On Boasberg, blowing up Centennial ECE-8 and Cambridge Education’s hit job on neighborhood schools

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Several of us had the great opportunity today to sit in and observe the meeting organized by parents and teachers to push back against the restructuring of Centennial ECE-8 school in Northwest Denver.

To recap, on December 17 the district made a recommendation to the board (start with page 7 at the link) to reconfigure the school by eliminating the middle school grades (6-8) and to “Grant full flexibility to current principal to develop and implement a new educational program and select staff.”  The justification for this drastic change was “persistently low performance over the last 5-7 years,” of course, referring to CSAP/TCAP data.

Also part of the basis for the recommendation was a review by Cambridge Education LLC, the same Boston-area company that did the hit job on Smiley Middle School.  Citing such things like lack of consistency in instruction, low expectations and lack of rigor (reformy terms that really mean a preference for standardization for widgets, making “excuses” for economic status or family issues and teaching that isn’t a slave to the test), Cambridge was paid to set the stage to convert the ethnically- and socioeconomically-diverse Centennial into an isolated, exclusive designer school for northwest Denver’s toniest parents.  Among them are Ethan Hemming, formerly of DPS’ Office of School Reform and Innovation but now the Executive Director of the Charter School Institute…in other words, high-stakes, no excuses charters for thee, but chic designer schools for me.

And they’re going to use the taxpayers’ turnaround money to do it, even though those federally-mandated funds are to be used to make things better for the existing kids in the building, not push out a third of your most troublesome kids and hoard the turnaround funds.

And who is this Cambridge Education, who has a penchant for making cookie-cutter recommendations just when more affluent parents want to take over a school?  This privately-held company and nonprofit seems to have a talent for commingling the efforts of private charter interests and public oversight conduits that creates serious conflicts of interest, causing a California state whistleblowing attorney to be “…opposed to such activities between public officials, private interests, and public charter schools.”  There is extensive information about the company here.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), on the very day that the district made the recommendation to the board to blow up Centennial, at that evening’s public comment were parents who were obviously fully up-to-speed with the proposal, and they even offered public comment that evening to support the school reconfiguration.  There is something rotten in Denmark, because most DPS parents are caught completely unaware by drastic changes, never having a chance to be part of the decision-making process.  Typically the district calls a meeting where drastic changes are announced, as in the case of the blowup/closure of Smiley.  By the time Smiley parents realized what was happening, the decision to close it and move in McAuliffe had already been made by Stapleton parents.

How did this small group of affluent parents come to have so much information and buy-in so quickly?  Watch the full public comment section.

A recap of the conversation

It’s always best to hear the situation from a parent’s own words (emphases ours):

I am parent of Centennial Elementary School in Northwest Denver. For months we have been listening to the words of our administration, Laura Munro and Sharon Jones, tell us

  1. That our school is failing
  2. That they want our input to collaboratively redesign our school for improvement
  3. That we should come to their meetings to work on the plan for improvement.

I went to all of those meetings whether it was PTA, CSC, and community and this is what I experienced:

  1. I learned that 2 years ago a community leadership principal was removed and replaced by Munro. She had absolutely no experience as an administrator and is Tom Boasberg’s neighbor in Boulder.  (wait…WHAT??)
  2. While before Munro’s arrival our scores were in the yellow, now they are in the red. Our school had two years to make drastic changes or we were facing a turnaround. Laura Munro and Patricia Paredes assured the parent community that this was not yet a turnaround school and large amounts of teachers would not be let go.
  3. Our input was not really wanted for productive or constructive purposes but rather was a formality in this process of cleaning out our school. Two of the first meetings I attended we were not encouraged to speak and were asked to write our concerns on paper to be selectively handed to Munro for answers.
  4. After close to 10 very unproductive meetings (of which participants were not representative of Centennial families and demographics) of expressing concern with no real feedback Munro decided not to rehire 70% of the teaching staff.

I feel like I have been led through a dark maze only to find I have been duped into their cycle of cleaning house and turning over our school. A large group of parents are really upset and with the bravery of some parents handing out a flyer at afternoon dismissal we gathered and stormed the evening CSC meeting with our presence and concern. The administration tried to contain our questions, did not record our concerns this time, and was extremely defensive and suppressive to our feedback of personnel decisions. This morning those same upset parents and a few more gathered on their own at the Oriental Theater. We are looking for connections to others in our community, Northwest Denver and wider, that have also dealt with the struggle of this DPS machine breaking up community, standardizing the curriculum, and creating a machine instead of improving the quality of learning in our classrooms for ALL kids.

Sounds familiar, right, DPS community?

Their next meeting is Saturday, February 16 at 9:30 a.m. at the Oriental Theater on 44th and Tennyson.  They’ll be preparing to make public comment at the next board meeting.  Will you come and lend a hand and share your story?

Their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Centennial-Petitioners/442181185851856?fref=ts

Their online petition (please sign): http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/centennial-elementary/