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Denver could strip 2 schools of their innovation zones

Denver Public Schools Board of Education votes on Monday on whether two schools can keep their innovation zone that gives them more autonomy to meet students needs.

DENVER — Three schools in Denver Public Schools are closing at the end of the year, the communities fought it, but ultimately lost. Now the district superintendent is suggesting taking unique, innovative programming away from two schools in the district.

Last month, district superintendent Alex Marrero recommended revoking the innovation zone status of Kepner Beacon and Grant Beacon Middle Schools. 

The schools' leader and some parents said the recommendation is unfair, threatening their unique model.

The superintendent cites 'insufficient academic progress' at Kepner as part of the reason for getting rid of the Beacon innovation zone. 

Alex Magaña, executive director of the Beacon Schools Network said Kepner was significantly impacted during the pandemic.

"We were told at the time and that was in September, that we would not utilize the scores. We can learn from them and build on," said Magaña.

The superintendent also said there are concerns with the organizational health of the zone. 

"We’ve been able to provide additional information to offset that argument," said Magaña. "I will say the board members have shown their due diligence of just reaching out, getting information, getting additional information so they’re informed with their decision."

Magaña said he was principal at Grant before being asked to move to the executive director role. 

"I was asked to do this. It was written saying that I would be able to be the executive director in this role and still be considered a DPS employee," he said. "For the superintendent to suddenly say I need to dissolve the zone and...move over to DPS or I give up my DPS position... and become only the executive director. There’s no rationale. There’s no reasoning."

Kepner Beacon Middle School isn't like all the other traditional schools. 

"They [parents] wanted something different for their children through our enrichment programs, personalized learning, our focus on character development," said Magaña. "Our kids get to choose from 60 different enrichments from community providers and from teachers and we’ve been able to maintain it. It’s not a one-off. It’s something that’s consistent."

He oversees both Kepner Beacon and Grant Beacon Middle Schools.

The two schools are a part of an innovation zone, which gives schools more autonomy to better meet the needs of their students.

"I don't think it's fair what the superintendent's recommending," he said. "It impacts our autonomy and our flexibilities through innovation schools. So, is it a power move? It definitely looks that way."

Parent Lorena Limón has a 7th grade student at Kepner. 

"What I'd like to say to the DPS board, do not take away the Beacon zone," she said, translated from Spanish. 

Her older kids went to Grant where the Beacon innovation zone started. When she found out the same model was coming to Kepner six years ago, she knew she wanted to enroll her son. 

"More than anything I like how the teachers work with the students," said Limón. 

She said she likes the one-on-one attention her son gets from teachers, as well as the positive and welcoming culture of the school. 

"We are the people. They are here to work for us," she said. "They're not autonomous."

Limón said the DPS Board of Education needs to listen to the parents and students who don't want their unique school programming to go away. 

"It's unfortunate that we're having to push back and fight this fight when there's so many other priorities," said Magaña.

The DPS board will vote on whether to get rid of the Beacon Innovation Zone on Monday. 

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