With gleaming aspirations, support from colleagues, and wine for the evenings, Marisol Enriquez is prepared for a rigorous four months. Enriquez is the principal of the new elementary school set to open in 2016 in Willow Creek East, the neighborhood furthest north in Stapleton.
At this point, the school is a blank slate. A name, program and location have not been decided. In the coming months, Enriquez will be seeking community input to make these decisions. She and her team will present to the Denver Public Schools board in November and the school will be included in the next round of choice.
“I’m focusing on really getting out there and making sure that the parents north of the highway whose kids will likely go to the school are heard,” she says.
Enriquez lives in Conservatory Green with her husband, Julio, and two kids. She is a Denver native and went to Smedley and Kaiser elementary schools, Horace Mann Middle School, and George Washington High School. She jokes she went through high school blind: “At the time I wore glasses and you know when you’re a teenager you don’t want to look dorky, so I would never wear them. I swear I didn’t see anybody in high school,” she says and laughs (she laughs a lot). She blossomed at Metropolitan State University where she joined a nontraditional Latina sorority and became interested in education.
She went on to get her masters in education administration. Essentially, she’s been in school her whole life and admits she would be a student forever if she could.
Later, Enriquez worked as a math specialist for 35 schools in northeast Denver and then assistant principal at Martin Luther King. She went on to Vista PEAK P-20 in Aurora, where she helped turn around the school in one year.
She expects to encounter challenges she’s never seen before; the current challenge being the lack of community in Willow Park East. The goal is to build the school based on what the community wants, but the community does not exist yet. Many homes in Willow Park East have not even broken ground.
For the first year the school will share a temporary location with another school while the permanent facility is under construction. Neither the temporary nor the permanent locations have been determined, but they will definitely be north of I-70.
In July, Enriquez held a public meeting to introduce herself to the Stapleton community. She spoke to a group of five including a few friends, colleagues and parents—the word has yet to be spread about the school. Many people don’t even know the school is planned.
In the middle of the meeting, her husband and 4-year-old daughter Lucia arrived. Lucia walked straight to Enriquez and handed her a drawing she made at summer camp that day. “Gracias, mi amor,” Marisol said, taking a moment away from the meeting to fully admire the work. “Wow, did you make all these letters yourself?” The young girl nodded. Enriquez kissed her daughter on the top of the head and the meeting resumed.
Enriquez is open to considering a variety of programs from IB to Montessori to play-based learning, or some hybrid. A main priority is small class sizes for more personalized learning. “One of the challenges here in Stapleton is the constant growth makes things unpredictable, including how many kids will be going to the school,” she says.
Smaller classes are also important to Laura Bessko, a Willow Park East resident whose 2- and 4-year-olds will likely attend the new elementary.
Bessko joined the school’s design committee. She hopes the new school will combine successful elements from other Stapleton schools like the IB program at Swigert or the K-8 approach at Bill Roberts. “Every Stapleton school offers something different and they’re all great options,” she says. She would send her kids to other Stapleton schools, but would prefer they go nearby. “We live up here [Willow Park East] and as much as we’re all Stapleton, you still have your own neighborhood.”
As Enriquez says: “There are challenges in every school but you control what happens in the school day and we as teachers are responsible for making sure kids grow academically, socially and emotionally at least one year minimum.”
Enriquez is seeking other parents to become involved. Click on the following link for information about joining the team and attending future meetings. To stay informed about the new school, visit http://remind.com/join/drenriquez.