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Kurt Dennis goes public to rebut district allegations that led to his firing

August 1, 2023

Last month, Denver Public Schools accused Kurt Dennis of violating district and student confidentiality policies when he was principal of McAuliffe International School. Citing those alleged violations, the district fired Dennis on July 3 after 12 years leading the northeast middle school.

Few people other than DPS central administrators put any stock in accusations of policy violations. It is widely believed, and the facts back it up, that Dennis was fired because he spoke out in March against district policy requiring administrators to search students charged with violent crimes.

He went public with his serious concerns after a seventeen-year-old student shot two East High School administrators while they searched him for weapons. Daily searches were part of a “safety plan” that was required because he was on probation for a criminal weapons charge after being expelled from a Cherry Creek high school. 

For the first time, Dennis publicly refutes those allegations in the following letter to the community he released today (Aug.1, 2023).

In light of this evening’s (8/1/2023) community meeting with board members (organized by board members Scott Esserman and Auon’ tai Anderson at Manual High School), I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the issues that have been raised since my termination from DPS a few weeks ago.

Over the course of the past 12 years, McAuliffe has served close to 10,000 students and their families. Even if we had a success rate of 90%, this means that in some way we’ve failed a thousand families. When mistakes were made, we took ownership, addressed the concern and learned and improved. We’ve become a much better school and community over the past decade as a result, and I am proud of the work that we have done for all of our students at McAuliffe. It is a special school that does an incredible job of educating students and making kids feel safe, successful and connected.

Please take the time to read the following response to my letter of termination, celebrations of student achievement at MIS, and my staff’s evaluation of my performance this past school year.

Response to Letter of Termination:
● Investigation #1: On October 22, 2021, I wrote to the leadership of Denver Public Schools to express my concern that our special education center programs were under-supported, that our new staff lacked proper training and that our staff and students
were struggling as a result. Despite raising these concerns, no one from the district special education team ever responded to my email or request for help. As predicted, our program suffered and in the spring, complaints were made against how I supported the program. An investigation was initiated by DPS in April 2022 and the independent investigator determined that the allegations were “unfounded” and that “no board policy violations” had occurred. Despite the findings and the fact that I sought, but did not receive district support, I received a Letter of Warning from the district. The district would not provide me or my supervisor with a copy of the investigator’s report and I had to sign the letter and it was placed in my personnel file.

● Investigation #2- Other than a brief interview with the investigator, I had no role in the spring 2022 investigation of a student’s discipline record at our school. I do not directly handle discipline incidents at McAuliffe; however I am consulted by my team regarding
the most serious cases (weapons, drugs, assault, etc.) The investigation was of how a grade level admin team (Assistant Principal and Dean of Students) interpreted the DPS discipline matrix and whether bias or discrimination was involved in deciding to suspend the student multiple times for their actions. As with the previous investigation, the result of the investigation was a finding that the allegations of discrimination were “unfounded” and that “no board policies were violated”. We never received a copy of the investigation
nor was I privy to the meeting that they held with my Assistant Principal regarding this matter. Because I was not the subject of this investigation and received no directive or follow up from the district, I do not understand why it was cited as evidence in my termination letter.

● Investigation #3- In late fall, a student brought an airsoft pistol to school that looked very much like a real gun. I consulted with the Assistant Principal handling the situation and per the Discipline Matrix, we agreed that the student should be suspended and we
requested an expulsion hearing with the district. The process took the AP longer than expected due to communication issues in working with DPS staff and the student was suspended for longer than planned as a result (8 days instead of 5 days). The district is currently investigating whether the duration of the suspension was the result of bias/discrimination by the AP handling the case. The investigation has been ongoing for the past 7 months and has not been resolved. I am not the subject of this investigation, had no role in the delayed process, and was not interviewed or questioned at any time.

Claim of Violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act:
● Prior to sharing documents with 9News, I redacted all personal information that could be used to identify the student.
● When interviewed by 9News at no time did I provide any information that could be used to identify the student- not name, gender, grade, age, ethnicity, etc.
● The claim that my speaking out caused the student to be “singled out by faculty and staff and ostracized by peers” is not true. The student was already on a Safety Plan that had been shared with all of their teachers and pertinent staff members so their situation was
widely known amongst our faculty prior to my speaking out. In addition, because the student was wearing a court-mandated monitoring ankle device and the Safety Plan required that the student be escorted by an adult at all times on campus, the student’s involvement in the judicial system was not unknown to their peers for months prior to me speaking out. None of the student’s escorts, including myself, ever saw evidence of ostracism. None of our students or staff were interviewed by the district about this “ostracism” claim and no one from the district ever came to McAuliffe to observe the implementation of the Safety Plan.
● What I shared with 9News was no more revealing to a student’s identity than what is typically shared by school leaders when they need to address a safety concern with their community. For example, an email was sent to community members by a DPS principal in May 2023 after students vandalized their campus as evidence of this type of communication. The principal states the crime committed, the number of students involved, the school level consequence and the involvement of the Denver Police and the District Attorney’s Office in the situation. Denver Public Schools’ officials did not accuse her of violating FERPA, nor was she subjected to corrective action or termination. She was not accused of creating a hostile environment for these five students at her school.

Below is a summary of the efforts and achievements of McAuliffe International School related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Students of color at McAuliffe significantly outperform their peers at district-run middle schools due to our excellent teaching, curriculum and non-tracking “honors for all” instructional model:

2021-2022 Math
Proficiency Rates
McAuliffe International School           DPS Middle School Collaborative
Overall                                         66                                               27
Students of Color                       45                                               14
Black Students                           26                                                8
Hispanic Students                    44                                                11
Two or More Races                  69                                                44
White Students                         81                                                 57
Students With Disabilities       8                                                   3
ELL Students                              7                                                   3

(Our apologies for imprecise rows of numbers. Coding difficulties.)

2021-2022 ELA
Proficiency Rates
McAuliffe International School                 DPS Middle School Collaborative
Overall                                        73                                                38
Students of Color                     54                                                24
Black Students                         39                                                20
Hispanic Students                   55                                                21
Two or More Races                 73                                                 53
White Students                        85                                                70
Students With Disabilities      8                                                   6
ELL Students                            22                                                  6

2021-2022 CMAS data also shows high levels of achievement for all groups of students. The average McAuliffe student outperformed 97% of their peers statewide. This success spreads across all groups.

■ The average McAuliffe Student of Color outperformed 88% of their peers statewide. (DPS average for SOC was in 37th percentile among peers)
■ The average Black student at MIS outperformed 79% of their peers statewide (DPS average Black students was in 48th percentile among peers)
■ The average ELD student at MIS outperformed 88% of peers statewide (DPS average ELD student was in 40th percentile among peers)
■ The average FRL eligible student at MIS outperformed 84% of peers statewide. (DPS average FRL student was in 35th percentile among peers)
■ The average student on an IEP at MIS outperformed 61% of peers statewide (DPS average IEP student was in 44th percentile among peers)

McAuliffe serves more students of color than any middle school in the district and along with DSST is one of the most highly choiced options for middle schools for families of color in DPS.
Enrollment for students of color at McAuliffe has increased every year for the past ten years. This is a great point of pride for us, as families would not choose us for their children nor recommend McAuliffe to friends and neighbors if their children were not having a good
experience at our school.
Largest Middle Schools                             Number of Students of Color
McAuliffe International                                                  644
Hamilton                                                                            514
Hill                                                                                       367
Skinner                                                                               323
Merrill                                                                                 268

Additional Information
● In the last year (2019) that DPS rated schools for Equity on the School Performance Framework, McAuliffe International was one of only 10 schools (out of over 220 schools in the district) to be rated Distinguished for Equity.
● All Family Climate Surveys and Your Voice/Tu Voz surveys conducted by DPS over the past 11 years have McAuliffe achieving equity scores roughly meeting or exceeding district averages from students and parents.
● McAuliffe has a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator, Michelle Moore, who leads professional development training for staff and creates equity and inclusion learning opportunities and celebrations for students.
● McAuliffe has six Restorative Practices Counselors and three Deans of Culture who are all leaders of color that work with and counsel students on a regular basis in an effort to help students make positive life choices, form positive relationships and avoid disproportionate outcomes.
● McAuliffe has a Critical Needs Coordinator that provides support to families in crisis and need with roughly 75% of funds raised by the McAuliffe at Smiley Foundation going to these students in the form of free uniforms, school supplies, eyeglasses, dental work,
temporary housing and furniture, etc. In addition, we provide scholarships so that all students, regardless of income, can participate in field trips to Outdoor Education, New York, Washington DC, and Costa Rica.
● McAuliffe offers affinity student groups such as Black and Brown Girls Dreaming, Hermanas Unidas, Black and Brown Student Alliance (BBSA) and elective courses in Social Justice. In addition, we have hired a new staff member, Jon Moore, to lead a new program in support of our Black male students.

Thank you,

Kurt Dennis

Link to Staff Evaluation of Kurt Dennis
CollaboRate Staff Survey of Principal’s Performance 2023
Link to termination letter and other documents related to Kurt Dennis’ performance.
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