Tensions at Denver’s Lincoln High rise as DPS teachers, parents and students resist state intervention — which could include a closure

They say the Harvey Park school needs to improve, but they want to “let Lincoln be Lincoln.”
5 min. read
Lincoln High School on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

The question posed by Lincoln High School teachers, students and others to Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova was simple: Will you work to stop state intervention at the school?

Cordova's response is pretty simple as well: Yes.

It won't be that simple, yet Cordova, a Lincoln High School graduate, vowed Monday during a public meeting to ask the Colorado State Board of Education not to intervene after five consecutive years of poor performance at the school.

"I believe deeply in the ability of this community to serve our students well," Cordova said.

Chalkbeat reported last month that Lincoln High School was at risk of state intervention because of low test scores. Educators and administrators like principal Antonio Esquibel want more time to improve the school's performance.

Making things more complicated, DPS and the state have different gauges of success. Lincoln has received a middle rating of "yellow" on the DPS scale but "orange" on the state scale, which is second-to-last in their system. Esquibel said the ratings warrant a "conversation" about the school's performance over the last year.

"Regardless if we're orange or yellow, we're still going to figure out ways to become a school that is great and amazing for all students," Esquibel said. "We still have a lot of work to do."

Superintendent Susana Cordova speaks at Lincoln High School on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

The district is working with the school and the Colorado Department of Education to consider the next step. Cordova said the district has appealed the state's performance grade for Lincoln to avoid state intervention. Her office will work with teachers and students on improving the school's performance if the state doesn't approve their request, she said. Cordova did not provide specifics on how they would help improve the school's performance.

Jeremy​ Meyer, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Education, confirmed DPS had submitted a request to reconsider the school's plan. Meyer said it's a fairly common process; last year, 164 schools made the request and 117 were approved. A final decision from the state reconsidering Lincoln's plan will come next month.

No one at Monday's meeting really liked the options on the table.

The state-ordered options include hiring an outside consultant to improve Lincoln's performance, turning it into a charter school, converting it to an "innovation school" (they can have some autonomy by operating outside of the district's instructional network) or closing it down altogether.

If the state denies DPS's request, the district will learn its fate during a state school board hearing in February.

"We could lose highly educated and experienced teachers," Lincoln teacher Emily Larson said. "We won't be able to afford to keep them. Our teachers know what is best for our students and we know what they need to show growth. We do not need the state to intervene."

More than 50 people crammed into a room at the Federal Boulevard campus on Monday evening to air their concerns directly to Cordova. They want the school to remain a traditional neighborhood school and avoid the fate Montbello and Manuel, which were both closed due to poor performance before reopening. In 2006 the state closed Manual High School and Montbello High School suffered the same fate in 2010. Manuel continues to struggle, while the district is considering building a new high school in Montbello.

Lincoln has about 950 students. More than 80 percent of students are Latino. A large portion of students are still learning English.

Lincoln junior Jorge Ruiz said the school is strong and thriving despite a "false narrative" about its performance. Ruiz is taking college classes on top of his high school classload.

"The state is illogically bent on changing the very fabric of our community," Ruiz said.

Veronica Alvarez, who brings her daughter from Montbello to attend Lincoln, said she opposes all the options from the state.

"Lincoln hasn't failed my middle daughter, who is currently earning college credit here and is in a paid internship," Alvarez said in Spanish. "If the school becomes an innovation school and with the loss of those teachers, my daughter will attend another comprehensive school in the district."

A community meeting at Lincoln High School on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Celine Angerhofer has taught French and art at Lincoln for five years. Like other teachers at the school, she's seeking an extension for the state's plans to get involved.

"I'm just talking about fairness," Angerhofer said shortly before the meeting started. "I don't want a charter school. I'm for public education, not a charter school."

Montbello resident Ken Turnipseed said the three schools on the Montbello campus now don't really cater to what students need. He made a simple plea repeated by others Monday.

"Let Lincoln be Lincoln," he said, prompting applause.

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