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Commissioner's School Visits

Denver School of Science & Technology

By Dwight D. Jones

February 25, 2008

Morning Meeting At Denver School of Science & Technology

Upon my arrival at the Denver School of Science & Technology, a Denver charter school in the Stapleton redevelopment, I was immediately taken to the second floor landing by junior student council member Greg Hatcher. From there, we could overlook the colorful entryway, where hundreds of students were gathering. It was 8:15 a.m. and it was time for the morning meeting—a time for announcements, celebrations and news. As the meeting began, students were quickly attentive and focused. No microphone was needed.

The meeting was led by Bill Kurtz, head of school. It was an amazing scene to witness. With DSST’s first senior class ready to graduate this coming May, 96.5 percent of seniors have been accepted into four-year colleges, on track with the school’s 100 percent goal. Like a big thermometer, a large sign in the entry way displays the outstanding progress of the senior class toward that goal.

All Students Were Engaged And Focused

Various staff members recognized scholarship winners and identified students recently accepted to college—usually multiple schools. There were reports on attendance records, the make-up exam schedule, and the creation of a paper chain link—30,000 links long—to recognize the issue of world hunger. Next, it was time for apologies from students who were late for the day. One at a time, students stepped forward and apologized to the community for being late to school. There were dozens.

The announcements, celebrations and apologies are among the rituals the school uses to create a culture of success and shared values. As he explained later, Kurtz says the role of the school is to “care for kids like they’ve never been cared for in a school before and to hold the students accountable.”

It was easy to see how these goals and ideals were practiced in the classrooms. As I toured the modern school along with founder and board vice-president David Greenberg, who brought the school from concept to reality, it was easy to sense the drive and focus of the students and their teachers. Teachers were on their feet and students were 100 percent engaged. Laptops are provided to each and every student—a necessity now, like pencil and paper was when I was growing up.

Chatting With Junior Kailah Brewer

I spoke with Kailah Brewer, a junior at DSST who says her “least favorite” thing about the school is the workload, because it cuts into her social life. But she loves her advisory group. Each student at DSST has his or her own advisory group, made up of about 14 peers and one advisor. The group meets twice each week to review school work questions and work on building their portfolios—another ritual that shows support, care and holds students accountable.

All Students Work On Laptops At DSST

I also enjoyed our stop for a peek at a math class, working on problems way above my head, and then we concluded our tour back in the grand entry way of the school.

Kurtz explained how the 25 courses at DSST allow the school to get 25 courses right—and to keep improving how they are taught. To make his point, Kurtz compared his school’s sense of focus to the restaurant business. Some restaurants, he pointed out, try to offer multiple cuisines—Chinese, Mexican and Italian, for instance. The result, he said, is often underwhelming. Other restaurants offer just one style and only a few signature dishes and, as he pointed out, the meal is usually memorable and satisfying. At DSST, while they may not offer an extensive variety of classes, but the courses they do offer are of the highest quality.

In my opinion DSST is the example of a model high school. Teachers and faculty expect every child to succeed and at DSST they do; the senior class is a shining example. DSST has also created a diverse community centered on the core values of the school: respect, responsibility, integrity, courage, curiosity and doing your best.

On my menu that’s tops!

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