS Community,
It is a bit hard to believe that we are past the halfway mark of the 2023-24 school year. I’d like to take this opportunity to provide a State of the District, sharing some of the great work that is happening in Denver Public Schools, as well as some of the challenges we are currently facing.
Graduation Rate Increase
The four-year graduation rate for the class of 2023 increased by 2.5 percentage points to 79% from last year. This graduation rate is an all-time high for DPS and is the second consecutive year we have reached our best four-year graduation rate. When looking at our graduation data by disaggregated groups, we see the following improvements year over year:
American Indian or Alaska Native student graduation rates increased by 10%.
Black or African-American student graduation rates increased by 2.8%.
Hispanic student graduation rates increased by 1.9%.
White student graduation rates increased by 2.8%.
Multiracial student graduation rates increased by 8.3%.
Students with disabilities graduation rates increased by 5%.
Multilingual Learner graduation rates increased by 1.2%.
Free- and Reduced-Lunch student graduation rates increased by 1.8%.
College and Career Success
This year, 12,884 students are scheduled in rigorous courses — such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Concurrent Enrollment — giving them the opportunity to get a head start on their college and career plans. These 12,884 students make up 49% of currently enrolled high school students across DPS, an increase from last year’s 10,857 students. Additionally, 833 concurrent enrollment courses are being offered this year, an increase of 145 courses over last school year.
The DPS ASCENT program is a fifth-year high school program that pays for a free year of college the year after 12th grade. DPS ASCENT students receive free tuition/fees while also receiving wrap-around advising and support during the critical transition from high school to college, giving them a head start in earning a certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s degree. This year, 200 students are enrolled in ASCENT, an increase from the 131 students enrolled in the 2022-23 school year and the 86 students enrolled in 2021-22.
Climate and Safety
Building Safety Assessments
Over the last several months, as part of our ongoing commitment to maintaining a secure and nurturing learning environment, the district has worked closely with an outside security firm to conduct in-depth building safety assessments for each school.
More than 200 DPS and charter schools in the district were part of the safety assessments. Each building assessment was incredibly detailed and included a comprehensive review of the following:
The emergency management equipment, such as duress buttons, fire extinguishers, AED machines, first aid kits and more.
Safety processes and procedures, staff training, drill logs, signage, mandatory compliance percentages and more.
The perimeter and building maintenance, including doors, locks and buzzers, fencing, parking lots, exterior lights and more.
The interior fixtures, functions and preparedness, including bathrooms, hallways, elevators, classrooms, main offices, staircases, spaces such as gyms, libraries, auditoriums and more.
The neighborhood analysis, including crimes against persons and properties, historical information, proximity to points of interest and more.
This recent report affirming the safety of our school buildings is indeed encouraging, and it validates our continuous commitment to the well-being of our students and staff. However, we recognize that true school safety extends beyond just physical structures. It also involves mental health support, fostering a vigilant and supportive community, and constantly evolving our practices to ensure a holistic and secure learning environment. In our ongoing mission to provide our students and employees with a safe and nurturing environment, we will continue to ask for the active involvement and support of everyone within our school walls and the broader community.
Return of School Resource Officers
It is important to acknowledge that the role of a School Resource Officer (SRO) goes beyond that of a traditional law enforcement officer. SROs play a multifaceted role within schools, acting as informal counselors, educators and, if need be, law enforcers. The decision to have SROs present in our comprehensive high schools was based on a thorough assessment of each school's unique context and needs.
During the first semester of this school year, SROs issued 25 citations and made five arrests. This accounts for less than half of the total number of citations and arrests made during the same period in 2019, the last time SROs were in DPS schools.
We will continue to work with our partners at the Denver Police Department to ensure our students of color are not the recipients of disproportionate action from law enforcement.
Discipline Matrix Revision
The Discipline Matrix Committee convened six sessions between October and December 2023, with representation from the Denver Classroom Teacher Association (DCTA), the Denver School Leader Association (DSLA) and school-based individuals who utilize the Discipline Matrix in their day-to-day work. The committee actively contributed valuable feedback on the current Discipline Matrix, resulting in 70+ recommendations to improve the document's content, clarity and available resources.
To broaden their perspective, the committee also examined documents from the Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Antonio school districts to compare policies with those of DPS. Based on the Committee’s feedback and comparison with those other large districts, the DPS Central Discipline Team is working on revising the Discipline Matrix.
While this revision is in progress, the Central Discipline Team has immediately implemented increased wraparound resources to schools managing discipline incidents to avoid student expulsions. The resources include support from the Discipline Program Managers and team members in Restorative Practices, Exceptional Student Services, FACE, Mental Health and more.
The revised Discipline Matrix is expected later this spring, with staff training scheduled for August 2024.
Emergency Management Training
Emergencies can happen anywhere at any time. The Department of Climate and Safety, building leaders and staff have been collaborating year-round to ensure we are all as prepared as possible for unexpected emergencies. As a result of this preparation, the following has taken place:
98.5% of all schools have completed the DPS Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).
87% of all district employees have completed the required emergency response training.
All schools continue to have an Emergency Team (E-Team), which consists of staff members at the school or district building who take on specific responsibilities in an emergency. E-Team members receive additional training and must conduct emergency drills at least two times during the school year. They have completed all required drills for this school year.
Our safety team administered over 50 hours of training to DPS staff and performed nearly 400 emergency management drills during the first semester.
Support for New-to-Country Students
According to the Denver Post, Denver has received more New-to-Country students per capita over the past year than any other large U.S. city that doesn’t touch the southern border. From July 1, 2023, to January 2024, DPS has welcomed over 3,221 new-to-country students, with more than 1,300 arriving since Oct. 1, 2023. I am proud of our collective response to this unprecedented challenge and how our DPS community has risen to the occasion to meet the needs of our new students and their families.
Below is a list of focus areas that we are actively engaging:
School-Based Support Needs: The district is focusing on Multilingual Education with strategic support for schools welcoming large numbers of new arrivals. We have also developed an internal New Arrivals Toolkit and are providing professional learning opportunities for staff to provide them with the skills they need to handle this challenge.
Staffing Challenges: The district has filled 98% of budgeted teaching positions; however, due to the increase in students, we are actively seeking to hire more staff with a focus on candidates with dual language capabilities. We have also hired a Talent Acquisition Specialist to recruit bilingual and newcomer teachers.
Transportation and Technology: The district is making adjustments to accommodate the transportation and device needs of an increased student population.
Family and Community Engagement: The district is actively working on community engagement and support, connecting families with services to meet their essential needs like food, clothing, housing and mental health services.
Financial Constraints: Since students started arriving after October, the period that determines funding allocations, there is a funding gap. Therefore, the district is seeking additional resources from the government to alleviate the financial challenges and support the increased student population.
Future Projections and Plans: The district is projecting needs at highly impacted schools, considering space utilization, program allocation, staffing and monitoring changes over the summer to allocate resources effectively.
Last month, our team provided the DPS Board of Education with a summary of DPS' fiscal health, which focused on our current-year budget and economic trends impacting our five-year outlook, kicking off the 2024-25 budget process. At this point, DPS is in a solid financial position. We have been in an era of COVID-19 federal stimulus that is changing at the end of this year, and our budget will need to adjust to reflect that new reality.
I am pleased that our external auditors reported a "clean" audit to the Board of Education in November 2023. Maintaining this level of excellence in all our financial functions is an integral part of ensuring we continue to receive clean audits from our external auditors in the future.
Completing the Promises of the 2020 Bond & Looking Forward
In 2020, Denver citizens demonstrated great trust in DPS by approving the 2020 Bond with nearly 80% approval. That approval allowed us to invest in new schools, maintain our aging buildings, install air conditioning in many schools, improve technology for our students and more. This summer, we will be delivering on more promises of the 2020 bond program and assessing our future capital needs. Prudently investing our capital funds is one of the ways we can provide all of our scholars with safe and welcoming schools.
Earlier this month, we announced the selection of the leaders of a new Community Planning and Advisory Committee (CPAC). The 2024 CPAC plays a critical role in creating a bond package proposal that, if approved by the Denver Board of Education, will be presented to Denver voters in November 2024. The committee members will examine the needs of schools across the district and work together to prepare recommendations on air conditioning, safety improvements, building maintenance, technology and other essential investments. Visit the Bond website to learn more about the progress of the 2020 Bond and a potential 2024 Bond.
While there is still much work to do in service of improving the Student, Adult and Systems Experiences, we are determined to get better at getting better. This growth mindset is the driving factor in the strides we’ve made thus far, and all we have yet to accomplish this year.
Thank you for your continued support of our Denver scholars.
Dr. Alex Marrero