DPS board approves Montbello reforms

Denver school board members approved a contentious reform plan for Far Northeast Denver shortly after 1 a.m. Friday, following five hours of public comment from more than 100 speakers.

The 4-3 vote came after another two hours of board debate that centered around a string of eight amendments, most from dissenting board members Arturo Jimenez, Jeanne Kaplan and Andrea Merida.

Go straight to meeting video highlights.

Board President Nate Easley, who represents Far Northeast Denver, said he was voting for approval of the plan despite being threatened this week with a voter recall if he did so.

“If I’m recalled, so be it,” Easley said. “I’m going to vote my conviction.”

The plan will mean dramatic change at Montbello High School and five schools that feed into it, affecting more than 400 teachers and nearly 5,000 students.  The schools are among the lowest-performing in the city. Details of the plan include:

  • Montbello High School – Will transition to three smaller programs, including a new college prep academy, a new high-tech early college and a replication of an existing program, the Denver Center for International Studies.
  • Noel Middle School – Will become two smaller programs, an arts school and a Knowledge Is Power Program or KIPP charter school.
  • Ford Elementary – Will be replaced with a campus of the Denver Center for International Studies.
  • Green Valley Elementary – A new principal will be hired; current teachers must reapply for their jobs.
  • McGlone Elementary – A recently hired principal will continue to run the school; current teachers must reapply for their jobs.
  • Oakland Elementary – Will be replaced by a second SOAR charter school.

Board members pulled Ford Elementary out of the reform package to allow a separate vote after Jimenez said it was the only piece that he could support. The change at Ford was approved by a 5-2 vote, rather than 4-3.

Hundreds of parents, students, teachers and others filled the downtown DPS school board meeting room, lobby and an upstairs viewing room. Montbello students clustered in a hallway. There were so many speakers that they were moved through the board room in shifts because of limited seating there.

Even before the meeting, supporters and opponents of  the reform proposal made their voices heard in consecutive press conferences, a half-block away from each other.

Opponents, led by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, carried signs reading “Our Kids, Our Schools, Our Neighborhoods” in English and Spanish as they urged rejection of the plan. Speakers from most of the affected schools argued they were making changes showing positive results and they should be allowed to continue.

“You can see the change,” said McGlone social worker Doris Chandler. “We deserve that chance.”

But supporters of the proposal, many wearing graduation caps and bright blue T-shirts reading “We demand great schools in FNE,” said more dramatic changes were needed.

The Montbello plan drew the most attention but a number of other school changes were on Thursday night’s agenda. Among those approved:

  • A campus of the Denver School of Science and Technology will share space at Cole Arts & Sciences Academy and nearby Mitchell Elementary.
  • University Prep charter will be housed at the former Crofton building and West Denver Prep’s fourth campus will move from its Emerson Street location into North High.
  • A system of shuttle buses will replace traditional yellow bus routes in Near Northeast Denver.
  • Because of poor performance, Manny Martinez charter middle school will not accept sixth-graders next year. Those students will be assigned to Lake  Middle School.

Click in the video below to see highlights from the two press conferences and the board meeting. For more detail about the FNE proposal, go here.