"Beginning two years ago, we undertook a reform where we brought in a new principal, hired new staff, brought in new curriculum, new focus on Montessori," said Antwan Wilson, Denver Public Schools assistant superintendent in the office of post-secondary readiness.
Now called, Gilpin Montessori School, the new approach lets students drive their lessons with teachers like Eileen Bechler there to assist. The school receives about $420,000 in extra federal funding each year over a period of three years.
"Curriculum is just laid out for the children to want to touch and want to work on," Bechler said.
After the first year, it appeared to be working. Standardized test scores went up.
"And then year two, we didn't see the growth," Wilson said.
That led to a review of the State Board of Education and an eventual decision to cut off the 'turnaround' money because it did not appear to be working.
Bechler says the results of the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program tests or TCAPs paint just a partial picture.
"The TCAP results are one data point that a lot of money is resting on," said Bechler. "My immediate thought is you're not seeing the work that's happening here."
So, school leaders appealed the State Board members and invited them to the school.
"I think the best thing that you can do in terms of showing that you are making progress is not talk about what you plan to do, but talk about what you are doing," Wilson said.
It worked. The State Board of Education decided to let Gilpin receive the 'turnaround' grant for the third year.
"When we aren't successful, we are certainly willing to look at what is not working and make improvements," Wilson said. "Doing that in collaboration with the state is something we feel very comfortable with."
Now, the school has more time to make improvements and implement further changes like a comprehensive math tutoring program which has shown success in other struggling schools around Denver.
"It's generally going to take us about 3-to-5 years in order for this turnaround to be truly implemented and truly effective," Wilson said.
The State Board listed to other appeals and returned funding to two schools in Pueblo, as well.
Wilson says DPS will deliver.
"I think that this school is going to be a school that this community can be proud of," Wilson said.
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)