North High: Some parents petition against co-location of charter school

North High School has had many struggles. Among them: poor test scores, low enrollment, myriad redesigns and lax oversight of the school's credit recovery program. But a community group called Choose North Now thinks the historic high school is beginning to turn around -- and that co-locating a charter school at North will hurt, not help.

Denver Public Schools is considering co-locating a new West Denver Prep high school -- called SMART (Science, Math, Art) -- inside North. The campus is already home to a successful West Denver Prep middle school.

But the plan is controversial. As reported by Ed News Colorado, hundreds of northwest Denver residents showed up at a community meeting last month -- some in favor of the plan and some against it. Both sides will get another chance to voice their opinion tonight at 5 p.m. at a special public hearing before the DPS board.

Those in favor of co-location tout the success of the West Denver Prep middle schools, which serve largely minority and low-income kids and have phenomenal test scores. "Since it opened, hundreds and hundreds of students who go there have discovered they are academically capable," parent Marie Sierra said, according to Ed News Colorado.

Those opposed include Renee Martinez-Stone, a parent and member of Choose North Now. The group describes itself as a mix of North High alumni, community members and parents of elementary and middle school kids in the now-highly desirable neighborhood of northwest Denver. (Hello, Highlands Mommies!)

"If you fill up North High School with these two programs, you don't have room to grow into the innovative and culturally integrated school that reflects northwest Denver," Martinez-Stone says. Choking North's growth would be "perpetuating segregation," she says, referring to the fact that many students in that area choose to go to other high schools, often leaving behind those who don't have the resources to do so.

Martinez-Stone and others want DPS to slow its process down. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal on June 21, and Choose North Now has started an online petition that asks DPS to hold off. It has nearly 1,000 signatures.

The petition champions North's new principal, Nicole Veltze, who helped turn around Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver. Martinez-Stone has a child in seventh grade at Skinner, and she says she'd like to give Veltze time to work her turnaround magic at North to transform it into a robust, traditional high school. "When you put two high schools together that both need labs, cafeterias, libraries and fields, you have to begin to ask the question, are you serving those kids as well as you could in two separate buildings?" Martinez-Stone says. She thinks the answer is no.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg has said at public meetings that there's room enough at North for everyone who'd like to attend. But Martinez-Stone doubts his math. "There's a real serious underestimation of how many kids are coming through the pipeline," she says. Choose North Now estimates that 1,576 kids will be poised to enroll in North by 2016, pushing the school over capacity; North has room for 1,475.

"There needs to be time to look at other options," Martinez-Stone says.

We'll see if the DPS board agrees. The District School Improvement and Accountability Council, which reviews all charter school applications for DPS, recommended that the board approve the co-location -- if the community supports the plan.

More from our Education archive: "Denver Public Schools ready to answer parents' call for healthier food -- in 2015."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar