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Post-mortem analysis on the "reform" at North High

It is time to ask:
What exactly was the purpose of the radical reforms imposed upon North High in 2007?
 
It is easy to understand the frustration of parents whose children attended North High back in 2006. The drop-out rate was high, graduation rate low, CSAP scores indicated that the school was in crisis. No one would argue that the school needed help. So when the local community rose up in rebellion, demanding the sacking of teachers and principals, that is exactly what Superintendent Michael Bennet (now a US Senator) gave them. They wanted heads to roll; heads rolled.
 
Local papers such as the Denver Post reported the issues as if the cavalry had arrived. Dr. Darlene LeDoux, the Principal at the time, received the axe. A dedicated principal with thirty one years as an educator in Colorado, she was abruptly removed—as if she had been part of the problem.  But a quick look into her credentials suggests that she was just a scapegoat.
 
According to DPS’s own site, the following accomplishments are attributed to her tenure at North:
 
  • North raised their CSAP scores in 5 out of 6 areas tested on the 2006 Spring CSAP tests. North's 2006 CSAP scores beat the state and district average increase. Dr. LeDoux acknowledges that North still has much progress to make in raising student achievement. However, she expressed her delight regarding the school's upward climb for increased student achievement measures.
  • North saw the third highest increase in 2006 ACT scores as compared to similar comprehensive high schools in Denver.
  • North implemented numerous pre-collegiate programs and partnerships to prepare all students for college and assist them with having support during their college experience.
  • North launched the 2006 Summer Enrichment Academy for entering ninth grade students and the Freshmen Center in which all ninth graders are participating this year. Both interventions address the dropout issue at North High School.
  • North offered a mentor program for a majority of ninth grade students.
  • North had significantly fewer discipline referrals and incidents.
 
Guerin Green, writing for North Denver News, wrote:
Sometime over the summer, calls to save North High School were transformed into calls to fire its teachers and administrators. Then, in a surprise move, North High principal Darlene LeDoux was removed for what the district called medical reasons. Seasoned observers called LeDoux’s dramatic exit a political sop thrown to critics. But groups calling for such drastic measures have offered no evidence that those firings…would offer improvement over the current state of affairs at North.”
 
Green states later in the article that the day he interviewed Dr. LeDoux, she was in fine health.  Hours later the district said she was removed for health reasons.  Curiouser and curiouser, cried Alice.
 
The enraged “leaders” of Padres Unidos, who led the attack against North, may wish to believe they won a victory. But it would have to be qualified as Pyrrhic victory, at best.
 
Dr. LeDoux moved on professionally, and took the helm of Lena Lovato Archuleta Elementary. Under her guidance, CSAP scores have increased consistently. For the record, both North High and Archuleta Elementary are extremely similar in ethnic makeup and the percent of free lunch eligible students. 
 
So if Dr. LeDoux was praised by DPS for her leadership successes prior to the “reform” of North, and can be lauded for her successes at Archuleta, logic leads one to conclude that Dr. LeDoux was not part of the problem at North.
 
Swept up in the fervor to “reform” North—or at least provide political cover to Superintendent Michael Bennet—the interim principal, Joann Trujillo-Hays, essentially fired the entire teaching staff and required them to reapply for their jobs. Some returned to North, others were shuffled off as part of a macabre “lemon dance”, but many were given non-renewal notices in the district. The blame for North’s chronic failures was laid at these teachers’ feet, and it was they who paid the greatest professional price.
 
With the “incompetent” principal and teachers removed, CSAP scores surely rose, the school has been healed, and quality imposed from above. Not so fast.
 
Enrollment in North High, which had been 2108 in 1988, has dropped to 1227. Caucasian enrollment during that time dropped from 480 to 86. The abysmal CSAP scores dropped even further. In 2006, the last year Dr. Ledoux worked at North, the school had 9% of students score “Proficient or better”. During the “reform”, that dropped to 7%, then 5% the year after. Don’t worry though, there has been improvement: North scored 6% proficient last year. Hold the applause.
 
Which brings us back to our original question: Exactly what had they hoped to accomplish by liquidating the administration and teaching staff?
 
The leitmotif of this article series is that the so-called “education experts” are hardly experts at all. At best, they are shills participating in a devastating con-game; they provide cover to politicians who, in exchange, nurture their careers and publicly stroke their egos. At worst, they themselves are charlatans, feigning wisdom and expertise at the expense of our children, and those teachers who—we are repeatedly told—are our most “noble professionals”.
 
In this sense, our Denver politicians resemble the French revolutionaries, in that they are gleefully willing to feed their “nobles” to the guillotine.
 
Let’s hope that DPS’s new Superintendent, Tom Boasberg, will not be so quick to repeat those Draconian measures which evidently achieved nothing except to gravely exacerbate the problems.

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