Education

Inside DPS Unification Plan That Would Close Ten Schools

Under the new DPS plan, Valverde Elementary, at 2030 West Alameda Avenue, will be combined with the Math and Science Leadership Academy for the 2023-2024 school year.
Under the new DPS plan, Valverde Elementary, at 2030 West Alameda Avenue, will be combined with the Math and Science Leadership Academy for the 2023-2024 school year. Google Maps
At its November 3 meeting, the Board of Education for Denver Public Schools formally presented a so-called "unification" plan that would close ten schools and consolidate them with other facilities in the vicinity.

The potential shutdowns have been teased for months, and the 51-page document summarizing them presents reams of facts and figures related to slowing growth in metro Denver, a phenomenon that has resulted in a declining birth rate. Some of the specifics are in dispute: For example, the Denver Post reported on a Denver Housing Authority document maintaining that nearby development would generate more than enough kids to save Sun Valley's Fairview Elementary, one of the targeted schools. But the DPS boardmembers clearly believe that without substantial consolidation, the district's challenging financial situation will only get worse.

Here are the schools slated to be combined before the start of the 2023-2024 academic year:
In justifying these moves, the plan states, "The number of elementary students living in Denver and attending a DPS school has steadily declined since 2014 due to birth rates and families leaving the city." According to the district, elementary enrollment has declined by 6,485 students since its peak in 2014, while middle school enrollment is off by 1,512 from the high point in 2019. Enrollment at DPS, which is currently serving around 90,000 students, remains flat right now (as does enrollment at local private schools and other metro-area districts), but figures are projected to dip by 3,000 over the next five years.

This graphic offers a neighborhood-by-neighborhood look at what are termed the "ongoing declines across the district."
The conditions for school unification listed in the plan include the following:
1. Applying Criteria 1: Elementary or middle schools with critically low enrollment (below 215 in K-8).
2. Combining boundaries or maintaining enrollment zones to keep communities together.
3. Naming a Welcoming School(s) within 2 miles that has space for all students & programs.
4. Ensuring strong TNLI [Transitional Native Language Instruction] programs.
5. Ensuring strong exceptional student services center based programs.
6. Guaranteeing all school staff members continuation of employment.
Four other DPS institutions meet the first criteria regarding enrollment below 215: Hallett Academy (181 students), Kaiser Elementary (182 students), Beach Court Elementary (206 students), and Ashley Elementary (213 students). However, they haven't been recommended for shuttering because they don't have other schools within two miles with enough space to accommodate them.

As for the employees of schools designated to close, the plan stresses that "all school-based staff will be guaranteed a position at a minimum of the same rate of pay for the 2023-2024 school year either in the welcoming school or elsewhere"; that includes "positions that are centrally managed (i.e. food services)."

While students from closing facilities will be automatically enrolled in "the welcoming school," families will "still have the option to choose a different school using the standard School Choice process," the plan pledges. But DPS contends that the combined schools will have significant advantages, as outlined by the following bullet points:
● Greater access for students for additional specials in addition to Music, Art, and PE like Technology, Dance, or Foreign Languages
● Improved TNLI programming with sustainable class sizes across all grades.
● Greater opportunities for distributed leadership from Assistant Principals and Senior Team Leads
● Great number of in building supports from physical and mental health professionals like psychologists, social workers, nurses (or other health professionals)
● Greater cross collaboration from grade level teacher teams
A vote on the proposal is scheduled for November 29. Click to read DPS's November 2022 school unification plan.
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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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