Three programs have responded to the Denver Public Schools (DPS) call for quality middle schools issued in late July 2018: The Denver Green School, High Tech, and Beacon Middle School. The October SUN outreach meeting (Tuesday October 16, 6:30pm, Central Park Recreation Center) will be focused on education and an in-depth conversation with leadership from the three programs responding to the DPS call.
Community Has Asked for a Large Comprehensive Program
The timeline for a placement decision was announced as December 2018. However, prior to finalizing the selection process DPS should pursue obtaining centrally-located land along I-70, and reissue a call for a large comprehensive or IB middle school that can accommodate the diverse needs and preferences of the GPHS boundary students, with adequate space for a substantial number of students from out of boundary.
Any school designed to meet the DPS call for a school with 500-600 students will face challenges in meeting the preferences and needs of the community which it has been called to serve.
Parents have communicated to SUN a desire for leveled math for 6th graders, and a curriculum including management skills, planning, and organization. Such demands are more easily met at a larger school, thus larger school sizes appeal to a wide range of students with broad preferences.
At the May 2018 Stapleton United Neighbors annual community forum held at The Cube, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg was last to address the room, with in-depth Q&A covering parent concerns. Comments at that forum from parents included a desire for a school centrally-located in Stapleton (near Central Park Blvd. between I-70 and Northfield Blvd.) serving families who prefer a comprehensive-style school or with IB programming like that offered in McAuliffe. At the end of the annual forum, Superintendent Boasberg stated that if the Stapleton Developer Forest City would turn over land along Central Park Blvd. between I-70 and Northfield Blvd., DPS would use it for a middle school.
DPS Requirements for the New School
DPS’s call for quality middle schools included five requirements: 1) Staged grade addition starting with 6th and filling through 8th, with the capacity to serve up to 500-600 students. 2) Preference to students in the Greater Park Hill-Stapleton (GPHS) enrollment zone, with the potential for offering zone preference if asked to do so. 3) Accommodations for English language learners regardless of language level. 4) Special education serving mild-moderate needs with Individualized Education Program (IEP)s. 5) Diverse and Inclusive by design.
Space Projections for New School Are Not Aligned with Community Preferences
In the call for quality middle schools, DPS’s space projections demonstrated a need for 100 seats for in-boundary 6th grade students in GPHS by 2021-22. DPS enrollment data for 2017-18 shows current middle school seats (grades 6-8) for in-boundary students across the five middle schools in GPHS include 1,880 seats filled by in-boundary students and an additional 849 from out of boundary (35%). This percentage parallels the percentage of seats at Northfield High School designated for out-of-boundary students.
The community appreciates efforts and applauds successes in bringing diversity to and fostering diversity within schools. Designating 35% of seats for out-of-boundary students will allow for more diversity within the school and foster connections across communities. In the June 2018 Front Porch interview with Superintendent Boasberg, the superintendent stated “We build capacity to allow all families in the zone to have a seat, but also capacity for families outside the zone, [in order to] drive greater socioeconomic diversity [and to foster connections between Stapleton and neighboring communities].”
In the call for quality middle schools, DPS did not require the applicant to explicitly mention how a school would be designed to meet in-boundary space needs while also meeting diversity goals; what percentage of seats would be reserved for in-boundary and out-of-boundary students is not explicitly requested.
Currently, the most frequently preferred middle school in GPHS houses 61% of all in-boundary middle school students who remain in boundary: McAuliffe. While McAuliffe is currently the largest middle school with 1,158 seats, its strength as a program resulted in its growth to the current state. DPS choice data shows that McAuliffe was ranked first by 53.5% of in-boundary families in 2017-18, and had the largest waiting list of 136 students. Additionally, parents have communicated the importance of a wide range of clubs, sports, and electives.
How Many Seats Are Needed?
Combining the projected need for 100 more 6th grade seats with the 136 in-boundary children on the McAuliffe waiting list after choice, and an additional number of seats such that 35% of students can come from out-of-boundary suggests that the community would best be served by an additional middle school nearly twice as large as the one DPS has requested. Such a school would have capacity for 366 students per grade (130 of whom would be from out of boundary), and a total size across grades of around 1,100 students.