North Denver Tribune: Northwest Principals Celebrate School Success

Posted February 5, 2016

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February 5, 2016
By: Basha Cohen

NORTH DENVER – The often-times contentious Northwest Stakeholder Working Group, a School Board appointed team of educators, parents and community members who sought solutions to the North Denver Middle School enrollment zone in Spring 2015, regrouped for a happy hour dinner served up by La Casita, family cooking and Little Man on January 26 at Smedley. Marlene DeLaRosa introduced the evening, “It is in all of our best interest to work together for our kids. I’ve been North’s Basketball team mom for 9 years. I’ve made over 2,000 sandwiches and have many, many sons.’ This year we are 3rd Place in DPS. Tonight is about celebrating these successes.”

Although there was intense division over the enrollment zone process the Principals, who are the highest stakeholders in guiding their student and family communities into clarity, partnered with the DPS Family and Neighborhood Engagement Office to highlight many of the positive wins that their schools have enjoyed during the first half of the 2015/2016 school year. Parents, too, spoke of the exciting events that are helping raise money for the school coffers and buoying school spirit that is clearly embedded within each institution, regardless of policies that may cause dissension. Principals of NW schools showcased successes in rapid-fire succession.

At Denver Online High School Ian Jones noted, “We have embarked on a program with our students creating more chances to connect. “Do More!” capitalizes on the flexibility of an online environment. A “Do More Leadership Team” was started this year to bring the community together, create greater interaction with advisors and teachers, and outside community members. “The goal is to enhance student’s lives both academically and in day-to-day life learning situations. Different than typical online schools, guest instructors have hosted classes onsite showcasing entrepreneurship, arts, poets, writers, 3D modeling and rendering and yoga. The school has been recognized as the 4th highest in the district in ACT scores and as a high performance/high growth school.” Jones has created community service projects working with Children’s Hospital, partnering with the Denver Art Society to display student art, as well as local coffee houses like the Cherry Bean. They have met with delegates from Uzbekistan to understand other cultures, and are working on a block party to celebrate the LGBT student community. They are distributing Valentine’s cards to the seniors at St. Elizabeth’s in February, and participate in Reading Partners at Trevista.

Students from the leadership team led tours of their classrooms, and explained the learning environment. Their enthusiasm was contagious as they remarked that the program “Changed my life.” One noted, ” It requires self-discipline, focus and greater maturity.” The implementation of required student days in the building has brought a stronger community focus to the student body, and a beautiful student lounge has allowed a blooming social connection to their online world.
Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School’s, Katy Myers noted, “We have spent this fall moving in and establishing our school in this beautiful space. We opened the school year by repainting the entire playground with students and parents.” The focus of the Montessori program establishes learning through “Occupations.” As examples, learning classic disciplines are embedded as part of Culinary, Aquaponics and Earth Science that will result in an urban garden complete with chickens and fresh farmer’s market produce. Student’s who led tours were excited when explaining how the culinary program worked. “We cook lunch each day, learning science and measurements as part of the work.” Math, Spanish, History, Music, Woodshop, Art and Technology are all part of the curriculum in classes that range in enviable size from 15-20 students. Additionally, said Myers, “Community Service is a big part of our mission. Students work with Trevista as reading partners, pick up trash in the parks, shovel and rake senior’s walks and lawns. For the holidays students created luminaries out of paper bags lit by LED candles and wrote peace poems we delivered around the neighborhood.”

Trevista at Horace Mann Jesus Rodriguez introduced himself as “The proud Principal of Trevista,” continuing, “We have spent this year celebrating and growing our school culture as an elementary school only. We are building a college-going culture focusing on the mentality that it is a possibility. We hang banners that welcome the graduation class of 2028 and the college class of 2032. We celebrate �students of the week’, giving kids college tees made possible by friends and family donations. We are focused on being a technology school with 120 new Chrome books and 100 computers. We’ve updated our website, our uniforms, our doors and our lockers. We have celebrated basketball championships. We have 550 followers on our Falcon’s Facebook page.” The school was just granted one full time ECE 3 year old section next year, a key additive for successful learning. “The key for us is focusing on culture, learning and fun.”

Skinner Middle School’s Michelle Koyama expressed “Continuing this theme of celebrations, we are proud to have a fantastic student body, amazing staff and fabulous parent community. The community has come together with sensational fundraising through events like the Jewels of Highland Home Tour that raised $16,000 funding Chrome books in the classrooms. One-to-one is our tech goal for our school in terms of devices. We were granted a $10,000 technology grant through that will help build more synergy in our STEM lab. This year we brought back Woodshop as an elective, and our goal is to combine the STEM lab with Woodshop where students will design ideas through STEM and Woodshop will build them. At Skinner, we are deeply committed to science, and have an annual school-wide Science Fair. Students are participating in the District Science Fair this week, and in statewide competition at the Metro Science Fair next month. We see outstanding growth every year in our musicians at our Winter Concert and in our thespians during the Drama performances. Last but not least, we received the data from the Spring 2015 CMAS PARCC exams and the results were outstanding. In Language Arts, each grade level beat the DPS District average score by several percentage points, our 7th graders by over 10 points! Our combined scores (6-8) for both Language Arts and Math beat the District combined score as well.”

Escuela Valdez was represented by Gwen Frank, the Assistant Principal, “We are celebrating our return home. We loved being in the Smedley building, but Montessori has truly made it look like their home, and we are happy to be back in ours, with all of the new modern improvements.” We are working with district initiatives that focus on growth and mindset, including personal success factors, unified teams, equity and leadership. We are tapping into student leadership opportunities and passionate about equity and social justice. We have a revamped mission and vision statement. We embrace our diverse dual language families with 50% who speak Spanish at home. We are becoming bi-literate together. “How would I say it is going this year? Dreamy.”

Strive Sunnyside welcomed Jess Tillis into the role of Principal this year, “This is my first year at Strive Sunnyside. We are working hard to engage with families. Our staff pays home visits for extra touchpoints with the families and we have instituted a Coffee with the Principal each month where 10 to 15 families get together to be informed and involved. We have implemented a “Swag” event, an acronym for “Students Will Achieve Goals” to focus on literacy levels. Students bank their words by taking quizzes through Accelerated Readers. Their goal is to bank 80,000 words per month, or 1 million per year. So far this year, we have celebrated seven Millionaires. Goals are tied to special events like dances, movies and Tillis’s favorite, laser tag. Tillis expressed pride in the students social justice concerns through their Black Lives Matter #striveforequality campaign that they created prior to MLK weekend.

North High School is the road where all North Denver schools lead. Scott Wolf expressed, “It’s great to hear some of the alignment taking place. We are focusing on personal success factors at our school this year. We are not only building the academic skills of our students, but also, focusing on character skills that will get our students ready for college. We have concurrent enrollment college and AP classes, and have a goal that all our students will graduate with a minimum 12 college credits so they will be well on their way to college and may even have their first year of college paid for! We are also working toward 1 to 1 technology. All 9th graders will have Chrome books in the coming year. It is imperative that students have knowledge of technology and be able to demonstrate it in the job world. This year we have the largest 9th grade class in six years. It is really special to see the improvements with the staff we have built. It truly is a family.”
Other Key Events that are upcoming include a community and school-wide Salute to the Denver Police District 1 Force and Sergeant Tony Lopez at 12:00 p.m., February 6, at Little Man Ice Cream; Brown International School’s “Brown Night on the Town Luau” February 27 at the Highland Event Center; Edison’s 125th Anniversary on March 10, Totally Tennyson on April 30, and North’s drama club will perform Grease on May 5-7. State Representative Crisanta Duran invited students from NW Denver to come tour the Capitol and seeks student artwork to display in her office.

The Northwest Stakeholder Working Group will host an annual review of the state of NW schools on April 14 at 6:30 p.m. The location is still to be determined. Lisa Flores, the new District 5 School Board Director has started working with the 50 local schools that comprise the district, analyzing birthrate and enrollment statistics and housing developments that are affecting NW Denver. She noted, “It feels like a tidal wave and the repercussions are extensive.” These items, as well as enrollment zone questions, school choice data and additional school performance data will be reviewed at this meeting.

There is no zone like Northwest Denver schools for passion, commitment and the pursuit of student success.