Frequently Asked Questions

What are Innovation Zones?

Innovation Zones are school-driven groupings of Denver Public Schools’ (DPS) Innovation Schools that collaborate to enable them to better serve students. They are fundamentally about educator empowerment. Innovation Zones exist to empower leaders and teachers with the opportunity to design and sustain a shared learning community specifically tailored to the needs of their students and communities, and the adults who serve them.

Innovation Zones have an independent, community-based nonprofit organization that helps coordinate work across the schools in a Zone. An Innovation Zone nonprofit may have one or more employees to do work to support all (or some) of the schools in the Zone.

Zones, like innovation zone schools, undergo a renewal process every three years. Among other things, the renewal process requires a vote of all zone school staff and the DPS Board of Education to continue operations.

Why would a school decide to join or form an Innovation Zone?

Leader and Teacher Empowerment. Zones afford leaders and teachers the opportunity to design and sustain a shared learning community specifically tailored to the needs of their students and the adults who serve them.

Shared Learning. Because Zones are organized around common interests, there is an explicit opportunity and expectation for shared learning to manifest across schools and teams within the Zone. This does not mean all schools must offer the same educational model.

Economies of Scale. In a Zone, schools may choose to pool available resources together to obtain the services they want, maximizing the impact of dollars available and gaining the benefit of economies of scale not available to schools in isolation. Importantly, economies of scale are not limited to “hard” financial resources; they also take shape through community partnerships or innovative staffing models between schools, i.e. sharing a nurse across campuses.

Zone-Specific Support Structures. Zones can offer the opportunity to construct a support team tailored to the needs of schools in the Zone. For example, schools might choose to pool resources to hire an “operations lead” whose job is to relieve administrative and operational responsibilities at the school level, freeing up more time for school-based teams to focus on teaching and learning. Similarly, a Zone within the District network structure might choose to hire an executive coach with expertise in a particular model instead of an alternative network support role. Staffing models will vary depending on the number of schools and students, theory of action, revenue, and expertise available.

Steadfast Focus and Increased Flexibility. Zones are empowered to set priorities specific to the schools within them; these priorities must align to the Zone plan and to schools’ individual innovation plans and must be informed by data trends on an ongoing basis. Zone schools may choose not to participate in most programs or practices offered by DPS support services that are not aligned to Zone and school priorities, although areas related to legal responsibility and compliance will not be made flexible.

Community Ownership. The Zone creation and renewal process requires stakeholders to have direct voice in oversight of the zone, thereby empowering local community members as official, ongoing partners in the effort.

Are Innovation Zone schools still part of DPS?

Yes, Innovation Zone schools remain district schools; teachers and principals remain district employees. While DPS delegates significant responsibility to Innovation Zones, DPS has final say about staffing decisions and other important school policies.

Are Innovation Zone schools charter schools?

Innovation Zone schools are not charter schools. They remain within the school district and remain accountable to the DPS board. Furthermore, Innovation Zones will only continue to operate with the approval of DPS and its board.

How are Innovation Zones funded?

Innovation Zone schools have the ability to opt out of some centralized district services. The money the school would have paid for those services is repurposed to the school to buy other services or hire more staff members.  This means schools have more control over their budgets, and it allows them to spend money and resources on the things most needed by their students.

How does an Innovation Zone affect other DPS schools financially?

Innovation Zone schools receive only funding for students at their schools. They do not take away funds from other schools. In addition, Innovation Zone schools contribute financially to key districtwide priorities even if they do not benefit the Innovation Zones directly (i.e. high school sports, the Center for Family Opportunity, FACE, equity initiatives and various task forces)

Does an Innovation Zone nonprofit take resources away from schools?

The Innovation Zone organization is a nonprofit and all board members are unpaid. All funding goes directly to schools and then a portion from each school is directed back to the Zone (as a service contractor) to provide supports across the Zone.  Zone supports to Innovation Zone Schools include management and instructional coaching, professional development, and participation in collaborative structures like the teacher council. No money is kept or made by the Zone.

How does enrollment work at Innovation Zone schools?

Zone schools follow DPS enrollment practices; DPS continues to manage general enrollment for all Zone schools.

Who employs the staff members at Zone schools?

DPS continues to be the employer of teachers, principals, and other staff members at Zone schools. Network/shared staff are employed by the nonprofit.

Who holds the LLN Zone board accountable?

The Zone board is accountable to both the local district and to the state education department.

What is the composition of the LLN Board?

Innovation Zone nonprofits meet openly and share information about their decisions. At LLN, the nonprofit is overseen by a 9-member community Board.  All board positions are unpaid. Please see our Board links for more information on members and meetings.

The LLN Board is comprised of 9 members:

6 Community Members

2 LLN School Leader Representatives

1 LLN Teacher Representative (as elected by the LLN Teacher Council)

How do schools join an Innovation Zone?  Exit a zone?

There is an annual call from DPS for zone expansion. To enter a zone, a school must submit an application to DPS and the Zone; if the school meets all requirements, a majority of the applying school’s staff must approve membership into the zone.

Annually, zone schools have the ability to exit the zone, if they so desire.