(Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the most recent policies innovation schools must follow.)
The Denver school board Thursday (3/9/23) sent back for revisions the renewal of the innovation plan for the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone that includes three Central Park schools.
Denver Public Schools officials said that the renewal plan was confusing. They said the schools did not specify well enough which waivers from the original 2018 innovation plan that they want to keep in the updated plan.
In addition, administrators said the schools are improperly seeking waivers from various policies and the teachers contract, including those the board disallowed in 2022.
“It’s almost, the audacity,’’ said Auon’tai Anderson, board vice president.
NDIZ teachers and staff members were also confused, DPS administration officials said, and therefore were not clear on what exactly was in the plan they voted on. Board members said they received a petition from 70 teachers at Northfield High School claiming they needed more clarity on waivers. At least 60 percent of union members at a school must vote in favor of any waivers.
The DPS board was scheduled to vote on innovation renewals for 16 district schools on March 23. However, if the NDIZ schools’ staffs approve a revised plan, the board will reconsider it at its regular meeting in April or May. The schools have until April 5 to submit a revised plan.
School and NDIZ representatives have yet to respond to questions about how they will proceed with the district’s order. Zone schools serving Central Park: Swigert International ES, McAuliffe International MS and Northfield High School. The three use the International Baccalaureate program. Manual McAuliffe MS is also in NDIZ. The zone and individual schools submitted renewal plans but they all include the disputed waivers, administration officials said.
“There are multiple issues across all the plans,’’ said Grant Guyer, associate chief of strategic operations.
The district’s recommendation for revisions noted that all four schools’ innovation plans include some combination of:
● Waivers that are restricted under board policy Executive Limitation 12.10 (EL-12.10. The board’s 2022 policy limiting schools’ flexibilities.);
● Waivers of the Health Start Times resolution (Calls for middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:20 a.m. to encourage healthy sleep habits in teens.);
● Waivers to Calendar Guardrails that limit schools from converting student contact days to non-student contact days without approval from a principal supervisor.
Innovation schools operate in ways similar to charters. They are district schools but are supposed to have autonomy, enabling them to waive many requirements of state law, district policies and collective bargaining agreements for: academic programming, staffing; control of their schedules, calendars and budgets; freedom to shop around for better or lower-cost services usually provided by the district. Innovation zones are run by a nonprofit board.
Formally connected through the zone, the schools can focus on academic alignment from kindergarten through high school. They can pool resources in areas such as professional development and purchasing, and benefit from economies of scale otherwise unavailable to them.
In June 2022, however, the DPS board’s EL-12.10 removed some of those freedoms from the teachers contract that the schools consider necessary to operate in a way that’s best for their students.
Opponents of the changes charged that the board allowed the teachers’ union to dictate policy. The board defended limits on innovation schools’ power, saying they were protecting teacher rights that they claim can be violated by waivers from the labor contract.
Under the board’s EL-12.10 schools cannot receive waivers from the labor contract governing:
- Grievance procedures.
- Evaluation process.
- Process for complaints against teachers.
- Teacher salary schedule.
Schools also cannot:
- Refuse direct placement of unwanted teachers in their schools.
- Hire staff using at-will or annual contracts.
- Recruit and make offers to applicants outside the district hiring timeline & process.
- Disregard the district’s new Healthy Start Times initiative and some limits on their calendar.
There are nine innovation schools in the Central Park area: Swigert ES, Willow ES, Inspire ES, Isabella Bird ES, Ashley ES, Denver Discovery MS, Denver Green School-Northfield MS, McAuliffe International MS and Northfield High School. DPS has a a total of 52 innovation schools.