Divided community panel picks district-run option over charter to replace closing Denver school

A group of community members tasked with recommending which of two applicants should take over low-performing Amesse Elementary in far northeast Denver when it closes next spring is backing an application submitted by leaders of nearby McGlone Academy.

McGlone’s plan to “restart” Amesse, submitted under the name the Montbello Children’s Network and written with input from Amesse teachers and parents, received three votes at the group’s final meeting Wednesday, said Jennifer Holladay, head of the Denver Public Schools department that authorizes new schools.

The other plan, submitted by local charter network STRIVE Prep, received two votes.

That only five people voted is notable. The community review board for Amesse originally included 12 members, plus a facilitator. However, one parent was asked to leave the board after showing up at a Denver school board meeting as part of a large group giving public comment in support of the Montbello Children’s Network application, leaving 11 members.

The district asked the review board to discuss the low turnout for Wednesday’s vote in its official recommendation report, Holladay said. That report is expected Monday and will also include the group’s rationale for choosing the Montbello Children’s Network. The review board members deliberated for nearly six hours, Holladay said.

It’s not clear whether the low turnout will play a role in what happens next in the process.

STRIVE founder Chris Gibbons said in a statement that the network appreciates the time and energy spent by the board and was “impressed with the robust discussion and thoughtful consideration from each member.”

However, he added, “we are concerned that no (community review board) members who are current … Amesse parents were present for (Wednesday) night’s vote.”

McGlone’s leader could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

Also expected Monday is a report from a second community review board tasked with recommending an applicant to restart Greenlee Elementary in west Denver. That board had just one to choose from: a plan submitted by the current Greenlee principal that builds on gains already underway. The review board chose that plan by consensus, Holladay said.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg previously said that “absent significant anomalies” in the community review board process, the boards’ recommendations would be his recommendations to the Denver school board, which has the final say. Boasberg is scheduled to make his recommendations to the school board Monday. The board is set to vote June 19.

If the school board follows the review boards’ recommendations, it would mean that both school “restarts” would go to district-run programs, not charter school operators. The district’s dual roles of both school operator and authorizer has caused tension in this year’s process, with charter school operators questioning whether the playing field is level.

The community review boards were created to give parents and community members a central role in the process of choosing new schools to replace closing ones, in part to counter a long-standing criticism that district decisions don’t take community opinions into account.

The Denver school board voted in December to close Amesse, Greenlee and another low-performing elementary school, Gilpin Montessori. In February, the district solicited applications from district-run schools, charter networks and others to restart Amesse and Greenlee. The school board chose not to restart Gilpin due to declining enrollment.

Shortly afterward, the leaders of four charter networks, including STRIVE, delivered an open letter to DPS leadership asking the district to let them open more new schools in the coming years to help meet ambitious goals to improve the city’s schools.

None of those charter operators applied to restart Greenlee. But two did apply for Amesse: STRIVE, which currently operates 11 schools throughout the city, and University Prep, which currently operates two. However, University Prep was removed from the running after DPS staff found its plan for teaching English language learners did not meet requirements.