Spring | Issue 21 | Date: April 20, 2022
Funding Great Schools. Rooted in Community. 
Education at its PEAK
with Rocky Mountain Prep CEO, Tricia Noyola
Tricia Noyola, the chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Prep Network, knows from experience how challenging teaching can be—and she knows the tremendous value of high-performing teachers who drive academic achievement for kids.

That’s in part why Noyola, a former teacher, created the PEAK Teacher Program at Rocky Mountain Prep.

“Great teachers need to be rewarded and celebrated beyond a ‘thank you’ during Teacher Appreciation Week,” Noyola said. “We’re hoping to start a conversation in Denver and in the state about how educators should be compensated and what we’re willing to do for the folks who are in classrooms with our kids.”
The PEAK Teacher Program is a comprehensive rewards and recognition program for the top-performing teachers in Rocky Mountain Prep’s network. Teachers are selected as PEAK teachers based on student achievement data and observations.

The program offers a base salary between $80,000 and $100,000 to the top 15% of teachers in the network. It also provides them with the ability to select their own professional development and elevates their voices in decision making for Rocky Mountain Prep. The teachers will be recognized at all-network events, as well as at a special celebration.
Noyola developed the program—which she called a “moral imperative”—because she knows from her experience in the classroom that few careers are more challenging and rewarding than teaching.

“It’s important to note that at Rocky Mountain Prep, every adult is driving toward measurable goals for our children,” Noyola said. “We all hold ourselves accountable to doing it. We’re not increasing compensation and rewards and recognition because we feel like it—even though we certainly do. This is tied to results with kids in the classroom.”

The first cohort includes 16 teachers and although just 20% of Rocky Mountain Prep's teachers identify as BIPOC, 38% of the PEAK teachers identify as BIPOC. The inaugural PEAK teachers have committed to stay with the network for two years to continue to accelerate academic achievements for kids. 

Noyola—who is wrapping up her first successful year at the helm of the Rocky Mountain Prep network—also noted that as a result of the pandemic, schools are asking more of teachers than ever before. She said it’s critical to retain good teachers to drive academic outcomes for students. 

“I don’t know any great organization that doesn’t recognize its employees—particularly its star performers,” she said. "This further professionalizes the field and the compensation to make it very attractive for people who want to do that work in the classroom.”
RootED in the Community
Kepner Beacon Spanish Affinity Cohort
Through a pilot mentor program with Denver Public Schools, Spanish-speaking and bilingual students at Kepner Beacon in Southwest Denver learned about college and career paths—and established valuable connections in the process.

Ambar Suero, RootED’s partner of community partnerships and advocacy, served as a mentor for Denver Public Schools’ Career Connect’s pilot Middle School Spanish Affinity Cohort.

“I love being with our students—it refills my bucket,” Suero said.

Suero, who is an immigrant and was an English language learner in school, said she wanted students to see themselves in her.

“I wanted to make sure the students had a connection with someone who looked like them, and someone who could understand some of their struggles,” said Suero.
The cohort had 21 students, including some who were in the early stages of their English language education and some who recently immigrated to the U.S.

In group settings with mentors, students learned more about college and career paths, and took assessments to better understand and identify their strengths and interests.

Suero shared that mentors also had “vulnerable conversations with students, to understand what things are like for them, and what challenges they’re having.”

“I gained so much from our students,” Suero said. “[The mentor program] was a holistic approach to education. It’s not just interacting with students during the school day. It was about showing up for students, having honest conversations with them, being goofy with them—making sure they know people are there for them. At the end of the day, it reminds us why we do this work.”

Suero noted that there were five mentors and there’s a desire to grow the pilot program beyond Kepner Beacon. If that’s the case, there’s “absolutely a need for more volunteers.”
We See You!
5280 Freedom School Aims to Elevate Black Experience
The 5280 Freedom School started as a one-week summer camp for Black youth in 2018. As a result of increased interest and participation, it doubled camp enrollment and expanded to a two-week program, with virtual camp sessions in 2020.

“Every year at the end of camp, we got feedback from families and students, and overwhelmingly we heard that camp was the only time kids were in a place with people who looked like them and where they could engage in a loving space,” said Branta Lockett, executive director of the school.

It was clear there was a need for a school that emphasized Black excellence—and the 5280 Freedom School wants to meet that need.
This week, Lockett will meet with Denver Public Schools to discuss the Freedom School’s charter application. The superintendent is expected to make a recommendation on the application on June 2. The school board is scheduled to vote on the recommendation on June 9.

If approved, the school would open in the Five Points neighborhood for kindergarten and first grade students in the 2023-24 school year. 

The Freedom School team is confident the school is unique and will attract students from Denver and surrounding cities. The school’s mission and vision also emphasize Black excellence, which aligns with the board’s 2019 Black Excellence Resolution, embracing the excellence of Black and African American students and prioritizing and targeting their academic achievement.

Lockett said the school’s charter application is strong, particularly in its emphasis on culture and educational programming. For example, the application highlights restorative justice principles, the Ready for Rigor Framework, universal gifted and talented education for all students, and a historically responsive literacy curriculum.
The school’s vision is to provide an environment where “Black people are loved, valued, safe, and free to be themselves, and where students become leaders for social change.” That resonates, Lockett said, because Black students often don’t feel safe in schools, and want to be in classrooms with educators who look like them.

“I’ve been in school buildings where I was the only Black teacher or one of a few Black teachers,” Lockett said. “What I love about our summer programming is that teachers and students are able to build deep, authentic relationships and bonds quickly. Teachers have respect and high expectations for our students, and they make sure our students meet expectations in a loving and respectful way. It impacts our students in a positive way and makes this an exciting place for them to be.”
ICYMI: RootED's Facebook Live Discussions
Thank you to all who joined us for our Facebook Live discussions on SchoolChoice and on Declining Enrollment in DPS. 

If you missed the conversation, you can watch the playback for SchoolChoice in English and Declining Enrollment in English and Spanish

A core value of RootED is community-driven change. Our aim is to continue to elevate community voice and create space that centers students and families.

Have questions or want to connect further? Send us an email at rooted@rooteddenver.org.
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Denver, CO 80204