Update to January Front Porch article:
DPS sent a letter to the Stapleton/Park Hill communities on Dec. 31, 2015 saying, based on feedback from community meetings in November, “most parents and families want McAuliffe to serve more students while continuing to provide a rich and personalized learning environment for all students. We reviewed the community feedback with the McAuliffe leadership team over the holidays, and we are excited to work alongside Principal Kurt Dennis and his team to realize his vision of an expanded McAuliffe at Smiley.”
At the community meeting at the Smiley Campus on Wednesday, January 6 at 6pm, Principal Dennis will share his plan to grow McAuliffe, and will be available to answer any questions.
January Front Porch Article explaining growth options that were considered.
Denver Public Schools is facing a capacity problem in the Park Hill-Stapleton shared boundary middle schools. Families with children are continuing to move to the area and all the middle schools except one, McAuliffe International School, have maxed out their space.
Under the leadership of the successful Principal Kurt Dennis, McAuliffe has consistently been the top pick in the DPS choice lottery system, where families prioritize schools within the boundary area. McAuliffe has top-performing students, a thriving arts programs, multiple sports teams, and an array of electives like choir, orchestra, journalism, stagecraft and Mandarin.
Because of the high demand for McAuliffe and potential space for more students, DPS has turned its attention to the school to accommodate the growing middle school population in coming years.
Currently, McAuliffe shares the Smiley campus with Venture PREP that has 275 students. Because of the shared space and increasing number of students at McAuliffe over the past years, McAuliffe is currently operating at 113 percent capacity, with teachers rolling around mobile workstations because there is not enough office space. So how could it possibly fit more?
At the end of this school year, Venture PREP will move to its permanent location at the Barrett facility.
For the 2016-17 school year, a new, smaller program, currently referred to as “McAuliffe 2,” will move in for the 2016-17 school year. This program will draw students from a different enrollment zone west of Colorado Blvd. Smiley was chosen as the location because the new program is intended to be a replica of the McAuliffe model. By co-locating, Dennis and the McAuliffe team will be readily available to provide expertise for the program’s leaders.
McAuliffe 2 will only have 150–180 students, nearly 125 less than Venture PREP, freeing up space in the building. The district plans to increase McAuliffe’s sixth-grade class from 290 to 360 next year (2016-17). After one year, McAuliffe 2 will move to its permanent location at Manual High School.
For 2017-18, McAuliffe will again reallocate space in the building based on options proposed by the Denver School Board. Option 1 would expand McAuliffe to take over the entire building with a total enrollment of 1,010 students, including 360 sixth-graders, 360 seventh-graders and 290 eighth-graders. Kurt Dennis has been directly involved in planning for this option and hopes it will be approved. Option 2 would shrink the size of McAuliffe to a total enrollment of 830 students, including 180 sixth-graders (110 less than in 2016-17), 360 seventh-graders and 290 eighth-graders, as well as add a new, undecided program to share the building made up of 180 students.
If Option 2 is approved to shrink the school, Dennis will face a compromising position at the end of next year. Because he will hire staff to accommodate the added seats next year, he will have to fire staff when the class size shrinks down the following year. He will need to do this re-hiring and firing every year to accommodate the large “bubble” of sixth-graders as they move through the school.
“It would be detrimental to our staff culture and, in turn, our school culture having to go through that,” he says. He is much more hopeful about Option 1.
If Option 1 is approved to expand McAuliffe to occupy the entire building, there will be more students, but the school will operate at 100 percent capacity with the additional space rather than the current 113 percent.
At community engagement meetings that took place at Stapleton and Park Hill elementary schools throughout December, families seemed to favor expanding McAuliffe but were concerned that a big school may not be right for their child. Dennis, however, is very confident they can produce a small school feel. “We know that it seems counter-intuitive but in order for McAuliffe to ‘feel smaller,’ we need the school to grow larger,” he says.
As his proposal for the large school states, he will create small learning communities in each grade called “houses.” The house model has been used in several large cities, including New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Each house will have 180 students, eight teachers, one administrator and one counselor. Students will spend 80 percent or four out of five classes during the day with their house, which will remain in one part of the building. The students will only leave houses for specialty electives like band or physical education.
In these houses, students will have the close relationships they would find in a smaller school. The administrator and counselor will stay with the students for all three years of middle school so that relationships stay consistent, and the parents keep the same primary connections with the school. But students will also be a part of a larger community and enjoy the benefits of a bigger school, including enrichment programs and potentially more sports teams. Dennis is working with the school district to confirm they will have more teams.
“Being able to offer kids the best of both worlds where they are a part of a small learning community and supported by a small group of staff for the vast majority of their school day, while at the same time allowing kids to benefit from the great offerings of a big school, is a win-win for everyone,” he says.
Because the school will occupy the whole building, students will also be able to enter and exit through three doors, whereas in the shared building they currently only use one.
Dennis will present his proposal for a larger McAuliffe in the 2017-18 school year at 6pm on Wednesday, Jan. 6 in the McAuliffe auditorium at 2540 Holly. A final decision will be made in mid-January.
Unfortunately, the proposed changes at McAuliffe will only be a two-year solution for the capacity problem. The school district will need to find another solution in 2018 or 2019, according to DPS spokesperson Brian Eschbacher. “We know we are going to add another middle school north of the highway [I-70] because that’s where a lot of the growth is,” he says.
Options may include expanding Isabella Bird Community School to a K-8 or potentially moving a school to the Paul Sandoval Campus that currently houses Northfield High School. Stay tuned.