Alternatives offered for charter co-location

A new charter high school could open by next fall at the Lake campus if the Denver school board pursues the top choice of a committee formed to find a suitable Northwest Denver location for STRIVE Prep, formerly known as West Denver Prep.

Denver North High School
Denver North High School

Make that a suitable location that is not North High School.

The board heard from committee members Tuesday during its work session.

District staff originally proposed placing STRIVE Prep High School on the North campus due to empty seats there. But community backlash was fierce and immediate. Parents who had worked to boost the quality of nearby Skinner Middle School and other academic options in Northwest Denver said the neighborhood needed a solid, high-quality, comprehensive high school that all area schools could feed into.

Once the tempest erupted, the board backed off the district’s proposal and agreed to the creation of a citizens committee – made up of 10 parents and school leaders from the affected communities – to come up with alternatives.

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While community buy-in was initially outlined as a requirement for any viable option presented by the committee, that goal could not be reached, said Bill Fulton, co-director of The Civic Canopy and facilitator of the group. However, the group was able to reach consensus, which it defined as a direction everyone could live with and not undermine.

“It’s better you have these options than have the default kick in,” Fulton said, referring to the North High scenario. “We’re trading different amounts of pain for different amounts of players.”

After considering several options in the weeks after a heated June board meeting on the North co-location proposal, the committee said its top option would be to locate STRIVE Prep High at Lake and identify a new location south of the Lake campus and north of 6th Avenue to house the STRIVE Prep Middle School already located at Lake.

To offset costs associated with finding another building, the group suggested that the district consider the sale or lease of the now closed Remington Elementary building.

Adding a wrinkle to the committee’s top choice is the potential impact on Lake International School, a turnaround school sharing space with STRIVE Prep Middle on the Lake campus. The original Lake Middle School program was phased out due to poor academic performance.

The second option by the committee calls for STRIVE Prep High School to move to Valdez Elementary and Valdez students and staff to move into the vacant Smedley Elementary. The sticking points with this option are the building plans and the amount of money slated to be spent at Valdez if voters approve a proposed $466 million district bond in November.

The third and final option from the committee calls for STRIVE Prep High School and STRIVE Prep Highlands Middle School to move to the building now occupied by Trevista K-8 School. Then Trevista would split up, with elementary grades moving to Smedley and middle school grades given the option of attending STRIVE Prep Highlands at Trevista or Skinner Middle School.

This option is complicated by the numerous disruptions to existing programs, such as Trevista, another turnaround school. And this option comes with a caveat – if Trevista ECE-5 reached capacity at Smedley, the district should ensure that those overflow students could attend Valdez.

The committee worried that the district might reopen Remington to solve possible overcrowding, which could divide the elementary programs between less affluent families in the northeastern part of the quadrant and students from higher-income families at Smedley.

A lesson on inclusive public processes

School board members did not endorse any of the three options offered by the committee. But they agreed to consider a resolution at their meeting Thursday that would detail perimeters of a public process to garner community support for reconfiguration of schools in Northwest Denver and to evaluate enrollment numbers and trends in the area.

Several committee members said Tuesday that their work was a revelation in how to create a good process in an extremely divisive situation. Members from STRIVE Prep and North High said they found common ground and treated the process – and each other – with integrity and respect.

“There was never any point in any meeting when I left and said, “Oh, that Chris Gibbons …,” committee member and Northwest Denver parent Renee Martinez-Stone said, referring to the CEO and founder of the STRIVE Prep charter school network, who served on the committee with her.

Still, Martinez-Stone said there is a lot of healing that needs to be done in Northwest Denver where anger and distrust of the district runs high.

Gibbons said there was no easy solution.

“This was an opportunity for real dialogue and real collaboration,” Gibbons said. “We recognize the gravity of what we’re handing you.”

Board member Arturo Jimenez praised the committee for its work. He said the committee’s ability to overcome differences and embrace solutions that worked for the most people is something the district should aspire to in its public processes.

“It’ll help this body make a decision about what’s best for all the kids of Northwest Denver,” Jimenez said.

Board member Jeannie Kaplan said she hears many complaints about co-locating schools from constituents. She said the district needs to engage in a comprehensive conversation about educational options in Northwest Denver.

“We need to do our homework before we put these options out there,” Kaplan said.

Board members assured the committee they would take some time to engage the community around options, although it was unclear how much time the board was willing to spend on this decision.

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 [email protected]

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”