Denver’s McAuliffe Manual Middle School wants to change its name to avoid confusion

The front entrance to a large, red brick school building.
McAuliffe Manual Middle School wants to change its name to Manual Middle School. (Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat)

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For years, people have mixed up McAuliffe Manual Middle School and McAuliffe International School. Substitute teachers have reported to the wrong building, job candidates have applied at the wrong school, and opposing sports teams have shown up on the wrong field.

Even parents have confused the two Denver middle schools, said Doug Clinkscales, principal at the Manual campus, registering their child for one school when they meant to register for the other.

Officials hope a name change will help clear up the confusion as McAuliffe Manual, which shares a building with storied Manual High School, proposes changing its name to Manual Middle School. The Denver school board is set to vote on the name change May 16.

Dropping the “McAuliffe” would sever ties between the 235-student middle school on the Manual campus and the 1,370-student McAuliffe International, which has experienced significant controversy this past year. The schools are about two and a half miles apart in northeast Denver.

The name change would also strengthen the connection between the middle school at Manual and Manual High School as more students matriculate from one to the other, leaders said.

“As we get more and more students choosing this campus, it made sense to be aligned as a campus and not aligned as an idea with someone down the street,” said Clinkscales, who became principal of the middle school last year after a decade as assistant principal of the high school.

The recent controversy experienced by McAuliffe International was not the main motivation for the name change, Clinkscales said. The former principal of McAuliffe International was fired last summer after speaking out about safety concerns, and school staff was the subject of a district investigation into the improper use of seclusion.

Denver Public Schools opened McAuliffe Manual in 2016 as a replication of the popular McAuliffe International. The idea was to bring a successful middle school model to the Manual campus and create a healthy feeder pattern for Manual High School, which has a storied past as one of the first Denver schools to serve Black students and women. Manual High has many notable alumni but has struggled over the years with test scores and enrollment.

At first, the two McAuliffe middle schools used a similar curriculum and were overseen by the same principal. But that changed over time. Today, the Manual middle school uses a different curriculum from McAuliffe International, Clinkscales said. It has its own leaders, too.

A letter from the McAuliffe Manual student council to the Denver school board says the two middle schools “have almost no connections.”

“We should be able to change our name so that it won’t get mixed up with McAuliffe International, and we will be more recognized with our high school and their legacy,” the letter says. “We want to be the school that represents our beautiful, thriving community. And per your approval, we could be our own school, once and for all.”

Manual Middle School would keep its school colors – blue and yellow – and its mascot – the Thunder, Clinkscales said. The mascot is a reference to the mascot of Manual High, home of the Thunderbolts, and speaks to the connection that already exists between the middle and high school.

According to Clinkscales: “We say, ‘You have to earn your bolt.’”

Melanie Asmar is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Colorado. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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