Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg says he will recommend to the Board of Education that it adopt a plan to co-locate a new West Denver Prep High School, inside North High School despite some intense community opposition.
“There is plenty of space at North for North and West Denver Prep to share the building,” Boasberg told those attending a community meeting Wednesday evening. “Should North High School thrive and continue to grow – and I think it will – there will still be hundreds of additional seats available for kids who would like to ‘choice in’ to North. Clearly we would welcome that.”
But some in the community reiterated their opposition. They expressed concern that the district may be underestimating North’s growth potential, and said that adding another high school that is projected to eventually have 500 students will eat up space North may need. North is projected to start the school year with 940 students, and has room for more than 2,000.
Boasberg said he will also recommend that West Denver Prep’s Highland campus, a 300-student middle school that is now housed inside a separate building at North, be relocated to Remington, a shuttered elementary school at 4735 Pecos St. That building is now used for training and storage.
The proposed West Denver Prep high school would take over the building – built in 1913 – that now houses the middle school. Eventually, it would also need to use four classrooms inside the main North facility, as well as sharing North’s gym, science labs, cafeteria and library.
Boasberg acknowledged community concerns about the challenges inherent in two schools sharing a common space, and the potential for conflict and resentment between students at the two schools. But he said the plan – one of a number of options the district is looking at – allows the greatest number of northwest area students to be educated close to their home neighborhoods, and it is the most efficient use of taxpayer money, since it uses existing DPS facilities and won’t require new construction.
Boasberg will make his recommendations to the board on June 7, and the board will vote on June 21. On June 4, the public will have the opportunity to comment about all the proposed new schools that have applied to operate as charters or alternative schools within DPS.
Controversy has divided the community
The meeting Wednesday, at CEC Middle College, was in many ways a repeat of a community meeting two weeks ago, when hundreds of parents crammed into the auditorium at Smedley Elementary School – another northwest school with a stake in the outcome. Smedley, now closed, has been suggested as an alternative site for either West Denver Prep High School or Middle School.
The lunchroom at CEC provided more space and tables to make conversation easier. Still, the room was crowded. Moderator Bill de la Cruz had attendees get up and move to tables where they didn’t know anyone.
He also had participants share among their tablemates their greatest hopes for the outcome of the controversy, and their greatest fears.
Several participants indicated that their greatest fear is that nothing they say will matter, and that the decision to co-locate North and West Denver Prep has already been made.
“It does seem like it will be a done deal,” said Ed Krug, director of the North Star Tutor Program at North High. “So how can we accept it? How can we offer advantages to the kids that neither school can offer by themselves? How can we not fight this, but turn it into something positive?”
Advantages cited to shared campuses
Ryan Kockler, the principal at West Denver Prep’s Lake campus, which shares the Lake Middle School building with Lake International School, said his experience shows him that different schools can successfully share a single campus. He said he and Lake International principal Amy Highsmith collaborate every day.
“She has pushed me to be a better principal, and vice versa,” he said. He said by having both schools share the same campus, they were able to get a nurse on campus five days a week, and access to more counseling resources than either school could have afforded individually.
But not everyone is as optimistic as Kockler. A student at West High School – which currently houses three separate schools under one roof – said the experience has been a nightmare for her, with great competition to use ballfields, classrooms, office space and other amenities.
North principal Nicole Veltze attended the meeting, as did West Denver Prep founder Chris Gibbons. Both shared their own hopes and fears. “My greatest hope is that regardless of location, people will know that both North High School and West Denver Prep are great options for kids,” Veltze said. “My greatest fear is that we don’t have strong systems in place to ensure equity around enrollment and tracking of student performance.”
Gibbons said he’s fearful that families who’ve invested years in enrolling their middle-school-age children in West Denver Prep, and worked hard at it, won’t be able to continue sending their children to a West Denver Prep high school. “My greatest hope is that 10 years from now, we can look back on this and see how we were able to grow and sustain two fabulous high schools.”
Boasberg acknowledged community concerns about a lack of openings for pre-schoolers in neighborhood schools, but he said that’s the case around the city. “Right now we’re turning away hundreds of kids in Denver who want to go as 4-year-olds to pre-school. That’s wrong educationally and wrong morally.”
But once children enter kindergarten, they will always be assured a spot in their neighborhood school, he promised. That’s true for elementary, middle and high schools, he said.