Denver School Board passes policy with mixed reactions from Innovation Schools

Some fear for their autonomy, others say it will give teachers a voice
Denver School Board passes policy with mixed reactions from Innovation Schools
Posted at 7:06 PM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 21:06:04-04

DENVER — After hours of public comment, the Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education passed a controversial executive limitation policy with a 5-2 vote on Thursday night. The policy has some Innovation Schools concerned about what it means for their autonomy.

An Innovation School can be waived from certain requirements in state law and collective bargaining agreements, in order for more managerial flexibility and the chance to create diverse approaches to learning.

According to the district's website, there have always been certain district policies that cannot be waived with an Innovation School's plan. Now, the superintendent will not recommend for approval plans that waive provisions of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association's (DCTA) collective bargaining agreement or the Teacher Employment Compensation and Dismissal Act.

“This executive limitation is around teacher rights and protections for all teachers across the district," said Xochitl 'Sochi' Gaytan, the President of the Board of Education, and one of the 'yes' votes on Thursday night. “We're saying, when your Innovation School leaders work through their renewal plans, know that we value teacher rights and protections."

The Board of Education said this proposal originated after many conversations with teachers over the past two years. The goal is to end inconsistent employment procedures and limit compensation decisions, like how bonuses can be used.

“This does not take away the creativity and the innovation that Innovation Schools have the flexibility to do in their schools," said Gaytan.

However, those with the Denver Green School are nervous about what the policy change will mean for their campus.

“The board isn't 100% sure of how it's going to affect us, and there could be lots of unintended consequences," said one of the Lead Partners of the Denver Green School, Frank Coyne. “Our shared leadership model might not be able to exist anymore. Having a different compensation philosophy might not be able to exist. Being able to have teachers have a separate professional development calendar for them might not be able to exist.”

Coyne said there may have been a few Innovation Schools that did not treat teachers properly, but it was not the majority.

"To say that all 52 innovation schools have to be limited in their flexibilities, rather than dealing with a couple of situations individually, I felt like was the wrong approach," Coyne said. “It's just unfortunate that teacher rights have become the rallying cry. Innovation Schools are pro-teacher and pro-teacher rights.”

Amanda Knezovich is a math interventionist at the Denver Green School. She came to the Denver Green School after leaving a traditional school model, and feels she found her home at the Innovation School.

"Ever since I've been here, I just feel empowered to make my own decisions. And know that I'm always backed up by my leaders and my colleagues," Knezovich said. “I'm just scared that our flexibilities in our model, and the things that make the Denver Green School special, are going to be taken away."

At another Innovation School, Christina Medina disagrees. She was excited to see the Board of Education pass the executive limitation policy on Thursday night.

“I'm sad that the misconceptions were so loud, and so apparent, especially in a few schools," said Medina, who is a second grade teacher at McGlone Academy. “What it actually does is ensure that classroom teachers have a voice in those decision-making processes.”

Medina said the passage of the new policy is motivation for her to continue working at McGlone Academy. While she loves her students and her job, she has struggled with the top-down model at the school.

“There's been instances where I've thought, I don't know how much longer I can stay at the school, where I love my students, where I love the community, because not having a say or not having a system for all teachers to have a voice, feels wrong," Medina said. “But this is setting a minimum standard to ensure that teachers have a voice and we have agency."

In the DPS system, there are more than 50 Innovation Schools serving around a quarter of all students in the district.