pick a school

As Denver’s school choice process opens, which schools are the most – and least – popular?

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Nearly 90 percent of students who live in the Manual High School boundary choiced out of the school last year.

Today is the first day Denver students and families can submit their school choices for next year.

Under Denver Public Schools’ unified enrollment system, families fill out a form listing their top five school choices for 2017-18. The district especially encourages families with kids entering so-called transition grades next year — kindergarten, 6th and 9th grades — to fill out a form.

The forms are due by 4 p.m. on Jan. 31. The district will inform students and families in mid-March of their school placement for 2017-18. Whether a student gets into a school depends on that school’s admissions priorities and available space, according to DPS.

If students don’t fill out a form, they will be assigned to their boundary school or to a school in their enrollment zone. DPS now has 11 enrollment zones all across the city: two for elementary schools, seven for middle schools and two for high schools. Students who live in a zone are guaranteed a spot at one of the schools in their zone, though it may not be their first choice.

This is the sixth year DPS has used a unified enrollment system for its charter, innovation, magnet and traditional district-run schools. In school choice lingo, students who choose to attend a school other than their boundary school are considered to have “choiced out” of their boundary school and “choiced in” to another school.

We combed through district data from last year’s school choice process and pulled out several interesting pieces of information, including which schools students most want to choice out of, which schools they most want to choice into and how many get their first-choice schools.

Top 10 Schools with the Highest Choice-Out Rate in 2016
Manual High School — 88 percent
Marrama Elementary School — 87 percent
Morey Middle School — 83 percent
West Campus High School Enrollment Zone — 79 percent
Abraham Lincoln High School — 72 percent
George Washington High School — 70 percent
Northfield High School — 70 percent
North High School — 69 percent
Gilpin Montessori School — 64 percent
Stedman Elementary School — 64 percent

Where are those kids going? Let’s take Manual as an example. District data shows the schools students living in the Manual High School boundary choiced into in 2015.

Top 10 Schools Students in the Manual High Boundary Choiced Into in 2015
Bruce Randolph School — 310 students
East High School — 159 students
DSST: Cole High School — 116 students
Denver Center for 21st Century Learning at Wyman — 51 students
North High School — 42 students
South High School — 37 students
Venture Prep High School — 36 students
STRIVE Prep – Excel — 35 students
Emily Griffith High School — 35 students
DSST: Stapleton High School — 24 students

On the flip side, some schools have very low choice-out rates, which can mean most seats are filled by students who live in the boundary — and few are available for choice students.

Top 10 Schools with the Lowest Choice-Out Rate in 2016
Slavens K-8 School — 3 percent
DCIS at Fairmont — 10 percent
Grant Ranch ECE-8 School — 10 percent
Carson Elementary School — 11 percent
Stapleton-Area Elementary Schools Enrollment Zone — 12 percent
Steck Elementary School — 15 percent
Bromwell Elementary School — 16 percent
Greater Park Hill/Stapleton Middle Schools Enrollment Zone — 17 percent
University Park Elementary School — 18 percent
Southmoor Elementary School — 22 percent

Which schools are most popular? District data from 2016 shows the top 10 schools requested at the so-called transition grades of kindergarten, 6th grade and 9th grade.

Top 10 Schools Listed as Incoming Kindergarten Students’ First Choice in 2016
Swigert International School — 188 students listed it as their #1 choice
Escalante-Biggs Academy — 130 students
William “Bill” Roberts K-8 School — 125 students
Odyssey School of Denver — 105 students
Highline Academy Northeast — 105 students
High Tech Elementary School — 102 students
Park Hill Elementary School — 99 students
Brown International Academy — 99 students
Slavens K-8 School — 86 students
STRIVE Prep – Ruby Hill — 85 students

Top 10 Schools Listed as Incoming 6th Grade Students’ First Choice in 2016
McAuliffe International School — 411 students listed it as their #1 choice
DSST: Green Valley Ranch — 351 students
Denver School of the Arts — 328 students
Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy — 267 students
DSST: College View — 253 students
DSST: Byers — 199 students
Skinner Middle School — 198 students
STRIVE Prep – Westwood — 197 students
DSST: Stapleton — 191 students
Denver Center for International Studies — 157 students

Top 10 Schools Listed as Incoming 9th Grade Students’ First Choice in 2016
East High School — 669 students listed it as their #1 choice
South High School — 295 students
Northfield High School — 207 students
CEC Early College — 202 students
George Washington High School — 174 students
Denver School of the Arts — 165 students
Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy — 162 students
DSST: Green Valley Ranch — 155 students
STRIVE Prep – SMART — 155 students
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College — 154 students

So how many students get into their first-choice school? District data from last year provides a percentage of students in each transition grade.

Percentage of Transition Grade Students Who Got their First-Choice School in 2016
Kindergarten — 86 percent
6th Grade — 80 percent
9th Grade — 87 percent


Colorado schools are getting a major bump in the state’s 2018-19 budget

Students waiting to enter their sixth-grade classroom at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City. (Photo by Craig Walker, The Denver Post)

Colorado’s strong economy has opened the door for state lawmakers to send a major cash infusion to the state’s public schools.

As they finalized the recommended budget for 2018-19, the Joint Budget Committee set aside $150 million, an additional $50 million beyond what Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper had asked for, to increase funding to schools.

“We believe this is the most significant reduction in what used to be called the negative factor since it was born,” said state Rep. Millie Hamner, the Dillon Democrat who chairs the Joint Budget Committee.

Colorado’s constitution calls for per pupil spending to increase at least by inflation every year, but the state hasn’t been able to meet that obligation since the Great Recession. The amount by which schools get shorted, officially called the budget stabilization factor, is $822 million in 2017-18. Under state law, this number isn’t supposed to get bigger from one year to the next, but in recent years, it hasn’t gotten much smaller either. 

But a booming economy coupled with more capacity in the state budget created by a historic compromise on hospital funding last year means Colorado has a lot more money to spend this year. In their March forecast, legislative economists told lawmakers they have an extra $1.3 billion to spend or save in 2018-19.

The recommended shortfall for next year is now just $672.4 million. That would bring average per-pupil spending above $8,100, compared to $7,662 this year.

Total program spending on K-12 education, after the budget stabilization factor is deducted, should be a little more than $7 billion, with the state picking up about $4.5 billion and the rest coming from local property taxes.

The budget debate this year has featured Republicans pressing for more ongoing money for transportation and Democrats resisting in the interest of spreading more money around to other needs. The positive March forecast reduced much of that tension, as a $500 million allocation for transportation allowed a compromise on roads funding in the Republican-controlled Senate. That compromise still needs the approval of the Democratic-controlled House, but suddenly a lot of things are seeming possible.

“We knew we were going to have more revenue than we’ve ever had to work with,” Hamner said of the status at the beginning of the session. But that presented its own challenges, as so many interest groups and constituencies sought to address long-standing needs.

“The fact that we’ve been able to reach such incredible compromises on transportation and K-12 funding, I think most members will be very pleased with this outcome,” Hamner said. “Where we ended up is a pretty good place.”

The big outstanding issue is proposed reforms to the Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA fund to address unfunded liabilities. A bill that is likely to see significant changes in the House is wending its way through the process. The Joint Budget Committee has set aside $225 million to deal with costs associated with that fix, which has major implications for teachers and school districts budgets.

The Joint Budget Committee has also set aside $30 million for rural schools, $10 million for programs to address teacher shortages, and $7 million for school safety grants.

The budget will be introduced in the House on Monday. Many of the school funding elements will appear in a separate school finance bill.

Going forward, there is a question about how sustainable these higher funding levels will be.

“It does put more pressure on the general fund,” Hamner said. “If we see a downturn in the economy, it’s going to be a challenge.”

outside the box

Program to bring back dropout students is one of 10 new ideas Jeffco is investing in

File photo of Wheat Ridge High School students. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Jeffco students who drop out will have another option for completing high school starting this fall, thanks to a program that is being started with money from a district “innovation fund.”

The new program would allow students, particularly those who are older and significantly behind on credits, to get district help to prepare for taking a high school equivalency test, such as the GED, while also taking college courses paid for by the district.

The idea for the program was pitched by Dave Kollar, who has worked for Jeffco Public Schools for almost 20 years, most recently as the district’s director of student engagement.

In part, Kollar’s idea is meant to give students hope and to allow them to see college as a possibility, instead of having to slowly walk back as they recover credits missing in their transcripts.

“For some kids, they look at you, and rightfully so, like ‘I’m going to be filling in holes for a year or two? This doesn’t seem realistic,’” Kollar said. “They’re kind of defeated by that. As a student, I’m constantly looking backwards at my failures. This is about giving kids something like a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Jeffco’s dropout rate has decreased in the last few years, like it has across the state. At 1.7 percent, the rate isn’t high, but still represents 731 students who dropped out last year.

Kollar’s was one of ten winning ideas announced earlier this month in the district’s first run at giving out mini-grants to kick-start innovative ideas. Kollar’s idea received $160,000 to get the program started and to recruit students who have dropped out and are willing to come back to school.

The other ideas that the district gave money to range from school building improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act at Fletcher Miller Special School, from new school health centers to a new district position to help work on safety in schools. One school, Stott Elementary, will create a “tinker lab” where students will have space and supplies to work on projects as part of the school’s project-based learning model.

The Jeffco school board approved $1 million for the awards earlier this year. It was an idea proposed by Superintendent Jason Glass as a way of encouraging innovation in the district. This spring process is meant as a test run. The board will decide whether to continue investing in it once they see how the projects are going later this spring.

Officials say they learned a lot already. Tom McDermott, who oversaw the process, will present findings and recommendations to the board at a meeting next month.

If the board agrees to continue the innovation fund, McDermott wants to find different ways of supporting more of the ideas that educators present, even if there aren’t dollars for all of them.

That’s because in this first process — even though educators had short notice — teachers and other Jeffco staff still completed and submitted more than 100 proposals. Of those, 51 ideas scored high enough to move to the second round of the process in which the applicants were invited to pitch their ideas to a committee made up of Jeffco educators.

“We’re extremely proud of the 10,” McDermott said, but added, “we want to be more supportive of more of the ideas.”

McDermott said he thinks another positive change might be to create tiers so that smaller requests compete with each other in one category, and larger or broader asks compete with one another in a separate category.

This year, the applicants also had a chance to request money over time, but those parts of the awards hang on the board allocating more money.

Kollar’s idea for the GED preparation program for instance, includes a request for $348,800 next year. In total, among the 10 awards already granted, an extra $601,487 would be needed to fund the projects in full over the next two years.

Awards for innovation fund. Provided by Jeffco Public Schools.

The projects are not meant to be sustained by the award in the long-term, and some are one-time asks.

Kollar said that if that second phase of money doesn’t come through for his program, it should still be able to move forward. School districts are funded per student, so by bringing more students back to the district, the program would at least get the district’s student-based budget based on however many students are enrolled.

A similar program started in Greeley this fall is funded with those dollars the state allocates to districts for each student. So far, eight students there already completed a GED certificate, and there are now 102 other students enrolled, according to a spokeswoman for the Greeley-Evans school district.

But, having Jeffco’s innovation money could help Kollar’s program provide additional services to the students, such as a case manager that can help connect students to food or housing resources if needed.

And right now Kollar is working on setting up systems to track data around how many students end up completing the program, earning a high school equivalency certificate, enrolling in a college or trade-school, or getting jobs.

Helping more students on a path toward a career is the gold standard, he said, and what makes the program innovative.

“It’s not just about if the student completes high school,” Kollar said. “It’s are we making sure we are intentionally bridging them into whatever the next pathway is?”