West High: Meet the two new academies moving into the low-performing school next year

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West High School is not closing. At least not yet. That point was hammered home repeatedly today at a gathering of West High leaders, media and community members to talk about the future of the low-performing school, which will welcome two new academies to its building next year. "This is how we break a vicious cycle," said principal Domonic Martinez.

West has a poor track record. Last year, fewer than 50 percent of its students graduated "on time," or within four years of entering ninth grade, according to state statistics. Of those who graduated and went on to college, 91 percent needed to take remedial classes.

The school has also experienced high principal turnover. A few weeks after school began this year, West's new principal, Santiago Grado, who came from Greeley to lead the school, abruptly resigned. He was replaced by Martinez, a West assistant principal who had been disciplined by Denver Public Schools the year before.

Today, Martinez said he's poised to lead what's being called the West "legacy" school for the next four years. The students who currently attend West will be allowed to finish their education there, but no new ninth-graders will be accepted. Still, Martinez says he hopes to grow the tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades next year to include 200 students per grade. West's current enrollment is under 800 students.

Martinez says West is also exploring a partnership with the Community College of Denver that would allow students to earn up to two years' worth of college credit before they graduate high school. "We're not just riding into the sunset," he said. "We're raising the bar." The legacy school, he added, is "not just the people left over."

The two schools that will take up residence inside West next year will be the West Leadership Academy and the West Generation Academy. Both schools will be run in partnership with nonprofit educational management organizations: College Board Schools and Generation Schools, respectively.

The schools's models are similar. Both call for a longer school day (eight hours), a longer school year (200 days), small class sizes and a relatively low number of students per grade (125 for WLA and 150 for WGA). Both schools will serve students in grades six through twelve, and both will phase in the grades gradually. WLA will start next year with grades six and nine, while WGA will start with grades six, eight and nine.

They differ in that WLA will offer more AP classes, a cornerstone of the College Board program. The school's new principal, Teresa Klava, described the curriculum as "rigorous, rigorous" with an eye toward getting students into college. Starting in sixth grade, students will visit two colleges per year.

Meanwhile, WGA will offer project-based learning in addition to core academics, allowing students to take two month-long "intensive" courses per year in subjects such as sports management, nutrition, financial literacy and entertainment. In addition to teaching students how to collaborate and negotiate, WGA will teach them about self-care.

"I can't tell you how many students I run into that haven't been coached about how to care for themselves," said new principal Bob Villarreal. WGA students, he added, will have "the ability, like John Elway, to walk down the street and have that... sway."

Students from all three schools will have the opportunity to play on West High sports teams and participate in West High extra-curricular activities, leaders said. Nearly every DPS official there emphasized the need for continuing West's school culture.

"We are West cowboys," Klava said, referring to the school's mascot.

More from our Education archives: "Air Force Academy donates jet engine to West High School's aircraft maintenance program."

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