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Denver Builds on Low-Income Charter Success Stories: Will Jeffco Follow Suit?

I’m not that old, so the thought of having a big red “Easy” button is rather appealing. According to my grown-up education policy friends, developing a high-quality education model and scaling it up to reach a huge number of kids is a far more challenging and time-consuming task. How do we take pockets of success and super-size them to make a real dent in overcoming mediocrity and closing the achievement gap?

Last night the Denver Public Schools board approved 14 new schools (including 12 charters) to open for the 2015-16 school year. Some of the names are new, but many are expansions of true success stories and promising innovations.

Headlining the group is the eight-year-old STRIVE Prep (formerly West Denver Prep) charter network, with three of the 14 new schools. Besides adding another middle school — the original model and “core competency” — to the network, STRIVE also now is slated to open a second high school and its FIRST elementary school, both in far northeast Denver.

Next up is the famous KIPP, part of a national network of schools that has truly rocked the world with great results for challenged students. They too will be opening an elementary and high school in the city’s northeast quadrant.

The most recent player on the block, Rocky Mountain Prep, won approval to open its second southeast Denver campus. Though as Chalkbeat Colorado explains, right now school leaders are moving forward with only the Board of Education’s promise to find another facility after their first choice was given to a district-run school.

Rocky Mountain Prep (RMP) stands out as a leading local example of a blended learning school. Though it hasn’t yet had the opportunity to establish a track record like the ones I previously mentioned, one of its most successful teachers also is moving ahead with his own vision of a blended learning school: Roots Elementary. According to his website, Jon Hanover this past year helped his students achieve two years of math and reading growth.

See what I mean by promising? RMP’s better known national counterpart Rocketship Education largely inspired education author Richard Whitmire to come forward with a new book On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope. Readers may want to check out Whitmire’s insightful answers to five Education Week questions after watching this 3-minute Education Next promotional video:

(Rumor also has it that the author will be in town next week for an event sponsored by A-Plus Denver — or maybe it’s more than just a rumor.) For the record, Rocketship started in San Jose and since has spread to Milwaukee, Nashville, and Washington, D.C., with several other locations targeted to help low-income kids next. And Whitmire’s book isn’t just about Rocketship, but also features some Denver successes as well.

Which brings me to my closing thought for the week: Denver Public Schools’ dynamic approach has contributed to a booming student enrollment as families not only move in but come back to the district and its array of options. Kids in Denver’s low-income communities are benefiting, so when will their counterparts in the poorer parts of eastern Jefferson County find the same opportunities?

Jeffco finally has a charter-friendly board. Why not help the students being underserved in places like Jefferson and Alameda High SChool? The ball needs to start rolling soon.