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Colorado: Where Everyone is a Learner, Teacher, and Leader

The Math and Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) is a new, union-designed, teacher-led public school within the Denver Public School System.  Teachers work under the local contract, but have waived provisions outlining a principal’s powers.  The school’s 12 teachers use collaborative planning time to meet with their peers, analyze data and design instruction that meets student needs. 

“We designed it, we put this together, and we’re running it,” says Lori Nazareno. “Everybody gets that it’s our responsibility.”  Nazareno is one of two head teachers at MSLA. 

The school is designed to attract and retain the most accomplished teachers in the field, and so far it’s working.  The school fielded around 30 applications for each position, and is already receiving dozens more for next year, when the academy adds third grade.

NEA’s 2009 Friend of Education Linda Darling-Hammond praised the school’s concepts in a recent speech to NEA’s Representative Assembly:  “(MSLA) offers a challenging, supported curriculum in a low-income Latino community where previous shortages are now ended because teachers are lining up trying to get hired to come into this school. Teachers have the opportunity to be effective with learners with good leadership, with sound curriculum, with thoughtful learning.” 

MSLA opened in Fall 2009 as a K-2 school with 134 students, and is designed to expand to a K-5 by adding a grade each year.  Sixty percent of its students are English-language learners, and up to 90 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches. The school's innovative academic program integrates science, mathematics and technology in a standards-based model, and allows students to demonstrate their achievement through hands-on activities and service projects.

The Math and Science Leadership Academy is among the first teacher-run public schools in the nation. The Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association (DCTA) proposed this idea to Denver Public Schools last spring. “We wanted to prove that they could innovate and do amazing, creative things as a public school. MSLA’s teachers have changed responsibilities and duties all within current teacher contract guidelines,” says DCTA Executive Director Carolyn Crowder.  

DCTA President Henry Roman adds, “It’s a work in progress, but the future is very promising.  These exceptional teachers now have the autonomy to run their own dream school.” 


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