Denver Public Schools’ leadership longevity is a unicorn among big-city systems. Michael Bennet (DPS Superintendent from 2005 to 2008, now a U.S. Senator) and Tom Boasberg (Bennet’s deputy superintendent and lifelong friend, and DPS superintendent since 2009) have steered the ship through uncharted waters, avoiding many political icebergs that have sunk their peers nationwide. What have they learned about transforming a system from within? Which risks are worth taking? What convictions have driven their work? What have been the unintended consequences, and how are they being addressed? Looking ahead, where is the greatest sense of urgency? How does the polarized political landscape impact their ability to make change?
Gates Family Foundation Senior Vice President for Education Mary Seawell — who served as a DPS trustee from 2009 to 2013 and board chair for two of those years — moderated this conversation on April 13, 2018. The session was the opening plenary for “Schools as the Unit of Change: Building on Progress in Denver”, hosted by the Gates Family Foundation at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Gates Family Foundation President Tom Gougeon provides the welcome.
Denver Schools Need Big Changes, and the Work Isn’t Nearly Done
By Eric Gorski, Chalkbeat Colorado
Published April 13, 2018
The two men responsible for guiding Denver schools through dramatic changes over the last 13 years shared the same stage Friday and said their decisions to close two neighborhood high schools were necessary steps to give kids better opportunities.
Current Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg and his predecessor and former boss, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, were the headline speakers at “Schools as the Unit of Change: Building on Progress in Denver,” an event hosted by the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation. (The foundation is a financial supporter of Chalkbeat; you can see Chalkbeat’s list of funders here).
Boasberg and Bennet, with the backing of school board leadership, have steered the state’s largest district through reforms that include creating a unified school choice system, closing low-performing schools and replacing them with schools the district deems more likely to succeed, and building a “portfolio” of district-run, charter, and innovation schools.
At the gathering at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Bennet and Boasberg defended their most controversial decisions, tried to claim an imperiled political center, and argued there is no shortcut to lifting achievement for all students.
See the full article on Chalkbeat, to read what they had to say:
- Closing Manual and Montbello high schools was the right thing to do, though mistakes were made
- ‘Currents of orthodoxy’ are threatening efforts to solve problems through consensus-building
- Denver has made gains in many areas, but shortcomings persist – and it’ll take time