Earlier this month, eight leaders from Denver Public Schools attended the Harvard University Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) Summer Institute. PELP is an opportunity for select school districts around the country to work on their most pressing issues with facilitators from the Harvard School of Business and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“It is important that we address our challenges collectively. That is why we took a very diverse team to PELP. I wanted to ensure that we had representation from our teachers, administrators, and parents. I want to thank Moira (Denver School Leaders Association), Robert (Denver Classroom Teachers Association), and Nisha (parent) for taking a week out of their summer to help us. Together our DPS community can solve any problem,” said Dr. Alex Marrero, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
While at PELP each school district works with Harvard facilitators to address a specific “problem of practice” they are facing. Districts are also grouped with two other school systems to form a “triad” which assists each other in developing solutions. DPS was joined in their Triad by Chicago Public Schools and Montgomery County Schools, the largest school district in Maryland.
During their time at the PELP Summer Institute the DPS team worked on addressing their problem of practice which states: “Stakeholders are concerned with school safety in Denver Public Schools and have called for changes to policies and practices, including student discipline. In addition, current discipline policies and practices are implemented inconsistently. DPS strives to ensure safe and welcoming schools where all learners thrive equitably.”
Once the problem of practice is identified, districts then work alongside their Harvard Facilitators and Triad partners to create a “theory of action” which will guide them in solving their challenge when they return home.
DPS Theory of Action
- provide students with developmentally appropriate instruction regarding safety, discipline, and how to address conflicts
- design and review processes and procedures to address students demonstrating significant safety-related behaviors
- provide targeted resources for educators and support professionals to effectively prevent and intervene in behavior concerns regarding the most impacted students
- ensure school leaders work collaboratively with the district to optimize resources for their school communities to communicate clear expectations to build and maintain a safe and welcoming environment;
then, all students will experience a schoolwide safe and welcoming environment that honors their diverse cultures, languages and identities.
And, if we:
- make families and communities aware of high level safety concerns which implicate school wide safety; DPS and/or schools will ensure immediate and follow-up communication with facts and action steps
then, families will report consistent experiences that embody the DPS values and affirm students’ safety and success in DPS.
“Our work at PELP is only the beginning in taking a comprehensive look at our current discipline practices and how they are trained, implemented, and communicated district wide. As we approach the start of the school year I look forward to sharing more information with you regarding this vital process,” said Dr. Marrero.
While the initial training took place in the summer the PELP process will be an ongoing project with the DPS team and their Harvard facilitator working in collaboration to make the Theory of Action a reality.
What does success look like? As part of the work done at Harvard the team drafted a vision statement which stated, “All stakeholders (students, staff, teachers, leaders, parents, community) experience a renewed sense of safety and trust in and about the classroom where every learner will thrive.”
The DPS PELP Team
Dr. Alex Marrero – Superintendent
Deborah Staten – Deputy Chief of Staff
Moira Coogan – Denver School Leaders Association
Robert Gould – Denver Classroom Teachers Association
Kristin Bailey – Senior Counsel
Dr. Barbara Downing – Discipline Program Manager – Psychologist – Whole Child Team
Antonio Esquibel – Principal Lincoln High School
Nisha Ashley – Parent
Click the link for more information on PELP.
On the benefits of PELP:
“The environment at PELP creates a unique and special forum for school district leaders. The most valuable elements of the program are the experiences with world-class faculty, time together as a district team, and time with other districts – away from the day-to-day demands of our district jobs. The program helped us define what success would look like and got us thinking about goals and strategy.” – former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (prior PELP participant as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools)