10 November 2009

DPS Weeds, Sows and Repots School Lineup

At the level of a school board in a District like Denver's with more than a hundred school programs and 70,000+ students, it doesn't work to have the board micromanage daily school operations. Its main jobs are to higher and fire senior district administrators, and to make big decisions on issues like opening schools, shutting schools down, and relocating schools to make better use of its sprawling real estate portfolio. The District has enough vacant classroom space to house almost 30,000 students and their teachers.

These decisions are made in the late fall so that there is time to implement these major changes in good order. We are currently in the 2009-2010 school year. Many of the changes will take place effective for the 2010-2011 school year, and the school choice program for the district is already well under way, with the rush to win over students well in progress, and a choice form deadline looming in January.

DPS has announced its plans. The existing school board will vote on the proposals on November 30, 2009.

Northwest Denver's Lake Middle School will undergo a complete reboot from scratch, similar to the one the the District undertook at Manual High School in North Denver. Central Denver's Greenlee K-8 is also going to be rebooted, shedding its middle school grades and getting a new focus on comprehensive literacy in its curriculum.

Programs at an elementary school and at a high school are scheduled to close, although isn't clear if this means that the schools will shut down, or just one of multiple programs currently conducted at those schools will be shut down (many DPS schools have more than one curricular programs within a single school building). An e-mail from City Councilwoman Marcia Johnson, whose District 5 includes the elementary school, makes clear that Philips Elementary School is shutting down. Philips "was recently rated the lowest performing school within DPS, and will close to neighborhood students. It will now house the Odyssey Charter School, currently co-located at Westerly Creek Elementary, where prior Philips students will have preferred enrollment. Children who live within the current Philips boundaries will be assigned to either Park Hill or Westerly Creek Elementary schools. A third Stapleton elementary school will be built to open for the 2011-12 school."

Two underperforming charter school have effectively been placed on probation.

Several new charter schools are slated to open include a foreign language immersion school and a new "Green" school. A couple of the new schools in the works, one in Stapleton and one in Green Valley Ranch, don't even have names yet.

Many schools will relocated to vacant and soon to be vacated DPS school buildings.

Lake Middle School in northwest Denver [is] the third-worst performing school in DPS and the district's worst secondary school. . . .The district . . . recommended . . . the continuation of Lake's [International Baccalaureate] program with a new principal, a new staff and a smaller group of students. The program would be halved to serve about 300 students. West Denver Prep's middle school would share Lake's campus, also serving about 300 students. Lake's current enrollment boundary would be split between the new Lake and West Denver Prep. . . .

DPS's recommendations would close programs at Philips Elementary and Skyland Community High School.

DPS would give P.S. 1 Charter School one year to develop a high-quality program or face closure. And it would require Northeast Academy Charter School to find a management organization to help it improve its academic rigor. . . .

Three schools may locate at the new Green Valley Ranch campus under construction: Denver School of Science & Technology (6-12), SOAR Charter School (K-5) and a "multiple pathways" school to help students who have fallen behind gain credits they need. The district intends to build six such schools in three years. . . .

A new K-8 will be built in Stapleton to open in August 2011 with construction costs shared by Stapleton's developer, Forest City, and DPS.

Odyssey Charter School would move from its current home at Westerly Creek Elementary to the building currently occupied by Philips Elementary.

Denver Language School — a full Mandarin Chinese and Spanish immersion charter school — would be located in the recently closed Whiteman Elementary School.

The Denver Green School would be in the recently shuttered Fallis Elementary School building. . . .

Greenlee K-8 would become an elementary school with a program focused on comprehensive literacy.

For one year, the second West Denver Prep would be in the building now occupied by Emerson Street alternative school. Emerson Street would move to a shared campus with P.R.E.P. alternative school at 2727 Columbine St.

What is the Green School?

FALLIS ELEMENTARY will be the new location for the Denver Green School in 2010-11, where it wants to stay and grow. Curriculum will emphasize project-based learning with an emphasis on environmental sustainability. Denver Green School is a DPS performance school that will serve grades K-8 at build-out, but only ECE-2 and 6th grade in its first year. By 2012-13, the school will have to co-locate its older grades with another nearby facility (possibly George Washington High School).

Denver Green School will be a boundary school, taking students from the Mayfair Park, George Washington, Rangeview, and Park Forest neighborhoods.

Thousand of students and staff will be affected by this round of reshuffling. DPS deserves kudos for finding new instructional uses for so many of its existing buildings, and for being willing to shut down some failing programs while giving other promising new initiatives a chance. It would have been easy for the Board to be far less bold, with a more mediocre result.

The bold moves are particularly notable in light of the fact that Michael Bennet's successor as superintendent at DPS (upon Bennet's appointment to the U.S. Senate) has mostly kept a low public profile. Many outsiders had assumed that this meant that this was to be merely a caretaker administration.

Neighborhood Charter Schools

Three charter schools would be required to accept all children who apply within an attendance area, just like other DPS schools do.

Those impacted are "two new West Denver Preparatory charter schools that are expected to be located within district buildings, and Manny Martinez Middle School, which is operated by the EdisonLearning charter school company and located in West High School." Four other charter schools will be examined to make a similar transition.

Now, all charter schools accept students only through the school choice process, which implicitly limits students to those whose families buy into the school's concept and aren't bureaucratically inept.

In other words, DPS is also taking the bold move of blurring the line between charter schools and magnet programs in traditional neighborhood schools.

The Bad News For West Wash Park

I live in West Washington Park, home to Byers School on Pearl Street, which previously was the home of the Denver School of the Arts. When the University of Denver closed its North Denver campus to consolidate itself in one location, DPS snapped up the old DU Music School for the Denver School of the Arts, and nothing has replaced it. The new campus is a good one for a program that was conceived from the beginning as a magnet school, and also is convenient to the growing Stapleton neighborhood. But, nothing has filled the hole in West Washington Park created when it left.

The fate of Byers School was probably sealed when the district sold the school yard, a dismal gravel covered city block caddy corner from the school itself. It is hard, although not quite impossible, to have a state approved PE curriculum without a school yard. But, the massive historic building will require tremendous renovation before it is suitable for any purpose other than education.

In an ideal world, the school might be replace the architecturally interesting, but basically generic office building that houses DPS administrative offices at 900 Grant, or serve as a new home for a community college, trade school or small college. These uses would require only more parking where there are now ballcourts.

Realistically, however, in a neighborhood with lots of apartment buildings already, it will be either scraped, or converted to apartments, condominiums or lofts. This kind of conversion project has been very successful at other former churches and schools in Denver, but this school is an order of magnitude bigger than those projects at a time when the housing market has cooled and has lots of a major high rise projects coming onto the market.

Better still would be a mixed use building. It might house a pre-school, shops, galleries, offices, residences, and even a small church or theater, all under one roof. But, even if zoning and similar regulations did make this possible, finding a developer with the vision and money to make this happen would be a long shot. The Denver Public Schools, of course, perennially struggling to get the cash it needs for capital investments in places where city is growing, need to get a good price for the property, which is one of the largest undivided parcels in this urban residential neighborhood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They're shooting for an artist's cooperative at Byers.