In my “From the publisher” letter in the post immediately under this one, I made a statement that no schools in the area other than the Denver School of Science and Technology are making a concerted effort to promote socio-economic integration. I received the following well-deserved comeuppance from Audra Philippon, head of school at Axl Academy in Aurora:
I just read yesterday’s newsletter this morning, and I share your passion that economic integration of public schools in essential.
Respectfully, however, I was discouraged to read your final line in your editor’s pieces that “… other than DSST, no one around here is even trying”. I can name a half-dozen public charter schools in the metro area that are working diligently to create economically diverse school communities.
AXL has not only been trying, but succeeding in building an economically diverse community of learners since we opened in 2008. AXL Academy is a PreK-8 public charter school in Aurora, with nearly 400 students.
Economic and cultural diversity is the very reason AXL’s founding team located its school in Aurora. Diversity is the number one reason parents report why AXL appealed to them, among a variety of unique school elements (Expeditionary Learning, single gender classrooms, mandatory second language, etc). In our first year, AXL had 38% of our families qualifying for free or reduced lunch. In our second year, we had 57%, and this year, we anticipate a FRL percentage of 65%, which is where we’d like it to stay. Our PreKindergarten tuition operates on a sliding scale based on family income, so we have students who live in subsidized housing and students who live in million dollar homes learning together. It is vital to our mission to prepare our scholars to create their own futures in our global economy.
AXL students speak 12 languages natively (by the way, there are 191 world languages represented within Aurora Public Schools). Our school is located geographically in central Aurora, where within walking distance of our campus are multi-million dollar homes, modest single family homes, mobile homes, multi-family apartments and townhomes.
Our school boasts 35% Black, African American, or recent African immigrants, 32% Latino or Hispanic families, 25% White or Caucasian families, with remaining families Middle Eastern, Asian or Native American.
We do not employ a weighted lottery to guarantee diversity in our school community; we have a random, publicly held lottery every spring to ensure that every APS student has the same opportunity to enroll at AXL. We believe we can continue to achieve this unusual demographic profile with great community engagement in our recruitment efforts.
Every conversation with a prospective AXL parent gives me more confidence that this is true.
We are still early in our Revolution in Learning to be sure, but we are proud of the strong indicators or our progress: we had more than 600 applicants for 75 vacancies last year, 83% of our scholars who have been with us for two years are reading above or at grade level (measured by the DRA2), 96% of our parents participate in student-led conferences and demonstrations of learning. Our English Language Learners are the fastest growing segment of our community academically speaking, and with our classrooms organized by gender, we’ve seen an 18% increase in our boys’ performance in our primary grades in both reading and writing. We’re just getting started.
I hope as the discussion about economic integration continues in Denver that Ed News and others will consider the entire metro area. Aurora is more than half Denver’s size, facing many of the same challenges, with charter schools and district-run schools worthy of attention for their successes in closing the achievement gap. At AXL, at SOAR, at Global Village, and Vanguard, we share your interest in a truly integrated system of public schools.
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