Officials from Denver Public Schools asked parents and teachers at a North City Park elementary school to trust them as they introduced the campus’ new principal Monday night.
Jason Krause, described by the district as a “proven school leader,” will become Columbine Elementary School’s fifth principal in seven years when he takes over in the fall.
Columbine is one of the district’s lowest performing elementary schools. Parents pointed to the lack of consistency in the principal’s office as a fundamental reason the school is struggling.
“I don’t want to be the guinea pig school anymore,” said Melissa Skrbic-Huss, Columbine’s PTA president. “I don’t know if I can trust you guys.”
District officials said they’ve heard the community’s concern and have a longterm commitment from Krause.
“Our goal now is to create a stable community with your help,” said Erin McMahon, a DPS instructional superintendent. “I’m OK if you don’t believe us right now. But let’s give it some time and figure [Columbine’s future] out together.”
Krause will replace Beth Yates, who is currently leading Columbine for her second year. Some parents and teachers were shocked to learn of the district’s decision to swap leaders — again. Despite inheriting a school in free-fall, Yates has rallied her staff and the school was showing progress in both its culture and test scores, they said.
District officials agreed and acknowledged Yate’s successes Monday night. But those changes weren’t happening fast enough, Ivan Duran, assistant superintendent for elementary education, told Monday’s crowd of about three dozen.
“We really can’t experiment anymore,” Duran said, introducing Krause, who in three years as principal at Smith Renaissance Elementary School saw double-digit gains in proficiency scores. Smith’s enrollment, which determines a school’s budget, is also up, Duran said. (The district will launch a full principal search, including community input, to replace Krause at Smith.)
At Columbine, the district is trying to combat declining enrollment, Duran said. Moreover, the leadership change was also a requirement for the school to receive a school improvement grant from the state.
For Krause, who began his teaching career at Columbine, it was a bit of a homecoming. A college philosophy major, who speaks Spanish, he joined the school through an alternative teacher-licensing program in the late 1990s.
Krause was also among the last generation of DPS students who were bused under a court mandate to integrate the urban schools. He said, in retrospect, the experience was the foundation of his yearning to be in the classroom.
“It made me value diversity,” he said.
Krause said he hopes to be a part of the Columbine community for years to come.
“I am not the kind of person who wants to put a band-aid on the school and leave,” he said. “It’s really special to be back.”
As part of the transition, the district will form a steering committee at Columbine made up of teachers, parents and community members. There will be a two and a half day “vision” retreat at the end of May. Additionally, Krause and district officials will survey families living inside of Columbine’s attendance boundaries but have decided to send their children to other schools.
Fourth grade teacher Blake Hammond said he hopes the school will develop a culture of grit and celebrate thinking outside the box.
“Let’s do something exciting,” he said.
One parent, who said three generations of her family have attended Columbine, said she hopes the school can be returned to its glory days when more than 500 students filled the halls. Next year’s enrollment is projected at 172 students.
Other requests from parents included art and music classes.
One parent who said his family was committed to the northeast Denver neighborhood wondered aloud if DPS was as well.
“The concern of a lot of parents — what we talk about on the weekends — is not just Columbine,” Jonathan Hammond said. “It’s Columbine, Barrett [Elementary School], Manual [High School]. We want to know DPS’s plan for northeast Denver. … The schools are dismal. Our hope, our dream is beyond Columbine, a quality middle school and high school. We want to make sure all of the northeast Denver schools do well — that our schools are not just the armpit of DPS.”
Instructional superintendent McMahon said DPS shared his concern.
“Our longterm goal is to see kids through college,” she said.