This charter leader doesn’t need to redraw district lines to create a diverse school

This post was originally published by The Denver Post as Integrating education in Denver, school by school, student by student.

Denver is consistently ranked one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities with enrollment in Denver Public Schools swelling more than 26 percent since 2007. Many of our neighborhoods are experiencing rapid shakeups in their size and demographics. Local leaders have established a commitment to making sure Denver remains a city that is diverse and open — but the task ahead is especially challenging for our city’s public schools.

Students are more likely now to attend schools that are segregated by race and socioeconomic status than they were in the decades after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision. We can, and must, reverse this trend. As families start entering lotteries and making choices about where to send their kids to school next year, we have an opportunity to take meaningful action and bring diversity into our schools.

The benefits of integration in schools have been well documented. Multiple studies suggest schools that teach students from diverse backgrounds side-by-side improves the experiences of all students — and the proof is in the test scores that continue to improve. Students who go to diverse schools not only seek out more multicultural environments as adults, but they’re better equipped to succeed in college and the workplace.

We know why we need integration; the question now is how do we get there? The DPS Board of Education recently created a Strengthening Neighborhoods committee with the mission of promoting integration. But reforms that could lead to real change — like redrawing school district lines — are politically challenging.

A little over a year ago, I left DPS after five invaluable years there to join the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST), a network of public charter schools in the city. While we certainly do not claim to have it all figured out, developing a diverse student body is a high priority for DSST and we’ve learned some lessons along the way.

Next fall, I am proud to be welcoming DSST’s first class of sixth-graders to a new middle school in Montbello — a historically black community with a growing Latino population. I will be opening a new DSST middle school at the Noel Campus as the “sister school” of DSST, Green Valley Ranch Middle School. The two schools have planned joint open houses and information sessions, and student recruitment efforts are intended to intentionally increase the overall diversity for both schools.

DSST’s model, which promotes an integrated community for its schools and its neighborhoods at large, will challenge pre-existing and arbitrary divisions in these two neighborhoods that are located just yards away from each other. DSST has been able to achieve integration across many of its schools through solutions that are generally unheard of in schools: a network-level focus on branding and marketing, and collaboration among school leaders.

The families at DSST know the inherent value of an integrated, diverse student body, and consistently report that their children have learned a level of understanding of community that is rare. DSST does not shy away from having frank and, at times, difficult discussions about the social injustices that we confront every day. Our students learn more and learn better, and Denver benefits as neighborhood lines are broken down to make way for an integrated community.

I believe DPS also shares this vision of educating a new generation of successful leaders in a diverse, changing world. It is my hope that DSST can share the lessons we’ve learned on this journey and show how deliberate actions to decrease segregation can, and do, work. Integrating Denver’s public schools won’t happen overnight, but if we work together and replicate what works — school by school, student by student, we can help our students be the successful, thoughtful leaders of tomorrow.

Brandi Chin is the founding director at Denver School of Science and Technology’s newest middle school in far northeast Denver, which opens in fall 2018.

Photo credit: DSST Public Schools


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