Although most of Denver is experiencing a concerning decline in new student enrollment, northeast Denver, and particularly Stapleton, is a continued area of growth for Denver Public Schools.
But, as many local parents can attest, at times it has been hard to match the supply of school seats with the rising demand. Families have been unable to get into their most preferred school, and some schools have been challenged with accommodating “bubble” classes of students, where a school meant to house three classes of a certain grade is charged with taking on five or six classes instead.
The addition of a second high school, DSST: Conservatory Green, on the Sandoval campus, also caused concern that there won’t be enough seats at Northfield High School to accommodate the surge of high school students anticipated in coming years.
What are DPS’ enrollment forecasts and how will they meet the demand?
Brian Eschbacher, executive director of planning and enrollment services for DPS, is optimistic.
For the first time in years, said Eschbacher, “We turned the whole thing over to the two best organizations in the city.” Those organizations, the Denver Regional Council of Governments and Shift Research Lab, have years of expertise in demographic forecasting for major projects throughout Colorado. DPS felt the experience of these organizations would improve the credibility and accuracy of the DPS forecasts, which have come under fire in the past. DPS and their outside demographers also met with Forest City to get local data, and “they gave us a forecast back that we have pretty good confidence in,” said Eschbacher.
The strategic regional analysis (SRA) prepared by the demographers in partnership with DPS forecasts continued growth in Stapleton but potential enrollment declines in North Park Hill. The near northeast region enjoys high choice match rates, and 80 percent of students in the area attend a high-performing school, the highest rate in the city.
Overall, however, the region will be driven by development in Stapleton to have the highest level of growth into 2021, according to the SRA.
The demographers calculated five-year forecasts for enrollment in Stapleton and Greater Park Hill schools. While the number of students in the zone is increasing, particularly at the elementary and high school levels, so too are the available seats. Eschbacher believes that the available seats (see charts below) are more than sufficient to accommodate resident students, many of whom choose schools outside of their enrollment zone or boundary, particularly at the high school level.
And for Stapleton parents of next year’s kindergarten, sixth and ninth grade students who are concerned that they are part of a “bubble,” the chart at the top shows the number of students residing in the zone for the last five years and the projections for 2018.
To accommodate the projected enrollment increase in Stapleton in the growing northern neighborhoods of Stapleton, DPS is taking a new approach to how it builds schools, such as Inspire Elementary, said Eschbacher.
Inspire will open in its own building in 2018-2019 at 57th and Galena in north Stapleton. It is designed as a larger school, with seats for 800 students. Not only does this mean that Inspire can easily grow to absorb the rising number of elementary students north of I-70, but the building could readily be extended to accommodate 450 middle school students should the need arise, said Eschbacher.
The largest middle school in the Greater Park Hill/Stapleton zone, McAuliffe International, will grow to its capacity of about 1,440 in two years, with 480 students in each grade. DPS also has reserved the option of building an additional middle school campus north of I-70, according to Eschbacher, and will monitor enrollment trends closely to determine when and if to proceed with building additional seats. Since Park Hill’s student population is slightly declining, this may not be necessary.
As for the high school seats, the Sandoval campus is modular and could be built out in pieces as needed, noted Eschbacher, meaning they could add 1,000 or more seats for Northfield High to accommodate a rise in demand. “The guarantee is that Northfield will grow as big as they need to grow. We can’t say it any more strongly,” says Eschbacher. “It will grow as big as it needs to be.”
Currently only about 32 percent of boundary students attend NHS, but Eschbacher expects that proportion to increase, possibly reaching as high as 45 percent next year. DPS will monitor the numbers to determine how soon, if at all, they need to add capacity to NHS.