DENVER – U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor spent two hours Friday morning listening and asking questions of students, parents and educators about STRIVE Prep School. Cantor acknowledged that the Denver Public School (DPS) District serves as first-rate model for education reform and school choice nationwide, during a visit to Colorado on Friday.
Led by student tour guides and surrounded by parents and education experts, Cantor was given a tour of the Denver charter school before convening a small forum to hear why STRIVE Prep has such a successful school model.
The school has quickly become one of Colorado’s top-performing public schools leading all DPS schools in academic growth on the 2012 Colorado Growth Model despite serving a student population where 90 percent of students are low income.
STRIVE Preparatory Schools operate seven tuition-free charter schools and have been embraced by students, parents and taxpayers wary of low-performing public schools in the region.
“How did you hear about this place…what do you think is different about STRIVE that’s helping your kids thrive? Class size, teachers…what’s different about this school than your neighborhood public school?” Cantor asked parents.
Chris Dowden, whose son is a sixth grader at STRIVE Prep said he found out about STRIVE Prep during a personal recruitment period.
“Based on my son’s school experience, we wanted a school with rigor and accountability. That’s something that he didn’t have coming up in the elementary ranks,” said Dowden. ” When he started school here, it was a very difficult adjustment for him. His first couple of months he kind of sank…but he’s now at a point where he’s really comfortable and happy.”
“He’s moving mountains right now, the teachers and the staff engage him and he’s a different kid,” added Dowden. “This school has been a complete game changer for him.”
Denver is among the largest cities in the country with the widest array of educational options and makes a concerted effort to offer parents the opportunity to enroll their kids in any school in the district, regardless of zip code boundaries.
“We’re pretty agnostic about the type of school or the governance model that the school has, it really is about, can we get an excellent school and if we can get that, then how do we, the district, work with that school the best way we can to enable them to serve the community,” said David Suppes, DPS Chief Operating Officer.
According to Shannon Fitzgerald, director of school choice and enrollment for DPS, 48 percent of children in the district attend their neighborhood schools while 52 percent attend a school of choice outside of their neighborhood.
“Since choice is not an intuitive concept to many of Denver’s families, one of the things that we do is we ask each and every parent of a child that is transitioning from elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school, to make a proactive choice,” said Fitzgerald. “It leads them to better understand that there is this other market place of schools, that may be a wonderful fit for their child. This year we had 82% of all of our transitioning kids participate in the school choice process.”
“There is no silver bullet, it’s a silver buck shot. It’s a series of things, It’s replicating great programs like STRIVE Prep and Denver School of Science and Technology and others, it’s fostering innovation in non-charter schools where you get great school leaders and give them the freedom to do the things they need to do and control over the resources to do it,” said Suppes.
“This is a terrific thing you’ve done here,” said Cantor at the end of the forum. “Hopefully we’ll be able to learn from the progress you’re making in Denver. There are obviously a lot of impediments, Washington is good at creating impediments…we want to try and cut through some of that and try and do some of the innovative things you all are doing here.” he added.