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News: League News

Q&A with Bill Kurtz, Founder & CEO of DSST Public Schools

Wednesday, December 18, 2019  
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The League reached out to Bill Kurtz, Founder of DSST Public Schools (DSST), formerly known as the Denver School of Science and Technology, to get an update on the network, what their schools offer, and what makes DSST so successful. In this Q&A, Kurtz highlights the results that DSST has achieved as well as a general update on DSST’s performance and impact.

Q. How many students did DSST serve last school year? What were students’ grade levels and demographics? (FRL, SPED, Ethnicity, ELL, etc.)

A. In the 2018-19 school year, DSST had 8 middle schools and 6 high schools, serving nearly 5,800 students.

Demographics Breakdown:

Income: 71% eligible for Federal Free & Reduced Lunch Program

Gender: 53% Male and 47% Female

 Race & Ethnicity: 57% Hispanic, 18% African-American/Black, 15% Caucasian, 5% Asian, 4% two or more races, 1% other

Special Education & Gifted & Talented: 16% Gifted & Talented, 10% Special Education, 74% Non-Special Education

English Language Learners (ELL): 23% ELL, 61% Non-ELL, 16% Students Exited from ELL Designation

Here is a chart listing the DSST campuses, neighborhoods, students, grade levels, and year opened.

Campus

Neighborhood Located

# of Students

Grade Levels

Year Opened

DSST: Montview

Stapleton

MS: 474

HS: 573

6-12

HS: 2004

MS: 2008

DSST: Green Valley Ranch

Green Valley Ranch

MS: 482

HS: 552

6-12

MS: 2010

HS: 2011

DSST: Cole

Cole/Five Points

MS: 337

HS: 352

6-12

MS: 2011

HS:2014

 

DSST: College View

Southwest Denver

MS: 470

HS: 534

6-12

MS: 2012

HS: 2015

DSST: Byers

Washington Park

MS: 475

HS: 526

6-12

MS: 2013

HS: 2016

DSST: Conservatory Green

Northfield

MS: 471

HS: 440

 

6-12

MS: 2014

HS: 2017

DSST: Henry

Southwest Denver

212

6-8

MS: 2016

DSST Middle School @ Noel

Montbello

339

6-7

MS: 2018

Aurora Science & Tech (AST)

Aurora

165

6

MS: 2019

 

Q. Where do the students enrolling in DSST come from? What service areas and backgrounds?

A. Because Denver has an open enrollment system, DSST students could potentially be coming from any neighborhood in Denver, or even another district. However, each DSST school primarily serves the students in their respective neighborhood. For example, looking at student enrollment for DSST Middle School at Noel, 62% of students are from the same Montbello zip code while 30% are from nearby Green Valley Ranch.

A notable exception is DSST: Byers, which is unique in that they do not have closed enrollment boundaries. Byers students may live in nearby Washington Park, but they may also live in Aurora or Southwest Denver.

Many rising 6th graders who begin at DSST schools are not performing at grade level. However, we meet students where they are, and are proud of the growth our students see every year. For example, DSST Middle School at Noel had the highest combined middle school growth in DPS, and the second highest combined middle school growth in the state. 

Q. What are DSST’s goals for students?

A. First and foremost, we aim for all of our schools to be a place where students feel truly seen and known by our teachers and leaders and by their peers. Only when a student feels this sense of safety, belonging, and being known, can our students fulfill their learning potential. We can then move on to achieving the more concrete performance indicators like growth in learning year over year, acceptance to college, and a fulfilling career in the ever-changing climate of the 21st century.  

As we build deep relationships with our students, we can also hold all students to a high standard. We see outstanding results in CMAS and SAT scores when we do both. These high scores and growth are especially notable for student subgroups like FRL, African-American/Black, Special Education, and ELL students, who have been outperforming their peers in the district and the state. By studying results from these tests, we can hone in most importantly on the growth seen year over year, as well as the degree to which our students are college-ready

Q. How did DSST perform last year?

A. We are very proud of the hard work that our educators and students put in last year. We saw exemplary growth across the network - most notable was our high school math Median Growth Percentile (MGP) of 70. While DSST represents just 16% of DPS secondary students, we represent 51% of DPS students attending green or blue secondary schools. DSST schools educate 59% of DPS secondary students from low-income families who attend green and blue schools.  We are also proud of the work that was showcased in the recent 9News story- African-American/Black students at DSST school are outperforming their peers in other schools across the district and state.

Q. How do you gauge student and parent satisfaction, demand and retention?

A. We gauge both student and parent satisfaction, demand, and retention in varied ways. We closely analyze the results of the yearly DPS Parent Satisfaction Survey at both the school and network level. We also send out our own Parent and Student Satisfaction surveys as part of our Teacher Career Pathways program and look closely at the results of that feedback. As a network, we are proud of our overall results of parent satisfaction. We use the surveys to name areas where parents show less satisfaction to come up with innovative and tangible ways to address their feedback.

We also do a deep dive every fall over October Count to collect and analyze data on students who re-enroll from the previous school year, looking for trends year over year. Overall, we are pleased with our re-enrollment as a network, but in neighborhoods that have declining enrollment overall, we are also seeing a decline in year-over-year re-enrollment of students.

Once the Round One lottery has taken place, we look at what we call "market demand". This is determined by looking at the number of students who chose a DSST school as their number one choice, and put that over the number of offered seats. As a network we had an overall 127% market demand for the 2018/19 recruitment cycle. We do notice that in neighborhoods with overall declining enrollment, we are also seeing what we believe to be a correlative decrease in market demand.

Q. How do you gauge postsecondary readiness, placement and success?

Postsecondary Readiness

A. While the SAT is fraught with challenges, namely its impact on perpetuating inequity, it still remains a consistent standard to gauge academic readiness, with a 1010 indicating “college readiness”. On the most recent SAT, our 11th grade median score is exactly at 1010. Additionally, fewer than 8% of our students end up enrolled in remedial classes in college, meaning that they’re ready to take college level, credit-earning classes right when they enroll. As a comparison, 14% of 4-year students in Colorado are enrolled in English remediation and 20% for math remediation.

To best prepare students for college completion and their first job, we believe that we should equip students with:

      A strong academic foundation in our core liberal arts content areas

      A head start in college with 12-15 college credits through AP and/or concurrent enrollment courses

     A strong sense of identity, career interests, and 21st century skills to successfully navigate both college and career.

     A deep STEM background to ensure that students can access the many 21st century Colorado jobs will exist in STEM fields.

Postsecondary Placement and Success

We believe that a bachelor’s degree provides students with the greatest choice in and opportunity to choose their future. At the same time, we believe that pathways to postsecondary bachelor degrees will look uniquely different for each student based on geography, financial resources and family commitments. Our responsibility is to help students navigate these pathways recognizing that all colleges are not equally effective; thus, we have a responsibility to inform and empower our students and families to make the best choice for them.

It is our goal to maximize students’ likelihood of degree attainment. To determine this, we leverage students’ individual target and ideal grad rates. Overall, 56% of our students enrolled in Target Grad Rate (TGR) schools, and 30% enrolled in Ideal Grad Rate (IGR) schools.

Our alums persist from first to second year at a rate of 87%, and just over 53% have graduated in six years or less. While these numbers are better than national averages, we have a long term goal of 65% of our students graduating in six years or less so we have quite a bit of work to do.

Q. Where do you see the greatest room for progress? What steps is DSST taking to make improvements this year?

A. Our opportunity gaps between all sub groups (race, income, special needs and language learners) continue to be too large. These gaps reflect inconsistent performance in some of our middle schools and high schools. We need to be seeing a much stronger foundational growth in our middle school students so they can continue to close the gaps in high school. We are doing this by digging deeper into data to inform our strategies. We are particularly focused right now on strengthening the rigor of our 6-12 curricular resources, and increasing the frequency of high leverage teacher moves in math and reading classrooms.

Q. This year, DSST is expanding into Aurora for the first time. How was the Aurora campus opening?

A. 
We have been so thrilled to partner with Aurora Public Schools to welcome over 160 6th graders to the founding class of Aurora Science & Tech (AST). The 6th grade Owls are experiencing joyful and rigorous learning currently at the Rocky Mountain Prep Fletcher Campus in Aurora. We celebrated the groundbreaking of the new building on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in September, and we are looking forward to moving to our new campus in August 2020.

Q. What else would you like for our readers to know about DSST?

A. While I am incredibly proud that we run some of the highest performing schools in the district, I want to emphasize that DSST is a place where students are not just a test score. Our small school models allow for a strong community where students are deeply known by their educators and peers, and don’t fall through the cracks. Our Core Values of Doing Your Best, Curiosity, Courage, Integrity, Respect, and Responsibility are woven into everything we do, and many of our alumni report back that having these values continue to guide and ground them as they continue their education in college and navigate their career trajectories.