New Charter Middle School Coming to Lincoln High Despite Protests

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Update: A charter middle school will begin sharing space with Lincoln High School next fall. Compass Academy, which opened in a temporary space this year, will eventually serve up to 400 students at the LHS campus despite objections that the community group Padres y Jovenes Unidos voiced at a protest earlier this week; see our previous coverage below.

DPS staff had recommended that a branch of the high-performing DSST charter school network be opened in the high school instead. But board members made a different decision on Thursday night: they chose Compass Academy, which also applied to move into Lincoln. Board members noted Compass Academy's strengths, including its mentoring and bi-literacy programs. “Their model is designed around student leadership," board member Barbara O'Brien said.

Here's an excerpt from DPS's press release:

The Lincoln campus is able to serve approximately 1,900-2,000 students and currently serves 1,485 through the shared campus of the high school and Respect Academy programs. The projected enrollment with all three grades of the Compass middle school is 350-400 students. With Lincoln seeing a decline in enrollment as a result of the opening of several new high schools in the region, the Lincoln campus has available capacity for a middle school program. The District, at the same time, detailed plans to strengthen Lincoln’s high school program. Compass Academy, which currently serves grades six and seven, will move from its location at the Kepner campus to the Lincoln campus to serve students beginning in 2016-17.

Original post, 2:07 p.m. October 12: Some Lincoln High School students are pushing back against a plan by Denver Public Schools to open a charter middle school on the LHS campus, located in southwest Denver. A protest organized by the community group Padres y Jovenes Unidos is scheduled for 5 p.m. tonight in advance of a 6 p.m. public comment session being held by the DPS school board.

"The school board, the community and the students agree there is a need for a high-quality middle school in the southwest," says Karissa Frolov, a youth organizer with the Denver-based group. "But there are ways to go about it. You can't just put a middle school here and say, 'Let's see how it works.'"

The DPS plan calls for adding a branch of the high-performing DSST charter school network at Lincoln in the 2017-2018 school year. The school would actually open the year before but would be "incubated" at an existing DSST school for a year before moving to Lincoln. There are already six DSST middle schools and three DSST high schools in DPS. All nine are charter schools that focus on STEM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Middle schoolers in southwest Denver need better schools, DPS officials say: 47 percent of the area's sixth graders are enrolled in under-performing schools, according to a presentation by district staff to the school board last week. By comparison, the district's existing DSST schools perform very well — and officials hope that a new DSST middle school at Lincoln would do the same. 

But some community members are worried that adding a middle school at Lincoln will be detrimental to a high school they say is already overcrowded and lacking key resources. In a recent survey of more than 600 Lincoln students, 85 percent said they've been late to class because of overcrowding in the hallways and 92 percent said they've experienced long waits to get lunch. The survey was organized by students, some of whom spoke at a recent school board meeting in opposition to the plan.

"It just doesn’t make any sense to the students," Frolov says of the plan, which involves phasing in the middle school to add a total of 450 middle school students to the Lincoln campus by the 2018-2019 school year. "Where are they going to put them?"

DPS officials say there's plenty of room. Lincoln has a capacity of 2,100 students but it hasn't been full for years — and the district predicts that the student population will shrink even more by 2018-2019. “As Lincoln becomes smaller, it creates the space for the additional students," Susana Cordova, DPS's chief of schools, said at a recent school board meeting. She denied that adding a middle school at Lincoln was the first step toward eventually closing the high school altogether.

"We are very committed to ensuring that Lincoln continues, that it has high-quality educational opportunities for students and that it needs to be fed by very strong middle schools across the board," she said. "We have made the commitment that we will never turn students away from Lincoln.”

But not everyone is convinced. The slogan of the campaign opposing DPS's plan? Fix Lincoln First.

The school board is expected to vote on the plan on Thursday.

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