Denver’s DSST charter network, in the midst of major expansion, lands a $4 million grant

Denver’s largest charter school network has won a $4 million federal grant to expand three of its schools and build four more by 2021.

Sixth-graders at DSST: College View Middle School in class in 2014. (Andy Cross/Denver Post)
Sixth-graders at DSST: College View Middle School in class in 2014. (Andy Cross/Denver Post)

By Melanie AsmarChalkbeat

Denver’s largest charter school network has won a $4 million federal grant to expand three of its schools and build four more by 2021, according to announcements Wednesday.

DSST was awarded $4,043,361 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program, which funds the creation of new schools and the replication of successful ones.

The program announced a total of $245 million in grants to state education departments and individual charter school networks around the country. The biggest grant — $58 million — went to the Florida Department of Education. DSST was the only Colorado recipient.

DSST currently has 12 middle and high schools serving 5,000 students in Denver. Its schools are among the highest performing in the city.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who formerly served as superintendent of Denver Public Schools, wrote in a brief letter supporting the charter network’s grant application that DSST students boast a 100-percent acceptance rate to four-year colleges.

He noted the network serves a high number of low-income students: 67 percent last year qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. Nineteen percent were English language learners.

“The expansion of DSST will encourage excellence and equity throughout the Denver Public School system, particularly in high-need communities,” Bennet wrote.

The DPS school board last year approved a dramatic expansion of the DSST network, which plans to have 22 schools by the 2024-25 school year enrolling as many as a quarter of the city’s secondary school students. The network is also considering an invitation to open a school in neighboring Aurora in one of the state’s lowest performing districts.

DSST throughout its history has received generous financial backing from high-profile sources. In 2010, DSST was among six charters to receive $1 million from Oprah Winfrey. Liberty Media chairman John Malone pledged $7 million in 2011.

DSST got another federal accolade Wednesday, as well. DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School, which posted extraordinarily high academic growth scores on state tests taken last year, was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

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