Denver is considering closing three schools to make way for a new Montbello High School

Welcome to Montbello Campus reads a sign above the electronic billboard on the previous campus of the comprehensive high school in Denver.
Denver has committed to reopening a comprehensive high school in Montbello. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver school board will consider a resolution to close three small secondary schools in the far northeast neighborhood of Montbello to make way for a new comprehensive high school.

Denver Center for International Studies Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and Collegiate Prep Academy would close at the end of the 2021-22 school year, according to a draft resolution posted online as part of the agenda for a Thursday school board work session.

Students at the three closing schools would be prioritized for enrollment at a new comprehensive Montbello High School and a new middle school that would feed into it, the resolution says. The new schools would open in the fall of 2022, it says.

Teachers and staff at DCIS Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and Collegiate Prep Academy would be given priority to interview for jobs at the new middle and high school, the resolution says. The district would also provide the three closing schools with stipends to help retain their staff for next year, which would be the schools’ last year.

The school board is set to discuss the resolution Thursday but is not expected to vote on it yet.

DCIS Montbello and Noel Community Arts School serve students in grades six through 12 on the former Montbello High campus, which is also home to a charter school. Collegiate Prep Academy serves grades nine through 12 and is located in a different district building.

The principal of Noel Community Arts School declined to comment on Wednesday. Principals at DCIS Montbello and Collegiate Prep Academy didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The resolution describes the closures as a “unification” of the three school communities.

All three schools were opened as part of a massive school turnaround effort in far northeast Denver. In 2010, the Denver school board voted to close the former Montbello High School and replace it with smaller schools. The board also reconfigured several other neighborhood schools, including the former Rachel B. Noel Middle School. 

The moves were meant to boost student test scores, but they were controversial. Though Montbello High School was struggling academically, it was a community hub with fiercely loyal alumni. Families and educators urged the district in 2010 to invest resources in the school, which served a largely Black and Hispanic student population, rather than shut it down.

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Instead, the school board voted to phase out Montbello High one grade at a time and replace it with smaller schools that board members hoped would better serve students. 

In recent years, community members repeatedly called for the district to reopen a comprehensive high school in Montbello. Last year, former Superintendent Susana Cordova committed to doing so, and the school board passed a resolution cementing the deal. In November, Denver voters approved $130 million in bond funding for the project.

A scientific poll commissioned by the district last year showed that 85% of 472 Montbello residents polled said they support the return of a comprehensive high school, according to a district presentation. Surveys of staff members at the schools slated for closure showed that 87% of the educators surveyed supported it too “with some reservations.”

However, some parents in the neighborhood said their views weren’t taken into account. Several Spanish-speaking families said they hadn’t heard about the plans to reopen Montbello High until last fall, even though meetings on the subject had been happening for years.

Denver Public Schools is also in the process of reunifying West High School in west Denver, which was similarly split into two smaller schools in 2011. A new comprehensive West High School and a new West Middle School are set to open this fall.

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