Per Pupil Woes

UPDATED: Denver board agrees to close Trevista middle school

The Denver Public Schools board at a meeting in December 2014 at South High School.

Updated after school board meeting, January 29, 7 p.m.

The Denver school board voted tonight to approve a plan to close the middle school at Trevista at Horace Mann at the end of the current school year due to declining enrollment and financial concerns. The school will continue to house an early childhood education program and an elementary school.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole dissenting vote. Jimenez said that while he approved of the plan to have separate elementary and middle school programs, he was disappointed that the planning process had begun so late in the school year.

At a special school board meeting, current principal La Dawn Baity, assistant principal Jesus Rodriguez, and Laura Brinkman, the director of the district’s West Denver Network that includes Trevista told board members that they had considered phasing out the middle school or delaying the closure for year, but had decided a prompt closure would be better for students.

Baity, Brinkman, and Martinez said that the decision was driven by financial, not academic, reasons. Though the school has alternated between the two lowest rankings on the state accountability system, it had the highest student growth scores in northwest Denver last year and has seen improved student attendance in recent years.

Jimenez said that the district has been aware of declining enrollment near Trevista for several years but just began working with the school to plan for the closure earlier this month. He suggested delaying the vote until the February board meeting, saying he believed the process “would have been done differently if it had occurred in southeast or central Denver,” both more affluent parts of the city.

The district is planning to create a committee in northwest Denver focused on long-term goals for school facility use in that part of the city. That committee has not yet met.

Original story starts below:

The Denver school board will vote tonight at a special meeting on a plan to close the middle school program at Trevista at Horace Mann, a school in the northwest part of the city that currently houses early childhood, elementary, and middle schools students.

The vote comes just a day before the district’s school choice applications are due. Families of students enrolled at Trevista have been granted an extension until Feb. 6.

La Dawn Baity, who has been Trevista’s principal for three years, said that the decision is being driven by financial considerations, as the school’s middle grades enrollment bring insufficient funds to cover the staff the school needs. “We’re feeling sad because it’s a loss, to our school and to our community,” Baity said. “But the middle school was no longer really viable.”

The plan for Trevista comes after several district programs serving elementary, middle school, and early childhood students have been separated into distinct elementary and middle schools. “The very strong growth in our middle schools has meant in some cases over the last several years that E-8 school communities have recommended changing back to E-5 elementaries, and we have accepted those recommendations,” said district superintendent Tom Boasberg. Boasberg said the district would also continue to have and support E-8 programs.

If the board approves the plan, Trevista would remain open in 2015-16 as a K-5 school with an early childhood program. Middle school-aged students zoned to attend the school will be guaranteed a spot at Strive Sunnyside, a charter school, or Skinner Middle School. Students enrolled in Trevista’s Transitional Native Language Instruction program for English language learners will attend a similar program at Bryant Webster. The district would provide transportation.

Baity said the school had been using per-pupil funds technically allotted to the school’s elementary school students to cover middle school programs and staff. The school’s middle school population has hovered between 120 and 140, but Baity said the school really needed closer to 200 students to fund a robust program. Overall enrollment at Trevista has dropped from 637 in 2010-11 to 514 this year.

Requirements for teachers working with English learners at the school had added a layer of complexity. Baity said finding teachers with the right mix of skills had proved to be a challenge. “We’re a turnaround school. We needed top teachers,” she said. “But we couldn’t get the best teachers in every content area and also have bilingual teachers.”

She said this was harder at the middle-school level than in elementary school. Some 45 percent of the school’s students are English learners, and 90 percent of those speak Spanish.

Because of the lack of Spanish-English bilingual teachers in the school’s middle school, DPS and school officials decided earlier this fall to move a native-language program for Spanish-speaking English language learners to Bryant Webster, according to DPS chief schools officer Susana Cordova. But that meant the school would have even fewer middle schoolers in coming years and would be even more financially strapped.

“That took an enrollment of 140 down to 120,” Baity said. “And on a student-based budget like DPS has—Well, it’s a great way to fund schools but when you lose 20 students, we couldn’t fund the teachers, the programs, the counselors, everything that a middle school needs.”

Baity and Cordova said they were not sure yet what would happen to the empty space left in the building.

In the fall, a group of parents known as the Sunnyside Education Committee had asked the district to move the Trevista elementary program to the nearby Smedley Elementary building to create a neighborhood elementary school. The Smedley building is now slotted to hold the Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School.

After learning of the plans to close Trevista’s middle school, the Sunnyside committee sent an email to the district again requesting that Trevista’s elementary program be moved into the Smedley building. A district representative replied that the district planned to wait until it had heard from a working group of community members in Northwest before making major changes.

Baity said Trevista students had taken field trips to the schools they would be zoned to attend next year and that other schools had also reached out to students and families. The principal at Skinner Middle School said her staff would welcome the students and has already created already had a transition plan for them.

The school’s seven middle school teachers are not guaranteed placements at other schools. Baity herself is leaving the school this year, in a move she said was unrelated to the plans and announced before the current closing was planned, and will be replaced by Rodriguez, currently an assistant principal at the school.

The board vote will take place at a special meeting, which includes a public comment session, at 5 p.m.

Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the superintendent’s comments about the district’s approach to E-8 schools.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede