After weeks of news on upcoming DPS school closures due to low enrollment, the DPS Board voted on Nov. 17 not to close any schools at this time. In Northeast Denver, that means Denver Discovery School (DDS) will remain open.
In late October, DPS released a list of ten small schools recommended for closing—and DDS was on the list. Later the list was cut in half—and DDS was still there. At the last minute, Superintendent Marrero surprised the board by recommending that just two schools be closed—and DDS was one of those.
The DPS Board deems student populations below 215 to be financially untenable since DPS must provide additional resources so these schools can function as if they had an enrollment above 215 students. DDS currently has 93 students, and DPS subsidizes the school at 10.53 times the basic per pupil funding rate. (Per pupil funding of the other nine schools on the proposed closure list ranged from 2.04 to 6.94.) Superintendent Marrero has called DDS a particularly “dire” situation.
Three days before the expected closure vote, the Board held a public comment session that lasted for over six hours and that featured nearly 200 individual testimonies. Most of the ten schools on the closure list were well represented, with numerous students, teachers, and parents passionately defending their schools and criticizing the proposed closure. No one testified on behalf of Denver Discovery, and the school was not mentioned during the 6-hour session.
Although Front Porch policy is to identify the source of quotes, this article contains statements from DDS parents who asked to remain anonymous. Front Porch believes the information is credible and will help readers understand the issues that these parents say are detrimental to the students—and why they think these problems make the school unsustainable. Front Porch was unable to find parents to defend the school, and no DDS staff members were willing to be interviewed.
When Denver Discovery opened in 2014, the community had high hopes. The school’s diversity was part of its appeal, as the student population was initially comprised of 60 percent White and 40 percent minority students. But the White population soon dropped to just 25 percent, and the diverse school became a minority school.
Hasira “H-Soul” Ashemu was actively involved as a DDS parent. His two sons recently graduated from the school and his wife served in the administration. Ashemu traces the problems at Denver Discovery to decisions made by the first principal, who was released from her post just before the start of the 2017 school year. “She expanded the boundaries of their students beyond Quebec to increase the enrollment and funding. But taking in so many Black and Brown students shifted the racial dynamic, and they weren’t a welcomed addition in that building. Those DDS teachers could not connect to the students who had come from traumatized communities, and that created instability in the school,” says Ashemu.
With the diminished population of White students, the school lost a key source of its previous funding, says Ashemu. “The non-profit attached to Denver Discovery helped bolster and support the school. White parents were funding and supporting the budget on top of DPS so they could still do expeditionary learning activities. Then the White flight occurred—and it’s difficult to blame them based on the educational product. But when we lost the non-profit, that compounded the lack of services or resources at the school’s disposal.”
With four principals in five years, the changes in leadership destabilized the school, says another parent. “The principals weren’t even there long enough for us to learn their names. We had two principals come on board, see the severity of the issues, and then just quit on us, which was really disappointing.”
The teacher turnover rate also added to the problems, says this parent. “The teachers were leaving in the middle of school years…When the kids saw adults quit on them…they stopped caring about school. That was heartbreaking, so I knew that our family had to make a hard decision to switch schools.”
Disciplinary problems were cited by another parent. “I was shocked by the behavioral issues that went on throughout my daughter’s entire time there. The kids just didn’t listen to the adults…and the teachers didn’t have the resources to handle it.”
The leadership, funding, and disciplinary issues all compounded DDS’ academic struggles. It has been “On Watch” for failure to meet academic expectations since 2017. “My daughter just wasn’t learning anything there,” says a parent. “She loves to learn, and it got to the point where she told me that she’s not learning anything new, even in the subjects that she was interested in, and that was a big factor that made us change schools.”
For now the school remains open, but its future appears uncertain. With NE Denver enrollment not declining as much as other parts of the district, perhaps there’s hope for the school to rebound. Front Porch will follow the story.
Front Porch file photos by Steve Larson