Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) was awarded the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools last month. The homegrown Denver charter school network bested two larger, renowned East Coast finalists for the prestigious award.
On June 18, Denver School of Science and Technology Public Schools (DSST) was named the top public charter school network in the country when it won the Broad Prize for Public Charter schools. The prestigious award comes with a $250,000 grant to support college-readiness efforts at the Denver-based network. DSST includes two middle schools in the Greater Park Hill-Stapleton enrollment zone and two high schools located in Stapleton.
“It’s a tremendous honor and one we’re very proud of,” said DSST CEO, Bill Kurtz. “I think it ultimately speaks to the incredible students, families, teachers and leaders and their hard work over the last 14 years at DSST. This award is really about honoring their hard work and their academic excellence, and it’s really an honor to work with them every day.”
DSST has eight middle schools and six high schools in Denver located on eight campuses. Their newest school just opened in Montbello. In the 2017-18 school year the network served 5,300 students, including 71% who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch and 84% who are students of color. The DPS school board has approved eight additional DSST schools to open in the coming years. DSST is also expanding into Aurora, with plans to open a middle school in the 2019-20 school year near the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center campus, followed by another middle school and two high schools in future years.
Although the selection process is confidential, there were a number of factors that likely contributed to DSST’s selection for the prestigious award. Students of all backgrounds at the homegrown charter network post impressive SAT scores—they considerably outpaced their peers in Colorado on that measure in 2017. Its schools are highly ranked in DPS’s School Performance Framework system, and recently DSST: Stapleton was named the 97th best high school in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The network as a whole boasted 100% college acceptance for its senior class once again this spring, for the tenth consecutive year.
“I think we have amazing high school students and amazing teachers who work very hard,” said Kurtz. “As you know, they have produced some of the best college readiness and SAT scores in the state of Colorado year after year, and I think that spoke to the committee from what I understand.”
The Broad Prize is awarded only to public charter school networks that have five or more schools in operation serving 2,500 or more students. At least 40% of students must be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and at least one-third must be students of color. Charter networks cannot self-nominate and are chosen by an independent board that reviews prize criteria.
DSST faced stiff competition this year from fellow finalists, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools, which had won the award in the past. Both organizations are considerably larger, serving tens of thousands of students across a number of East Coast cities. “Those are two incredible organizations that have been national leaders in public education, and it was absolutely an honor to be included with them as finalists,” said Kurtz.
“Being recognized as the top public charter network in the nation feels like validation of a lot of hard work that our teachers, staff, students and families have put in in creating the DSST network of schools.We felt excited, humbled and honored by this award,” says Rebecca Bloch, a Stapleton resident, and campus director of DSST Cole Middle and High Schools. Cole’s first class has just graduated and, in the DSST tradition, 100% of students were accepted to four-year universities. “We have done this work on the shoulders of DSST: Stapleton High School and Green Valley Ranch who have really paved the way for us . . .” says Bloch.
Asked how DSST would spend its prize money, Kurtz said that he hadn’t expected to win the prize so it hadn’t been decided yet, but they are focused on not only getting their students to college but graduating from college. “I would imagine we would use the prize money to help further those efforts,” he said. “But we have no plans other than to sit down and figure out how we can use the money to make the biggest impact.”