Education

These 21 Denver Metro Schools Are Marked for Closure

Schmitt Elementary, at 1820 South Vallejo Street, is one of five Denver Public Schools marked for closure in the latest plan.
Schmitt Elementary, at 1820 South Vallejo Street, is one of five Denver Public Schools marked for closure in the latest plan. Google Maps
On the evening of November 10, the two largest school districts in the metro area — Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools — each announced plans to close facilities because of  declining enrollment. But DPS cut in half its list of ten schools marked for shutdown in a so-called "unification plan" unveiled earlier this month, leaving five on the chopping block, while Jeffco's board of education confirmed that sixteen schools identified in August will indeed cease operation in 2023 or 2024.

The total of 21 schools in the metro area set to stop serving students is another indication of slowing growth in the Mile High City, a phenomenon that has resulted in a declining birth rate.

DPS initially announced the ten low-enrollment schools would be combined with other nearby institutions that had enough room to accommodate them: International Academy of Denver at Harrington, Palmer Elementary, Math Science Leadership Academy, Schmitt Elementary, Columbian, Eagleton Elementary, Fairview Elementary, Colfax Elementary, Whittier K-8 and Denver Discovery School. But members of the DPS Board of Education quickly dissented. During a community meeting at Brother Jeff's Cultural Center on November 7, board vice president Auon'tai M. Anderson and treasurer Scott Esserman announced that they couldn't vote for the unification plan in its current form — and at 7:01 p.m. on November 10, Anderson tweeted, "In one week I will be proud to cast a ‘HELL NO’ vote on closing ten schools and disrupting our communities."

Just over half an hour later, at 7:35 p.m., DPS sent out an email blast announcing a change to its recommendations: The district would prioritize the closure of "five schools that have received the largest budget assistance": Denver Discovery School, Schmitt Elementary, Fairview Elementary, International Academy of Denver at Harrington and Math and Science Leadership Academy. According to the district, these five account for more than two-thirds of the almost $5 million in subsidies it's been paying annually to keep the ten schools on the original list afloat. But the release emphasized that "the other five schools are still under consideration and will continue to be supported as we more closely engage with those respective communities."

In a statement, DPS superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero said: "As a Denver resident, I understand the importance and value of neighborhood schools. I know many of our families have roots at schools that span generations. But I, as the superintendent of DPS, and our board of education have a fiduciary responsibility to all Denver residents. I take this responsibility seriously, and I want you to know I am committed to doing what is necessary to, as our Strategic Roadmap states, ensure Every Learner Thrives — today, tomorrow and for generations to come."

A public-comment session regarding the revisions is scheduled for Monday, November 14, with a board vote slated for Thursday, November 17. But in a tweet that immediately followed the DPS bulletin, Anderson signaled that he hadn't been placated. "I’ll be candid, the votes weren’t there to close schools and I will not vote to close these 5," he said. "The process is flawed regardless of how many. I encourage everyone to still show up for public comment."

No such balking was evident among Jeffco school board members. These sixteen schools remain on the closure list shared this summer: Emory Elementary, Peck Elementary, Thomson Elementary, Campbell Elementary, Peiffer Elementary, Colorow Elementary, Green Mountain Elementary, Molholm Elementary, Glennon Heights Elementary, Parr Elementary, Sheridan Elementary, Witt Elementary, Vivian Elementary, Wilmore Davis Elementary, Kullerstrand Elementary and Bergen Meadow Primary. And last night, the board signed off on shuttering fifteen of the schools in 2023; Bergen Meadow will be closed in 2024.

Afterward, school board president Stephanie Schooley issued the following statement:
In August, Jeffco Superintendent Tracy Dorland put forward a comprehensive recommendation for the closure and consolidation of schools at the request of this Board. That 16 elementary schools were included in the recommendation is telling of both the magnitude and urgency of the pressure that nearly two decades of shifting demographics and a declining school-age population have put on our District. As the Board asks the superintendent to implement a long-term vision to ensure every Jeffco student has the opportunity to thrive, we have no choice but to confront the issues before us and do the hard work to create more equitable learning opportunities.

Tonight, the Jeffco Board of Education voted to approve the District’s recommendation. We believe that this decision is the right one to support the next steps required to provide equitable resources across our schools that will ensure that Jeffco students receive the robust academic, enrichment, and social-emotional programming that challenges them to grow and that prepares them for college, for careers, and for community life.

We believe that the criteria the District used to identify school communities to merge is both clear and fair. However, we acknowledge that for the generations of people who love these schools, there is no criteria or process that would justify their closure. Within a Board made up of current and former Jeffco parents, grandparents, and a former Jeffco teacher, we empathize with the emotion and heartbreak of those who are impacted. We grieve together as a District community. At the same time, we are confident that our District is prepared to care for you — our students, families, and staff — and support communities in making meaningful connections that result in a sense of belonging for all in the 2023-24 school year. We hope that members of these communities will continue to be engaged in opportunities to shape this process.

We would like to express our gratitude to our families, neighbors, and staff who have dedicated a significant amount of time to providing input on school and District plans for the future as we look toward next year. Most of all, we thank our school principals who have led and continue to lead with courage, compassion, integrity, and with an unwavering focus on students during an incredibly challenging time.

As regretful as we all are that we have come to this point, we are equally optimistic that our District will emerge even stronger. As a Board, we are committed to strengthening this district and will work every day to do our work transparently to gain your trust, and together, see our students have successful opportunities throughout their lives.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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