Life Skills was granted a one-year contract by DPS and last spring was granted a two-year contract along with accolades from a DPS board member. Santiago Lopez (pictured), the Principal of Life Skills was at the hearing, along with many of his students. The contract renewal vote was a reward for the many hours of hard work by school leaders and the students.
According to the CSAP scores released just yesterday, Life Skills Center of Denver continues to show strong progress by making gains greater than DPS in several test scores.
People may wonder how a charter school, serving such a needy population, can make significant improvement in such a short time. There's no easy way to accomplish it without hard work. Santiago and his staff kept meticulous student attendance records and got students involved in reaching attendance goals. Whenever a student missed, someone from the school called the student. Every student had at least one adult in the school touch base with him/her every day to discuss their personal academic goals. Santiago learned to focus his time each day on raising student achievement and improving attendance; the two goals he identified as most important. Everyone in the building focused on improvement to ensure the continuation of the charter.
Santiago was thrown into a tough situation when he took over as Principal at Life Skills. The school was in a precarious situation and he had only Assistant Principal experience. There aren't many good administrators to model after in DPS and Santiago simply had not been exposed to good leadership. When he established a relationship with an experienced administrator who met with him weekly and encouraged his productive efforts, Santiago learned quickly how he could impact students in a short time. In fact, while I was concerned that Santiago would initially feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the challenge before him, he instead eagerly embraced everything he could learn from his mentor and through book studies and even asked for more assignments!
In education, especially in schools that serve high-risk students, there are no shortcuts for hard work. Not only does the school leader need to demonstrate focus and intensity, the staff needs to learn the same focus and intensity. You can bet the team at Life Skills spent many overtime hours maintaining personal contact with their students. For making such a positive impact in the lives of students, Santiago Lopez and his team are charter school heroes!