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Learning from Denver Public Schools, School District in St. Louis County Embraces Bold Change

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By Dr. Sharonica L. Hardin-Bartley, Superintendent in University City

University City, which is adjacent to the City of St. Louis and Washington University, is politically progressive, diverse, and relatively wealthy with a struggling public school system. It has a population of 34,741, 38% of whom identify as African American. The median home value is $249,900 and 9.6% families live below the poverty line.  The population of children attending our public school system looks dramatically different: 81% identify as African American and 56% are receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

Our families expect a world class education – one that prepares their children for a life of choice in the 21st century – and we are committed to transforming our district to provide this. With the support of The Opportunity Trust, we connected with leaders from Denver Public Schools who are helping us to dramatically re-envision how our school district operates in support of our teachers, students, parents and community.

Only a few months into the process, I can say that the work has been transformative for my team and candidly, for me as a leader. Presently, we are in the midst of redefining the role of our central office team in relation to our school leaders and establishing the infrastructure that enables us to attract and retain talented leaders at each school and to give them the autonomy to lead. We are also exploring new partnerships with all types of schools, including successful charter operators, in the interest of providing new options for attracting and retaining diversity among families from our community. And we are putting in place the data, accountability, and continuous improvement infrastructure we need to ensure we continue improving as a district. This will ensure we provide support to innovative and promising new efforts, have the confidence to grow what is working, and the courage to stop what is not.

I am proud to say that with support from our Board of Education, administrative team, partners, parents and community, we  are leading change in the public system with an elected board. We are successful on this path largely due to the support we have received from our partners at The Opportunity Trust.  They are helping us strengthen and streamline educational processes and systems, add velocity to decision-making at the school leve, and empower teachers in ways that enable them to better connect with students.

The work we are doing together will raise the collective sense of possibility in our community as we work to reimagine the school experience for all teachers and students.

The Opportunity Trust invests in educators and school systems eager to build the capacity required to make significant and measurable change.

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