Join STRIVE Prep staff and families in advocating for charter school funding and express your support for Senate Bill 61 (SB 61). Please call or write your state representative to let them know that public charter school students deserve access to the same resources that other public school students have and ask them to vote yes on SB 61.

Right now, public charter schools in Colorado only receive about 80 percent of the funding a district school would receive for serving the same student. A major contributor to this disparity is the fact that most school districts do not equitably share local tax revenue with charter schools. (A big thank you to Denver Public Schools who currently shares its funding with STRIVE Prep schools and other DPS charters).

“These kids are receiving unequal funding and they’re disadvantaged from the point they walk into the classroom,” state Senator Angela Williams, a Denver Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors told Chalkbeat. “It’s about ensuring students of color, underserved students and students with disabilities have equal funding.”

Equitable funding is incredibly important to to make sure all schools can serve all students, this is why we here at STRIVE Prep urge you to support this bill.

After a strong showing and passage in the Senate, this bill was introduced in the Colorado House and waiting to be assigned to a committee for its first hearing.

Call to Action: Please call or write your state representative to express your support for SB 61.

Representative James Coleman (D)303.866.2909james.coleman.house@state.co.us
Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran (D)303.866.2925crisanta.duran.house@state.co.us
Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett (D)303.866.2911alec.garnett.house@state.co.us
Representative Chris Hansen (D)303.866.2967chris.hansen.house@state.co.us
Representative Leslie Herod (D)303.866.2959leslie.herod.house@state.co.us
Representative Susan Lontine (D)303.866.2966susan.lontine.house@state.co.us
Representative Dan Pabon (D)303.866.2954dan.pabon.house@state.co.us
Representative Paul Rosenthal303.866.2910paulrosenthal5280@gmail.com

If your representative is not listed, you can find him or her here: http://leg.colorado.gov/find-my-legislator.

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By Akiya Minniefield, 8th Grade Science Teacher | STRIVE Prep – Montbello

Growing up I always wondered what it would be like to live differently, to have people in my life that believed in me and my goals. I dreamed of having people that would listen to my pain and recognize when something was wrong. Unfortunately, life was not that way for me, so I pledged early on in my life to be an avenue of hope for those working to find their own direction.

I believe that my life was an extreme challenge growing up so that I could take that pain, turn it into wisdom, and help others who may be going through the same thing. Teaching gives me the opportunity to do that. I absolutely love coming to work! Knowing that I am here to build a community and our future makes me feel blessed to be at STRIVE Prep – Montbello. My scholars respect and appreciate me because they know I appreciate and respect them, whether they’ve had a stellar day or a challenging day and regardless of their backgrounds and previous educational experiences. I care for all of them and believe in all of them because I see a piece of me in each and every one of them.

We all have a story.

I have realized in my 13 years of teaching that children reach out for help in different ways. Negative behavior is not indicative of who a child really is, which, by the way, is a curious, ever-changing, young individual looking for the best way to tap into their unique potential. I look beyond the behavior to find the true child, including what motivates them, what challenges them, and what empowers them on their own journey of self-discovery. Once a child knows that they have a teacher who genuinely cares about them not only academically, but also emotionally, more often than not, the result is a bond that can last a lifetime. Trust, me, I know from experience because I am still in contact with students I taught my first year, and although they have their own children, they are still asking me for advice! Ha!

At the end of the day, I want that possibility with all my students. That can only happen if they know they have my support now and forever.

I don’t ever want to miss an opportunity to truly know my students, beyond the grades they earn in my classroom. There’s more to who they are and every day is an opportunity to discover more about their upbringing, culture, life-circumstances, academic achievement and more. As I learned from one of my most memorable students, the depth and diversity of who our scholars are and what they’re capable of can be awe-inspiring when we get to know them.

My former student, Brittany’s came into the world when her mom had her at 16 years old. A short time later, Brittany’s mother died at the hands of Brittany’s father when Brittany was still a baby. Growing up, Brittany had many health conditions including a bad heart, which led to her receiving a pacemaker and ultimately three open heart surgeries just to extend the life of her pacemaker. But looking at her beautiful smile and seeing her in school, you would never in a million years think she was in pain almost everyday. Had I not taken the time to really get to know her, I would never have known what an amazing human being she was. She had been told she would never graduate, she was too dumb to graduate, etc. So it became my mission to help her be as successful as she could be.

Brittany graduated two years ago with A’s and B’s, and we stayed in touch. The week before my interview at STRIVE Prep she went back into the hospital for another open heart surgery. Before she went in, we talked and she told me how tired she was. I could hear it in her voice. That was the last time I ever talked to her. The day of my interview at STRIVE Prep I woke up feeling so relieved and relaxed. The interview went well and on my way out of the building I received one of the worst phone calls in my life. Brittany had passed earlier that morning. I feel that she sent me the positive, calming vibes from above that I needed that day to be successful and not a nervous wreck.

I’m grateful for the days I had to get to know all of Brittany — her history, her life circumstances, her challenges and her will to succeed. She inspires me to do the same with all of my students today.

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By Leah Andrews-Willis, Dean of Culture at STRIVE Prep – Montbello

When I think about STRIVE Prep’s work on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) I am eager to share my perspective, not only as a person of color, but as a person who, from a young age, has truly valued the impact of education.

Education is liberation.

This is a value instilled in me by my father and aunt that I share with my scholars.

Growing up, my father, who was a civil rights attorney during the Civil Rights Movement, taught me that education is the greatest tool against oppression and injustice. My father remains the greatest influence on my educational path today, and I am proud to share my knowledge and experience with our scholars daily.

This year as we as we celebrated the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. I shared with our scholars the educational achievements of Dr. King, and emphasized the importance of education as a weapon against oppression. It is important to share this history with our scholars not just to show our young students of color that we value an important piece of Black history, but to show all scholars that we truly believe they can be the change we want to see in the world. As allies and as people of color within the network, it is important to have these conversations of empowerment with our scholars. My experience and perspective is unique because it mirrors an identity I can share with many of our scholars. It is important for scholars to see themselves represented in the classroom – both through who is teaching them and the lessons we are teaching.

That’s why I appreciate STRIVE Prep’s growing commitment to DEI. As a member of the network’s founding Diversity Advisory Council, I get to expand my influence beyond the classes and hallways of my school. I get to help lead all those in the network toward deeper understanding of DEI and challenge us to be more intentional about creating an environment that ensures Dignity for All. Indeed if we’re going to ensure that all scholars, families and staff feel like we honor and respect the rich diversity of who they are and the unique talents they bring, we must take a hard look at ourselves as educators and ask the tough questions: Are we allowing ourselves to be vulnerable about what we do and do not understand about others’ cultures, backgrounds and educational experiences? Are we humble enough to acknowledge our privilege and biases? Are we being as courageous as we can be to speak up for all those in our community who might not feel they have a voice?

I’m proud to be a part of an educational community that’s not afraid to ask these questions. And, I’m excited to help lead the conversations that will help us answer these questions with a loud and resounding “YES” because when we create Dignity for All, we also raise the voice and experience of everyone in our community for decades to come.

I know because I remember how it felt for one of my teachers of color to lift me up and help me find my own voice. You see, it was in Ms. Tamara Rhone’s African American studies class where for the first time, the teacher at the board looked like me. It was the first time, the teacher represented me, valued me and taught me my own history. It was the first time, I thought I too could become a teacher. And, when my former teacher, aunt and mentor surprised me in my classroom last year, it was the most memorable moment I’ve had as an educator.

Today, as I interact with scholars as a school leader, I remember how important her influence was on me and it’s what motivates me as an educator of color to show up, speak up and build up my scholars every day.

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At STRIVE Prep serving all students regardless of income, race, ethnicity, ability, or previous academic experience is what we come together to do each day. It’s hard work. It’s important work. And, we believe that preparing scholars with the skills and knowledge they need to attend the college of their choice is what each and every one of our scholars deserve.

But, it’s how we serve our scholars that makes our community a colectivo, a family. Yes, serving our students with dignity is essential to helping them STRIVE for College both as individuals and as the next generation of Denver leaders. But, more importantly, it’s essential for creating an environment where compassion, empathy and trust remain reasons for each of our scholars, their families and our staff to continue walking through our doors every day.

And, inside our doors, we will serve with Dignity for ALL, all of the time.

That said, our position from within each classroom and office hardly shields us from that which occurs just outside our doors. We are all living and working in a political environment of great uncertainty — an uncertainty that affects us all differently.

But, what remains the same, is that STRIVE Prep is a safe place for students, families and staff, regardless of immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs, or any other number of identities.

STRIVE Prep schools are a community, a colectivo, a family, and we share these core beliefs:

  • Every student in our schools deserves to be here.
  • Student, family and staff voice matters.
  • We are here to support each other – in our learning and in the well-being of our community.
  • Our schools are and will remain a safe place for everyone.
  • STRIVE Prep will advocate for all students, families and staff no matter what.

Our scholars are some of the brightest, most talented and hardworking students in this city. They know and understand the different sacrifices that many of their families have made to ensure they can attend great schools and have bright futures. Many of our students and their families left other countries looking for a better life. Others, including families and staff, have served our country protecting our freedoms, and all of them work hard to create opportunity for our scholars. All of them deserve such opportunity, and we will defend and protect that to the best of our abilities.

We are grateful to our families for their support and sacrifice. Making sure the unique experiences of their children are respected and valued remains at the forefront of our work right alongside preparing them for college.

We will continue to make information available to our scholars, families, staff, and the broader community about the important issues impacting so many of us. Anyone who has any questions or concerns may certainly reach out to me or a school leader. Thank you all for being part of the STRIVE Prep family and for your care and concern for our students and our community.

– Chris Gibbons, Founder and CEO of STRIVE Preparatory Schools

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In just over two weeks, Round 1 of the 2017-18 Denver Public Schools SchoolChoice enrollment process will open, giving thousands of families across our city the opportunity to choose a school that meets their needs and desires to create the best future for their students.

At STRIVE Prep, we are looking forward to meeting new families and sharing the best of what we have to offer students at our 11 (soon to be 13) schools throughout Southwest, Northwest and Far Northeast Denver.

Through our Information Sessions, Family Tours and Student Shadow Days, families can experience STRIVE Prep for themselves, seeing firsthand how we work to meet the needs of thousands of unique scholars across Denver. Whether they’re looking for a personalized learning experience for their child, consistent family communication from teachers, or a safe, welcoming community for students to develop their passions and college prep dreams, STRIVE Prep encourages families to Visit a School and get to know us this SchoolChoice season.

Do you know any families who would like to join a community like STRIVE Prep? Share our Visit a School Sign-Up form and keep reading to share the experiences of some of our current families.

We moved to Denver from Massachusetts a year and half ago and I knew picking a school from across the country was going to be very difficult. I started kristin-selina-polak-nw-denver-familymy research based on location, because our family already lived in this neighborhood. I knew I wanted to choose a charter school because I had seen my daughter, Selina, thrive from the smaller class sizes and attention she was able to get at her old school in Massachusetts. Selina has some special challenges when it comes to education and I found that in the past some of her special education classes weren’t able to challenge her or meet her needs given the high number of students there.

One of the main reasons we chose STRIVE Prep was the location, Selina was able to walk back and forth to school both in middle school, and now in high school. Another reason was the continuing pathway from middle to high school from the same program in our neighborhood. I felt good knowing she wouldn’t have to switch to a totally different program and potentially not receive the same attention after she finished middle school.

All of her teachers are exceptionally helpful and involved. I know they are willing to work hard and bend over backwards to make sure their students, and my daughter, succeed.”

Kristin Polak
Middle & High School Parent

“We moved to Denver in 2001, and bought our first house in the Westwood neighborhood. Our oldest was only three. Years later, Chris Gibbons, the network CEO, found my name on a website because I garcia-family-strive-prepwas involved with the Westwood Neighborhood Association. He told me he was starting a public charter school that was safe and going to help get kids ready for college.

Ishan started at STRIVE Prep – Federal as a 6th grader and is now a senior at STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy, and he’s been getting ready for college since 6th grade. The teachers believe that every kid can succeed and learn and go to college. When someone believes in your kids like that, as parents you want to get involved. He never used to get good grades. What we’ve seen from STRIVE is he’s gotten nothing but good grades. Whenever any of his grades go down in any of his classes we’ve gotten a call from the teachers letting us know what he needs to do to get caught up. They are always striving for something higher and as parents, we didn’t feel like we had to nag him because he learned to be accountable himself. The concrete results are that he’s been accepted to the four major universities in Colorado and others as well.”

Judith & Ismael Garcia
Middle & High School Parents of three STRIVE Prep scholars

It was really my son who made the choice to go to STRIVE Prep – RISE for high kj-ector-tiffany-scottschool. I thought to myself,  ‘It’s his education.’ Having attended STRIVE Prep for middle school, this is where he feels comfortable and I wanted to support him.’  Today, he really feels like he’s somebody at STRIVE Prep.  And for me, I like that it’s more of an intimate setting where kids have more one-on-one interactions so that if they’re struggling, teachers and advisors can take the time to help them. And, kids also get great pats on the back for when they’re doing well, which only encourages them to be better and do more. STRIVE Prep is giving students the opportunity to succeed. STRIVE creates exposure and avenues to college that other schools are not. Every time I look up there’s something new for them to study or explore like speech & debate, tutoring, community services and field trips; it’s all great.

And, the communication at STRIVE Prep is huge. Everyone is so good about keeping parents informed and engaged. I like the fact that they care just as much about my child’s education as I do. They’re really like the kids’ parents away from home and that’s why I don’t have any worries for my son when he’s at school. I really feel safe with my son being there. I know he is going to be successful because he has no choice. He really has a very bright future ahead of him.”

Tiffany Scott
STRIVE Prep High School Parent

By Chris Gibbons, Founder and CEO of STRIVE Preparatory Schools

Denver Public Schools -  School Performance Framework website

Denver Public Schools – School Performance Framework website

Today, Denver Public Schools released its annual School Performance Framework (SPF), a comprehensive school quality measure. I’m pleased to share with you that eight of STRIVE Prep’s nine schools that were open last year met or exceeded expectations on this measure, with Ruby Hill scoring Blue (Distinguished), all six of our middle schools and our STRIVE Prep – Excel high school scoring Green (Meets Expectations), and our STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy high school scoring Yellow (Accredited on Watch). Here are a few of my reflections on the data:

STRIVE Prep schools specifically, and charters generally, are some of the best options for our communities. Among schools that exceed the district average of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, there were 19 secondary schools that scored Green or Blue on the SPF this year. Seven of these were STRIVE Prep schools, and 15 were charter schools operated by three networks. 79% percent of the schools meeting expectations for our communities of greatest need are these charters. STRIVE Prep exists to create long-lasting community change in our three regions of Denver; and I am both honored and humbled to work with such talented teachers, leaders and families to continue making good on this commitment.

High standards matter. Last week, after reviewing draft data, the district decided to lower the “cut scores” for proficiency, or status points on the SPF for a transitional period—meaning that this year a school could have fewer students meet expectations on the test and still earn full points, and that these cut points will be gradually raised back over the next two years. While I appreciate that this change affects few schools, I was disappointed by it. Our families, communities, and schools deserve a clear and consistent quality standard. The perception and the reality that we are working toward a moving target erodes confidence in the measure and limits the capacity for a school community to clearly understand its data and work urgently on areas of improvement. I want to see our entire community hold firm on this commitment to quality.

As a city, we are far from our Denver Plan 2020 goal. In 2015, the Denver Public Schools Board approved the Denver Plan 2020 goals, which included the aspirational target that 80% of schools in every neighborhood would meet expectations on the School Performance Framework. Today, 49% of schools meet expectations on the traditional framework; if the alternative and elementary frameworks are included, this number drops to 46%.

I believe the visionary target referenced above is the right goal. If we are to achieve it in four years time, we all have tremendous work to do, not just in helping our students to meet the expectations we’ve set but in clearly communicating our belief in them to reach those same expectations. At STRIVE Prep, we certainly have room for continued improvement and we will continue to regularly assess student performance based on consistent data and will shift our practices accordingly. But we will not shift our foundational belief and message to scholars—that each and every one of them can be prepared for the challenges and opportunities of college—by lowering our expectations. With or without lowered cut scores, STRIVE Prep continues to press toward the goals of the Denver Plan 2020. STRIVE Prep stands ready to do our part, in our existing schools and new schools, to make this vision of success of our students a reality.

We have our first statement of the progress of our city’s schools in this new era, defined by a higher standard of assessment on Common Core State Standards, accurately reflecting our students’ needs in their post-secondary futures, and measured by our appropriately ambitious Denver Plan 2020.  It’s clear how far we have to go. While we’re proud of our green and blue schools at STRIVE Prep, this designation is far from the excellence to which we aspire, and we’ve doubled down on improvements we need to make over the remainder of the school year. This includes our continued work on serving all students, through an achievement block in each middle school where students receive research-based interventions based on specific needs. It also includes some curriculum adjustments based on data, where we are supplementing our existing curriculum resources with thoroughly vetted, external resources in areas of greatest need.

We’re excited to continue working with you all over the next years to both raise this bar and then meet it, on behalf of all students in our city.

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Dignity-For-AllLast April, as we celebrated our tenth anniversary, Jose Garcia-Fuerte, a STRIVE Prep – SMART graduate gave the student remarks at our community breakfast. His was an extraordinary speech, for his personal narrative of his seven years at three STRIVE Prep schools; it was an extraordinary speech for his strength of character; and, it was an extraordinary speech for his account of being an undocumented student in the United States, achieving DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status.

Next week, he will leave for Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, as a first-generation college student.

Jose’s story is an inspiring frame by which to view change over the past ten years. Ten years ago, there was very little choice for families in Southwest Denver, and when I walked our community to share information about our first school, only a small handful of families had heard of a charter school. There was no common enrollment process, no ASSET bill for in-state tuition for undocumented students, no DACA status, and no high school in our community where 92% of students earned acceptance to a four-year college, as STRIVE Prep – SMART’s seniors did in May.

The progress of the past ten years gives me great hope for the next ten. And, this summer reminds me of just how far we have to go.

When Jose attended freshman orientation at Drake last month, he didn’t meet a single Latino student joining him in his entering class. While Jose’s speech at our breakfast was well received by many of you, Larissa Martinez, valedictorian of McKinney Boyd High School in McKinney, Texas, gave a very similar speech and was attacked all summer on social media by individuals who don’t believe she should be extended the same dignity as other students.

Additionally, the Supreme Court recently split, 4-4, on the constitutionality of the President’s authority to create DACA status by executive order, leaving the livelihood of millions of young people in question. And, across our country, our communities have been devastated by violence, much of which is the result of the systemic racism in our institutions.

I want to live in a world where Jose goes to college with dozens and dozens of people who share his culture. I want to live in a world where all of our students and families are safe in our communities, and where we are all working together to make them stronger. It’s clear to me, as a white leader of an organization serving 97% students of color, that I have not personally spoken up loudly enough or acted boldly enough as an ally with those fighting for racial justice – within education and beyond. That’s about to change.

This requires interrogating our practice with a critical eye toward these priorities. Here’s an example. We’ve previously used a simple technique for drawing the attention of a room (of students or adults) by asking everyone to raise their hand. Through this lens, we’ve considered the impact of asking a room of students, mostly of color, “to put their hands up”, when for some, the directive triggers feelings of fear and insecurity, particularly as our country seeks solutions to improve relations between our communities of color and law enforcement. Thanks to some great input from specific staff members, we’ve eliminated this practice, network-wide, seeking other ways to draw 100% of the attention in a room where 100% of the students also feel valued, safe and respected. This is a simple example that speaks to the need to reflect, evaluate, and adapt our practice.

But we aren’t stopping there.

Our theme for Year 11 at STRIVE Prep is Dignity for All. Dignity is a simple concept – being deserving of honor and respect. For us, Dignity for All means deepening our focus on supporting the educational needs of every student, scaling a new model for true partnerships with families, and taking a deep dive to improve equity and inclusion within our own organizational culture – our priorities for 2016-2017.

Please join us.

If we are to look back on the next ten years with the same pride with which we have experienced the past ten; if we are to celebrate in ten years’ time when our current third graders are the graduating seniors at signing day; and if we are to see transformative eradication of racism across our communities, it will be because we all stand up for Dignity for All.



strive-prep-smart-graduationMany of you heard Jose Garcia-Fuerte, senior at STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy, speak at our community breakfast in April about overcoming challenges and the experience of preparing for college as an undocumented student. At our Senior Signing Day on April 28th, Jose was awarded the STRIVE Prep Dare to Dream scholarship, a staff-funded scholarship for students who cannot access Federal financial aid due to their undocumented student status. Jose will be attending Drake University this fall, after completing an internship in Senator Michael Bennet’s office this summer.

Ten years ago, when STRIVE Prep was founded, there were very few charter schools in Southwest Denver. There was no DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status for undocumented students. There was no ASSET bill, providing in-state tuition for undocumented students. There was no unified enrollment system to assist families in choosing a school where their children could achieve their dreams. There was not a list of high-performing middle and high school options from which families could choose. And, there was no high school in Southwest Denver where 92 percent of graduating seniors were accepted to a four-year college.

All that has changed. So, consider these changes as we do – as a testament to what a community can achieve in a decade.

In STRIVE Prep’s 10th year, our first class of seniors graduate. When STRIVE Prep turns 20, a decade from now, our very first class of elementary school students, now in second grade, will graduate. They were at signing day, too, cheering with all their might and imagining themselves on that same stage. What will we achieve on their behalf in the next decade.

We’re focused on year 11.

In year 11, we’re going to deepen our commitment to serving all students by prioritizing academic interventions and the academic success of our English Learners. We’re going to scale the family engagement pilots we’ve started, focusing on our partnerships with families – not just for advocacy and service, but especially for the academic success of their children. And, we’re taking a deep dive on inclusion, assessing our culture and our practices and doing the critical work as a community to make it more inclusive for all.

We’re thrilled to get after each of these priorities, and we’ll certainly need your help to get stronger together. Thank you for your support of our scholars, our vision, and our community. Have a wonderful summer.

Bring on year 11.



On Friday, Denver Public Schools began releasing the Round 1 results of the 2016 SchoolChoice process, the means by which families across the city select schools of all varieties for their children for next year.  In addition to the placements for thousands of students, the results will tell us which schools are in the greatest demand and the participation rate by region.  This last number, perhaps the most important, is the percentage of families in each region who exercised their right to make an affirmative choice about their child’s school.

The implementation, and increased participation, in such a system is an enormous victory for families.  Prior to the current unified enrollment system, families were faced with dozens of competing application processes, including those that systematically limited access.  Today, the vast majority of families receive one of their top choices (though not all), and this means great things for both the opportunities their students receive and the agency they exert over their future.

There’s substantial research on the role of choice in society.  Among what I’ve read, the short summary goes as follows:  A strong degree of choice is critical to personal agency and living a fulfilling life, although enormous amounts of choice can be overwhelming.  No choices lead to helplessness.  At its best, our city-wide enrollment system should match these conclusions.  With transparent information and easy access, greater choice improves agency for families, but regional preferences and a simple system help make this choice accessible.  And, those who cannot or do not choose still receive a placement in their region.  Of course, the success of all this is predicated on each neighborhood having a strong set of choices, in this case high quality schools – and this is the single most important goal we must achieve as a city in the next five years.

Some would argue that a classic values-based tension in education is that between choice and equity, a concept of enormous importance to me and to STRIVE Prep. I don’t agree.  Our definition of equity is to base our work on what is just, not what is equal.  Through this lens, authentic choice for ALL families is critical to achieving equity.  The rich will always have choice, exercised through admission to private schools or by moving to a different district with different neighborhood school options.  All families deserve the same – and a robust system of excellent public school choices raises the accountability stakes for each school to meet the needs of its families.

At STRIVE Prep, choice is not just about a family choosing the right school for their scholar, it also means preparing students to make choices about their future.  On April 28th, our first class of seniors will claim their choice of a post-secondary opportunity at College Signing Day, witnessed by our entire network community at the Denver Coliseum. It means more than choosing between the colleges where they were accepted – it means choosing among the variety of college and career opportunities in our society based on their preparation and agency.  It means leaving high school knowing that they can do whatever they choose.

When we kick off our year with faculty each July, I share with our team that the way in which I know we have been successful is when a STRIVE Prep alum holds my job.  It’s symbolic of the leadership our scholars aspire to and the community transformation we all seek.

It all starts with a simple choice – of a school, of a college, of a career, of a future.

Thank you for joining us in choosing the future.



Few words in education are used more often to describe a vision than equity; and, it’s a word that means a lot of different things to different people. Here are some reflections about what it means to STRIVE Prep, a story best told through the eyes of two of our scholars, Jailene and Adrian.

Support STRIVE Prep in our mission to serve all students on Colorado Gives Day, 12.6.16.

Jailene entered the first class of our second school, then known as West Denver Prep: Harvey Park, in the spring of 2009, almost seven years ago. In hindsight, her mother recalls feeling afraid that she would get lost in a large, comprehensive middle school, believed this new school to be safe, and she trusted the people who came to her door to speak about the program. Jailene was a quiet “A” student in elementary school with good behavior, but she recalls middle school, and especially Susan Landfried’s reading class, as the place she really learned the academic skills she needed.

She continued on to STRIVE Prep – SMART, where she fell in love with engineering in Allison Moran’s engineering class, a passion that took her to a summer engineering course at Stanford. She identifies engineering as a field where she can do something she loves, make an impact on her community, and provide for her family. Jailene will be the first in her family to go to college. In December, she was accepted Early Action to Stanford University.

Adrian is twelve years younger than Jailene, but lives in the same neighborhood and enrolled in STRIVE Prep – Ruby Hill this past fall. The start of kindergarten was rough; Adrian engaged in unsafe behavior around his peers often and struggled to stay safely in class. A specialist who visited the school advised our team that Adrian should be educated outside the classroom with a goal of participating in class by second grade, in two years time. Our team, led by special educators Vanessa Dolge and Christine Bailey, weren’t satisfied with that advice, and launched a process to to meet with Adrian’s mom daily with specific feedback about his work, and adopt an individualized behavior plan. What a specialist hoped might take two years transpired over two months, and Adrian is now fully included in the academic program at Ruby Hill.

What is equity about? Equity is different than equality. An agenda designed to achieve equality is about fairness; in an equality agenda, all students receive the same. An equity agenda is built on what is just; those who need more, get more. The services, resources, and funding that Adrian receive are different from what Jailene receives, as it should be.

For us, an equity agenda goes a step further, however, to the charge to build a durable, public institution that supports BOTH Jailene’s and Adrian’s futures. An equity agenda requires more than that those who need more, get more, once they arrive; an equity agenda requires that the institution itself is designed to welcome and serve all students, not just some students.

This looks like the personalized engagement around Adrian’s needs in the classroom; it looks like enrolling students mid-year, through neighborhood enrollment zones, and finding new students to replace those who leave; it looks like a transitional native language instruction pilot in our turnaround of Kepner Middle School, and it looks like supporting students of all behavioral needs through our policies, practices and programs.

Please forgive the cynical perspective, but I increasingly fear that too many initiatives branded as school reform across our country are initiatives not to change the programs inside of schools, but rather initiatives to adjust the circumstances such that some students are encouraged to enter the school and others are encouraged to leave. Far too often, those encouraged to enter are those already on track to proficiency, and those encouraged to leave are those students with the most significant needs. At STRIVE Prep, we’re putting a stake in the ground that we don’t do that here.

Together, we’re working through what this means; we are considering network priorities that align with this vision, such as academic multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) and English Language Development, and we are talking throughout our network, via a series of town halls, about why we believe in this vision and how to do it better.

The statement of this vision is simple – this is a college-preparatory network that serves all students – not some students, but all students. Enormous thanks for your support of this vision – the 7,500 students we will someday serve are counting on you, starting with both Jailene who will graduate from STRIVE Prep in May of 2016 and Adrian in May of 2028.

Jailene, Adrian, and every other student in our schools is calling to the world “We are here to learn. Try to stop us.” They’re counting on all of us. Thank you.

-Chris Gibbons