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New innovation schools, policy changes shelved until 2021

Denver Public Schools is proposing a one year pause on approval of new innovation schools and zones, as well as any possible changes to how innovation plans get adopted, a nod to the overwhelming distractions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last spring, school board member Brad Laurvick floated a resolution to overhaul how innovation school plans receive approval at the school level. Since the state’s Innovation Schools Act took effect in 2008, plans have had to receive 60 percent support from school staffs and governing councils during separate votes. But the plans were voted on in their totality.

Laurvick, at the urging of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, proposed a change that would require separate votes for each waiver from collective bargaining agreements and district regulations. Some union leaders had long been unhappy that some waivers allowed innovation schools to work around clauses in agreements focused on working conditions, including hours worked, length of contracts, and processes for dismissing teachers.

The proposed resolution proved deeply unpopular among innovation school principals, innovation zone leaders, and some community groups, who said that allowing votes on each waiver could effectively gut innovation plans.  The resulting outcry and the pandemic crisis caused Laurvick to hit pause on the resolution in April. 

Since then, he and board colleagues Jennifer Bacon and Angela Cobián have met with the Innovation Council (composed of zone leaders and principals) union representatives, and DPS leaders to craft a compromise.

“We talked about it and what we heard from each other was, you’re right,” Laurvick said at a Sept. 3 school board work session. “There are some things that need to be different but we haven’t done the work to figure out how to change them best. And so this gives us a year to do that work together while we’re sort of on pause with things.”

Under a resolution to be voted on later this month, DPS would:

  • Extend for this school year all innovation school and zone plans that would have been up for renewal this year
  • Pause until at least May accepting any new innovation school or zone applications
  • Engage in a “reflection and planning year” through next May to “develop recommendations to the DPS board for improvements to innovation policy or practice.”

Innovation schools receive waivers from a variety of district policies and collective bargaining agreement provisions, allowing them a greater degree of autonomy than traditional district run schools over budgeting, personnel and other issues.