By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
DPS is currently working on writing guidelines for the kind of school it would like to take P.S. 1's place, but it's a tall order. "We are seeking to have a replacement school to meet [the students'] needs because there are many special-needs students at P.S. 1 and we recognize that," Boasberg says. If no one submits a proposal that meets DPS's guidelines, the district will create one. "I think, frankly, we've been a little passive about willing to go out and actively create a school like that, and we need to do it."
The district has encouraged P.S. 1 to submit a plan of its own through its request-for-proposals process. But the enthusiasm for doing so among the school's staff varies.
"How do you think about building the next school when you're still teaching in the first?" asks P.S. 1 English teacher Laura Inscho. "It would be like building the car while driving it and texting and paving the road."
"If we knew the plan was to do an RFP, we'd be engaging 110 percent," says math teacher Eric Noggle. "We can't commit to doing an RFP when there's so much uncertainty about next year, about our jobs, about our kids."
If there is no suitable replacement, some students say they'll enroll in one of the district's alternative schools, such as the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, a dropout retrieval school. Others may just go back to their neighborhood schools, where they weren't successful before and where their chances of graduation are slimmer. The district hopes to open more alternative campuses in 2011, including two Multiple Pathways Centers designed to provide both academics and social services. But there will be limited room; although P.S. 1 students can apply, there's no guarantee they'll get in.
Laffoon is among those who see an opportunity to reinvent P.S. 1. "I think [the district] is trying to create a situation that allows us to remake ourselves," she says. "I think that's their intention — to say you can't keep existing the way you've been existing because there are some things that just aren't going well, and here's this opportunity."
Urban Learning Communities, the Rex Brown-created nonprofit that still oversees P.S. 1 and manages its finances, is still undecided on what to do. Its all-volunteer board is fairly new; of the six directors, chairwoman Jennifer Kramer-Wine, an education-policy analyst by trade, is the longest-serving, having joined in 2005. But members have said they want to be part of the process no matter what happens.
One option the board has considered in the past is to become an alternative school. Alternative schools are not subject to sanctions based on test scores. (Denver currently has ten; five are charters and five are district schools.) The bar is high, though: According to Colorado state law, an alternative school must serve at least 95 percent at-risk kids or exclusively serve dropouts or students who have been expelled.
P.S. 1 doesn't currently meet those criteria. Although many of its students are dropouts and expelled students, not all of them are. And its at-risk population hovers around 70 percent, though some staff suspect that it's actually higher.
That puts P.S. 1 in a tricky spot.
As boardmember Amanda Brown says, the school is in "a kind of limbo area where you're serving a harder population but there's not a different way of looking at your school based on that."
The board is also looking into partnering with local and national school-support organizations, such as the Coalition for Essential Schools or Communities in Schools, which could help P.S. 1 identify and secure additional resources. "We're currently exploring some partnerships and reaching out in the community because we want to look at new ways of doing things if what we're doing isn't the right thing entirely," Brown says. "Is there someone else out there who has a good idea?"
"That's one of the biggest lessons for us — that we certainly can't do this alone," Kramer-Wine adds. But she and others don't want the conversations and partnerships to end with P.S. 1. Instead, she says, they want to "really raise this to a broader conversation than one school trying to survive. It's, really, how does the district serve the students we have in our building?"
So far, no one has been able to answer that question.