space use

Denver Language School placed in former Gilpin Montessori building

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Chinese teacher Fay Tsai teaches her fourth grade class at Denver Language School.

Middle schoolers at Denver Language School, a language immersion charter that teaches students in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, will have a new home next year: the northeast Denver school building that previously housed the now-shuttered Gilpin Montessori.

By a 6-to-1 vote Thursday, the Denver school board picked the charter from among seven middle and high schools that applied to use the building. The vote heeds the recommendation of a nine-member committee that cited the school’s high academic performance, healthy enrollment demand and racial diversity as reasons it rose to the top of the real estate contest.

Finding a suitable location in a red-hot market where school buildings are scarce is often one of the biggest hurdles faced by Denver charter schools looking to open or expand. Denver Language School, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, has been housing its middle school in a facility that lacks a science lab and art room.

Board member Carrie Olson noted the inadequacy of the school’s current arrangement and said it is in “desperate need” of a building for its middle schoolers. However, she also expressed frustration that the selection process “pitted schools against each other.”

Board member Jennifer Bacon, who represents the Five Points neighborhood where Gilpin is located, was the sole no vote. While she praised Denver Language School, she expressed concerns about the extent to which the community was involved in the decision.

The committee that recommended Denver Language School included four community members and five district employees. One of those community members, former Gilpin parent Katherine Murphy, urged the board Thursday to vote against the recommendation. She said she wanted “a do-over” in which community members would have more say.

Another committee member, Curtis Park neighborhood association president John Hayden, told the board earlier this week that he felt the process was “too rushed.” He and others pointed out that the board voted to close Gilpin Montessori last December but the district didn’t solicit applications from schools seeking to use the building until October.

However, Hayden said the committee felt Denver Language School would be a good fit. He noted the school’s willingness to engage with its neighbors, including possibly running after-school language classes or helping to translate neighborhood newsletters into Spanish.

Parents and community members who live near Gilpin had previously expressed concerns that whichever school was placed there would siphon middle school students from existing neighborhood schools. But that possibility would be less likely with Denver Language School. Because of its language immersion model, few new students enroll after kindergarten.

Denver Language School has been open since 2010 and is currently operating on two campuses in east Denver. One is a former district-run elementary school and the other is leased space within a church. The school serves more than 700 students from across the city and provides them bus transportation along a certain route for a sliding-scale fee.

Next school year, the school’s fourth through eighth graders will be housed at Gilpin while construction is underway at its other elementary school campus. Once that work is completed, only the fifth through eighth grades will be housed at Gilpin.

The school expects to enroll up to 365 students in grades five through eight in the future, according to the committee’s recommendation, which means it would not fill 600-student-capacity Gilpin. Earlier this week, board members briefly discussed the possibility of eventually co-locating other programs there, if not an entire other school.

pick a school

Denver touts record participation in school choice process

PHOTO: Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Students at McAuliffe International School. The school was among the most-requested this year. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Even as more Denver families participated in the annual public school lottery this year, about four out of five still got into a first-choice school, district officials announced Thursday.

More than 27,000 families submitted school choices, up 17 percent from last year. Officials attributed the big jump to several factors, including additional help the district provided to families to fill out the choice forms, which were online-only this year.

The window of time families had to submit choices was also pushed back from January to February, which gave families more time to tour schools and rank their top five choices.

Match rates – or the percentage of incoming elementary, middle, and high school students who got into their first-choice schools – dipped slightly from 82 percent last year to 81 percent this year. Brian Eschbacher, the district’s executive director of enrollment and planning services, said that’s not bad given that nearly 4,000 more families participated this year.

Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova said officials are “thrilled” with the record participation. The district received its first choice form at 12:02 a.m. on February 1, just two minutes after the window opened, she said. The window closed February 28, and families found out last week which schools their children got into.

The reasons families participate in the lottery vary. Some want to send their children to charter schools or to district-run schools outside their neighborhood because they believe those schools are better. Others may be looking for a certain type of program, such as dual-language instruction.

Still others participate because they live in “enrollment zones,” which are essentially big school boundaries with several schools in them. Students who live in enrollment zones are guaranteed a spot at one of the schools in the zone but not necessarily the one closest to where they live. Many families who live in zones use the choice process to increase the chances they’ll get into their preferred school.

The district added three more enrollment zones this year, bringing the total number to 14 citywide.

This is the seventh year the 92,600-student district has used a single form that asks families to list their top five school choices. Those choices can be district-run or charter schools.

In part for making it relatively easy for parents to navigate the lottery, Denver has been named the best large school district in the country for choice by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution think tank for two years in a row.

The district especially encourages families with children entering the so-called “transition grades” of preschool, kindergarten, sixth grade, and ninth grade to submit choice forms.

This year, the biggest increase in participation came at the preschool level, with 777 more families requesting to enroll in preschool programs, a 17 percent increase from last year. The second-biggest increase was at the high school level, with 359 more families participating.

The most-requested high school was the city’s biggest, East High School in east-central Denver. East is one of several more affluent Denver schools participating in a pilot program that gives preference to students from low-income families who want to choice into the school.

Last year, the pilot program resulted in every eighth-grader from a low-income family who applied for a spot in East’s freshman class getting in. Results from this year are not yet available for East and the other schools participating in the program, Eschbacher said.

The most-requested middle school was McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver. The most-requested elementary school was Swigert International School, which is also located in the northeast and follows the same International Baccalaureate curriculum as McAuliffe.

contract details

Antwan Wilson being paid up to $60,000 to consult for Denver Public Schools

Antwan Wilson visits a fifth grade math class at the Brightwood Education Campus in Washington on his first day as D.C. schools chancellor. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Denver school district is paying former administrator Antwan Wilson as much as $60,000 to be a part-time consultant for 12 weeks to help to build a strategic plan for a career and technical education program, according to Wilson’s contract.

The contract shows the district determined that Wilson, who was recently forced to resign as Washington, D.C. schools chancellor, was the only person qualified for the consultant job.

“We considered other local or national consulting organizations that could provide these services, but determined they would not be able to meet our needs,” Denver Public Schools Chief Operating Officer David Suppes wrote as justification for why the contract was not put out for competitive bid. Chalkbeat obtained the contract in an open records request.

Suppes cited Wilson’s years of experience managing large urban school districts, as well as his experience leading secondary schools in Denver. Wilson was principal of the now-closed Montbello High School and worked for five years as an assistant superintendent in Denver before becoming superintendent in Oakland, California, and then chancellor in D.C.

He resigned as chancellor in February after it came to light that he skirted the district’s competitive school lottery process to get his oldest daughter into a high-performing school.

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Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg said in a previous Chalkbeat interview that Wilson was a good fit for the consultant job because “he is probably the country’s foremost thinker on these issues around career and technical education and concurrent enrollment,” which allows high school students to take college classes and receive credit for free.

Wilson’s resume says he ran Denver Public Schools’ concurrent enrollment program during his tenure as the assistant superintendent for post-secondary readiness from 2009 to 2014. It also notes he led the district’s career and technical education program.

The number of students taking concurrent enrollment classes increased during his tenure, his resume says. Graduation rates increased and dropout rates decreased, partly due to efforts to open new alternative schools, which the district calls “multiple pathways schools,” it says.

Boasberg said Wilson will be helping to expand the district’s career and technical program, called CareerConnect, to those schools.

Wilson’s consultant contract says he will “support the strategic planning process, including stakeholder engagement, evaluation of successful practices used elsewhere, and assisting the team in thinking through systemic needs for the thoughtful growth of the program.”

The contract notes that Wilson’s position is grant funded. It says his fee includes a $69 per-diem expense and $178 in daily lodging expenses. His fee is based on a $150-per-hour rate, it says. In the end, how much he is paid will depend on how many hours he works, a district spokesman said.

The contract specifies that Wilson will work two days a week for eight hours a day.

In his justification for why the contract was not competitive, Suppes wrote that local consulting companies that have worked with Denver Public Schools in the past “would not have experience in this area” and would have been more expensive at $175 to $200 an hour.

National consulting companies, Suppes wrote, “are often strong in doing this type of work, but might not have the skill depth available.” Plus, he wrote, the national consultants would have charged two to four times as much as the district is paying Wilson.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the contract says $60,000 is the maximum amount Antwan Wilson will be paid. In the end, how much he is paid will depend on how many hours he works.