Inequity at GWHS

Addressing Inequity at George Washington High School

November 12, 2019

Dear GW Community –

Last week our School Leadership Team, a group of colleague-elected teaching faculty and administrative leaders, finalized two key decisions that will begin to address the gaps in opportunity for our students and change the long history of racial and economic segregation at George Washington High School. First, our International Baccalaureate courses will be open to any student. While our IB Diploma Program will remain in place, it is no longer a prerequisite that students be seeking an IB Diploma in order to take an IB course. Second, all incoming 9th graders will be enrolled in English 1 Honors. Both of these initiatives will begin in the 2020-2021 school year.

When we ask our students what they value most about George, their reply is often led with a testament to the powerful impact of belonging to this diverse community. Indeed, our students come from families representing over 60 countries of origin and we hear dozens of languages spoken in our halls every day. However, when we step into a classroom at George, gone is the treasured diversity that is a hallmark of the George community. 

Demographically, George’s student body is 39% White, 28% Hispanic, 22% Black, while 50% of our students receive Free/Reduced Lunch (FRL). In stark contrast, however, our 9th grade honors classrooms are 62% white, 14% Hispanic, and 11% black, while our IB Diploma Program for juniors and seniors is 65% White, 12% Hispanic, and 9% Black. While we can’t measure the diversity of socioeconomic status in our classrooms due to federal confidentiality protections, we do know that FRL students are not proportionally represented in all of our classrooms. In short, the demographic composition of our classrooms and advanced academic programs does not mirror that of our student body, and that division begins in 9th grade. In 2019, 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education, our students are attending class in a racially and economically segregated learning environment. While we have met small successes in the past five years with broadened access to our honors and IB programs, there has been no measurable shift in the outcomes for our historically underserved students (see page 2). 

We believe not only that every student deserves a rigorous education, but also they deserve to be immersed in a learning environment that is diverse in culture, language, experience, origin, and beliefs. We must do more to make this belief a meaningful reality for all of our students.

By enrolling each of our 9th graders in English 1 Honors, we are joining other Denver area high schools such as East High School, North High School, and Northfield High School in setting high expectations for every student. Research has shown that when students are placed in a heterogenous classroom and given access to a rigorous curriculum, all students experience measurable gains in achievement. 

Three years ago the GW English department aligned their English 1 and English 1 Honors classes. Students of all abilities were provided with the same rigorous and engaging curriculum in 9th grade, and outcomes improved across the board. In the years since this shift we have seen a measurable increase in 10th grade English honors enrollment. This re-calibration, paired with a passionate team of 9th grade teachers who believe in their students, made the English department a natural fit for an Honors for All course for 9th graders. 

In order for this new program to be successful, it is imperative that we provide students with robust, innovative, and targeted academic support that is built into their school day. As we continue to plan for the ‘20-’21 school year, we will be restructuring our school resources to strengthen support for our 9th graders. We are committing to class sizes no larger than 25 students for our 9th grade core-contents to promote meaningful relationships between teachers and students and create an environment where teachers are empowered to differentiate their instruction. To support our teachers, we are mapping out additional time for planning, collaboration and training. 

IB has a long history at George Washington High School. As one of the oldest IB diploma programs in Colorado, GW IB has existed largely unchanged for decades. With a reputation for being academically, racially, and socially insulated, the program has been described as “a school within a school.” Five years ago our community worked to broaden IB access by shifting the decision to enter the program to students’ sophomore year, instead of 8th grade. While this was a step in the right direction, it did little to change the demographic composition of GW IB. Our students of color still face significant hurdles to feeling a sense of belonging in a program that has served predominantly white students for over 30 years. 

We believe offering the option for students to take individual IB courses will increase diverse thoughts and perspectives in the classroom, furthering the GW and IB mission to cultivate lifelong learners who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. We will continue to offer a robust IB diploma program, dedicating resources to a full time IB Program Manager, professional development for teachers, and high expectations for all students enrolled in IB courses. 

Both of these initiatives, 9th Grade English Honors for All and Open IB, took root last spring when our community came together in collaboration on the One George 2019 strategic planning process. This past summer, following recommendations from the Patriot Pathways committee, we began examining what it would require to open the IB program further and also enroll each of our freshmen in at least one honors course. We met with over 350 students to hear their opinions and concerns. We visited other schools with these programs to understand where they are experiencing success, and what challenges they are facing. We met with our academic departments to play through the implications of these initiatives. By engaging these stakeholder groups throughout this process, we feel confident that we have the support of our community as we implement these initiatives in ‘20-’21.

We must continue the important work of dismantling systemic racism, segregation, and inequity in education, and specifically at George Washington High School. While this may feel to some as a large shift in our school’s educational infrastructure, this is a relatively small, albeit significant, step in a much larger process. The system as it exists today does not meet the needs of all of our students and we, the teachers, leaders, parents, students, and community members, have the power to change that reality. 

Let’s get to work.





Kristin Waters, Ph.D.
Principal | George Washington High School


Will the freshman honors English curriculum be adjusted? If so, how?
No. Three years ago our English department aligned their English 1 and English 1 Honors classes. This meant that regardless of which level students were taking, they followed the same syllabus and curriculum. The department will continue with the same honors-level curriculum for heterogeneous classrooms.

Will honors English class sizes change because of this?
We are committing to a maximum class size of 25 for all freshman core content areas next year, including English, Science, Social Studies, and Math.

How do you anticipate teachers deal with and cater to different learning levels in all honors classes?
Our teachers are skilled in differentiating their instruction. We understand that mixed-ability classes will require even more differentiation, which is why we are committed to small class sizes and meaningful teacher collaboration time. As an administrative leadership team, we are committed to supporting our teachers in the classroom and will be responsive to their needs as we implement this initiative. 

How are teachers being trained and supported through these changes?
We are seeking additional grant opportunities that will support expanded planning time and training for our teachers. We remain committed to providing departmental collaboration planning time during the instructional day. 

Are teachers on board with this decision?
Our teachers understand that our current system is not serving all of our students. They believe in our students and are ready to support them in this initiative. 

What supports will be in place to make sure all students can achieve in all honors classes?
Now that we have decided to move forward with English Honors for all 9th graders, we will begin intensive planning to structure robust, innovative, and targeted academic support that is built into their school day. As we continue to plan for the ‘20-’21 school year, we will be restructuring school resources to strengthen support for 9th graders. This will mean shifts to our current freshman advisory program so that it more closely matches the specific needs of our students. 

Will there be other all honors classes in the future?
At this time we are focused on a successful implementation of English 1 Honors for all students. Before any decisions are made regarding other content areas, we will need measurable data and stakeholder input to understand the impact of this program. There may be other all-honors classes in the future, but right now we are focused solely on English 1 Honors for All. 

Will non-honors English options be available to students after freshman year?
In our current offerings, the majority of freshmen, regardless of their freshman English class go on to enroll in honors level 10th-grade English. We anticipate that this trend will continue, and will scale our offerings to meet student demand.


What will this change mean for the reputation and future of GW’s diploma program?
GW will continue to offer a fully robust IB Diploma Program. The option to allow students to take individual courses will increase diverse thoughts and perspectives in the classroom, furthering the GW and IB mission to cultivate lifelong learners who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

Is GW committed to maintaining the strong structure of IB for the long term?
Yes. We will still have a full time IB Program Manager, professional development for teachers, and high expectations for all students enrolled in IB courses.  

How will this change be received by the student body?
GW students have embraced the opening of IB. Current IB students have expressed a desire for a wider variety of perspectives and experiences in their classrooms. Students not currently taking IB classes have expressed that while there are certain IB classes they would like to take, they aren’t necessarily interested in pursuing the full IB diploma. 

How can we be sure this change will have the desired outcome to integrate our school?
Schools across the country have taken to implementing the IB philosophy school- wide as a way to integrate classrooms.  In many cases, allowing students to choose Diploma courses or the full Diploma Program has shrunk the disparities between grade-level and honors classes. CASE STUDY 

How do you anticipate this will change the social culture of our school?
This will take us further in the direction to uniting our student body as One George. Grouping students in heterogeneous classrooms not only improves performance for all, but it increases students self-perception and school climate. CASE STUDY

How will students know about, understand, and choose IB classes?
First, we need to better educate our students, faculty, and community about the IB philosophy.  Students look to our faculty to inform them of their choices. We will spend time in December and January educating our faculty on the IB philosophy and course offerings.  Students will then learn about the Choice of Studies process and attend a course selection fair in early January. Current sophomores will have the opportunity to shadow at least one AP and one IB course in the month of January before completing their choice of studies. IB information sessions for families will be held at the beginning of the spring semester.

How many students do you anticipate will opt in to IB classes? Do you anticipate the number of full diploma students to decrease?
It is our vision that the IB course option will strengthen the overall program by increasing student interest and expanding the IB teaching and learning philosophy to more students.  Schools that have opened their IB program to course students have ultimately seen an increase in full diploma enrollment.

Will the full diploma program will be less successful due to this change?
No. The International Baccalaureate Organization is fully supportive of schools equalizing access for students and strongly?encourages schools to allow the course option. Schools that have expanded to IB for All have seen consistent or even improved student performance. CASE STUDY

Does this change have any foreseeable negative effects for students who are pursuing the full diploma program?
We do not anticipate negative effects.  Students will still be able to choose their SL and HL options, and teachers will still be IB trained in order to teach each course. Students who are pursuing the full diploma will continue to receive guidance and support from teachers and the IB program manager in their extended essays and CAS projects. 

How will IB course offerings change next year and beyond?
We are hoping to offer more flexibility in the schedule for students to take IB courses. We are in the process right now of examining our course options to ensure we have an even set of offerings across our departments. In some content areas we are overloaded in HL options, with fewer SL options. We are working to make this even across the core content areas. We are also considering expanding our IB course offerings in the future. 

How will AP course offerings change next year and beyond?
We are working to consolidate our offerings to eliminate content redundancies between AP and IB. At this time we don’t anticipate many changes to AP course offerings.  

Will current juniors who are already decided on IB/AP for 2020-2021 be able to change, drop, opt in? Or is it just for the new class of juniors?
Current juniors not in the IB program will be able to take IB courses their senior year. Consistent with this current year, rising IB seniors wanting to change or drop their course load will work with teachers around academic interventions and supports before making final decisions. 

Is everyone required to test in their IB subject, even though they are not participating in the full diploma program?
Yes. As is the policy with AP exams, if students enrolled in an IB course do not take the corresponding assessments, they will not earn the weighted credit for that course.