Amesse Elementary will see if schoolwide changes can replicate the success of McGlone

Amesse Elementary. (Eric Gorski/Chalkbeat)
Amesse Elementary. (Eric Gorski/Chalkbeat)
Amesse Elementary. (Eric Gorski/Chalkbeat)

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Melanie Asmar on June 19, 2017

Low-performing Amesse Elementary in far northeast Denver will be taken over next fall by leaders from nearby McGlone Academy in an effort to improve academic achievement.

In a rare split vote, the Denver school board voted 6-1 Monday to place a program called the Montbello Children’s Network at Amesse starting in fall 2018. Proposed by McGlone leaders with input from Amesse teachers and families, the network would seek to replicate the success that once-struggling McGlone has had in boosting its own students’ learning.

McGlone and Amesse are located less than a mile apart in the Montbello neighborhood and serve a similar demographic. Nearly all of Amesse’s 470 students this past school year were low-income children of color, and 63 percent were English language learners.

Board member Rosemary Rodriguez was the sole no vote. She said that while she believes the Montbello Children’s Network will be successful, her vote was meant as encouragement for local charter school network STRIVE Prep, which was also vying to take over Amesse.

Other board members also praised STRIVE, which currently operates 11 schools in the city. But they noted the high level of community support for the Montbello Children’s Network, including the blessing of a community group assembled to review the options for Amesse.

“We’ve made some tough decisions on this board over the years and this ranks right up there for me, but for very different reasons,” said board member Happy Haynes. “This is one of those tough decisions where you describe it as a good problem to have.”

Board member Lisa Flores said she suspects some will see the board’s vote as an endorsement of district-run schools like McGlone over charter school networks like STRIVE. But she said that would be a mistake in a school district that embraces collaboration alongside competition; in her view, she said, charter schools and district-run schools have pushed each other to be better.

In a separate vote, the board unanimously chose to place at low-performing Greenlee Elementary in west Denver next fall a program called the Center for Talent Development at Greenlee. It was proposed by the current principal and seeks to continue recent gains.

The votes bring to a close a process outlined in a new school closure policy that calls for using a strict set of criteria to either close for good or “restart” chronically low-performing schools. The rollout of the policy was rocky, and concerns about fairness and community involvement surfaced during the competition to take over the schools designated for restart.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said at Monday’s meeting that the district will learn from its first experience with the policy, which is among the strictest in the country. But in a sentiment echoed by several board members, he said the process showed that for students in long-struggling schools, “there are exceptional opportunities” waiting for them.

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