more houses = more kids

Why Denver Public Schools wants to build more schools in Stapleton and Green Valley Ranch

PHOTO: Brent Lewis/Denver Post
Izaiah Fofana, held up by his teacher, Lisa Monroe, learns about family members during class for 3- and 4-year-olds at Green Valley Elementary in 2014.

In far northeast Denver, where homebuilders continue to blanket the plains with earth-toned, two-story houses and school enrollment continues to grow, Green Valley Elementary is bordering on bursting. With 764 students, it’s the largest elementary school in the city.

And inside the one-story brick building, space is at a premium.

The copy room has been converted into part of a fourth-grade classroom for 30 students. The copiers were moved into the hallway, hidden behind a gray-colored temporary wall. Another temporary wall functions as a tiny makeshift classroom for kids who need extra help.

The librarian’s office is now home to the school psychologist, while a storage area has been taken over by three teachers who help English-language learners.

The art classroom was moved out of the building altogether into half of a trailer; the other half is occupied by six math tutors. There is no plumbing, so students wash out their paintbrushes in a portable sink that sucks water from one plastic bucket and drains it into another.

A temporary divider in the hallway of Green Valley Elementary serves as an intervention classroom.
PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
A temporary divider in the hallway of Green Valley Elementary serves as an intervention classroom.

“We are using every square inch of the building and then some,” said principal Trina Jones.

In fact, a majority of schools in the far northeast neighborhoods of Green Valley Ranch, Gateway and Montbello are at capacity, and some are overflowing. The same is true for the fast-growing, family-friendly east Denver neighborhood of Stapleton.

As such, Denver Public Schools staff recently estimated the district will need to add 1,950 elementary, middle and high school seats in the far northeast in the next three years. Another 1,500 seats will be needed in Stapleton, even as school enrollment levels off citywide.

The estimates come as DPS is gearing up to ask voters in November to approve a bond to pay for school construction projects. In a time of state budget pressures and tightening district funds, DPS officials hope bond money can be used to pay for building needs that might otherwise go unmet.

The first meeting of a community advisory committee that will help the district assess those needs and craft the bond request is scheduled for later this month.

Slowing enrollment growth

DPS is the largest school district in the state, with more than 91,000 students. That’s nearly 10,000 more students than five years ago, and enrollment is expected to keep growing.

But the pace will slow down, district planning staff said. While more families are choosing DPS schools, a drop in the birth rate during the recession coupled with rising home prices and an increasing number of single-family houses being converted into pricey townhomes that don’t yield as many children is expected to keep the district’s population growth minimal.

Some gentrifying neighborhoods have even seen enrollment decreases. Some of the biggest have been in northwest Denver, where the number of elementary students declined by 4.4 percent this school year. That number is expected to stay relatively flat over the next five years.

Even though there are nearly 5,000 residential units planned for the wildly popular area, the majority of them are high-end apartments and condominiums, DPS planning staff said.

A single-family home for sale in Green Valley Ranch.
PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
A single-family home for sale in Green Valley Ranch.

According to the district’s calculations, apartments and condos yield an average of .07 DPS students per unit, while single-family houses yield an average of .43 students per house.

Brian Eschbacher, the district’s director of planning and enrollment services, said DPS is not considering closing any schools in northwest Denver right now due to low enrollment.

“We have to continue to see how things go in the area,” he said. If the new construction ends up attracting young families with infants and toddlers, Eschbacher explained, “we should hold on.”

Stapleton: new houses, lots of kids

The affordable northeastern neighborhoods of Green Valley Ranch and Gateway, and the pricier northeastern neighborhoods of Stapleton and Lowry, are among the last in Denver where new single-family houses are being built in great numbers.

A combined total of nearly 10,000 more housing units, many of them single-family, are expected to be constructed in those four neighborhoods in the coming years, according to DPS planning staff.

And some of those homes are projected to produce more DPS students than average. The district has found that the yield from houses in Green Valley Ranch and Stapleton, in particular, is much higher: .80 in Green Valley Ranch and a whopping .83 in Stapleton.

“Stapleton is growing like crazy,” Eschbacher said. The houses there routinely sell for more than a half-million dollars, but he said that unlike other wealthier neighborhoods, where a large percentage of the kids attend private schools, the majority of families choose DPS.

“It’s lifting the schools up,” Eschbacher said.

To meet demand, DPS has opened a new elementary school in Stapleton every other year since 2010. The district will open another, Inspire Elementary, in a temporary location this fall. Inspire will need a permanent home capable of holding 500 students in the fall of 2017. And the following fall, DPS planning staff project Stapleton will need yet another 500-student elementary school.

A sign in Stapleton marks the site of future housing development.
A sign in Stapleton marks the site of future housing development.

Additional middle school capacity will be needed as well, Eschbacher said. But instead of building a new middle school right away, he said the district will first grow the size of the popular McAuliffe International School from more than 800 students this year to about 1,150.

At the high school level, an additional 500 seats will be needed in Stapleton by 2018, DPS planning staff predict. The plan, Eschbacher said, is to add capacity to Northfield High, a new comprehensive high school that opened on the Paul Sandoval Campus in Stapleton this fall.

Pressing needs in the far northeast

The needs are even more immediate in Green Valley Ranch and Gateway. DPS planning staff estimate an additional 500 elementary, 450 middle and 500 high school seats will be needed there by 2017. Another 500 elementary school seats may be needed in Montbello by 2018.

The district has already approved a new high school program for the far northeast: STRIVE Prep RISE, another link in a charter school chain that currently operates nine DPS schools. It has also identified a geographic location, on the newly named Regis F. Groff Campus in Green Valley Ranch, but it doesn’t yet have funding for the building, Eschbacher said.

Green Valley Elementary is one of many far northeast schools that are at capacity.
PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Green Valley Elementary is one of many far northeast schools that are at capacity.

Meanwhile, the district is soliciting ideas for a new elementary school and a new middle school to open in the far northeast in the fall of 2017 through its annual Call for New Quality Schools. McGlone Elementary, a turnaround school that’s shown impressive progress and wants to begin serving middle schoolers, is expected to be among the applicants.

Elsewhere in the city, DPS planning staff is monitoring enrollment growth. The district is especially keeping an eye on the Mayfair Park and West Wash Park neighborhoods, where elementary school additions may be needed by 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Other capacity needs identified recently by DPS planning staff stem from a dearth of programming rather than a fluctuation in student enrollment.

For instance, staff said there are no high schools in southeast Denver serving the estimated 486 neighborhood students who are at risk of dropping out or not graduating. Currently, those students have to travel downtown to attend a school that meets their needs.

On the other end of the age spectrum, DPS staff identified several neighborhoods with a shortage of available preschool seats, including far southeast Denver.

Denver voters last approved a DPS bond issue in 2012. A small portion of the $466 million in bond money went to space-crunched Green Valley Elementary to turn that former copy room into part of a classroom, as well as pay for other reconfigurations meant to squeeze in more students.

But not much more squeezing can be done. And with more kids on the horizon, principal Jones said she hopes the school will be able to expand to meet the demand. Green Valley currently has a waiting list for every grade except kindergarten.

“I do not like to turn down neighborhood kids,” she said.

Sorting the Students

As Nashville heads to court over sharing student information with the state, here’s why Memphis probably won’t

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Nashville's Davidson County Chancery Court building where the state filed against Metro Nashville Public Schools over sharing contact information with charter schools.

Tennessee’s two largest school districts are often in lockstep on key issues. But in a recent tiff with the state about sharing student information with charter schools, the two districts are poised to part ways.

Leaders of Nashville’s school district have repeatedly defied an order from Tennessee’s education commissioner to share student addresses, phone numbers, and other information with the state’s controversial turnaround district, as required by a new state law. The state filed a lawsuit this week in response.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Memphis district have spoken out about the rule — but are preparing to comply. The district has given parents until Sunday, Oct. 22 to opt out of sharing their contact information with charter schools.

Instead of outright rejecting McQueen’s deadline last month like Nashville did, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson sought a compromise and the district has indicated contact information after the opt out window could be shared.

“… we respectfully request you extend your deadline until October 23, 2017 to allow our families the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding their rights and to give our board an opportunity to vote on the release of the data,” Hopson said in a letter to McQueen.

The state education department says it is holding off filing a similar suit against that district, for now. The Memphis district “is still deciding whether to comply, whereas Metro [Nashville] has made its decision already,” state spokeswoman Sara Gast said. “Given that, it is appropriate to file here and then review Shelby’s decision to decide if litigation is necessary.”

Shelby County Schools declined to share how many parents have chosen to opt out so far, but said it plans to share information with its board about the effort next week.

The fight has ignited long-simmering tensions around enrollment and the state’s influence in local schools, and comes on the heels of Metro Nashville Public Schools board voting to join Shelby County Schools in its landmark funding lawsuit against the state.

Memphis leaders have also said that the issue at hand is student privacy, though a robocall to Memphis parents indicated that the main goal of the opt-out process was not to lose students to charter schools.

Memphis’ compromise stance will be good news to groups like parent advocacy organization Memphis Lift, which says it has gathered about 1,200 parent signatures urging Shelby County Schools to release the contact information.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

The legal questions at stake are the first challenge to a slight, but significant, amendment to federal rules

The Nashville school board cited two reasons for defying the state’s order in late August: One is U.S. Department of Education rule that allows districts to have discretion on who gets student directory information. The second was that when state lawmakers crafted the law that requires school districts to share student information, they did not intend for that information to be used for recruitment.

According to Frank LoMonte, a First Amendment lawyer and director of The Brechner Center at the University of Florida, said the lawsuit could have national implications.

“What we’re about to see is the first test of whether the U.S. Department of Education amended rules in 2011 are enforceable or not,” he said. What it comes down to, he said, is if a federal rule can give local districts the permission to violate state law.

The Nashville board’s second justification reflects concerns from State Rep. John Forgety, who chairs a key House education committee. He says the state is misinterpreting the law he helped create.

The state said in a statement that Commissioner Candice McQueen is seeking to confirm her interpretation of the new state law, “ensuring that families can be informed of all public education opportunities available to them.”

Below is a copy of the state’s court filing:

study says...

Do ‘good’ parents prep their kids for gifted exams? The answer varies by race, study finds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a citywide gifted and talented program, learn how to read a number line in Nov. 2016.

Is getting your child into a gifted-and-talented program a mark of good parenting? How you answer may depend largely on your race or ethnicity, according to new research.

Allison Roda, an assistant professor of education at Molloy College in Long Island, interviewed more than 50 white, black, and Hispanic parents at an unidentified New York City school to learn about their attitudes towards gifted programs. (Her sample did not include any Asian parents.)

She found that the white parents view applying for gifted programs and preparing their children to score well on the admissions test as hallmarks of good parenting.

For the black and Hispanic families, being a good parent had more to do with choosing a diverse classroom for their child and not “gaming” the system by practicing for the gifted test, according to the report, which appeared recently in the peer-reviewed journal Teachers College Record.

The report comes as the education department and elected officials are considering how to enroll more students of color in gifted programs.

In New York City, most gifted programs are housed in separate classrooms within a larger school. Often, the two are divided along racial lines, with white and Asian students far more likely to be admitted to gifted programs. Meanwhile, black and Hispanic students — who represent 70 percent of the city’s public-school population — comprise less than 30 percent of the gifted-and-talented enrollment.

The most common entry point for gifted programs is kindergarten, with admissions based on test results. The white families Roda interviewed said they felt intense social pressure to have their children take those exams.

Many of them said they questioned whether they should subject their children to such high-stakes testing, but they went along because “everyone else is doing it,” the report says. They also saw it as a pathway to competitive schools in later grades — and even college.

“They know it’s not fair,” Roda said. “They feel the need to do it to get their children on the right track.”

While the black and Hispanic parents Roda interviewed had their children tested for gifted, none reported paying for tutors or otherwise preparing children for the test. For them, having to practice for the test meant your child wasn’t really gifted.

“They know that all of the students who are in those programs were prepped,” Roda said. “So that takes away from the legitimacy of the label and the program they were placed in, and they don’t believe in that.”

Once their children started school, parents of color saw that their kids would be an extreme minority in gifted classes. They also reported that the gifted programs weren’t all that different from the education their children were receiving in general education classes. For those reasons, many opted not to retest their child if he or she initially missed the cut-off score for admission — as opposed to white parents, who repeatedly signed up their children for retakes.

“They just equate it to a way to segregate children whose parents prep them for the test,” Roda said.

Despite the time and resources white families said they poured into preparing for the gifted test, they didn’t think it was an accurate measure of giftedness. On that point, families of color agreed. Black, white and Hispanic families also agreed that school diversity was important.

Understanding those similarities and differences could be important for efforts to better integrate gifted classes and the school system more widely. While some elected officials have called for expanding access to test prep and testing all pre-K students for giftedness as a way to increase black and Hispanic student enrollment, Roda’s research suggests that may not work since parents of color told Roda they were opposed to test prep.

Instead, Roda suggests, the city should begin to spread the practices used in gifted classrooms to entire schools.

“Be more inclusive and enrich the curriculum that way,” Roda said. “And don’t be so focused on the test.”