Education was a major theme of new Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s campaign, and now he’s turning to the task of building an “education compact” intended to help drive educational improvement from preschool to college.
Candidate Hancock proposed a detailed plan for what he labeled a Denver Compact bringing together city government, DPS, higher education, businesses and foundations to improve educational opportunities.
One of the points in his early blueprint said the compact will “Require greater operational efficiencies between the city and DPS, improved graduation rates and school performance, increased opportunities for an affordable college degree, and a minimum number of internships for high school and college students.”
In a recent interview, the mayor said that language on his campaign website wasn’t intended as the definitive version of the compact’s goals.
“That was meant to give an example of what the compact may do; set hard, challenging yet appropriate goals – goals that where they are attained, we will be able to see that they made an appreciative impact on the education system,” he said.
Hancock listed improved third-grade reading proficiency, lower dropout rates and increased attention to neighborhood schools as possible key priorities for the compact.
“The purpose of the compact is to rally a wide cross-section of Denver’s leaders – civic, political, community, business – around the importance of high quality pre-school through post-secondary education,” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, who will serve as a co-chair for the compact. “It will be a very great, galvanizing effect on the broader community.”
Phil Gonring, senior program officer of the Rose Foundation, did preliminary compact planning for Hancock and reported back to the mayor late last month.
“My job was to interview many civic and private sector leaders, CEO types, do research on compact or compact-like enterprises across the country and think about what a timeline would look like, plus a couple of other things, and then give that information to the mayor so that whoever takes the job has that to get started with and doesn’t have to do all the leg work,” Gonring said.
“Think of it as being from birth to employment,” he said. “How do we get kids from the womb into great jobs?”
Gonring said Hancock planned “ideally” to announce a director for the compact in the first 100 days of his tenure – he was sworn in July 18 – followed by a six-to-nine-month process of determining goals and strategies.
Gonring said co-chairs Hancock and Boasberg will soon be joined by a third co-chair, someone from the private sector.
According to mayoral spokeswoman Amber Miller, a director for the compact may – or may not – be hired in the first 100 days.
“We’re working as hard as we can,” Miller said. “We’ve still got several cabinet posts to fill…We’d like it to happen as soon as possible but, within 100 days, I’m not sure.”
“We won’t rush it,” said Hancock.
The mayor said he expects the compact to be run by a board of about 15. “It will probably include less of DPS, and less of the city, and more of the private sector and more of the colleges, people who are going to work within the system to accomplish the goals they will outline,” said Hancock.
“It possibly could – absolutely,” said Hancock when asked if the board would include teachers union representation. He added, however, “We’ve got to make sure this is not about teachers; this not about principals; this is going to be about the system as a whole.”
There are existing models that may help shape Denver’s approach.
Gonring pointed to the Strive program and its success in improving schools in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky as one example of a collective approach that he has recommended that Hancock’s office examine. Strive, a nonprofit subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, was highlighted in the Winter 2011 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, in the article “Collective Impact.”
The authors of that study wrote, “Why has Strive made progress when so many other efforts have failed? It is because a core group of community leaders decided to abandon their individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to improving student achievement.”
That “core group” was comprised of “more than 300” leaders of local organizations, private and corporate foundations, school and government officials, university and community college heads, and executive directors of non-profit and advocacy groups.
“We’re trying to draw on best practices, from all of them, and I think that whoever is hired in this gig is going to have to figure out how to cull the best practices from all four of these, to craft something top-notch and exceptional,” Gonring said.
Gonring noted that the K-12 piece of the compact will be based on the district’s existing Denver Plan.
That plan, first adopted by the DPS board in 2005, is the foundation on which former Superintendent – now U.S. Senator – Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and his successor, Boasberg, have based their reform initiatives.
Denver Classroom Teachers Association President Henry Roman notes the Denver Plan contains “dozens, if not hundreds of priorities” and suggested that the Hancock education compact should ask, “What are the two or three (priorities) that we should be paying attention to?”
Van Schoales, new executive director of A+ Denver, said it’s too early to speculate about the potential of Hancock’s planned compact. A+ started as an advisory group to DPS but has evolved into a more independent monitoring group.
“The quality of this arrangement is so dependent on both what the principles and agreements are, and who the person is on the mayor’s side, and what the mayor’s agenda is,” Schoales said.