school restart

Denver Public Schools requests new programs to replace two low-performing elementary schools

PHOTO: Greenlee
Students at Greenlee Elementary.

Denver Public Schools officially solicited “new high-quality programs” Thursday to replace the two persistently low-performing elementary schools — Greenlee in west Denver and Amesse in far northeast Denver — that the school board recently voted to restart.

Because of slowing enrollment growth, the district isn’t soliciting any other new charter or district-run schools as part of its annual Call for New Quality Schools this year. The call for restart programs for Greenlee and Amesse are the only requests.

Groups interested in launching new schools must submit letters of intent to apply by Feb. 10.

The request notes that replacement schools for Greenlee and Amesse must offer preschool through fifth grade, a research-based program for English language learners and commit to eventually opening a “center program” for students with more serious disabilities.

The district’s request also mentions providing services for students with significant needs, including kids who are homeless, live in foster care or whose families receive food stamps.

Greenlee currently serves 335 students, almost 94 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a proxy for poverty. Seventy percent of students are “direct-certified,” meaning they automatically qualify for free lunch because they have more significant needs.

More than 90 percent of students are children of color and more than 30 percent are English language learners. Students’ primary home language is Spanish, the request says.

Amesse currently serves 470 students, nearly 96 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 35 percent of whom are direct-certified.

According to the request, 96 percent of students are children of color and 55 percent are English language learners. Like at Greenlee, students’ primary home language is Spanish.

The school board is scheduled to choose new programs for Greenlee and Amesse in June with the goal of having the new schools take over in fall 2018.

Read the full Call for New Quality Schools document below.

new use

These seven Denver schools are competing to use a building vacated by a shuttered elementary

The former Gilpin Montessori School. (Photo by Melanie Asmar)

Seven Denver schools have applied to locate their programs in the northeast Denver school building that until this spring housed Gilpin Montessori elementary school.

They include six charter schools and one district-run school. Four of the seven are already operating in other buildings. The other three programs are not yet open.

In a gentrifying city where real estate is at a premium and the number of existing school buildings is limited, securing a suitable location that affords enough room to grow is one of the biggest hurdles new schools face.

Every year, Denver Public Schools solicits applications from schools seeking to use its available buildings. The process for the former Gilpin building is separate; the school board is expected to vote in December on a program or programs to take up residence in fall 2018.

The seven applicants are:

Compassion Road Academy, a district-run alternative high school currently located near West 10th Avenue and Speer Boulevard that had 172 students last school year.

The Boys School, an all-boys charter middle school that opened this year with 87 sixth-graders in rented space in a northwest Denver church and plans to add more grades.

Denver Language School Middle School, a K-8 charter school that served 715 students — 101 in middle school — last year and is currently split between two campuses in east Denver.

Colorado High School Charter GES, a charter alternative high school that opened this year in west Denver. It is the charter’s second campus in the district.

Downtown Denver Expeditionary School Middle School, a charter school that served 402 kindergarten through fifth-graders last year in the building that houses DPS headquarters. It is approved to serve grades 6, 7 and 8, as well, but has not yet opened a middle school program.

5280 High School, a charter high school approved but not yet open that plans to emphasize hands-on learning and would also offer a program for students in recovery from addiction, eating disorders and other challenges.

The CUBE, a personalized learning charter high school approved but not yet open.

The district is currently reviewing the applications to make sure they meet the initial criteria it set, said DPS spokeswoman Alex Renteria: The schools must be currently operating or previously approved secondary schools with enrollments of 600 students or fewer.

Community meetings scheduled for Nov. 18 and Dec. 2 will provide an opportunity for community members to meet the applicants and “provide feedback on their alignment with the community priorities,” according to a district presentation. Community priorities are one of the measures by which the applicants will be judged, the presentation says. The others are academic performance, facility need and enrollment demand, it says.

A facility placement committee will review the applications and make a recommendation to Superintendent Tom Boasberg the week of Dec. 11, Renteria said. Boasberg is expected to make his recommendation Dec. 18 to the school board, which will vote Dec. 21.

The committee will include five district staff members and four community members, including two from the neighborhood, Renteria said. Applications from community members to serve on the committee are due Tuesday, and members will be selected by Friday, she said.

The Gilpin building is available because the elementary school that previously occupied it closed at the end of last school year. Using a district policy to close schools with low test scores and lagging academic growth, the school board voted last December to permanently shutter Gilpin Montessori and restart two other elementary schools: John Amesse and Greenlee.

The district’s rationale for closing Gilpin rather than restarting it with a new elementary program was based on enrollment: With just 202 students last year, it was the district’s second-smallest elementary school — and DPS enrollment projections showed further declines in the number of elementary-school-aged children in the neighborhood, which is gentrifying.

A recent analysis by the Denver Regional Council of Governments and the Piton Foundation’s Shift Research Lab showed a similar trend: rising home prices and rents, and a building boom that resulted in thousands of new housing units from 2012 to 2016 but just 23 new students.

Gilpin Montessori parents and community members rallied to save the school and have lobbied the district to keep an elementary school there.

Three programs serving students with special needs are temporarily using the building this year.

Transition

Rocky Mountain Prep to open third Denver school at site of closing charter

The future home of Rocky Mountain Prep elementary in northwest Denver (Eric Gorski, Chalkbeat).

A Denver-area charter network with promising academic results will take over a building currently occupied by a struggling charter and give enrollment preference to its students.

Starting in fall 2018, Rocky Mountain Prep charter network will serve students in preschool through fifth grade at the current location of Cesar Chavez Academy, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in northwest Denver.

Cesar Chavez, which opened in 2009, will close at the end of this school year because it did not meet the academic performance conditions spelled out in its charter with Denver Public Schools. Even if that were not the case, the school would have faced closure under a district policy that calls for persistently low-performing schools to be restarted.

Rather than engage in a contentious fight to stay open, Cesar Chavez on its own began conversations about a potential takeover with Rocky Mountain Prep, said principal Mary Ann Mahoney. Rocky Mountain Prep operates two highly rated elementary schools in Denver. It is also in the process of replacing a low-performing elementary school in Aurora.

Engaging in a fight, Mahoney said, “creates so much tension and unhappiness. My number one goal was to create a stable transition for our kids. I wanted our kids to feel safe and cared for.”

A majority of students at Rocky Mountain Prep are low-income, as are a majority of Cesar Chavez students. Rocky Mountain Prep’s vision “is to close the opportunity gap that exists between low-income students and their wealthier peers,” according to its charter application.

In many ways, Mahoney said, the two schools are similar. For example, both require students to wear uniforms and both focus on teaching positive character traits. But Rocky Mountain Prep’s academic curriculum has been much more successful, Mahoney said.

“The first time I visited Rocky Mountain Prep, my feeling was, ‘This school is doing what we’re trying to do but they’re doing it more effectively,’” she said.

The Denver school board last spring approved Rocky Mountain Prep to open three more charter schools in the district. None have opened yet; charter schools in Denver often don’t open until they can secure a building, sometimes through the district and sometimes on their own.

Cesar Chavez has its own three-story building at 38th Avenue and Tennyson Street. Rocky Mountain Prep will buy it from the bondholder, according to a statement from Cesar Chavez.

Rocky Mountain Prep will give enrollment preference to Cesar Chavez students and interview preference to Cesar Chavez teachers, the statement said. There are 245 students in kindergarten through eighth grade attending Cesar Chavez this year, Mahoney said. Rocky Mountain Prep will not offer a middle school next year.

Network leaders have said their goal is to build “a truly integrated” school educating both predominantly Latino Cesar Chavez families and more affluent white families that have moved into the neighborhood in recent years.