College Ready On Track Network for School Improvement

Our vision is to enable educators, students, and communities, through intentional design and networked improvement, to dismantle systems of oppression and prepare all Black and Latinx students to pursue any opportunity they wish.

"What I have learned... is that it is essential to our success as educators to slow down, dive deep, and to proceed with intentionality."

CJ Smith

Assistant Principal & Network Facilitation Lead

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College

Who We Are & What We Do

Although DPS has made significant progress to increase graduation rates for all student groups, gaps remain for Black and Latinx students. In addition, college readiness measures and post-secondary enrollment rates indicate that DPS schools have not graduated all students prepared for success in their post-secondary path of choice. This is especially true for Black and Latinx students. 


The College Ready On Track Network  is an improvement community dedicated to developing, iterating, and spreading practices that advance career and college success for Black and Latinx students in Denver Public Schools.


Funded by a $10 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over five years, the network currently includes 22 DPS high schools and will expand to include all district-managed high schools by the 2022-2023 school year.


Below, you will find a timeline of past, current, and future network activities. 


Five-Year Network Activities & Scale

2019-20: Early Adoption

  • 10 high schools
  • Root cause analysis of persistent opportunity gaps for Black & Latinx students
  • Professional development in Improvement Science and Design Thinking
  • Develop initial improvement “hacks”

 2020-21: Implementation & Expansion 

  • 10 high schools implementing
  • 12 high schools on boarding in Spring semester
  • Implementation of Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles
  • Cross-team learning
  • Professional development in Improvement Routines and Design Improvement for Equity 

2021-22: Expansion

  • 22 high schools implementing
  • 14 high schools on boarding in Spring Semester
  • Implementation of Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles
  • Cross-team learning
  • Professional development in Improvement Routines and Design Improvement for Equity 

2022-23: Spreading High-Leverage Practices

  • All district-managed high schools implementing Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles and leveraging Design Improvement for Equity methodologies
  • Cross-team learning

2023-24: Spreading High-Leverage Practices

  • All district-managed high schools implementing Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles and leveraging Design Improvement for Equity methodologies
  • Cross-team learning

See the graphic below for a list of schools participating in the network currently.

Resources & Key Learnings

Based on a book by the same name, the Grading for Equity change idea supports schools in adopting grading practices that are Accurate, Bias Resistant, and Motivational.

To learn more about Grading for Equity, click here.

If you have any questions, contact Tiffany Deines

Because our network seeks to dismantle systems of oppression to better prepare Black and Latinx students for post-secondary success, students and families deserve the respect of becoming partners in this work — in helping us see the problems within our system, ideating towards potential changes, and measuring success towards improvement.

Within the College Ready On Track Network, schools are enacting change ideas that include Black Student & Family Focus Groups and Academic Family Teacher Teams.

As the network continues to iterate on engagement practices, feedback loops will become embedded in all Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles to ensure that student and family experiences become a central aspect of how we determine what constitutes improvement.

Click here to learn more about student & family engagement within the College Ready On Track Network

For questions, contact Ranya Bautista

Design Improvement for Equity is a continuous improvement approach developed in conjunction with the University of Denver that combines aspects of Improvement Science and Design Thinking methodologies while centering users and adopting anti-racists mindsets and practices.

This methodology leverages Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles to learn what works, for whom, and under what conditions prior to spreading and scaling new practices.


For questions, contact Sandra Lochhead

Root cause analysis refers to a process that allows groups to collect, organize, and summarize current understandings of the causes of a problem of practice and deepen our knowledge before jumping to solutions.

In the College Ready On Track Network, root cause analysis is a critical tool in understanding where we can make improvements to systems that support post-secondary readiness.

See below for tools to facilitate root cause analysis through a fishbone diagram

For questions, contact Karen Herbert

Empathy means understanding peoples’ lived experiences. Empathy buildingallows us to see the problem and the system that produces it from the perspective of our “users” — students, families, and school staff. This process can help us make better, more equitable decisions.

In continuous improvement, empathy is a critical prerequisite for designing systems that meet user needs.

Empathy building approaches leveraged by the College Ready On Track Network include:

To learn more, click the links above

For questions, contact Ranya Bautista

What are Network Schools Designing and Implementing?

Prior to generating initial change ideas, network participants conducted interviews with students, families, and teachers to better understand their communities’ educational needs and aspirations.

Through this listening process, participants developed a “Theory of Improvement” aligned to what they heard in order to guide their design decisions.

The image at right displays key aspects of this Theory of Improvement, including specific “Drivers” of the improvement school Design Teams hope to generate.

As teams continue to refine their change ideas, this space will highlight the learning process schools undertake by generating and testing those ideas. Additionally, the Theory of Improvement itself will change as participants gain deeper understanding of the problems facing their schools and what actions they and their communities believe can lead to improved outcomes.

Click the image above to see our network-generated Theory of Improvement

Coming Soon - Student and Family Participants

Opportunities for students and families at network schools to get involved will begin in Fall 2021!

To reach out directly about your interest, please fill out the form at the bottom of the website, or click here.

Learn More about College Ready On Track Network

Networks for School Improvement are professional learning communities that unite educators from multiple schools and sometimes multiple districts to address a common problem using improvement science principles. NSIs exist throughout the country, with some (including DPS’s) receiving funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Continuous Improvement

Continuous Improvement is defined as research that involves multiple iterative cycles of activity over extended time periods. Within the context of College Ready On Track, this means that school Design Teams are encouraged to think of their change ideas as adaptive, in that they may shift over time or as Design Teams learn about what works, what doesn’t, and under what circumstances.

Improvement Science

Improvement science is an approach to generating incremental and sustained change within school systems. Unlike traditional education reform, improvement science positions teachers and school leaders as idea generators and testers — bringing the practitioners closest to instruction into design, prototyping, and evaluation of “change ideas.”

In DPS, this means that DPS teachers and school leadership teams develop and implement small- and large-scale innovations that they believe will improve education systems within their schools.

Liberatory Design Thinking

Liberatory Design Thinking is process in which teams seek to understand the needs of their “users” – the people the seek to serve or impact – in order to develop new solutions to user challenges. In this case, College Ready On Track’s users are students, families, communities, and teachers.

Liberatory Design Thinking enables teams to challenge their own internal assumptions and view systemic challenges from multiple perspectives to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not have previously been considered.


College Ready On Track makes use of all three of these approaches to ensure that participants center the educational needs and aspirations of Black, Latinx, and low-income students and families within all design efforts.

Initial cohort schools were selected based upon four criteria:

  • Student population – all Cohort 1 schools serve a majority Black, Latinx, and low-income population
  • School type and size – Cohort 1 includes pathway schools, early colleges, 6-12 schools, and comprehensive schools
  • Commitment to improving college readiness outcomes, particularly through Capstone implementation
  • School leader interest

Over the next four years, all traditional, innovation, and pathways DPS high schools will participate in the network to ensure that schools are learning from and with each other and that high-leverage change ideas can be scaled throughout the district.

Since the overarching “why” behind the College Ready On Track NSI is to design solutions to the persistent gaps in opportunity and achievement currently generated by DPS in serving Black, Latinx, and low-income DPS students, this question is central to any success the network might have. As such, the network Hub is working to ingrain the Culturally Sustaining Curriculum & Improvement (CSCI) team in all network functions. 


In addition to a CSCI Manager serving as part of the Hub team, CRE Specialists attend whole-network Convenings and many school Design Team meetings. Rather than “checking a box,” these steps ensure that network participants and Hub members develop their capacity to lead and design for equity.


Moreover, the College Ready On Track NSI recognizes that equity work starts with self-work. Though the network Hub and participants are still learning what this means collectively, three examples of the College Ready On Track NSI’s attempts to deepen its commitment to CRE and anti-racism within communal spaces are encapsulated in ideas, thought processes, and beliefs of Liberatory Design, CRE Commitments, and Intercultural Development Inventory. To learn more about these tools, see the links below:


Liberatory Design Mindsets

NIC Norms, Commitments, and Process Checking

Intercultural Development Inventory

Grounding Norms, Commitments, and Mindsets to Drive Design

These documents detail processes and mindsets that focus participant design efforts. Liberatory Design Mindset cards are attributed to the Stanford

Norms Liberatory Design

Root Cause Analysis

Click below for more information about how the College Ready On Track NSI analyzed root causes of systemic challenges within DPS high schools.

Protocol Artifact Fishbone

“Participating in the cohort has taken down some of the previous feeling or practice of schools competing against each other and instead working towards common goals in collaboration.”

– Mia Martinez-Lopez, Principal, West Early College 

“The tools I have gained by working in the NIC have helped me think and move more strategically and not become overwhelmed by my desires to make sweeping changes in an effort to impact equity. I am hopeful that this will lead to sustainable change in our school and in my practices as a leader.”

-Ethan Emery, Assistant Principal, Denver Center for 21st Century Learning (DC-21)

“This has become some of the most exciting and impactful work that is part of my daily job.”

– Sarah Peterson, Senior Team Lead, Bruce Randolph School

View our FAQ and Glossary using the buttons below

Network Partners

Organization Partnership Scope
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation generously funds the DPS College Ready On Track Network for School Improvement and links the NSI to others around the country.
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching As our Improvement Science partners, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching support the NSI in building capacity to lead and execute iterative design processes.

Map of College Ready On Track NSI Cohort 1 Schools