Among the schools set to open their doors in Denver in 2014: new campuses of the Denver School of Science and Technology and STRIVE charter school chains, new district-run middle and high schools and an extension of High Tech Early College back into the younger grades.
The Denver Public School Board on Thursday gave four new schools the go-ahead to open in 2014 and gave an additional seven schools the nod for 2015 openings and beyond.
The near northeast region of Denver will see the largest number of new schools. The board OK’d the placement of a new DSST middle school and High Tech Elementary, a district-run school designed to be a feeder elementary school for High Tech Early College, at the Conservatory Green campus. The Northfield campus will see a new district-run high school built in the upcoming year, and the Swigeert-McAuliffe facility will be home to a new district-run middle school.
The board also unanimously approved a plan that combines middle school attendance boundaries for the Park Hill and Stapleton neighborhoods. The new boundary will give families access to five schools, including the two new options, though students may not end up attending the school located nearest to where they live.
District officials hope that with the wider attendance zones, all of the middle schools will draw students from across the two racially and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods.
“This is a real path-breaking model, both locally and nationally,” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.
Mixed feelings on new charters
The board approved most of school district officials’ recommendations on school approvals and denials all together. But they voted individually on the new STRIVE and DSST schools, High Tech Elementary School and the Uhuru School of Authentic Learning.
Recommendations to approve for the 2014-15 school year:
- STRIVE Prep SW Elementary School
- DSST VI (middle school to open in 2014 and high school to open in 2017)
- High Tech Elementary (recommended placement at Conservatory Green)
- new district-run middle school at the Swigert-McAufliffe facility
- replication of Highline Academy at Dunkirk
Recommendations to approve for 2015-16 school year:
- High Tech Early College Middle School
- DSST VII (middle school to open in 2015 and high school to open in 2018)
- Uhuru School of Authentic Learning
- Legacy Options IP High School
- new district-run high school at the Northfield Campus
Board members Jeannie Kaplan and Arturo Jimenez opposed the STRIVE Prep Southwest Elementary School. Jimenez and board member Andrea Merida also opposed the DSST proposals while Kaplan supported them. The DSST plans will create two new middle and two new high schools between 2014 and 2018.
Merida, a known critics of STRIVE Prep, paused a few seconds before voting “yes” on STRIVE — with caveats. She said her support did not mean she didn’t think southwest Denver had quality schools.
“The models we have in southwest Denver work just fine,” she said. “The problem is we don’t have enough resources to go around.”
She also said charters “need to be able to work with everybody.”
“What we should not get into the habit of doing is assuming we need to create a group of kids so charters succeed,” Merida said. “We’re not here to create a closed pipeline of students so a network can succeed. I am very torn about this decision.”
Jimenez argued that board should not approve charter schools that use experimental models to educate students. But Board President Mary Seawell took issue with that characterization.
“None of us experiment with kids,” Seawell said. “Only the best schools go forward. No one would experiment with kids in this district. [STRIVE] has…a proven track record of success.”
Kaplan also lobbied to delay a vote on High Tech Elementary School, a district school that officials proposed to site at the Conservatory Green campus, because she said the Stapleton community did not yet have enough information about the school. The board approved the school in a 4-3 vote, with Merida, Jimenez and Kaplan opposing it.
“If it’s not the choice of the community then we [should] propose another solution,” Kaplan said.
Merida spoke tersely about emails she received regarding Stapleton parent concerns about the school’s technology focus. Merida said the tone of the emails she received from parents in northeast Denver — arguing that their students need to be in a college-bound track and not a vocational tech school — was insulting.
“The subtext in the emails we got is, ‘We don’t think those schools are appropriate. We don’t think it’s a college prep school.’ If you keep your kids in Denver Public Schools you can’t get away from us,” she said of her working class Latino status. “We’re about equity on this board. The notion we’re going to create an island of suburbia so you can escape the 73 percent of low-income students in Denver Public Schools is a sadly mistaken notion.”
Another point of contention surrounded the Uhuru School of Authentic Learning — whether the school should open at all in the far northeast neighborhood and if so, when. The board voted 4-3 in favor of Uhuru opening in 2015. Merida, Kaplan and Jimenez voted against the school’s opening.
That approval still came as a disappointment to the school’s founders, who have already collected more than 200 letters of intent to enroll from families in the neighborhood. Uhuru’s young school leader, Nivan Khosravi, is being trained through the Get Smart Schools fellowship program, whose staff also testified last week that they believed he is ready to lead a new school next year. But the board agreed with district staff that another year would be beneficial to develop the school leadership team’s management skills.
“We want to set up schools to be successful,” said board member Ann Rowe. “What we have done in the past – because of the enthusiasm – was rush to [opening], and actually put a school in a worse position to be successful.”
Board member Happy Haynes said she believed families would be lining up to attend the school in a year.
Schools that didn’t make the cut
Of district staff’s recommendations of schools to deny, the most controversial was the proposal for Youth Build Charter School of Denver high school. The school was proposed to work in conjunction with the Mile High Youth Corps program, which currently works with students who have dropped out of school to earn GEDs through a combination of work and academic career preparation. School leaders proposed to work with the Youth Build charter school network, based in California.
District officials liked the school’s concept, but worried that the school’s leadership from the California network had not yet demonstrated enough familiarity with Colorado education laws and regulations to successfully operate a school.
The board voted 5-2 not to allow the Youth Build school to open at this time. But they encouraged the school’s founders to keep working because the school ultimately will serve a vital need. Merida and Kaplan voted against the resolution, arguing the school was ready to open.
The board also voted to deny the applications of Denver Performance Academy and Sewall Inclusive Elementary School, which would have expanded the model of the Sewall Child Development Center, which provides inclusive classroom environments for students with a wide range of academic abilities.