ECE center is first DPS bond project

Preschoolers in Southwest Denver will be among the first recipients of a $466 million bond issue approved by voters earlier this month.

Castro Elementary Principal Cheri Wrench, left, joined DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg to discuss the building of a $5 million early childhood center in Southwest Denver.

The first project is a $5 million early childhood education center designed to accommodate up to 250 children and located at Kepner Middle School. It would be the third early childhood center in the district, joining the Escalante-Briggs Academy in the Far Northeast and the Stephen Knight Center in the Southeast.

District leaders touted the much-needed early childhood seats that are expected to alleviate overcrowding at several nearby elementary schools, including Castro, Munroe and Charles M. Schenk, known as CMS. If all goes as planned, the ECE center will open next fall.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg and school board member Happy Haynes were joined Monday by Castro Elementary Principal Cheri Wrench and several Castro moms in the school’s front hallway to discuss the project.

“The opportunity for preschool is such an essential part of (students’) education and an essential part of allowing us to close the achievement gaps we see in our schools,” Boasberg said.

Board member cites “grave concerns” about project

However, not everyone on the board is backing the project. Board member Andrea Merida, who represents Southwest Denver and who publicly opposed the bond issue, said she still has “grave concerns” about the ECE project.

“The overwhelming feedback that I’m receiving is that the community is not supportive,” Merida said in an email. “They were never given the basic respect as taxpayers and residents of the area of a fully transparent, robust community process to determine whether the center is needed or even whether expanding capacity at existing schools is a better alternative.”

Merida said she is concerned about Kepner Middle School soccer fields being dug up along with the community gardens. In addition, the creation of one larger center will mean parents have to drive their kids further distances. She doesn’t understand why the district won’t consider offering a shuttle to families.

“Placing an additional burden on working-class parents, who have to ration their gas to get back and forth to work or use the public transportation system, in order to get children to yet another location for school, is inequitable, insensitive and smacks of privilege and class warfare,” she said.

DPS spokeswoman Kristy Armstrong said the district is committed to a “transportation solution” for families at Munroe, which is eight blocks from the center. The other schools – Castro and CMS – are a couple blocks away.

Armstrong also said the new center won’t impact community gardens but it will take Kepner’s current soccer field. She said the district plans to turn the baseball/softball field on the north side of the school into a multi-purpose field to support soccer and will work to ensure Kepner students have access to baseball/softball fields at the Lalo Delgado campus across the street or at one of three parks within four to six blocks of the school.

Merida’s concerns were not shared by the moms who attended the press conference with Boasberg.

Cynthia Vasquez, 42, said her 8-year-old son Gabriel would have benefited greatly from a full-day kindergarten program. She said she could only get him into half-day kindergarten at Castro and because of that, it took him longer to catch up to his peers.

“It was difficult for him,” she said. “They knew things he didn’t know.”

Furthermore, she believes it’s critical in her community to hook kids into school so they don’t end up on the streets.

“It’s important kids learn to love school,” Vasquez said, nothing that her son and daughter “feel at home” at school. “It’s important children feel that way so they want to come to school.”

Easing overcrowding in nearby schools

Castro parent liaison Veronica Luna said the creation of the ECE center will ease overcrowding at Castro and make for an improved learning environment for everyone. Some kindergarten classes at Castro have 35 students in them.

Castro Elementary parent liaison Veronica Luna, left, talks about plans for a new early childhood center with parent Cynthia Vasquez.

Boasberg confirmed Castro is at 115 percent to 120 percent in terms of capacity.  Wrench said the school had to turn away 50 students on its full-day kindergarten waiting list this year. In addition, each year the school serves at least 10 first-graders who have never attended any school. She said she hopes the new ECE center will erase these problems.

The new center should open up more seats for full-day kindergarten as well as full-day preschool in Southwest Denver. Research shows that students – especially those from low-income families or those learning English – who come to school with some preschool under their belt fare better, Boasberg said.

“We’ve been able to track our students over a great many years and what we do find is that students able to get a strong early education and who are able to read at a young age are far more likely to graduate from high school, far more likely to go to college,” Boasberg said.

Boasberg said the district’s goal – to provide full-day kindergarten seats to anyone who wants them – will have a “tremendous impact” on the city.

The new facility will be built on Kepner’s grounds and will replicate the Escalante-Biggs Academy in terms of the building design.

Boasberg and Haynes thanked voters for supporting the record-setting $466 million bond measure and $49 million operating tax increase and said the money is critical in light of recent state funding cuts for K-12 schools. Boasberg said DPS has lost $800 per student in the past three years.

“I’m still up in the clouds and so thankful to the citizens of Denver for recognizing how important this bond and mill levy is to the children of our district and to the job all our wonderful educators are trying to do,” Haynes said.

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

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.”