Denver officials suggest STRIVE to co-locate at Kepner campus

Southwest Denver families looking for more answers about the future of the Kepner Middle School campus now have an answer  — the building is likely to be home to two new schools, including a STRIVE charter school.

Denver school officials yesterday recommended that the STRIVE charter school network be able to open a new program — alongside a district run program — as part of a phase-in, phase-out intervention at the Kepner campus in southwest Denver in 2015.

The district announced the intervention at Kepner earlier this year and, as part of its annual call for new schools, vetted applications from several programs, including the DSST charter network.

Teachers and staff currently at Kepner and the education advocacy organization City Year pitched the district to be a part of the Kepner turnaround process, too. However neither the teacher group, nor City Year, completed all the necessary steps to be considered.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief innovation officer, told the board that the decision to recommend STRIVE over DSST, which was approved to open a new school in the southwest neighborhood last year, was a difficult one.

While both programs have a strong record of working with English language learners, it was STRIVE’s capacity to work with more students who speak another language at home, its proven history to co-locate, and a long wait list at its other campuses that tipped the advantage in their favor, Whithead-Bust said.

As part of the final agreement, which will be submitted for board approval, STRIVE will agree to share an attendance boundary with the district run program, hire bilingual teachers who will provide core curriculum in Spanish, and serve as a zone school for English language learners.

Zone schools are campuses that students who are learning English as a second language can attend if the school in their attendance boundary does not offer the English acquisition program that parents choose for their child. Transportation to designated zone schools is provided to students if they meet district eligibility requirements

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, appeared to be cautiously optimistic at the district’s recommendation.

He fired off several questions asking how the district would ensure students who are learning English would have equity in access to either the charter school or the district run program. He also raised concerns on whether those students might be counseled-out of the charter school.

Susana Cordova, chief academic officer for Denver Public Schools, assured Jimenez the district’s charter schools have a low level of students transitioning out of those programs.

If the school board approves the recommendation at its June 12 meeting, DPS would move to hire a principal to develop a district run program that would begin in the fall of 2015.

Late last month, the district announced DPS veteran Elza Guajardo would lead the district’s phase-out efforts.