Denver Establishes Black Student Success Team to Share Effective Strategies with Schools

Denver Public Schools is launching a new initiative aimed at improving the academic achievement of Black students. The initiative, known as the Black Student Success team, will identify successful teaching strategies and practices for Black students and implement them across the entire district.

The Black Excellence Resolution, passed by the Denver school board 4½ years ago, required each DPS school to develop a plan to enhance the success of Black students. However, some schools have faced challenges in implementing these plans.

“The Black Student Success team builds upon the Black Excellence Resolution,” said Joe Amundsen, the executive director of universal school support for DPS. “We will highlight effective practices from these schools and apply them districtwide to achieve positive outcomes.”

The team will be led by Michael Atkins, the current principal of Stedman Elementary School. Atkins, who experienced the era of school integration through busing as a Black student in DPS, recalls being treated differently by teachers and fellow students. This led him to develop a passion for improving the education system for students like him.

“My goal, whether leading Stedman Elementary or this team, is to change the system in a way that empowers students who look like me and encourages them to pursue their dreams,” Atkins explained.

According to state data, Denver Public Schools is not adequately serving its Black student population. For example, only 27% of Black students in grades three through eight met or exceeded state literacy test expectations, compared to 73% of white students. This 46-percentage-point gap highlights the disparity in achievement.

In addition, the graduation rate for Black students in the DPS class of 2022 was 73%, while it was 86% for white students – a 13-point difference.

“We believe that our Black students have the potential to excel academically when provided with the necessary opportunities and support,” stated DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero. “We have analyzed recent test scores and identified the need to enhance our instructional systems in order to accelerate the success of our Black students.”

DPS has collaborated with researchers from the University of Denver to identify district-wide practices that can improve the academic progress of Black students. This research has already yielded insights, including the importance of providing rigorous courses and experienced teachers.

In the upcoming phase, the researchers will observe classrooms where Black students are outperforming their peers statewide, as demonstrated by standardized test scores. They will investigate the specific actions taken by these effective teachers.

Simultaneously, Atkins and his team will focus on a select group of six to ten DPS schools, aiming to make academics more engaging for Black students.

Atkins will assume his new role in January, leaving Stedman Elementary. The district also plans to establish a similar student success team for Latino and Hispanic students, who make up over half of DPS’s student population.

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