Swigert International School received a prestigious Blue Ribbon School Award from the U.S. Department of Education in October, one of only 300 public schools nationwide to garner the award. According to the Department of Education, “The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.” Five Colorado schools received the award this year, each for overall academic excellence.
Swigert Principal Shelby Dennis expresses pride in her staff’s achievements, observing that they are “inspired to work together towards a common goal and are united on core instructional practices.” Swigert is an Innovation School using the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Dennis notes that being a part of the IB program requires a great deal of staff time in writing and designing curriculum, as well as ongoing professional development to succeed.
Swigert has had very low turnover of teachers, suggesting that the model also works in part due to effective leadership and a school culture that honors teachers. First grade teacher Anne Draper has been with Swigert from the beginning, when it was known only as “Stapleton 3,” and also credits the vision of founding principal Chuck Raisch and his successor, Liz Tencate. “Chuck trusted the teachers and guided us with a gentle hand. And now Shelby Dennis puts students first in all her decisions.”
When asked what makes the school successful, Draper says “I don’t think there’s one secret ingredient.” “All Stapleton schools are great, but what makes Swigert stand out is our IB program. we have a common language for our themes, concepts, and learner profile traits that are taught throughout each grade.” She says that consistency combined with teachers’ professionalism and commitment to professional development make for a remarkable school culture.
As Dennis acknowledges, with a less diverse student population, Swigert demographics also differ from most DPS schools. Swigert’s student population is 75% white and includes only 6% Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) recipients; most Stapleton schools have an FRL population at least double that (e.g. Westerly 11%; Bill Roberts 15%; IBCS 28%; and DDS 39%), and DPS as a whole is 24% white and 67% FRL.
These lopsided demographics are a result of the lottery process that favors children living within the neighborhood boundaries and those with siblings already enrolled. Dennis says that the school is engaging in conversations with DPS to increase the floor on FRL students as a way of increasing the school’s socio-economic and ethnic diversity in conjunction with the new Innovation Zone. Swigert, Northfield High School, McAuliffe International, and McAuliffe Manual established the district’s newest Innovation Zone this fall to improve educational opportunities for all children.