DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg thinks by 2020 additional seats will be needed in the Greater Park Hill/Stapleton middle school enrollment zone and Northfield High School. The district is exploring how to finance those seats in advance of the 2020 bond.
In a May 17 interview with the Front Porch, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg suggested that new seats would be necessary as soon as 2020 in the Greater Park Hill/Stapleton (GPHS) middle school zone and at Northfield High School (NHS). Previously, the district had said that capacity would likely be added in 2021 or later, after passage of a school bond in 2020.
“Preliminarily, I think a new middle school is needed in 2020,” said Boasberg. He also stated, “I think it’s likely that we will need to have additional capacity on the Northfield campus by Fall of 2020, and in order to do that, we effectively have to take out financing that would then be repaid in 2020.” Boasberg said DPS will continue looking at the data and confirm this in the fall.
Typically, the district would wait for passage of a bond in 2020 to fund the construction of new school buildings, but the district is already exploring how to finance added capacity in advance of the bond, he confirmed.
While district projections published in the Front Porch in February suggested there was sufficient capacity at middle and high school levels to accommodate in-zone or in-boundary students, it appears that several factors have contributed to pushing up the timeline for adding seats. “We build capacity to allow all families in the zone to have a seat but also capacity for families outside the zone,” said Boasberg, in order to “drive greater socioeconomic diversity” and to foster connections between Stapleton and neighboring communities.
At the middle school level, GPHS families have shown a strong preference for the comprehensive, International Baccalaureate programming of McAuliffe to smaller, more specialized offerings at schools like DSST: Stapleton/Conservatory Green or Denver Discovery School (DDS). This year eight percent of GPHS students didn’t get their first choice, a figure that is certain to rise with an additional 90 6th graders in the zone next year, and likely 30 fewer seats at McAuliffe.
While DPS expects greater choice-in to DDS and more interest in DSST: Conservatory Green (DSST:CG), whose in-zone appeal has remained low and flat for four years, “It won’t take all the pressure off McAuliffe,” said Boasberg. He believes both DDS and the DSSTs have “work to do” to attract and retain in-zone students, but even if they succeed, there will still be pressure on the choice enrollment process.
The district and the GPHS middle schools are committed to socio-economic integration. Unfortunately, enrollment choices appear to be affecting integration patterns in the zone, with the two DSST schools increasingly serving more low-income students and students of color, while McAuliffe and Bill Roberts have to reach outside the zone to ensure socioeconomic diversity. Boasberg said, “We would love to see all the schools be closer to the zone average,” which is reportedly comprised of about 30 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch (FRL), a proxy for poverty. Building more capacity could allow for greater integration.
A call for a new middle school would come out in December 2018 if the district commits to the 2020 opening date, with a decision made by April 2019, based on past timelines. The new middle school would likely be built north of I-70, either attached to the Inspire Campus, at a new building further north, or possibly at Sandoval, though the latter seems increasingly unlikely, as that campus has its own capacity issues.
Current enrollment projections for the 9th grade class at Northfield High include 151 in-zone students and 84 from neighboring communities, in line with the goal of 35% out-of-boundary enrollment for the high school. According to a statement by NHS Principal Amy Bringedahl at the Stapleton United Neighbors (SUN) meeting on May 15, there are over 200 students on the waitlist for Northfield. Overall, the school expects 800 students this year, and has capacity for 1000, which DPS projections show will occur by 2020, thus necessitating the expansion prior to passage of the 2020 bond.
Northfield High School shares the Paul Sandoval Campus with DSST: Conservatory Green High School, because “it is significantly more cost-effective to have a set of shared facilities,” according to Boasberg, and taxpayers want to see the “absolute maximum use of their tax dollars.”
But the shared campus has been a source of contention for in-boundary residents of Stapleton and Park Hill, as well as the 35 percent of students from far Northeast who attend NHS. Some feel that by constructing a 500-seat building for DSST:CG, which is underutilized by students living in the boundary, DPS has prevented the full build-out of Northfield in terms of capacity and facilities. The facilities are in turn further strained by being shared between two schools.
DPS’s intention to add 500 seats to Northfield in 2020 should ease the capacity problems, if the financing comes through, but the question of sharing facilities remains.
Already, there is concern the athletic facilities are inadequate to serve both schools. DSST:CG will play under the Northfield Nighthawks banner in some sports, like varsity football, where it wouldn’t otherwise field a team. But in other sports, like soccer, both schools want to have teams, yet currently it is a challenge to navigate field space.
Boasberg hopes the athletic facilities crunch can be helped in two ways. First, he says, he wants to work with Denver City Parks and Recreation to expand the amount of field space available. And second, “I think there needs to be greater sharing. On most of our shared campuses, we don’t have separate athletic teams….the campus is not built for DSST and Northfield to have separate teams,” said Boasberg.
The community will be keeping a close eye on the build-out of Northfield, and Boasberg looks forward to receiving community input on the design of new facilities for the growing school.