Last Chance for Life Skills

As reported in this story, Life Skills Center of Denver is the last chance at a high school diploma for many Denver dropouts. And now, thanks to the board of Denver Public Schools, the charter school is getting one last chance of its own.

Although the principal of Life Skills, Santiago Lopez, is himself a product of DPS who grew up on the same mean streets as many of his students, the school is run by a for-profit company, White Hat Management, which is based in Ohio and has proved very controversial in that state. Life Skills opened here in August 2003, and both the testing and the attendance rates were so poor that when the school’s charter contract came up for renewal in February 2007, the DPS school board voted against renewing the charter -- but then agreed to renew it until February 2008 after pressure was applied by the state board of education.

And last night, at the February 21 DPS board meeting, Life Skill's charter -- as well as the charters of six other schools -- again came up for renewal.

Earlier in the day, Lopez had said he had a feeling that the board would vote to renew, although he knew that his students' attendance rates and test scores still weren’t at the level that the school board expected. “We’re not right for every student,” he'd said of his school, which currently has an enrollment of 280. “We’re right for some.”

In fact, he'd talked with board members about removing the requirement that potential students have dropped out of their public schools for at least sixty days before they're deemed eligible to enroll at Life Skills. At the February 21 meeting, boardmember Jill Conrad noted that it’s tough to get kids back into a regular attendance record after the system has locked them out for two months. And not only did the board grant Life Skills a two-year contract extension, but it also removed the sixty-day requirement.

“I hope you improve, because you’re going to have a lot of competition,” Conrad told the Life Skills staff in the audience, promising that otherwise, this last-chance high won’t be the district's only last chance for much longer.

But two years was enough for the Life Skills students who came to the meeting, and rejoiced at the news that their school had gotten a reprieve. -- Luke Turf

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun