More kids are enrolled in Colorado schools than ever before: 832,368 to be exact, according to numbers released this week by the state Department of Education. And Denver Public Schools is contributing heavily to that growth. The city's enrollment is up 4,493 students from 2005, making it the third fastest-growing district in the state.
But it's also true that not all Denver students go to Denver schools. In fact, according to "Leaving to Learn," an extensive series published by the late Rocky Mountain News in 2007 and written by education specialist Nancy Mitchell (who now reports for Ed News Colorado), a quarter of the city's school-aged children didn't attend Denver public schools in 2006, instead opting for suburban, private or charter schools. (Charter schools are technically public schools, though they operate with more autonomy.)
So is DPS's growth simply a function of more schoolchildren moving to Denver? Or is DPS doing a better job of keeping its kids? Superintendent Tom Boasberg says its the latter.
"This is the biggest increase in enrollment we've had in the fifty years we've kept records," he says. "It's a tremendously encouraging sign for the district and the confidence our families have in our programs."
DPS's latest count shows that the district serves 78,352 students, which is 4 percent more than last year. While enrollment in a few grades -- ninth and eleventh -- is down, enrollment in the rest of the grades is up, with a particularly big spike in sixth-grade enrollment and preschool enrollment. Boasberg attributes the first to DPS's push to improve its middle-school offerings and the second to its increasing number of preschool slots for four-year-olds. The number of students attending DPS charter and alternative programs has also increased.
"When you look at the data, the overwhelming factor in the [overall] increase is not new students coming in but the retention of our existing students," he says.
In other words, students are staying to learn. And for that, Boasberg gives DPS a gold star.