Spring | Issue 9 | Date: April 21, 2021
Funding Great Schools. Rooted in Community. 
DPS SchoolChoice Round 2 is Now Open
Denver Public Schools opened Round 2 of its annual SchoolChoice process April 6, and it is critical that families participate. 

In a summary of Round 1 participation, the district noted that it needs more students enrolling in Round 2 to meet enrollment projections and to curtail a significant revenue shortfall. 

The district did not receive as many applications from new students as it expected, particularly in Early Childhood Education (ECE) and kindergarten, and with larger gaps in the number of new applicants in the Southwest and Far Northeast regions. 

“The students who we expected to return to DPS - those who maybe left for homeschool or for a private option - did not return to DPS (in Round 1) in as large of numbers as we were expecting,” Liz Mendez, the DPS director of enrollment and campus planning, told BoardHawk. “A significant portion of them are waiting to hear what fall school will look like before they make a decision.”

SchoolChoice is particularly important this year, because COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities in education, healthcare, housing and employment for people of color and low-income people. The Choice process gives students of color and low-income students access to high-quality education in and beyond their neighborhoods. 

Round 2 of SchoolChoice is open now and ends Aug. 31.
Grantee Feature
Highline Academy Supports the Whole Child
Now more than ever there is a need for childhood mental health support. In the face of the pandemic, racial injustice, economic instability, food and resource insecurity, pressures from social media and more, kids today are dealing with trauma on several fronts. Schools can be a safe haven for students when the appropriate supports, tools, and resources are available. 

Highline Academy Charter Schools has been committed to providing for the needs of students’ mental and social-emotional needs since its founding in 2004 as a part of its mission to meet every student where they are.
Highline has a full time nurse, social worker, and counselor at both of its Denver campuses. All students in the elementary program engage in state approved social-emotional curriculum as a part of their specials’ class rotation. Students participate in small group work each week that focuses on social skills, emotional regulation, and self-esteem. Students also have access to individualized counseling and unique plans tailored to meet their specific needs.

Its Southeast campus has a robust food pantry program, this year securing 3,000 food items thanks to a student-led food drive this spring. The food pantry supports their weekend backpack program and provides food for students over the summer and other breaks during the school year. 

Its Northeast campus partnered with the Maria Droste Center this year to provide weekly support groups for staff members dealing with stress and anxiety. Staff received professional development around student suicide prevention, and all 5th grade students received suicide prevention and mental health curriculum.

Both campuses focus on supporting families, knowing that when needs are met in the home, students are better able to thrive in school. Highline has provided parents with workforce support (job search, navigating applications, interviewing), life skills, parent coping techniques, and virtual parent groups to ease transitions from remote to in-person learning (and vice versa). Highline has also referred families to support for housing, food pantries, rental relief programs, medical and mental health clinics. The school has remained focused on staying connected to families during a year when they have not been able to come into the building and meet with staff in person. 
Ashley Martinez-Doublin Champions High Quality Education
As Director of Operations at RootED, Ashley Martinez-Doublin oversees the organization’s budget and distribution of grants - but the work she does goes far beyond financials. 

A Colorado native, Ashley grew up between Northwest Aurora and Denver's Park Hill neighborhood. She attended the now closed Smiley Middle School and is a proud East High School graduate where she was a cheerleader, dancer and choir member. Always a hometown girl, Ashley earned her undergraduate degree in Sports Industry Operations as a member of the first university class at Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 and her master's degree in Sports Management from Adams State University in 2016.

Realizing quickly that she wanted to work with children and not in the professional sports realm, Ashley pivoted her career and began working in education. She held roles as a cheer coach, games helper, librarian and reading interventionist before becoming a teacher at STRIVE Prep. While teaching she pursued any opportunity that would help further her knowledge of the field while also benefiting her students. She participated in the America Achieves Educator Fellowship where she studied career trajectories in Colorado and designed a construction career task for high schoolers who might want to learn more about the field before leaving school among other teaching endeavors.  
Not giving up on her love of sports or the belief that it is an avenue to help further higher education, Ashley and her friends founded their own youth track club, Mile High, where she serves as the team manager. They believe that through sports, youth can build on the skills they learn in the classroom to become confident young adults who can use their academic and athletic abilities to secure college scholarships that will allow them to overcome the financial barriers that exist when wanting to pursue higher education.
“Ashley is a leader who transcends any role she’s playing within an organization,” said Caleb Coats, the director of athletics and activities for STRIVE Prep Schools. Coats notes that when families at STRIVE-Prep expressed fear about changing federal immigration policies in 2017, Ashley hosted information nights at schools to help families know their rights. She also organized access to legal help, English courses, and help with completing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) paperwork. 

“Ashley is emerging as a champion for high-quality education for all kids, for ensuring students understand the career opportunities available to them in our city, and that they have the skills and resources to tackle obstacles and finance their future,” Coats said. 
Senator Coleman Promotes Successful High School Transitions
Sen. James Coleman has sponsored a bill that would reimagine the high school experience and create meaningful changes for low-income students. 

The Successful High School Transitions bill (SB21-106) would:

  • Give high schools in up to 20 school districts the ability to allow students to participate in innovative learning opportunities - including internships and college courses - and have that count toward the required number of teacher-pupil instruction and contact hours for full-time enrollment (otherwise known as “seat time”). 
  • Provide funding for low-income students who meet graduation requirements early to enroll in postsecondary education and workforce training programs during their fourth year of high school. 

The school or school districts selected to participate in the pilot program would have to demonstrate how their innovative learning opportunities plan disproportionately benefit underserved students. 

Information on how to support SB 21-106 can be found on the Colorado Succeeds website.
Virtual Rally Supports Innovation Zones
On Tuesday, April 20th over 475 students, parents, educators and school leaders from various DPS Innovation Zones joined together with community members for a virtual rally to share their experiences and voice their support for innovation in DPS. The gathering highlighted the flexibility and autonomy innovation status provides educators, allowing them to choose specific strategies to ensure they fully own the decisions at their schools, and that schools have the resources they need to support that decision-making in partnership with their communities. The night ended with powerful support from Senator James Coleman. The event was organized by Northeast Denver Innovation Zone, Luminary Learning Network and Beacon Network Schools.
More than 800 educators serve 7,500+ students in Innovation Zone schools in DPS. RootED champions the community empowerment and self determination that is key to the success of these schools. Innovation Zones work collaboratively with teachers and families to best serve students. Zone schools have been recognized nationally for their innovative work in successfully serving DPS students.
 
On February 26, both the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone and Beacon Network Schools submitted expansion applications to welcome Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College and the Denver School of Sustainable Design to their respective zone communities. Despite an outpouring of support from the Denver Innovation Zone community and the broader Denver community, Denver Public School (DPS) staff made recommendations to delay the expansion process.

RootED shares the Innovation Zones' concerns that delaying or limiting expansions will negatively impact successful school models that are improving outcomes for thousands of students, empowering educators, closing achievement gaps and serving the needs of our communities.
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