Bullseye, overlooked

Overlooked in the controversies of the board meeting on Thursday night was an important vote that signifies a considerable change in policy.  The board was contemplating a course of action for Manny Martinez, a charter school who, in its first year, received the lowest score on DPS’s School Performance Framework, including perhaps the first (and hopefully the last) single-digit score for academic growth.

In the silence of the consent agenda, and thus passed on a unanimous 7-0 vote, the Board agreed to neither shut Manny Martinez entirely, nor to leave it intact. Instead, the Board voted to essentially freeze the student population by not allowing a new class of 6th graders to enter the school.  No current students were displaced, but the district was understandably unwilling to allow more students entry into an academic sinkhole.

This is an important shift, as previously the board only pursued a choice between two options – leave the school essentially intact with minimal consequences for poor performance, or shut it entirely thus displacing students.  Too often an unwillingness to do the latter left the BOE with a default to the former.  That binary world now has changed.

This is hardly a new idea. Cutting enrollment should allow a school to refocus its efforts and resources on a smaller base of kids (hopefully increasing their academic performance). Presumably the school will retain its best teachers, increase attention on academic improvement, and have a legitimate chance to get better. It serves as a clear signal of the board’s intention to move toward the harsher penalty of termination unless there is ample improvement, but the penalty falls most fully on the school’s adults, not the kids.

The controversial decisions last Thursday will no doubt be continually criticized, and in their wake there will be invective enough to cover the entire building. But in the hullabaloo over both sides’ impassioned accusations of having made the wrong decision, recognize that in this case — and in an unanimous act — the board got one absolutely dead-on right.

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