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The Power of School-Based Flexibility … and Excellence in the Classroom

Oct. 18, 2019
 
students celebrate with their hands in the air

Dear DPS Community,

I love a good comeback story! Last week, I shared the results of this year’s School Performance Framework (SPF) ratings with you, and that I would be visiting a “school to learn from,” to hear directly from teachers and leaders about how they made a difference for students and drove overall school improvement. We put a lot of support into the schools that struggle — both financial support as well as investing in the talented teams that work in our schools. Valverde Elementary earned a green rating (Meets Expectations) this year, after steadily working their way up our performance rating scale from red to yellow to green, and I visited with them to hear what worked in their school community.

Flexibility, Focus and Teamwork

Principal Drew Schutz, who has led the school since 2015, said the flexibility Valverde has to use scheduling in creative and collaborative ways has been a key factor.

“We’ve been able to give our teachers significant additional planning time each day, which has had a really positive impact on our students’ academic achievement,” Drew said. “We have also made it a priority to bring our teachers back early each year, so we can have dedicated time to focus on team building and long-term planning. This enables us to come out of the gates strong at the start of the year.”

I believe that school leaders and educators know what their schools and students need to improve — and they usually have the best ideas on how to do it. And I also know that nurturing and challenging students to make big academic gains is deliberate, purposeful work that does not happen overnight, as we’ve seen with Valverde. (Watch the video.)

That’s what makes their comeback story such a celebration. As Lucy Aceves observed when I talked with her in the hallway on Tuesday, after working at Valverde as a classroom aide with English-learners for more than 20 years, the past five have been the best years yet.

“During the past 20 years, I have experienced the changes Valverde has gone through. I am excited to see us growing these past few years. The team is very strong, and the community has been a big part of all the change.” Lucy said. “Teachers, parents, and students are happy and proud of our school. I have noticed that there are more parents involved than in previous years because the school atmosphere is more positive and welcoming. I love working at Valverde!”

The Valverde team has worked on improving the systems that support teachers and students. They use data to drive their changes. They invite the community into the school to give them both feedback and share their work. Valverde is warm and inviting and students are growing and learning, both academically and in their social skills. This school is just one example of the many across DPS that are creating greater opportunities for our students to thrive.

Celebrating Excellence in Teaching

This amazing work isn’t only happening at Valverde. On Tuesday night, I helped host our Excellence in Teaching celebration at Punch Bowl Social, where many of our Distinguished teachers from schools across the district got together to be recognized and enjoy some food and fun.

These educators are inspirational because they have made their classrooms places where kids feel welcome, supported and seen — and where kids are challenged to achieve everything we know they are capable of … and beyond. These are the teachers who embody instructional excellence and who we need to team with to drive stronger improvements across the city.

As slam poet Theo Wilson spoke at the Southwest Regional Town Hall on Wednesday:

That’s a gold mine of potential; we understand these are the best kids.
And when we find them, that’s a million times return on your investments.

Congratulations to Valverde and outstanding educators districtwide for helping to make sure every student in DPS has the chance to thrive — by design.

Warm regards,
Susana