Facing a daunting financial outlook and declining enrollment, Denver’s only all-boys public school will close at the end of the school year, its board announced Wednesday.
The Boys School of Denver opened in 2017 as a counterpart to the successful all-girls charter school GALS, or Girls Athletic Leadership School. The aim of both charter schools is to build students’ self-esteem and sharpen their focus through physical movement and positive gender messages.
But the founding principal of The Boys School departed in 2018, and the school struggled to find a permanent home, moving from one northwest Denver church to another. The school received the district’s lowest academic rating, “red,” in both 2018 and 2019.
School officials said several pieces of unwelcome news last month caused them to consider closure. They learned that the cost of contributions to the state pension system for teachers was increasing, as was the cost to purchase nursing, social work, and psychology services from the school district. Those professionals are part of the Denver teachers union, which won big salary increases after a strike last year.
This month, after Denver families submitted their top school choices for next year, the district predicted that just 100 students would enroll at The Boys School in the fall. Declining enrollment is a districtwide issue affecting charter schools and district-run schools alike.
“Schools are relationship-based organizations that have to fit into a business model,” said Carol Bowar, executive director over both GALS and The Boys School. “It’s difficult to run small schools — and run small schools well.”
The Boys School is the second Denver charter school this school year to announce it will close. STRIVE Prep – Excel, a 260-student high school that shared space with North High School, will merge with STRIVE Prep – Smart, a high school of nearly 500 students located about 5 miles south.
The homegrown STRIVE Prep charter network, which runs 11 schools in Denver, cited declining enrollment as the reason for closing Excel. Last year, a small stand-alone charter school, Roots Elementary, closed due to declining enrollment and high expenses.
Enrollment matters because Denver schools are funded on a per-pupil basis. Denver Public Schools subsidizes district-run schools with fewer than 215 students, but it does not do so for charter schools, which are run by independent boards of directors.
As rising housing prices and declining birth rates continue to shrink the student population in Denver, the number of small schools is expected to rapidly grow. The school board has signaled that difficult conversations about district-run school viability are coming.
The Boys School of Denver will surrender its charter with Denver Public Schools, which allowed it to operate in the district. Bowar said the school and district are working with current sixth and seventh grade families to find them new schools for next year. Although the school choice window has closed, the district is extending the deadline for Boys students. It is doing the same for fifth graders who listed The Boys School as their first choice for next year.
Bowar said the school is working with current staff to help find them new jobs, too.
“It’s heartbreaking to be in this position,” Bowar said. “This is not a position we expected to be in this year. This is not a decision we wanted to make or made lightly.”
Bowar said The Boys School held a school meeting Thursday morning to talk to its 140 students about the closure. The boys, she said, gave shout-outs to each other. That sense of brotherhood is one of things she said makes The Boys School unique.
“They shouted each other out like, ‘Last year, I didn’t see you trying at all. This year, I see you working so hard and it makes me so happy,’” she said.
“Boys is such a special place,” Bowar said. “There is no other thing like it.”