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Denver Public Schools releases list of 10 schools facing closure, consolidation

Denver Public Schools
Posted at 5:23 PM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 18:44:14-04

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include references from a Denver7 story filed in April.

DENVER — Officials with Denver Public Schools released a list Tuesday of 10 elementary and middle schools they say are facing closure and consolidation with other nearby schools due to declining enrollment.

The DPS schools listed below are facing closure:

· Columbian Elementary will unify with Trevista at Trevista
· Palmer Elementary will unify with Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment K-5 grades at Montclair and ECE at Palmer
· Math Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) will unify with Valverde Elementary at Valverde
· Schmitt Elementary will unify with Godsman Elementary at Godsman
· Eagleton Elementary will unify with Cowell Elementary at Cowell
· Fairview Elementary and Colfax Elementary will unify with K-5 grades at Cheltenham and ECE at Colfax
· International Academy of Denver at Harrington will unify with Columbine Elementary and Swansea Elementary in a new enrollment zone with Columbine and Swansea.
· Denver Discovery School will unify with schools in the Greater Park Hill - Central Park Enrollment zone.
· Whittier K-8 will unify with schools in the Greater Five Points Elementary Enrollment Zone and the Near Northeast Middle School Enrollment Zone.

The district will present these recommendations to the board of education Nov. 3. Members of the board are scheduled to vote on the list Nov. 17. A public comment session has been scheduled for Nov. 14.

In early 2022, DPS created a declining enrollment advisory committee tasked with defining criteria for the potential school closures.

Over the summer, the committee presented criteria recommending the closure of elementary and middle schools with fewer than 215 students, schools with fewer than 275 students and projected decline in enrollment, and financially insolvent charter schools.

“Denver Public Schools has been facing a significant decline in our enrollment. And it's caused by many different things, from lower birth rates to changes in the housing market, gentrification," said DPS Board of Education president Xochitl Gaytan. “We are bringing our families and our students and our teachers, all school staff, into consideration when we look at school consolidation this time around.”

Another school board member, Auon'tai Anderson, believes school closures should be the last resort. He said there is the possibility the schools are voted on independently on Nov. 17.

“We should be figuring out how do we create new resources with the smaller schools that we currently have, and also educating families on if we choose to keep the school open at its current state, here are the risks and liabilities that we could be taking on as a district," Anderson said, while also encouraging families to voice their opinions to the board. “We got to do everything that we can to ensure that the families are leading these conversations. Not a board of seven, not an unelected superintendent. It needs to be the families and communities of DPS that are leading these conversations on school consolidations and closures across the city.”

Officials had warned parents earlier this year that come 2024, the district could potentially close or consolidate schools struggling with low enrollment. A declining enrollment advisory committee was organized and criteria were voted on, which was then presented to Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero.

According to experts, a decline in the number of school-aged children isn't just a Denver issue.

"It's really simple, we've seen a slow down in births," Elizabeth Garner, a demographer for the state, said to Denver7 back in April. "Starting back in 2007, that was our peak birth year, we've seen a slowing in births ever since. So with fewer kiddos, that means lower school enrollment."

The district said in the past five years, elementary and middle school enrollment has declined by more than 6,000 students, resulting in a loss of $61 million annually. DPS expects an additional loss of approximately 3,000 elementary and middle school students over the next four years.

Throughout the first half of the year, parents held protests vocalizing concerns about how the closures could impact the district's Black and Latino communities.

"It has been without community input. And when you care about a community, you hold community meetings before this kind of decision is made, and especially before this kind of news is announced," said Gladys Soto, a co-founder of the group, Mamás de DPS Peliando por las Escuelas Públicas, back in April. “DPS has just not been transparent with the Spanish-speaking families.”

In a letter sent to parents last week, Superintendent Marrero said the decision to close certain schools was not based on performance.

"We recognize the difficulty of these decisions and know that the discussion of consolidating schools is very difficult. Please know that we do not take this topic lightly, and that we are grounding this work in what we believe is best for our scholars, and the impact the current state has on our scholars, teachers and leaders," Marrero said in the letter.

In an interview with Denver7 Wednesday, Marrero reiterated the consolidation plan was community focused and was designed to have the least impact on faculty and students. He said staff and faculty will have guaranteed jobs within the district.

"Ideally, we're looking for staff to follow students to the welcoming school, so that's going to allow for the continuity of relationships," Marrero said. Sure, that's also going to help in terms of the culture building that a lot of the new school communities are going to have to work on."