To close or not to close? This is the question many in the Denver Public School District are pondering regarding Wyatt Academy. As a Dec. 3 charter renewal deadline quickly approaches, Wyatt and the DPS Board are tussling with the fate of the school.
Since 1998, the K-8 charter school has been a mainstay educational institution for youth in Denver’s Cole neighborhood. Community influence has remained a key stimulus since the school’s opening and it is one that when operating at absolute volume makes Wyatt remarkably special.
The original golden era for Wyatt Academy occurred in the school’s first five years, when it was recognized for its academic achievement at both the state and district levels. Scholars were consistently moving up in grade level reading and proficiency, and this growth was continuous throughout their time at Wyatt Academy. When a deficiency in resource management and allocation, by their original charter partner Edison Learning, became apparent, those achievements started to dwindle and separation with Edison soon transpired.
“Early on, Wyatt which was then Wyatt-Edison, was a very successful charter. Edison Learning changed focus and they failed to provide a needed level of support. It was because their business model changed and they decided to move in a different direction other than operating urban charters,” said Wyatt Academy Executive Director Joe Taylor, with the academy since 2003. “And so, a lot of supports were withdrawn and a once very successful school started to decline.”
He has seen firsthand, the hills and valleys that the school has journeyed and was named to head the academy in 2014.
From 2005 to 2012, Wyatt went through seven different principals. As a result, the school and the scholars were in flux. That was Wyatt and Edison’s relationship until 2012 when the Wyatt board made a firm decision to move away from Edison for good.
“Not until 2012, when our board took a stand and made a commitment to change did we start to see improvement again. In 2013-2014, we felt that we started to take steps towards revitalizing and reinventing a culture unique to our school that met the needs of our community,” Joe Taylor said.
Since the 2013-2014 school year, Wyatt has been an independent charter. A three-year contract agreement was worked out with the DPS Board allowing them to become an independent charter associated with DPS. That contract is set to expire in December.
The expectation of the Wyatt administration is now that the school is returning to academic promise the district will renew their charter status or keep them as an active school within the district. Accepting their renewal will allow Wyatt to continue to affect the community.
Hitting close to rock bottom allows for a miraculous resurrection. 2014 was the first year in the transition that Wyatt saw an increase on its SPF and is continuously meeting their interim achievement goals. Along with SPF, PARCC scores are critical for judging performance at baseline. The Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers is a Pearson-published assessment of common core standards. Several states, including Colorado, accept this assessment as an indicator of a school’s academic growth.
“All we need is two years of PARCC data for us to really tell our story, for us to really be able to show that we are making success on the common core,” Joe Taylor said. In 2015, 58 percent of kindergarten and first-grade scholars will go onto the next grade level at or above grade level reading, compared to just 28 percent in 2012.
“Wyatt’s future really is going to depend on the strength of the student’s assessments and whether or not that school is going in the right direction. So if Wyatt is able to show growth, then Wyatt is moving in the right direction. It makes the decision for DPS and the board easier. When a school, like Wyatt or any other school, is right on the borderline then it makes our decision a little bit more difficult as we look at specific indicators that gives us a clear picture of the direction that the school is heading in,” DPS Board member Landri Taylor said.
Melody Means, a Wyatt teacher and parent, said, “For a student to be successful it takes three people: me as a teacher, and it takes the student, and it also takes family effort. For us, we are lucky to have tons of parent involvement. In my class alone, I have three parents that come in and volunteer on a regular basis and make sure that my students are succeeding.”
Michelle McKinsey, a teacher at the academy, said, “I love our community. I have never felt more a part of a family at a school.”
Early in the 2014-2015 school year, the academy provided a strategic action plan to DPS’s Office of School Reform and Innovation. They also have worked with Portfolio Management to maturate strategic benchmarks that will indicate where exactly the academy is closing the achievement gap. This achievement gap has narrowed since the commencement of Wyatt’s three-year turnaround goal.
“Wyatt’s turnaround is moving in the right direction. They have a strong board now that isn’t under the dictates of the Edison charter and they can now move in a more constructive direction for the kids in the school. They were handcuffed under the Edison charter and now they are no longer handcuffed and they will benefit because of that,” DPS Board member Taylor said.
Weekly peer forum meetings are hosted at Wyatt on Wednesday evenings. At these meetings administrators provide information about the charter renewal process.
“We have an event on November 19, where we have public comment with the DPS Board and we are encouraging not just our families, but also the entire Wyatt community and the extended Wyatt Academy community and all of our partners to be a part of that public comment hearing before the DPS Board.”
He added that Wyatt Academy “is going to be an example of a very success turnaround, if we are given the opportunity.”