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Denver Public Schools: A battleship in the city?

The logo of Rishel Middle School.
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Last night, emotions were high at the Denver Public Schools' board meeting. Many controversial issues were on the table: new charter-school proposals, a plan to have several schools share space with one another, and the much-protested idea of closing struggling Rishel Middle School in southwest Denver. For a big city district that’s been fighting for years to boost enrollment and fill emptying schools, this was a trifecta of risky moves.

Board members Jeannie Kaplan and Arturo Jimenez offered impassioned pleas against "co-location" -- having new charters share buildings with existing schools. They worried that some kids would leave their neighborhood schools because of the change. "I’m not convinced that the economic benefit is there," Jimenez said.

Added Kaplan: "I worry that there’s a huge section of the city that has not heard or even been involved in this conversation."

Jill Conrad, another board member, cried softly before voting to close Rishel. An adorable eighth-grade girl later stood up in front of the board and worried that having Smiley Middle School share space with a charter high school would hurt the success of Smiley’s International Baccalaureate program.

But nothing was stranger than the images some board members trotted out to make their arguments. At one point, board member Kevin Patterson compared the district bureaucracy to a "battleship," built to move in only one direction. Then Jimenez countered by calling it a "search-and-rescue mission."

By the end, one couldn’t help but wonder: How desperate is this district, if it’s forced to use war metaphors to defend itself? -- Lisa Rab

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