Primary Colors

The top elementary schools in and around Denver

September 2010

Top Public Elementary Schools


Timber Trail Castle Rock K–5


Timber Trail participates in the national Watch D.O.G.S. program, in which fathers donate time to the school with the aim of providing positive male role models. A three-time John Irwin award winner, Timber Trail’s curriculum includes classes in arts, music, and PE, and gifted-and-talented programs. schools.dcsdk12.org/education/school/school.php?sectiondetailid=164600

University Park Denver K–5


Students at UPark represent roughly 15 different languages, and the school stresses cooperation among students, parents, and the surrounding community by recruiting adult volunteers for such tasks as technology support and grant writing. The active PTA has raised funds through everything from carnivals to book fairs, and UPark’s students and teachers have won more achievement awards than most other DPS elementary schools. upark.dpsk12.org

Building a Better Teacher

SB 191 promises to rid the educational system of subpar instructors, but it could be years before anyone notices the difference.

when the colorado legislature passed Senate Bill 191 this spring, after a last-minute flurry of tacked-on amendments, supporters lauded it as a giant step toward making teachers more accountable for their students’ performance. This may well prove true, but we also may have to wait a while before we notice concrete results.

The new law, authored by state Senator and longtime education advocate Michael Johnston, won’t be fully phased in until the 2014–15 school year, and the time between now and then will be packed with debates and wrangling between the state Council for Educator Effectiveness (CEE) and the Colorado Education Association (CEA)—our division of the National Education Association—over exactly how SB 191 will be put into practice. Spokeswoman Deborah Fallin of the CEA says her organization opposed SB 191, although its official position now that it passed is “to do everything we can to make it work.” Even so, she says those 11th-hour amendments have inserted some flaws into the legislation that need to be ironed out. “It’s not a very well-written bill,” she says. “A lot of things happened to it in the six weeks it was working its way through the legislature,” including a few instances in which ratified passages may contradict each other.

Although the law went into effect on July 1, no one expects to see a significant impact from it in 2010–11. (Even so, the passage of the bill is a key reason Colorado recently was named a finalist in the Race to the Top competition for federal education grants. Winners will be announced in September.) “We probably won’t see much this year other than the media attention paid to it, and you might notice teachers being more feisty about their jobs,” says Sean Vanberschot, executive director of Teach For America (TFA) Colorado. This is because SB 191 eliminates direct placement, the requirement that school districts find a school for all teachers under contract before hiring any new ones. SB 191 should make it easier for TFA to get its instructors hired, and Vanberschot says he expects the teachers union to “push back” on the new rule.

While there are promising new models for evaluating teachers, it’s still an imperfect science, one that SB 191 should partially decode. “[The bill] isn’t a model for the rest of the country, but it’s an effort that will be watched by other states,” Fallin says. “If there were a foolproof evaluation system, everyone would be adopting it.”

Colorado Education Association’s SB 191 page