On Dec. 15, 2016, the Denver Board of Education took two votes that will impact the future of Northfield High School (NHS) and the Paul Sandoval Campus, located in north Stapleton.
The board unanimously approved a controversial proposal by DPS to use bond money to build a 500-seat school for DSST: Conservatory Green High School on the Sandoval campus. Nearly 300 community members had attended a Dec. 5 meeting about the vote. Many expressed fear that a second high school on the campus would prevent NHS from reaching its full, planned potential—and the community would never have a comprehensive IB high school large enough to accommodate all boundary students who want to attend.
Stapleton’s new board representative, Rachele Espiritu, hearing the strong feelings in the community, met with the NHS parent organization to better understand the concerns. With that information and the support of other board members, Espiritu drafted a resolution spelling out how DPS would support NHS in becoming the comprehensive International Baccalaureate (IB) high school residents envisioned. That resolution also passed unanimously.
The day after the meeting, Superintendent Boasberg, in an interview with the Front Porch, reiterated DPS’ full commitment to support a comprehensive high school, even if enrollment requires 2,500 seats on the Sandoval campus. Boasberg unequivocally stated, “There has not been, there is not, and there will not be any cap on Northfield High School’s enrollment. They will continue to welcome every kid in the boundary plus 35 percent choice, and we will ensure that there is high-quality, permanent space on the Sandoval campus to meet that enrollment demand, however high that it grows.” He further said DPS would consider relocating the middle school proposed for the campus or increasing the footprint of existing buildings to accommodate NHS enrollment.
Differing Perceptions of DPS’ Plan
A week and a half before the board voted, DPS had held a community meeting, inviting Stapleton boundary families to hear its proposal to build a 500-seat DSST: Conservatory Green High School on the Paul Sandoval campus. They were asking the board to vote on that proposal just 10 days later.
At the meeting, almost 300 people filled the NHS commons building with a standing-room-only crowd of parents, teachers and students. Many were surprised by the plan, which included not only using current bond funds to build a DSST high school, but building a feeder middle school on the campus with 2020 bond funds. Supporters of a big comprehensive high school at Northfield believed that such a decision would mean NHS would have neither the resources nor the space it needed to grow. And they criticized DPS for a lack of transparency, accusing the district of misleading them to believe that the next phase of build-out at the campus would be for NHS.
At the same time, parents and staff of DSST: Conservatory Green Middle School expressed dismay that the plans for their high school at Sandoval appeared to be both surprising and unwelcome to so many at the meeting. It appeared they had, for a long time, been expecting they would have a space on the campus, a placement that DSST had been lobbying the district for over several years.
The striking contrast of perception and understanding between these two groups of stakeholders was on full display at the contentious meeting.
Board Resolutions: For DSST and for Support of NHS and Its IB Program
The board’s approval of the campus-sharing resolution means DSST: Conservatory Green High School will open its doors at Sandoval in fall 2018 after spending a year in temporary quarters at the Samsonite Building in Northeast Denver. DSST representatives have said that they expect to work collaboratively with NHS administration to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Board representative Espiritu’s communication with Northfield’s parent committee, Principal Bringedahl and Assistant Principal Houston, as well as with her fellow board members resulted in a resolution with 16 very specific items spelling out how the district will support the nascent high school and its International Baccalaureate program. These include enrollment and budgeting issues, financial and facilities support for IB programming; the construction of classrooms, offices, a library, a parking lot and a full kitchen; and the provision by DPS of communication and marketing resources. Many of the resolutions contain timelines, giving a clear and accountable framework for implementation. The resolution also stated DSST: Conservatory Green Middle School shall continue to operate at the Conservatory Green Campus.
“There have been very, very few resolutions put before the board specific to a school,” said Espiritu in an interview with the Front Porch after the board meeting. “It is unique … I heard the frustrations from the community in the process and the failure of the district to be timely and to be transparent, so I thought it would be very important for us as a board to show that commitment to the high school.” Espiritu sees the resolution as a “first step” in an ongoing process of ensuring that Northfield reaches its promised potential of an IB-for-all school that serves a diverse community. She will continue to be engaged with school leaders, community members and DPS to monitor implementation.