The Denver school board took another step Thursday toward reopening a comprehensive high school in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood and dismantling a decade of controversial reforms.
Thursday’s vote had to do with the location of two middle schools: a new comprehensive middle school that will feed into the high school, and a charter school called STRIVE Prep Montbello. The board voted to place both schools at a campus 2 miles east of the high school in 2022.
For months, STRIVE Prep Montbello students, parents, and staff pleaded with the school board not to move their school and disrupt their community. The charter middle school is currently located on the site where the new comprehensive high school will be built.
“Most of our students walk to school,” said Leticia Gonzalez, a parent who serves on the STRIVE Prep charter network’s board of trustees. “We are at a prime location within the neighborhood, and changing that would change our whole culture.”
Gene Fashaw, a sixth-grade teacher at STRIVE Prep Montbello, told the school board last month that if they want to guarantee opportunity for all Denver students, it “does not happen by tearing the fabric of the community into pieces time and again.”
But on Thursday, the STRIVE Prep Montbello community seemed resigned to the move. Fashaw was the only person to address the board. He said that while STRIVE may disagree with board members’ decision, it looks forward to collaborating with them in the future.
The goal of a process that has been dubbed “reimagining Montbello” is to rebuild the traditional high school that existed before the district broke it up in 2010 in an attempt to improve test scores. Undoing that controversial reform will entail closing the three small high schools that replaced the original Montbello High, spending $130 million in voter-approved bond dollars on construction of a new high school, and relocating STRIVE Prep Montbello.
The new Montbello high school, and a new accompanying middle school, are set to open in 2022. The new middle school will share a campus with STRIVE Prep Montbello.
“Although the move to a new location will have an impact and comes with its own challenges, we’re excited families and students will now have two high-quality choices for middle schools at the Rachel B. Noel Campus,” the STRIVE Prep charter network said in a statement.
Shared campuses can be controversial, too. Disagreements can occur about how many classrooms each school will get, or how to share spaces like gymnasiums and cafeterias. Students who attend schools on shared campuses sometimes report a sense of rivalry.
The Rachel B. Noel campus will be empty by 2022. One of the schools that is there now, Collegiate Prep Academy high school, will close and send its students to the new Montbello high school. The other school on the campus — a charter school called DSST Middle School at Noel Campus — will move to a building purchased by the DSST charter network.
Liz Mendez, the district’s executive director of enrollment and campus planning, said the district considered giving STRIVE Prep Montbello its own building and having the new comprehensive middle and high schools share a site. But she said officials decided the high school should have as much space as possible to develop what she called a “top-notch” program.
“The community has really consistently supported a fresh, clean start for Montbello High School,” Mendez told the school board earlier this month.
That left the new comprehensive middle school and STRIVE Prep Montbello to share the Rachel B. Noel campus. Mendez said making the decision now, more than a year out, ensures “we have a chance to create as positive of a shared campus as we can.”
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.