State intervention imminent at Denver’s Lincoln High School as Colorado board rejects its appeal

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova called the decision “disappointing.”
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A community meeting at Lincoln High School on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

The Colorado State Board of Education on Wednesday rejected an appeal from Denver Public Schools to reconsider Lincoln High School's rating, leaving the door open for state intervention.

The decision means the state, not the city school system, will decide how to improve Lincoln's performance. The options include hiring an outside consultant, turning it into a charter school, converting it to an "innovation school" or closing it down altogether.

The board unanimously accepted recommendations made by the Colorado Department of Education, which also refused to improve the school's rating. Lincoln officials had hoped that improved PSAT scores for students with disabilities, advanced placement (AP) class enrollment and performance, and remediation rates would get the state to reconsider, Dana Smith, a spokesperson for the state department of education, said in an email.

But the state did not believe improvements made in these categories were sufficient to approve changing Lincoln's rating. The school had five consecutive years of poor performance, which left it vulnerable to state intervention.

Last month, students, teachers and parents hosted Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova during a meeting, urging the district to prevent the state from intervening and potentially changing the high school. DPS has its own rating system, which put the school in the middle of the pack -- but it's second-to-last compared to the rest of the state.

In a statement to Denverite on Wednesday, Cordova, a Lincoln High grad, said the district has made a commitment to "accountability and performance improvement" through its own rating system.

"That's what's happening at Lincoln, and we have confidence in the trajectory of the improvement plan and in the school's leadership, teachers and community," Cordova said. "Today's decision is disappointing, but we're looking forward to sharing a really strong, comprehensive plan with the state board in February."

Lincoln High School principal Antonio Esquibel said Wednesday that the school has been "a pillar in this community and has educated thousands of students" over six decades. He is also a Lincoln High alumnus.

"Over the years, Lincoln has struggled, achieved, succeeded and grown," Esquibel said in a statement. "That's where we are right now, and we will focus on connecting and preparing all students and ultimately ensuring all Lincoln students succeed. We will continue to do what is in the best interest of our students and families and help our school continue to achieve excellence."

The district will now come before the state board during a hearing, where Colorado education officials will consider a "pathway" for improvement. The hearing will likely take place in January or February. Smith said the district usually presents information about the school and how it's trying to improve, while the state education department presents as well.

School board members will ask questions and deliberate before making a decision. Smith said a decision on which option the state will choose for Lincoln could come during the meeting or a day afterward.

Lincoln High School has about 950 students, 80 percent of whom are Latino.

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