Wyatt Academy, Cesar Chavez Academy among 19 Denver charter school renewals

Wyatt Academy got what educators and families had been advocating for: a multi-year charter renewal.

Wyatt Academy students. (Courtesy of Wyatt Academy)
Wyatt Academy students. (Courtesy of Wyatt Academy)
Wyatt Academy students. (Courtesy of Wyatt Academy)

By Melanie AsmarChalkbeat

Wyatt Academy, a once-acclaimed Denver charter school that struggled in recent years and was granted one last chance, got what educators and families had been advocating for: a multi-year charter renewal.

District staff cited Wyatt’s “exceptional” academic growth last year, its decision to hire a more experienced school leader and its improved school rating as reasons to give the charter, which serves kids in kindergarten through eighth grade in northeast Denver, a two-year charter renewal with a possible extension.

Wyatt was among 19 Denver Public Schools charter schools whose contracts were renewed Thursday by the school board at the end of a marathon meeting full of controversial decisions, including a unanimous vote to close three low-performing district-run schools.

Wyatt was also one of two charter schools for which there were competing recommendations. While DPS staff recommended a two-year renewal with the possibility for three, the District Accountability Committee — which is made up of parents and community members and reviews charter renewals — recommended a renewal of one year but not more than two.

The school board ultimately sided with the district staff.

The staff and committee also disagreed on the recommendation for Cesar Chavez Academy, a charter that serves kindergarteners through eighth-graders in northwest Denver.

The committee recommended Cesar Chavez Academy’s charter be non-renewed, which would have closed the school. Committee members cited a lack of strong leadership, low test scores and an inadequate board of directors as reasons for its recommendation.

But district staff pointed out that Cesar Chavez Academy did not meet the criteria for closure under the district’s new school closure policy, which requires multiple years of low performance.

“I think there is a risk to holding charter schools to a higher performance bar than we hold all schools to,” Jennifer Holladay, executive director of DPS’s Portfolio Management Team, which oversees charter schools, said at a school board work session Monday.

On Thursday, educators and students from the school asked the board for a chance to see if recent changes — including a new approach to discipline and an effort to dig deeper into student data to help inform instruction — result in higher student achievement.

“We do believe we are on the path to changing our trajectory,” said principal Mary Ann Mahoney.

The board voted to renew Cesar Chavez Academy’s charter for one year, but it wasn’t unanimous. Board member Lisa Flores, who represents the part of the city where the school is located, voted against the recommendation due to concerns about leadership.

Here’s a rundown of the outcome for the other 17 charter schools:

— Girls Athletic Leadership Middle School’s charter was renewed for five years. The school opened in 2010 and is located in west Denver.

— KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy’s charter was renewed for five years. The middle school opened in 2002 and is located in southwest Denver.

— DSST: Byers Middle School’s charter was renewed for five years. The central Denver school was opened in 2013.

— Denver Language School’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension if it meets certain performance expectations. Opened in 2010, it serves kids in kindergarten through eighth grade and is located in east Denver.

— STRIVE Prep: EXCEL’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The high school was opened in 2013 and is co-located with North High.

— STRIVE Prep: Westwood’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The middle school was opened in 2009 and is located in southwest Denver.

— Highline Academy Southeast’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The school opened in 2004 and serves kindergarteners through eighth-graders in southeast Denver.

— Ridge View Academy’s charter was renewed for three years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The school is located at Ridge View Youth Services Center, a youth corrections facility in Watkins.

— Academy 360’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. Academy 360 opened in 2013 and currently serves students in preschool through fourth grade in far northeast Denver.

— DSST: Cole Middle School’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The school opened in 2011 in northeast Denver.

— Downtown Denver Expeditionary School’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The downtown elementary school opened in 2013.

— STRIVE Prep: SMART’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The high school was opened in 2012 and is located in southwest Denver.

— Southwest Early College’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a two-year extension. The southwest Denver high school was opened in 2004.

— KIPP Montbello College Prep Middle School’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a one-year extension. The far northeast Denver middle school opened in 2011.

— Academy of Urban Learning’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a one-year extension. Located in northwest Denver, the alternative high school opened in 2005.

— Monarch Montessori’s charter was renewed for two years with the opportunity for a one-year extension. Located in far northeast Denver, it opened in 2012 and serves kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. The school also has private infant, toddler and preschool programs.

— ACE Community Challenge School’s charter was not renewed in the traditional sense. Instead, the school was granted a one-year “transition charter school contract” with the understanding that the alternative school, open since 2000, would voluntarily surrender its contract at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.