'Schools as the Unit of Change' Examines Education Transformation in Denver - Gates Family Foundation

On April 13, 2018, the Gates Family Foundation hosted a half-day summit on the state of public education in Denver, bringing together nearly 150 local educators, advocates, philanthropists and other community members to discuss “Schools as the Unit of Change: Building on Progress in Denver.”

To frame the conversation, the Foundation produced a brief summary of the current education landscape in Denver and challenged attendees to consider: What will it take for Denver to remain a leading-edge district for the next decade? What have we learned, and how will it shape where we go next?

To view videos and read takeaways from each session, explore the pages below:

Bennet and Boasberg: Reflections and Predictions for Denver Public Schools
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?

Scaling Success: Great Schools in Every Neighborhood
DPS’ ambitious Denver Plan set forth a goal of having 80 percent of students in high-quality schools by 2020. Yet as of 2016, only 43% of Denver’s students of color attended top-performing schools, compared to 70% of its white students. Meanwhile, the district has entered a period of declining enrollment and space in public facilities is constrained. As strong school operators are starting to expand out-of-district – what are the implications for Denver students? What obstacles are preventing Denver from doing more, faster? How do we scale success?

Empowering Denver’s School Leaders for Change
Strong school leaders are stepping forward in increasing numbers to request more school-level control over their campus budgets, time, and focus. How could Denver’s systems and structures better support school leaders as the catalysts for positive change? What are the prerequisites for successful autonomy? How do we prepare a pipeline of educators to lead autonomous schools and networks? Where are the “break the mold” school models? How do we increase racial, ethnic, and gender diversity among our education leaders?

Engaging School Communities in the Call for Quality Denver Schools
School improvement is often critiqued as a top-down effort that fails to engage students, teachers, families, and communities. How can we do a better job in Denver of ensuring that these important constituencies are engaged in the conversation and advocating for their needs? What systemic and school-level changes do teachers, students, and families believe are most necessary to improve children’s educational experience?

Commentary: A New Path Toward Equity for All Students and Families
By Mary Seawell, senior vice president for education at the Gates Family Foundation
As Denver Public Schools looks ahead to the next decade of transformation, the time is ripe for reflection, humility, learning, engagement, and new ideas. Not having the answers — but authentically empowering a new, diverse set of community members to help develop and implement a new path forward — might be exactly what Denver needs.