Education Nation: The Montbello zone of innovation

8:00 PM, Apr 11, 2012   |    comments
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It is a group of schools in northeast Denver that broke off from the rest of the Denver Public School District as a "zone of innovation."

That is where Lizzy Krueger teaches science.

"There are problems in education, and you can't solve it by doing the same thing over and over again, and so you have to be creative. You have to be innovative," Krueger said.

She is part of the new Montbello.

"You have to let people experiment and try things so that we can fix the problems," Krueger said.

They are trying things for students like Jasmine Salgado, a freshman who originally did not want to attend high school at Montbello.

"Montbello has a really bad reputation, and test scores are really low," Salgado said.

They are trying things so DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg could shake things up.

"It is working, and I think there's a fundamental point to that strategy," he said. "We have many kids in this city and in this country who are behind. And the only way they're going to catch up is better teaching and more of it. They need more time."

Every student in a Montbello school goes to class for one hour longer than the rest of the district.

"The longer day is intense," Krueger said. "It just provides them with more teacher [time]. It provides them with more chances to engage with the material. It provides them with more chances to interact with what they're learning."

Jasmine can spend that hour with a math tutor, which is provided for every student in Montbello's network. She says the extra time in school is an investment.

"I give a little bit extra of my day, and in the future, I'll get like better grades. So, I'll be able to get into better colleges and get better jobs," Jasmine said.

The school itself is also changing. Montbello is now home to three different programs.

The old Montbello High School is being phased out. Right now, it shares space with two specialized programs which will expand and take over. That includes the Denver Center for International Studies where Krueger teaches science. Jasmine is a freshman at Collegiate Prep Academy. That means she can earn college credit before she graduates.

Montbello schools also start about 10 days earlier than the rest of DPS.

"The longer year, it was hot here in August," Krueger said.

The extra time in class was news to Jasmine.

"I didn't know that," she said laughing.

"The hope is that what we will see here is that people will be coming to this area to live because of the schools," Boasberg said.

Boasberg believes the changes in the Montbello area will transform the community and the neighborhood. Not everyone who lives there agrees.

Protesters say the changes are taking away their neighborhood schools.

"Just the sense of community pride, like being able to say we're proud of this community," Nicole Skalecke, a resident, said.

Skalecke and other residents don't like the idea of the old Montbello closing in three years. It still has more than 1,100 students in the program and residents say it was already improving.

"They had the plan, but they didn't give the community or the students the chance," Skalecke said.

Boasberg says if you look around the neighborhoods and at all the schools in Montbello, the public has spoken.

"We've seen literally hundreds and hundreds of families that want to enroll their kids in these schools," Boasberg said.

Jasmine agrees.

"I'm glad I came here," she said.

"It's going to take time for every school in this building to prove themselves," Krueger said. 

Education Nation officially starts on Thursday with a ceremony at the new History Colorado Center. It kicks off a week of events including a Teacher Town Hall airing live on Sunday night, where we will talk about issues affecting kids in every classroom across the state.

Education Nation also has a series of backstage pass events where you can behind the scenes at places like the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the History Colorado Center.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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