These new schools want to open in Denver

The Denver school district did not solicit applications this year for any specific new schools, but that didn’t stop three entities from signaling their intent to apply.

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McAuliffe International School, North Park Hill, Feb. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

McAuliffe International School, North Park Hill, Feb. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

By Melanie AsmarChalkbeat

The Denver school district did not solicit applications this year for any specific new schools, but that didn’t stop three entities – including the district itself – from signaling their intent to apply.

The district is proposing one or more exemplar “early college” high schools that would “reflect best practice in college and career readiness,” according to a letter of intent filed by district officials. The schools would target students from low-income families and others who are historically underrepresented in higher education, allowing them to enroll for a fifth or even a sixth year during which they could take college classes and earn credits for free.

Denver Public Schools also received intent letters from a local network of more-flexible “innovation schools” that wants to open a third middle school and its first high school, and from a group that wants to open a charter school called the American Indian Academy of Denver.

Every year, Denver Public Schools issues a “Call for New Quality Schools.” In the past, it has included requests for proposals for specific new schools, such as a new elementary school in a fast-growing neighborhood or a new middle school to replace an underperforming one.

The district has historically provided buildings to new schools that meet its needs, which is significant because finding suitable real estate is one of the biggest hurdles new schools face.

But this year’s call did not include any specific requests. Superintendent Tom Boasberg cited slowing enrollment growth and the improving performance of existing schools as reasons why. In addition, he said the district would not promise buildings to new schools.

That decision has at least temporarily hindered the expansion ambitions of several homegrown, high-performing charter networks and caused supporters of the district’s aggressive school improvement strategies to wonder whether Denver is straying from them.

Boasberg said the district remains committed to the role new schools play in improving the quality of education in Denver, adding that new schools “offer the promise of better schools.”

Even without specific requests, the district invited new schools to apply to open in the fall of 2019 or later. The deadline to submit letters of intent was Feb. 9. Applications are due April 2, and the Denver school board is scheduled to vote to approve or deny them in May.

The district received five intent letters, but one – for a charter called the Denver School of Thought – has already been withdrawn. In past years, the district has gotten more. It got 24 intent letters last year, though 10 were withdrawn before the application deadline.

Here’s a look at the schools proposed in this year’s intent letters:

American Indian Academy of Denver
Grades 6 – 12
The charter school’s mission, according to its letter, would be to prepare students for college and careers by “incorporating indigenous cultural strengths” into a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering, art, and math – sometimes referred to as STEAM.

Denver Early College High School
Grades 9 – 12 with possible fifth- and sixth-year enrollment
Denver already has seven early college high schools at which students can stay additional years to take free college courses. But the district wants to ensure there is one in every part of the city. “Through collaborative participatory design processes, communities can use this application as an initial blueprint for a high-quality early college high school,” its letter says.

TBD Beacon Middle School
Grades 6 – 8
This would be the third middle school in the Beacon innovation school network. Innovation schools are district-run schools that have more flexibility with things like hours or curriculum through waivers from district and state rules. The two schools currently in the network are Grant Beacon and Kepner Beacon. Beacon has also applied to form a new “innovation zone.”

Beacon Network High School
Grades 9 – 12
This would be the first high school in the Beacon network. According to its letter, it would be located in southwest Denver and “provide a feeder option” for Beacon middle school students.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.