Boasberg backs North High co-location

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.

DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg, right, and board chair Mary Seawell listen while participants at a northwest Denver community meeting share their concerns.

“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.

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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.

West Denver Prep - Lake Campus principal Ryan Kockler said sharing a campus with another school has made him a better principal.

“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.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede