still searching

Three candidates, no new leader: Principal search at Denver’s Manual High to continue

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Denver's Manual High School.

The Denver school district is starting over again as it looks for a new principal for the high-profile Manual High School after its initial search did not end in a hire.

Of the three candidates in the running for the principal job, one was not named a finalist and another took a position in a different school district instead, according to a letter Denver Public Schools sent to Manual families, staff, and community members Friday.

The district offered the Manual job to the third candidate, Jason Maclin, an assistant principal at Denver’s East High School. But “after careful consideration and discussion with his family, he decided not to pursue this opportunity at this time,” the letter says.

Manual is a storied high school in northeast Denver with a host of prominent alumni that has struggled academically in recent years. The last principal, Nick Dawkins, resigned in March after learning the district received complaints about a hostile work environment. District officials later concluded Dawkins violated the district’s policy against harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, according to a document obtained by Chalkbeat.

The search committee leading the effort to find a new leader for Manual is recommending the district name an interim principal for the rest of the calendar year “so that we can take the remainder of 2018 to embark on a national search for the right candidate,” the letter says.

Renard Simmons, the principal at a nearby school called the Denver Center for 21st Century Learning, has been filling in at Manual since Dawkins left.

The district announced on May 18 that Lynn Heintzman had been named the next interim principal. Heintzman will start at Manual in July. She is a retired Denver Public Schools principal who is serving as an interim principal at Denver’s Lake Middle School this school year.

Read the full letter below.

May 11, 2018
Dear Manual High School Students, Families, Staff and Community,

We are writing this letter to you to give you an update on the principal selection process for Manual High School. As you are aware, the Manual School Principal Search Advisory Committee (SPSAC) has been diligently working to find a new leader for our school. After an inclusive, thoughtful and thorough process, the SPSAC supported two candidate finalists for the principal position.

After reviewing feedback from the process, including conducting extensive reference checks, DPS offered the role to Mr. Jason Maclin. Mr. Maclin enjoyed engaging in the process with the amazing Manual High School community. After careful consideration and discussion with his family, he decided not to pursue this opportunity at this time but looks forward to continuing to lead and foster a culture of excellence for all students and families he serves throughout his leadership journey. The second candidate finalist informed us that she has accepted a role in another district.

The SPSAC considers selecting a talented leader an essential component of building on the great work that is taking place at Manual High School. To that end, the SPSAC has provided feedback on and is recommending that an interim principal be named so that we can take the remainder of 2018 to embark on a national search for the right candidate. We are confident that, by taking time to vet outstanding local, regional and national candidates in the fall, we will be able to find our next permanent leader who can best meet the needs of the school.

In the meantime, the Council and the SPSAC is confident that our current leadership team can lead us through the end of the school year and continue to lead us into the coming school year.

We look forward to having an update at the end of next week. In the meantime, our focus will be to continue to assist our students and educators as we work to ensure that every student in every classroom at Manual can concentrate on getting the best education possible.

Lastly, we would like to thank the Manual Council and the Manual School Principal Search Advisory Committee for all their hard work and dedication to the search process. We all remain committed to securing the best leader for our students, families, staff and community.


Serina Montoya
Manual Council Co-chair

Scott Esserman
Manual Council Co-chair

Nicole T. Veltzé
Assistant Superintendent, Division of Secondary Education

This story was updated to reflect the naming of the next interim principal.

growing enrollment

Answering a call: Here’s who raised their hands to open a new middle school in Stapleton

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Sold signs can be seen on many of the homes in Stapleton on August 1, 2018, in Denver, Colorado.

Leaders of two stand-alone Denver schools and one local school network sent letters to the district this week signaling their intent to apply to open a new middle school in the growing Stapleton neighborhood in northeast Denver. The leaders were responding to a call from Denver Public Schools for schools interested in filling that need.

All of the letters come from leaders of highly rated semi-autonomous district schools. They include:

  • High Tech Elementary School, a stand-alone school located in Stapleton. It currently serves students in preschool through fifth grade and is interested in expanding to serve students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, as well. High Tech uses a “technology-enhanced, personalized, project-based approach” to teaching its students, according to its letter.
  • Beacon Network Schools, which currently runs two middle schools in Denver: Kepner Beacon in southwest Denver and Grant Beacon in south-central Denver. The Beacon schools also focus on personalized learning, partly by giving students access to technology that allows them to learn at their own pace. The new Stapleton school would be the network’s third middle school.
  • Denver Green School, a stand-alone school serving students in preschool through eighth grade in southeast Denver. The Denver Green School’s hands-on curriculum is focused on “what sustainability means in relation to our classrooms, our community, our planet, and ourselves,” according to its letter. The new Stapleton school would be its first expansion.

Denver Public Schools announced last month its intention to open a new middle school in Stapleton in the fall of 2019. Data from this year’s school-choice process showed rising enrollment in parts of northeast Denver, including Stapleton, officials said. That’s a different trend than in many other parts of the city, where enrollment is expected to decrease.

But instead of simply opening its own new schools, the Denver district uses a process known as the “Call for New Quality Schools.” The call is essentially a request for proposals for new schools. Leaders and developers of district-run and charter schools submit applications, and the Denver school board decides which to approve and give coveted space in district buildings.

For Stapleton, the district is looking for a middle school that could serve up to 600 students. It would start with sixth grade in August 2019 and add a grade every year. The exact location of the school has yet to be determined. The district has said the school “should be designed to be diverse and inclusive,” though it has not laid out any specific criteria.

Letters of intent from those interested in applying were due Monday. Full applications are due Oct. 26. The school board is set to make a decision in December.

The call process is in line with the district’s “portfolio strategy” approach. That involves cultivating a mix of different types of schools – district-run schools, independent charter schools, and others – and letting families choose. It also involves closing schools with low test scores, though the district is taking a break from that controversial strategy this year.

None of the proposed Stapleton middle schools would be charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run. The area – officially known as the Greater Park Hill-Stapleton Enrollment Zone – already has two charter and three district-run middle schools.

The proposed schools would likely be “innovation” schools, which are district-run schools with charter-like autonomy. That means they can waive certain state and district rules to do things such as set their own calendars or employ their teachers on a year-to-year basis.

The Beacon schools are innovation schools that are also part of an “innovation management organization,” which gives them more budgetary flexibility than regular innovation schools.

Denver Green School is an innovation school that is also part of a district-approved “innovation zone.” The zone is similar to an innovation management organization in that the schools within it have the same budgetary flexibility. But it’s different because the zone is overseen by a nonprofit board of directors that can hire and fire its school leaders.

High Tech is an innovation school, but it is not part of a zone or a management organization.

To open a new school in Stapleton, the Beacon network would have to jump through one fewer hoop than the other two. That’s because the school board has already approved Beacon to open three more middle schools. The network has not specified where or when it would open those schools, and it could take one “off the shelf” to apply for placement in Stapleton.

By contrast, Denver Green School and High Tech would have to first submit an application to open a new middle school and then apply for placement in Stapleton.

More seats

New data, shifting plans: Denver district calls for new middle school in Stapleton

PHOTO: Kevin J. Beaty/
McAuliffe International School.

Six months after Denver district leaders opted not to seek proposals for new schools serving specific grades and neighborhoods, they changed course Wednesday, announcing plans for a new middle school on the north side of the growing Stapleton neighborhood.

District officials said the move was prompted by data gleaned from this year’s school choice process showing rising enrollment in parts of northeast Denver. That localized trend contrasts with forecasts of shrinking enrollment in the district overall.

The new school will open in the fall of 2019 and serve students in a swath of northeast Denver the district calls the Greater Park Hill/Stapleton enrollment zone.

Jennifer Holladay, the district’s associate chief of portfolio management, said while the district compiles enrollment projections each fall, a separate look at enrollment data this spring informed Wednesday’s announcement.

“It became clear that we are going to need some extra seats in Greater Park Hill/Stapleton,” she said. “We always learn something new through the choice season.”

The neighborhoods’ enrollment zone currently includes five schools with middle grades: Denver Discovery School, McAuliffe International School, Bill Roberts K-8, and two links in the district’s biggest charter chain, DSST: Stapleton and DSST: Conservatory Green.

Students in enrollment zones — a tool the district has used with mixed success to increase integration — are guaranteed a seat at one school in the zone, but not necessarily the one closest to them.

PHOTO: Denver Public Schools
This map shows the Greater Park Hill/Stapleton enrollment zone.

Wednesday’s announcement functions as an invitation to prospective school developers — whether charter or district-run — to propose middle schools for that location. The process, officially known as the “Call for New Quality Schools” usually happens in the spring, but in this case will unfold during late summer and fall. The school board will pick from the applicants in December.

Holladay said the call for applicants is open both to school operators that have previously won approval to open new schools but haven’t yet opened those schools and to those submitting new proposals. She said operators that currently have district approval to open middle schools are the DSST charter network and the Beacon Network, which runs two innovation schools in the district: Grant Beacon and Kepner Beacon.

Parent Amanda Allshouse, who is president of the neighborhood organization Stapleton United Neighbors, said there’s definitely a need for a new middle school in the area. She said many parents there expressed a desire for another large comprehensive middle school similar to McAuliffe at a community forum attended by Superintendent Tom Boasberg in May.

The high-performing school is the largest of the five middle schools included in the enrollment zone and one of the district’s most sought-after placements for incoming sixth-graders.

Stapleton resident Dipti Nevrekar is another parent hoping the zone’s new middle school will be like McAuliffe, with an array of sports, activities and arts offerings — and an International Baccalaureate program that will feed into the one at Northfield High School. She said her son was lucky enough to gain entrance to McAuliffe for the coming year, but several of his friends were not.

The number of sixth-graders in the Greater Park Hill/Stapleton enrollment zone is expected to jump by more than 100 students by the fall of 2019, to more than 900 total. The new middle school will start with just sixth-graders and add a grade each year, eventually maxing out at 500 to 600 students.

PHOTO: Denver Public Schools
District data shows projected increases in middle school enrollment in the Greater Park Hill/Stapleton enrollment zone.

The new middle school will be the district’s first to open since the citywide Strengthening Neighborhoods Committee released recommendations last winter aimed at increasing integration in Denver schools. One piece of the recommendations calls for the district to evaluate all new school applicants on their ability to appeal to a diverse student body, create a diverse teaching staff, and use curriculum that takes into account students’ cultural backgrounds.

Holladay, who said the new middle school will be designed to be diverse, said the district will create a way to measure such components in the coming months.