Denver to explore reopening a traditional high school in Montbello, 10 years after decision to close it

The idea of reopening a comprehensive high school in the Montbello neighborhood in far northeast Denver is back on the table.

The announcement comes nearly 10 years after the Denver school board voted to close the former Montbello High School, a neighborhood hub that was struggling academically. Many students, teachers, and community members objected to closure, pleading with the board to give the school another chance.

The announcement also comes six months after the district began soliciting community feedback on redesigning the building that once housed Montbello High, which is now home to five small schools. At the time, district officials made clear they wanted feedback on how to best serve those small schools, not on whether to reopen a comprehensive high school.

But the idea of reopening Montbello High, which was a source of pride for many in the neighborhood, has refused to go away.

“What is clear from these conversations is that the Montbello community wants to talk about the learning facility here,” Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova wrote in a letter to the community this month. “Additionally, many expressed a desire to talk about academic programming, including the interest in creating a comprehensive high school.”

Given that, Cordova announced a new community process to answer three questions:

  • What would it look like to reopen a comprehensive high school?
  • Should the district design a new building or renovate the existing one?
  • What types of athletic programming and school clubs does the community want?

More information, including on how to participate, is set to be released next week.

The goal is to have answers by June, said school board Vice President Jennifer Bacon, who represents far northeast Denver. That way, any new construction projects could be included in a bond the district is planning to ask Denver voters to approve in November.

Currently, the former Montbello High building is home to DCIS Montbello, a district-run middle and high school; Noel Community Arts School, also a district-run middle and high school; and STRIVE Prep – Montbello, a charter middle school.

Ensuring STRIVE Prep – Montbello students have a space is a priority for the district, Cordova wrote in her letter. So is including students affected by the decision in the conversation. And the district wants to make sure middle schools aren’t forgotten; Montbello students will need middle school options, too.

“I’m really excited about the potential partnership in creating a Montbello campus that better fits the community’s vision,” Cordova wrote, “and we come to the conversation openly and enthusiastically.”

Far northeast Denver is the only part of the city without a comprehensive high school. Instead, there are 11 small high schools, many with fewer than 500 students. Two years ago, after the desire to reopen a comprehensive high school surfaced in a different district-led community committee, the leaders of some of those small schools pushed back.

Principals and students flooded a school board meeting in March 2018. “Everything we do is threatened,” one principal said. A student said that opening a new comprehensive high school would break up the family at his current school. “And breaking up a family never ends well,” he said.

By contrast, no one voiced any opposition at a school board meeting Thursday when Bacon announced the new process. Whether that means the opposition has dissipated remains to be seen. School leaders from far northeast Denver could not be reached Friday afternoon.

“It’s been hard, but we are looking forward to working together to address what we truly need as a community in the Montbello ZIP code,” Bacon said.