Yesterday it was announced at the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s annual conference that the Denver School of Science and Technology Public Schools won the Board Prize for being the nation’s leading charter management organization. As DSST chief executive officer Bill Kurtz explains,
“The Broad Prize is determined based on publicly available student performance data from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years for 41 of the country’s largest public charter management systems. The review board considers student outcomes, college readiness indicators, scalability, size, special education results and student demographics such as poverty. This data-driven approach makes the award all the more meaningful to us.”
Melanie Asmar of Chalkbeat reveals that the award is presented yearly by the The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and that this is the second time in 12 months that DSST has been a finalist. She indicates that the grant of $250,000 that comes along with the selection must be used to prepare minority and low-income students for college. The reporter also provides some background on the charter school:
“DSST operated 13 middle and high schools in Denver this past school year, serving 5,300 students. More than 80 percent were students of color, and two-thirds qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. DSST strives for diversity and at some of its schools, gives priority to students who qualify for subsidized lunch.
In choosing DSST, the 10-member Broad Prize review board noted that for the past decade, 100 percent of DSST graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges or universities. They also recognized the network’s high test scores, particularly on the ACT.”
Ms. Asmar also informs us that the charter is expanding. “DSST is poised to grow even more in the coming years. It will open a new middle school in far northeast Denver this fall, and a middle school and a high school in the neighboring city of Aurora in 2019. The Aurora school board has approved four DSST schools in what will be the network’s first expansion outside of Denver. Meanwhile, the Denver school board has approved eight more DSST schools that don’t yet have opening dates.”
Mr. Kurtz had this to say about his network’s accomplishment:
“Winning the Broad Prize is a great achievement, but we know we still have work to do to serve all of our students with excellence. Continuous improvement is part of our ethos, part of our culture, and we’re eager to work on ways to get better during the next school year.”
I visited the Denver School of Science and Technology a couple of years ago as part of the Amplify School Choice conference sponsored by the Franklin Center for Public and Government Integrity and was blown away by the presentation by Mr. Kurtz. He explained that the teachers and staff at his school have done much to close the academic achievement gap between affluent and low-income students, which I at the time was 12 points. However, he added passionately, any difference between standardized test scores between these two groups is too large. His value-based approach to learning impressed me because it mirrors our department’s customer service program at my place of employment. In fact, when I met the DSST CEO in 2016, before bringing up academics, facilities, or finance, he spoke about the values that he tries to instill in his scholars.