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From one of the worst to 100 percent college-bound

9:19 PM, May 23, 2010   |    comments
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The celebration took place at the University of Denver Campus Sunday.

The school was reformed four years ago, turning it into a junior and senior high campus.

To continue the momentum, MLK recently attained "innovation status," making it a school that now has freedom to make its own decisions. The status is another major step for a community turning around.

"I think it's turned around a lot," one student told 9NEWS.

Principal Allen Smith helped transform the 6th to 12th grade school.

"When I first walked through the hallways like everybody else, I had the perception that MLK was this horrible school," Smith said.

If you walk through the halls now, you'll find a place full of motivated learners and a senior class that has 100 percent headed to college next year.

"And, now we have to take things to the next level. We have to offer more college classes. We have to give kids more learning opportunities," Smith said.

The next level

"Speakers do not begin until the audience is giving you their full, respectful attention," Keli Lesh, a teacher, said.

The next level is establishing that voice. MLK is becoming autonomous, filing for innovation status made possible by a law passed last year.

"We're having an opportunity for the very first time to charter our own course and the teachers here are so committed to these kids," Lesh said.

Smith added: "That is something that innovation does, because it adds that layer of creativity. It adds that layer of ownership."

Now, Smith and his teachers can build their own system without having to get approval.

"There's 7th grade," Lesh said, showing students' scores to Smith. "That's their improvement."

The students have been working hard.

"They're rocking it," Lesh said.

"Is that cause of you?" Smith asked.

"Oh, I can't take credit," Lesh said.

Some of the schools that had sought autonomy earlier have been frustrated with the school district, claiming Denver Public Schools holds on to the money and doesn't allow them to do exactly what they want to do. But, the district says that's not true and Principal Smith doesn't believe that's going to happen at MLK.

"I have talked to Dr. Waters. I've talked to Superintendent Boasberg. They have assured us that they are going to cooperate with us," Smith said.

Smith just wants that voice he plans to share with students.

"This is my calling. This is-I was one of these kids," Smith said.

Just last week, another Denver school attained innovation status.

The Valdez School in northwest Denver will now have autonomy from the school district, as well.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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