Stapleton Elementary Choice: Change from Proximity Buckets to Proximity Zones?
Denver Public Schools approached SUN this fall to determine the amenability to a conversation about shifting from proximity buckets to proximity zones for the elementary school choice process for the Stapleton enrollment zone. In both systems, the community is segmented into proximity regions near each school that do not overlap and include all homes in Stapleton. In the current system of proximity buckets, after filling high-priority seats (e.g. current students, siblings, children of staff), 25% of remaining seats are first filled by residents in the proximity region for an elementary school. If demand in the proximity region exceeds the 25% available seats, residents in the proximity region with lower lottery numbers are queued with the remainder of the Stapleton enrollment zone to fill the remaining seats. In the proximity zone approach, after filling high-priority seats, the proximity region would fill remaining seats; after which remaining seats would be open to the rest of the Stapleton enrollment zone. Under the proximity zone approach (in contrast with a traditional boundary approach), a resident in a proximity region would not be guaranteed a seat at the corresponding elementary school if demand from the proximity region exceeds the available number of seats. Using choice numbers from 2019, residents in the proximity region for Willow would have exceeded the number of seats available and Swigert would have come close. DPS’s motivation for considering a change from buckets to zones includes 1) that Stapleton’s choice process works differently from the rest of the district, 2) the process is difficult to execute, and 3) the process is challenging to explain and seems to lack transparency.
Would proximity zones lead to more inequity in the future?
After a presentation by Jim Carpenter from Denver Public Schools at the October 15th SUN meeting, implications of a potential change from buckets to zones were discussed. SUN board members expressed concerns that a shift from buckets to zones would fundamentally change the character of the community. As has been seen in other regions, boundaries would in time produce inequity within the community; such a change with rippling effects in the direction of inequity was deemed unacceptable.
An alternative: Increase capacity to make space for students in adjacent boundaries?
Alternative approaches to meeting the community’s demand for specific programs were discussed. Willow elementary shares a campus with DSST Conservatory Green Middle School, which has low enrollment from the Greater Park Hill Stapleton Middle school zone (25%), with 58% of students in 2018-19 having come from the far northeast, and 9% from outside of Denver public schools (e.g. Commerce City or Aurora). SUN encouraged DPS to eliminate campus sharing at Willow with DSST CG to allow for more capacity for the community’s expressed demand for the program at Willow. In this context and in general, due to the challenges of campus sharing, SUN asked for DPS to focus effort on eliminating the practice of campus sharing as the community reaches build-out. Increased capacity at elementary schools would meet demands now, and allow flexibility in the long run for students from adjacent boundaries similar to that in place at Northfield High School (where 35% of seats are for students from adjacent boundaries).
SUN asked DPS to have a conversation broader than buckets->zones, about meeting the community’s programming preferences. SUN recommended an additional elementary school north of I-70, a free-standing middle school south and north of I-70, and a plan for allowing Northfield High School to fill out the entire Sandoval campus. SUN noted that an elementary school zone division at I-70 would be appropriate to consider in the future, with community input, but not presently with only two options on the north side.
Mr. Carpenter suggested focusing facility use and capacity considerations into the 2020 bond process through the Community Planning and Advisory Committee (CPAC). When census data from 2020 are available, DPS would like to revisit the conversation around splitting zones at I-70.