Board resolution delays Noel high school until 2022; DSST objects

The Denver school board will vote tonight on a resolution that approves a new DSST at Noel High School, but delays its opening until 2022, and only if a dozen new conditions are met first. The resolution seems likely to pass.

DSST Public Schools, a local charter school network, issued a statement sharply critical of the resolution, saying the board “is not operating in good faith with all the other decisions it has made in the past year. And it is certainly not honoring our 161 Noel 8th grade families who deserve a high school, not politics.”

Delaying the school by a year leaves those eighth-graders to find alternatives to the high school they have been promised.

Noel Middle School is the highest performing middle school in Denver Public Schools, based on standardized test scores. It serves a high-poverty population, and more than 90 percent of its students come from Black or Hispanic families. DSST Noel is known for paying close individual attention to its students, through small advisory groups that meet daily. School culture and educator coaching and feedback also help account for the school’s success, as do a wide range of extra-curricular clubs and activities.

The full board resolution is embedded below. It says DSST “should plan to secure a private facility” rather than expect to occupy all or part of a district-owned building. It also requires DSST to submit quarterly improvement plans for its lowest performing high school — Cole — and its two lowest performing middle schools — Cole and Henry, beginning in January. Those plans “must demonstrate defined improvements in student performance, growth and achievement, including for students receiving special education services.”

This requirement runs counter to a previous resolution, under which DSST had to show all of its high schools were low-performing before receiving approval to open a new high school.

The resolution also mandates that Henry and Cole leadership teams, as well as DSST central office staff, must complete the DPS “Equity Experience” curriculum, or 10 hours of diversity, equity, and inclusion training by the end of next June.

Delaying the high school’s opening is necessary, the resolution says, because the COVID-19 pandemic and a shift away from the district’s own School Performance Framework means there isn’t sufficient data by which to determine whether the DSST Cole high school has improved enough to merit the granting of a new high school charter.

But a report delivered to the board last month by DPS staff found that Cole had made substantial improvements, and recommended allowing the Noel high school to open.

Here is the full statement from DSST about the pending vote:

DSST strongly opposes The Board resolution #3637. The resolution offers the false promise of both “hearing the passion of the DSST students, staff and community members” while simultaneously denying existing 8th grade students a viable option to attend a DSST @ Noel HS next year. This resolution denies the hundreds of community voices that have come before this board by placing unilateral and unreasonable conditions on DSST @Noel HS that are not in the best interest of students, staff or families.

The resolution insists on a delay in opening a DSST Noel High School until 2022. For what end other than politics? The experts in Denver Public Schools, the DPS staff that has been recognized nationally as one of the best charter school authorizers in the country, recommend that the performance condition be lifted. This recommendation was produced based on the process this very DPS School Board approved as the right approach to consider performance conditions in this time of COVID. Cole HS has met the performance condition, is green on the State SPF, the new SPF system this board has voted to adopt. It is clear that should the Board vote to delay Noel HS tonight, it is not operating in good faith with all the other decisions it has made in the past year. And it is certainly not honoring our 161 Noel 8th grade families who deserve a high school not politics.

And here is the full board resolution:

2020.10.21 Final DSST Resolution

Finally, here is a story from KCNC-TV on the issue: