A year into his term, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero is rolling out a new strategic plan to guide Colorado’s largest school district.
The plan, which Marrero calls a roadmap, focuses on three broad goals: improving the student experience, improving the adult experience for educators and families, and replacing “ineffective and destructive systems” with “systems fair and transparent,” according to a copy obtained by Chalkbeat.
It also comes with a new tagline: Every Learner Thrives.
“If we are to realize our vision that every learner will thrive, we must reframe education as a series of experiences that foster the exchange of ideas, the pursuit of passion and the pursuit of justice,” says the plan. “It’s the DPS experience.”
Marrero said in an interview that he intentionally designed the plan as a flowing roadmap, with goals to be achieved by 2026, rather than a rigid plan with annual milestones.
“This means that even if, God forbid, we are in a situation like a COVID-19 pandemic, we can still recalculate, just like a navigation system, and still know where we want to be in 2026,” said- he declared.
Denver has operated without a strategic plan since 2020, when the previous plan developed by then-Superintendent Tom Boasberg expired. Marrero’s plan comes as Denver prepares to welcome back some 90,000 students who have experienced three school years disrupted by the pandemic, resulting in learning loss and lower test scores.
“We have a deep, deep hole to come out of,” Marrero said.
The plan is based on a 100-day listening tour Marrero conducted last year, recommendations from internal and external advisers, and goals set by the school board. Originally promised in early summer, the much-anticipated plan was first communicated to district leaders. A district spokesperson said it will be widely distributed in the coming weeks.
The pandemic has made the past school years difficult, with educators reporting major challenges related to student behavior, mental health and engagement in classroom work. The plan sets goals not only to improve test scores and high school graduation rates, but also to increase participation in extracurricular activities and create a sense of belonging.
“I want our kids to look way beyond the scope of their neighborhood and their neighborhood, and that can come in many ways,” Marrero said.
Throughout the plan, the focus is on equity – closing academic gaps between student groups, expanding ethnic studies, hiring more teachers of color, and increasing access to mental health services. culturally appropriate.
The plan includes ongoing equity audits to improve district systems, as well as deeper community partnerships, competitive compensation for teachers, and a more diverse workforce. It also calls for expanded opportunities for students, such as more vocational and technical education, access to advanced courses, and health and financial education.
And the plan targets gains of 10 percentage points by 2026 in a range of areas, from student performance at the grade level to graduation rates to attendance at parent-teacher conferences. Marrero also has a set of annual goals linked to its own evaluation.
The plan revives the idea of creating an information dashboard that allows parents to compare schools in a more nuanced way after Denver ditched its old school rating system and reverted to the state’s system, which highly dependent on test results.
The plan also calls for more clearly defining the flexibility of different types of schools in achieving district goals. Denver has long been proud of its “family of schools,” which includes district-operated schools, semi-autonomous innovation schools, and independent charter schools. With the abandonment of education reform policies and a contentious debate this spring over innovation schools, it is unclear how much autonomy leaders have when it comes to building.
“In 2026 we will all find out how successful we have been,” Marrero said of the roadmap goals, “but I am very confident that we will get there.”
Below, find a more detailed description of the plan. Under each of the three general goals, Marrero has outlined a set of more specific goals, strategies for achieving them, and ways to measure progress over the next four years.
Specific goals for improving the student experience include:
- That students are on track to graduate, ready for college, a career, and “life in a post-pandemic global society, with an accelerated trajectory for marginalized students”
- That they “feel a strong sense of belonging, are emotionally supported at school, and have the ability to stand up for themselves and uphold justice”
- That they “grow and pursue their areas of passion”, such as athletics and art
Strategies to achieve these goals include:
- Improve access for all students to rigorous coursework and a high-level curriculum
- Improve school curricula in math and literacy, science and technology, social studies, ethnic studies, language arts, and health and financial education
- Expand career and technical education
- Accelerate student growth through specialized plans for students of color, multilingual learners, students with disabilities, and other marginalized groups
- Provide “culturally affirming mental health resources and support”
- Support student-led affinity groups “to build a sense of belonging and social identity”
- Facilitate student enrollment and participation in enrichment and extracurricular activities
To measure progress, the plan calls for Denver schools to achieve gains of at least 10 percentage points in the number of students performing academically, graduating within four or five years and earning college credit, apprenticeship or internship hours, or an industry certificate, all by 2026. The district’s four-year graduation rate in 2021 was 74%.
The plan sets similar progress markers for more students earning a bi-literacy seal, meaning they can read and write well in two or more languages, participating in ‘passion maintenance programs’ and reporting a sense of belonging in district surveys.
Specific goals for improving the adult experience include:
- That each staff member sees himself as an educator
- That the district’s workforce “reflects the diverse identities of our learners”
- That families participate in making decisions that affect the education of their children
Strategies to achieve these goals include:
- Countering “a narrative that considers difference as a deficit”
- Increase efforts to recruit and retain staff from marginalized backgrounds
- Pay employees wages at or above market rates
- Improve community engagement, especially with families with marginalized identities
To measure progress, the plan will seek improvements of 10 percentage points by 2026 in the proportion of employees who report feeling supported in district surveys, as well as families who report feeling informed about the progress of their students, among others. measures. The district hopes to see similar growth from family members from marginalized backgrounds who attend parent-teacher conferences and district events.
The plan also includes retaining more educators and recruiting and hiring more employees from diverse backgrounds, with goals to be set next year. Although the majority of students in Denver are students of color, most teachers in Denver are white.
Specific goals for changing district systems include:
- Disrupt, dismantle and redesign inequitable systems
- Provide resources and services fairly and transparently
- Ensure the district is “recognized locally, regionally and nationally as a leader in equity and sustainability practices”
Strategies to achieve these goals include:
- Regularly audit operational and academic systems for fairness
- Increase access to “clear and transparent information about the characteristics and effectiveness of different schools” that goes beyond state-issued school ratings
- Develop a way to measure progress at the district, school, and classroom level
- Partner with external organizations to meet community needs
- Define the flexibilities that will be available to traditional district-operated schools, semi-autonomous district-operated innovation schools, and independent charter schools
To measure progress, the plan calls for auditing the equity of 10 district systems by 2026 and aligning the district budget and school-level strategic plans with the district strategic plan.
The district also plans to open six community centers that will offer services such as mental health support, GED and citizenship classes, as well as food and school supplies.
Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at [email protected].