Spoiler alert: It takes respect, love, and safety.
Spoiler alert: It takes respect, love, and safety.
Hallett Academy Students
Hallett Academy Students and School Leaders

From Probation to Prominence: How Hallett Academy Turned Around

At the UNC Center for Urban Education (CUE), we want to inspire you to do your best teaching. To that end, we are reporting on schools that demonstrate excellence in teaching and inclusivity. Jo Bunton Keel—a mentor at the Center for Urban Education—nominated Hallett Academy in Denver, Colorado.
Interested in learning more about our work at the Center for Urban Education? Click here to watch a short video about why CUE is a good option for Denver’s community members who want to become teachers.
Would you like to help our students who can’t afford books? The suggested donation amounts are $100, $250, and $500. Send us an email about making a contribution to CUE, or call Rosanne Fulton at 303-637-4334.

The Background: School Profile

Hallett Academy has a history that dates back to 1950, but it moved to its current location in North Park Hill in 2009. This Denver Public Schools magnet school is the only one without a neighborhood boundary or enrollment zone. “I consider us a community school, because anyone in the Denver metro area can join us,” said Principal Dominique Jefferson.

Number of students: 238 in ECE-3 through 5th grade
Percentage students of color: 98%
Number of languages spoken by students: 4

Turning a School Around: Cultural Responsiveness

CUE teacher candidate Luisa Rodriguez worked as a tutor at Hallett Academy this past semester. She agrees with CUE mentor Jo Bunton Keel that Hallett is a cut above when it comes to culturally responsive teaching. “The teachers and school leaders value and respect the culture of the students and are proud of the diversity in the student body,” she said.
Luisa Rodriguez, Tutor at Hallett Academy
“Teachers and students learn from each other and come to appreciate the differences in their cultures. All students are given an excellent education, no matter their background,” Rodriguez said.

Turning a School Around: Love and Attention

But it wasn’t always that way.

For two years, Hallett Academy was “in the red zone”—accredited on probation—according to DPS’s School Performance Framework (SPF). The SPF measures how satisfied students and parents are, how much students have improved their scores on state tests from year to year, and how well the school serves and challenges all of its students. In 2017, Hallett ranked 197th out of 202 schools. The school, its students, and the community needed help.

Jefferson became the principal in the fall of 2017. She turned Hallett Academy around in short order. In the 2017–2018 school year, the school had moved out of red and had jumped up to one percentage point away from being accredited on watch (yellow).

What Hallett is known for now is its outstanding achievement in terms of “Academic Gaps.”
This metric measures performance and growth of historically underserved student groups, including English-language learners, students with disabilities, students in poverty, and students of color. In 2018, the school had achieved an Academic Gaps rating of 89%. “We are one of only 15 schools to have earned an ‘Distinguished’ rating for the Academic Gaps measure this year,” said Jefferson.

How did the principal and her team do it? By believing in and paying attention to every student. As one student reported, “She truly loves and cares for each of her students and sees their true potential.”

A concrete example is the story of how Jefferson helped students get psyched up for Colorado Measures of Academic Success testing this year. The day before testing started, all ECE through 2nd grade students paraded through the hallways, holding signs and banners with words of encouragement for the 3rd through 5th graders.

Jefferson also handwrote a note for each student who was about to take the test. She told them about the good she saw in them, painted a picture of their bright futures, and encouraged them to do their best—not just on the test, but in life.

Jefferson said, “I believe very strongly that we must love children into a place of learning. It is our responsibility to meet their needs at our expense and never tell them what it costs us.”
Hallett Academy
“Turning a school around is nothing short of miraculous,” said Jefferson. “Nothing can fail. I have to raise everything at the same time.” Thanks to her hard work, Hallett Academy is a completely different place than it was two years ago. “When children walk into this space now, it is a joyful, colorful, vibrant, peaceable place to be,” Jefferson said.

Turning a School Around: A Safe Environment

Part of that joy and peace stems from the work the staff does to make the school an emotionally safe place. The school’s practices include nurturing a sense of belonging and creating a positive classroom culture where students are free to focus on engaging learning tasks. Students feel safe enough to take risks, challenge themselves, and be challenged by their peers.
Rodriguez believes in and helps create this safe space. “I teach that it is important to respect and value our differences,” she said. “Before I prepare a lesson, I like to get information about my students’ cultures. When I teach, I talk about elements of multiple cultures, so that everyone can learn about different traditions. As a result, the students feel that they have a voice in the classroom and that they can contribute something new and valuable.”
Hallett Academy Black History Month
Rodriguez’s mentor, Bunton Keel, added, “The district curriculum is supplemented with lessons, artifacts, bulletin boards, photo exhibits, and activities that depict an array of cultures.  Cultural relativity and responsiveness are the norm, not the exception.”

Learn from Your Peers

Principal Jefferson, who started her career in her hometown of Hampton, Virginia, has been working in DPS for 17 years. She found her niche as a leader in elementary school and served as an assistant principal for four years before becoming the principal at Hallett Academy two years ago. “The work I’m doing here is one family, one person at a time,” said Jefferson.
She encourages school leaders to visit Hallett Academy to observe and discuss best practices. You can email her to schedule a time, but better yet, Jefferson said, “Just come by!”

CUE Graduates 22 New Teachers

Grace Lee Boggs, American author, social activist, philosopher, and feminist, said:
“You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it,
unless you see yourself as belonging to it, and responsible for changing it.” 
Jeannie Ritter
The quote by Grace Lee Boggs set the tone for the May 2019 graduation cermony at the Center for Urban Education. Student leaders Grace Lee (who chose the quote) and Alyssa Casillas spoke at the graduation.
Jeannie Ritter, former First Lady of Colorado and Mental Health Ambassador, gave the commencement address. She encouraged the graduates to be strong community leaders and make change in the world.
Thanks to their hard work, and with the help of their faculty and mentors, these 22 new graduates are competent and confident teaching in urban classrooms.

Westminster PS Employees Receive Teaching Awards

Stephanie Cazares and Cindy Archuleta received Teaching Excellence Awards at the CUE Leadership Council Conference in January 2019. Join us in celebrating their contributions to Westminster Public Schools.
Stephanie Cazares

Stephanie Cazares

Stephanie Cazares is a Special Education Paraprofessional at Westminster High School and has been working in Westminster Public Schools for two years. She partners with general education instructors and facilitates Individualized Education Programs to ensure all children have their needs met. Stephanie supports after-school activities as the varsity assistant cheerleading coach.
Cindy Archuleta

Cindy Archuleta

Cindy Archuleta has worked in Westminster Public Schools for 13 years and has served as the evening custodian at Colorado STEM Academy since 2013. Cindy ensures that the school is ready for all special projects and day-to-day learning. She supports community and evening events, which helps to bring a community feel to a commuter school. Cindy also mentors students who need encouragement.

Newsletter Archive

Did you miss previous issues of the Chronicle? Visit the Leadership Council page on our website, scroll down, and click on any of the past newsletters.

Contact Us

Rosanne Fulton, PhD
Director, Center for Urban Education
University of Northern Colorado Extended Campus
1059 Alton Way
Denver CO 80230
Office: 303-637-4334
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