Promoting school integration in Denver Public Schools

Written by: Leslie Colwell
Date Posted: January 19, 2018

As Denver grows, many neighborhoods have seen significant changes in income levels, housing patterns and a decline in the number of school-aged children. Recognizing the challenges and opportunities that these changes present for schools in the state’s largest school district, in March of 2017 the Denver Board of Education passed a resolution (also available in Spanish) to establish the Strengthening Neighborhoods Initiative (SNI). I served as a member of the committee for the past eight months, and we wrestled with ways to promote greater school integration and inclusion in Denver schools. Last week, the Denver Board of Education advanced our recommendations.

In our 2017 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, we drew attention to research that makes clear the benefits of school integration for students of all income levels and all races. We also took a close look at how segregation has increased dramatically in Denver since a court-ordered desegregation plan was lifted in 1995 (see pages 58 to 61). In today’s climate of deepening political and social divisions, it’s even more important that our children grow up sharing lived experiences and exchanging ideas with people of different backgrounds, races, ethnicities and economic status.

In more than 30 hours of working group meetings, committee members grappled with how to balance essential—yet sometimes conflicting—values: promoting neighborhood schools, encouraging school integration and ensuring school choice in a city with long-standing patterns of housing segregation.

The committee made four overarching recommendations, as well as targeted recommendations in the focus areas of Access to Schools, Equity in Schools and Classrooms, and Design and Sustainability. Chief among these include:

  1. Giving low-income students greater priority in the school choice system.
  2. Increasing the use of community enrollment zones, in which multiple schools are part of one enrollment zone with greater socioeconomic diversity.
  3. Rewarding school leaders and teachers for making progress toward clear goals related to diversity and inclusive excellence in schools, and holding them accountable when progress is not made.
  4. Expanding the role of communities and families by increasing support structures that build trust, increase engagement and provide authentic feedback between schools and community.

Last week, the DPS Board of Education discussed and expressed its support for the committee’s recommendations. In the coming months, DPS will work to pilot several of the recommendations and establish an ongoing work group to monitor progress and continue the conversation about the future of Denver neighborhoods and schools.

Click here to read the Strengthening Neighborhoods Initiative’s final recommendations, including the core belief statements on root causes and characteristics of a high-quality integrated school that guided our work.

Leslie Colwell

About Leslie Colwell

Leslie Colwell serves as the Vice President of K-12 Education Initiatives, leading the Campaign’s work to improve education in the state of Colorado. Before joining the Children’s Campaign in August of 2014, Leslie worked to facilitate partnerships and produce policy agreements, especially in the area of education as an Associate at The Keystone Center. Her professional experience includes working as Legislative Director for State Senator Mike Johnston, managing his education policy portfolio (including his office’s work on HB12-1238, Colorado’s READ Act, and SB13-033, ASSET), and directing a policy fellowship for educators for three summers. Leslie has also worked on Teach For America’s alumni team, and before that taught 6th grade Math and Earth Science as a TFA corps member at Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles. She currently serves on the board of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization (CLLARO) and on the steering committee of the Colorado Afterschool Partnership.