Denver School Praised In President's Speech

Bruce Randolph School Operates Independently From District

When President Barack Obama spotlighted a successful school in his State of the Union speech, he picked Bruce Randolph School in Denver.

"Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver," the president said. "Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado. Last May, 97 percent of seniors received their diploma."

Bruce Randolph was a middle school when it opened in 2002. In 2007, Denver Public Schools gave Bruce Randolph School permission to operate autonomously. It was the first school in the state to be granted autonomy from district and union rules.

Each teacher then had to reapply for his or her job. A published report said only six teachers remained.

"Teachers who didn't believe in the students didn't come on board," said Kristin Waters, principal during the transition. Teachers also had to have "a willingness to learn and to grow and to work with other teachers."

Bruce Randolph became a school for students in sixth to 12th grades. The school's website described the school's Challenge 2010 Plan. It said each class of students will be cultivated to identify themselves collectively as people who will graduate together, six years after they are assembled.

"All of our teachers are really dedicated to the students and they are really focused on getting us past high school to college," said Maria Miller, a senior. "Our teachers take more time with us and they make sure we are getting what we need to know."

The goal is a 100 percent graduation rate. As the president said, when the first class graduated in May 2010, 97 percent of the seniors graduated.

"Most will be the first in their families to go to college," said Obama. "And after the first year of the school's transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, 'Thank you, Miss Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.'"

Waters spoke at graduation last May. She is now an administrator in Denver Public Schools.

Jose Juan Cruz said he plans on graduating this May. He wants to attend college in California or Chicago.

"If I didn't have the system or support that I have now, I probably wouldn't even be in school right now," said Cruz. "I probably would be working."

Waters said the differences at Bruce Randolph aren't "rocket science." She said they are simple changes.

"Having the common expectations about what it means to be a student at Bruce Randolph school, and what it means to be a teacher at Bruce Randolph school," said Waters. "And every teacher agreeing to have the same rules and expectations."

Waters said the teachers are vital to the success of the students. Each one she said, must believe that nothing -- economic status, English as a second language -- will hinder a student's academic ability.

The school is named for Bruce Randolph, a barbeque restaurant owner who fed the less fortunate at Thanksgiving for 30 years. Randolph passed away in 1994.