Last week, Denver Public Schools released a list of 19 elementary schools that would be looked at for either consolidation or closure, as part of their plan to reduce the number of schools in the district due to low enrollment.
On Thursday, DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero put a halt to the Small Schools Resolution plan, citing community concern and timing, as schools still deal with the effects and the future of the pandemic.
“It is now clear to me that this is not the time for this effort to continue forward,” Marrero said. “The work and focus that is needed at this time to honor that Resolution would be a major obstacle in continuing the Listening & Learning Tour and in the recovery of our school district from the effects of the pandemic.”
In June, the Denver School Board directed DPS to work with parents, staff teachers and community members to create options for reducing the number of schools experiencing low enrollment by Fall 2023. Low enrollment is considered 300 students or less.
Denver schools began experiencing low enrollment in 2015.
Grant Guyer, DPS Chief of Strategy and Portfolio Services, said specifically elementary schools have been most impacted by the decline. In the past six years, the district has lost about 5,000 elementary-aged children, or 16 schools’ worth of kids, Chalkbeat previously reported.
The list focused on three DPS regions — Northwest, Southwest, Central — that have experienced low enrollment because of rising cost in housing and displacement. Out of the 19 schools, nine of them represent the only public elementary schools in the westside’s City Council District 3, including Munroe, Castro and Knapp, all of which have school populations above 300. The others are in District 7 and 9, including Columbine, Whitter and Valverde.
“There’s a ton of unanswered questions,” said Councilwoman Jamie Torres, who represents District 3. “For parents… what does it mean to start to understand consolidation and how it might affect either their kids’ access to their local school or what options they have available. I think the question around transportation starts to come up and school choice and even school leadership.”
Some parents in the Westwood community were concerned with how DPS has communicated with parents recently and how they’ll continue to do so in the future.
Elizabeth Portillo has a first-grader in Munroe and wasn’t aware of any possible consolidations as of last week. Her family has lived in Westwood their whole lives — she attended Castro and her husband attended Munroe. She was shocked by the news but said those affected by the news are always the last to know, especially in Westwood.
“I remember growing up it used to be Five Points and now we’re the Five Points,” Portillo said. “The government doesn’t pay attention to this neighborhood. We’re the poor neighborhood and we get looked past, I feel like.”
Colorado and Denver school budgets are based on a per-pupil model, so with low enrollment comes lower budgets, which Guyer said impacts the student experience.
According to DPS data, the Central region, which encompasses Five Points and Elyria-Swansea, has lost over over 800 students, the equivalent of two full-sized elementary schools, from 2015 to 2020.
The Southwest area, which includes Westwood and Valverde, has lost over 1,700 students, or a large high school worth of children.
Guyer acknowledged that all of the affected schools are in low-income and predominantly minority neighborhoods but said that’s why DPS is working on enrollment.
“We view this as an equity issue that students enrolled in these schools have not typically had access to the same level of enrichment opportunities, or additional academic support,” Guyer said. “Some people think small schools actually have in the classroom lower teacher student ratios but all the additional supports that come with a schools with higher enrollment aren’t necessarily available,” Guyer said.
That includes the arts, physical education and additional intervention schools.
Guyer also said DPS’ transitional native language instruction, or TNLI, model is also affected by low enrollment budget woes because the schools need a “fairly robust enrollment” to make sure the program can be executed. Most of the schools DPS is considering closing or consolidating are TNLI schools.
Marrero said the consolidation conversation would continue once DPS is further along in its “recovery from the pandemic.”
“Right now, we will continue to address the many challenges our scholars, families, and educators are facing, and we will work to ensure we’re providing a great education and strong support services at every single DPS school,” Marrero said.
Margaret Bobb, a retired DPS Teacher who has taught at Horace Mann Middle, Bruce Randolph Middle and East High, said she’s glad Marrero has taken community concerns into consideration.
She adds, however, that the Small Schools Resolution is only on pause.
“Hearing him put a pause on this is evidence that he’s listening to the community,” Bobb said. “I’m hopeful but… it’s a pause. Not stop. We can’t say victory. We have to keep the pressure up and keep people vigilant.”
Here’s a list of the 19 schools by region:
Cole Arts & Science Academy, Columbine, International Academy of Denver, Whittier
Cheltenham, Colfax, Cowell, Fairview, Eagleton
Barnum, Castro, Goldrick, Godsman, Knapp, Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, Munroe, Newlon, Schmitt, Valverde