THE BLOG
08/17/2010 05:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Dazzling Array

OK, so not everyone is persuaded that Denver Public Schools is showing real signs of progress, at least on standardized test scores. Still, I remain uncharacteristically optimistic.

Bolstering my general cheeriness as the 2010-11 school year gets underway is the dazzling array of new schools opening in Denver and environs this year. Some are charters, some not. All offer something new and different -- or build upon proven successes.

Compared to the educational landscape of a dozen years ago, when a handful of magnet schools and special programs offered the only alternatives to that old standby, the neighborhood school, we are in the midst of what on the surface at least looks like a renaissance.

I can't think of another year in which so many promising schools have opened. Just because they are promising, of course, does not mean they will succeed. In fact the law of averages (not to mention the realities of urban education) suggests some of these schools will flop. Time will tell.

Still, consider this line-up. Don't you wish you had these kinds of choices when you were a student?

North of Denver in Northglenn the Adams 12 district is opening a K-8 STEM Magnet Lab School. In its first year the school will serve students in grades K-2 and 6. The new magnet "offers a full range of rigorous educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, literacy and social studies with full support of music, art and physical education. Project Based Learning offers connected experiences between the home and the school/community. Student skills are developed for social, political and economic participation in a diverse, interdependent and changing world."

And here are the Denver schools:

Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS): Eventually serving grades 6-12 (6-7 this school year), this is an all-girls, Expeditionary Learning charter school, "that fosters the academic mastery and personal development necessary for every young woman to become a powerful advocate for herself and leader of her community."

Denver Language School: This K-8 charter school (opening with K-2 only) will fully immerse its students in either Mandarin or Spanish. "DLS believes that total immersion - offering traditional learning activities only in a target language, making the language both the medium of instruction and the object of instruction - is the most successful for high student achievement."

Denver Green School: A DPS "performance school" (many charter-like freedoms, but run by the district) serving ECE-8 (ECE-2 and 6th grade this year), the Green School features project-based learning, a longer school day, a robust service component, and "a focus on the whole student and the whole community living sustainably. And of course, at the heart of that belief, we focus on carbon footprint reduction and a focus on environmental and social sustainability as we prepare out students for the careers of the 21st Century."

SOAR: Modeled after the successful Future Leaders Institute charter elementary school in New York City, SOAR will offer a longer school day, a "rigorous, research-based academic program," a visual or performing arts class for every student, every day and "a behavior management system" that features "explicit expectations and logical consequences," uniforms and a parent/teacher/student contract.

That's an impressive line-up of school models completely new to the Denver area. Add to that new campuses for two of Denver's best schools - the Denver School of Science and Technology and West Denver Preparatory, both charters, and suddenly you've got hundreds of seats offering something unique to Denver's students.

Can these schools close yawning achievement chasms? One can only hope. And though I'm trying my best not be cynical, it's easier to imagine achievement gaps closing than the minds of some people opening to the promise and hope these new schools offer. That's how polarized the education debate in this town has become.

I wish all these schools well, but none more than the West Denver Prep campus housed inside Lake Middle School. Opponents of the school had some justifiable fears about the future of a fledgling International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program inside Lake. They fretted that West Denver Prep might cream off the most promising students, leaving IB with a weaker student body.

But in their efforts last fall to protect the IB program, some people cast aspersions and flung mud at West Denver Prep, a cynical, disingenuous strategy given the sterling record and lengthy waiting lists at the school's two existing campuses.

Here's hoping the two programs coexist harmoniously inside Lake, and even make one another better.