Denver charter network DSST will open one school and close another next year

High school students in class.
DSST will open a high school in far northeast Denver and close a middle school in the southwest part of the city. (Evan Semón for Chalkbeat)

After successfully overturning a decision that would have delayed its timeline, Denver’s largest charter school network is set to open its seventh high school next year. At the same time, the network will close one of its eight Denver middle schools due to declining enrollment.

The Denver school board unanimously approved both moves Thursday night. But some board members made clear that their yes votes to open a new DSST high school in far northeast Denver were cast grudgingly or with reservations.

Board member Scott Baldermann said he voted yes “not because I think it’s the right decision, but because my vote would ultimately be overruled by the State Board of Education anyway.”

The new DSST Noel high school will serve as a complement to the existing DSST Noel middle school, providing continuity for 159 eighth graders who will now be able to choose to go on to the high school. 

The Denver school board originally wanted to delay the opening of the Noel high school until fall 2022 because it wanted the charter network to focus on better serving students at some of its other, lower-performing campuses before opening a new school.

But DSST appealed that decision to the State Board of Education, which directed the Denver board to reconsider. State board members cited the high test scores at DSST’s Noel middle school, which they said bode well for the success of a DSST Noel high school.

In the southwest part of Denver, DSST will close its Henry middle school in a move the network is billing as a consolidation with its nearby College View middle school. 

Student enrollment is declining in the entire southwest region, and DSST saw enrollment at Henry drop from 279 students two years ago to 166 students this year, network spokesperson Stefanie Gilary said. Denver schools are funded per pupil. The low enrollment at DSST’s Henry middle school made keeping it open unsustainable, network leaders said.

Henry was also the only DSST middle school without a complementary high school. DSST asked Denver Public Schools for a building to open a Henry high school last year, but the district declined to provide one, citing decreasing enrollment in the region.

In written statements, district leaders praised DSST for putting students first in its decision to consolidate the schools. All sixth and seventh graders at the Henry campus who want to continue at DSST should have a seat at the College View campus next year, Gilary said.

“As difficult a decision as this is, consolidating these two schools in a time of declining enrollment is the right thing,” said Denver school board member Angela Cobián, who represents the southwest region. “There is strength in numbers, both in community and potential for academic and extracurricular opportunities. Maximizing the potential of our students and their future should always be the lens from which we make these decisions.”

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