By Yesenia Robles | The Denver Post | May 14, 2015
Denver Public Schools is a source of inspiration for the federal government.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan finished a two-day trip to Denver on Thursday and said his frequent, just about annual, visits are not a coincidence.
“Not that Denver is doing everything perfectly — nobody is. But there’s some pretty significant macro-level lessons that I think other large urban districts would do well to really spend some time and look at what these guys are developing,” Duncan said.
The secretary spent Thursday morning at McGlone Elementary in Montbello, where DPS officials highlighted the use of teacher leadership roles, enrollment zones and innovation status that gave principal Sara Gips autonomy in the school’s budget.
Duncan also participated in a roundtable discussion where he listened to three teachers and two school parents talk about the turnaround they’ve seen in the past four years.
“The biggest thing for me is having a team,” teacher leader Amy Lovell said. “We see everything as ‘our kids’ rather than ‘these are the students that were assigned to me.’ We’re not flying alone in our classrooms.”
McGlone is one of several schools in Denver that is piloting a “differentiated roles” program where teachers are able to spend half of their time teaching in the classroom and half of their time coaching or leading other teachers in shared planning.
Teachers get a stipend for taking on the additional roles, but on Thursday all three teachers talked about the benefits they see professionally to learn from each other and to have support for difficult days.
McGlone is also part of the far northeast enrollment zone — another innovation that Duncan cited as interesting — where multiple schools share a large boundary and kids are guaranteed a seat at any of the included schools, instead of only at one.
The idea was discussed as a way to create economic, social and racial integration.
“Having the chance to be around kids that come from different backgrounds and having that social experience to build friendships and be comfortable in that environment, that’s, I would argue, as important as the academic side,” Duncan said. “There’s some great creativity here that I think is part of the answer.
“I’m going to go back home and figure out, can we incorporate some of that thinking?”