The 27-member Denver Public Schools Task
Force on Early Education and School Readiness was commissioned
last year by the Board of Education to “recommend effective
policies and partnerships” that would guide the school system
in improving performance of students through increased
emphasis on their pre-kindergarten learning experiences.
After a year of research and fact gathering, the task force
released its findings and recommendations at a Nov. 8 news
conference held at The HOPE Center (HC) in Northeast Denver. Task force members
Bruce Hoyt, Helen Thorpe, George Brantley and Rosemary Rodriguez, along with DPS
Superintendent Michael Bennet, issued comments on the report of findings.
A brochure outlining the results of the group’s work and other pertinent information
was made available under the title “Ready for Kindergarten." [Also available online
at: http://deesr.dpsk12.org] “The DPS task force
has met to discuss related literature, research, data and to exchange professional
and personal experience,” Brantley said. The HC Executive Director went on to
introduce Thorpe, who is an education activist, mother, writer and wife of Mayor
John Hickenlooper. She served as co-chair of the committee which consisted of
early childhood education (ECE) providers, foundation executives, education professionals
and community leaders.
Denver’s first lady gave an overview of various studies the group analyzed over
the past year which show that children in other areas excel as a result of participation
in ECE programs. She explained that there is a difference in achievement levels
between children from high versus low income homes. One example used indicated that
those from upper income homes knew 20-25 letters of the alphabet before starting
kindergarten while children from lower income homes knew less than five. "It is
incredibly difficult for children who start off so far behind to catch up,” she said.
“It is critical to address what happens with kids aged zero to five so they can walk
into kindergarten on a level playing field.”
This pre-K attention is what the highly-rated HOPE Center is known for. Brantley
told DWN the facility is one of the top rated ECE centers in the state and went on
to call it a shame that few in the community are aware of the great work being done
on the corner of Bruce Randolph Ave. and Elizabeth Street.
The center has been open at the location for almost two decades and got its
start after a vacant, run down grocery store was renovated into a first rate
establishment which is now positively influencing the lives of many children
and their families. Gerie Grimes, HC Deputy Director, said over 200 children,
aged two to eight, are served there, some participating in classes for gifted
students, others in special needs courses or younger children in day care programs
which also make provision for older children enrolled in elementary classes
elsewhere but who attend the day care center before and after school.
The center is staffed with highly qualified teachers, assistants, specialists
and foster grandparents – enough to allow an advantageous student/teacher ratio.
Brantley says the ratio at times is as low as one adult per every three students,
well in line with the rate recommended by the task force.
“By 2009, the maximum class size for a pre-K class with 40% or more of the
children eligible for free or reduced price lunch will be 17 with at least two
credentialed adults in the classroom,” the task force report states.
Grimes proudly cited that HC preschool classes do not exceed 16 children who
are assigned to at least two trained adults and Brantley added that the center’s
preschool class is the highest rated in the state. He attributes the success to
the training of staff members and their awareness of children’s needs.
Bennet found the ECE center to be a commendable model and living example of
the ideals put forth in the task force’s findings and the DPS chief is looking
forward to implementing the report’s recommendations throughout the school
system. “We have very ambitious plans for our school district,” he said. “[This report] comes
at a very timely moment and I can assure you it is not going to be something
that we just put on the shelf. It is going to be integrated into the work that
we do and I can’t wait to get started.”