More than 100 members of the Northeast Denver community signed up to weigh in Thursday night on the most contentious debate in Denver Public Schools (DPS) history.
Packing the public forum of the DPS administrative offices and flowing out the doors at 900 Grant Street were hundreds more who showed up to take sides. The heated debate between members of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education boiled over into a scene reminiscent of competing political rallies.
At issue is a radical plan to turn around failing schools in Denver’s worst-performing region, the northeast corridor surrounding Montbello High School. Notorious for statistically graduating only 6 in 100 incoming freshman without special intervention, Montbello is at the center of Denver’s first complete overhaul of a school system.
Under the plan proposed by district administrators and passed by a divided board 4-3, Montbello will be dismantled and reassembled as three distinct entities: a pre-collegiate tech program, an academy focused on college prep courses, and a branch of the Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS).
Denver’s Charter Experiment
Also affected by the change will be Montbello’s five feeder schools.
Ford Elementary School will be replaced altogether with the elementary precursor to the Denver Center for International Studies, which focuses on turning out “interculturally competent citizens who are actively involved in our rapidly changing world.” The DCIS curriculum requires courses in a world language and an expansive knowledge of world geography and cultures in addition to core classes like science, math, language arts & social studies.
Oakland Elementary School will be replaced by a charter school. That means Oakland will develop its curriculum and educational philosophy independently of other schools in the area, and with less input from the Denver Public Schools board that just authorized these sweeping changes.
Meanwhile, Green Valley & McGlone Elementary Schools will begin by dismissing much of their faculty/staff. Many teachers will be rehired, but the hiring process will be open to all applicants, guaranteeing drastic changes at each school.
“(There) will be a very strong set of schools and of choices for parents and families. And each of those schools will build one grade at a time,” says DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.
Montbello’s feeder middle school will add a charter school and begin building a grades 6-12 arts program. Rachel B. Noel Middle School will begin phasing out existing programs after this school year barring a successful challenge to the district’s directive.
An All-Nighter at DPS HQ
Hundreds of concerned citizens affected by the proposed changes and members of the Denver education community showed up for the scheduled 6:30PM public debate. Some waved signs and spoke to reporters outside while others signed up to speak before the packed DPS Board of Education meeting room.
The seven-member board had been debating openly and behind closed doors for months, but got another hour before the public comment period to re-hash what has long been a clear 4-3 divide in favor of the proposal.
Public debate was scheduled for a mere hour, but instead went until 1:00AM Friday morning.
Students from affected schools spoke out against the proposal. Teachers touted recent success at Montbello High and the teamwork that has come from their common struggle to turn the school around. Those opposed called the planned restructuring dangerous and claimed that charter programs lack a “proven track record.”
Many in favor of the proposal see the move as necessary to shake up an entrenched structure that has failed students for too long.
Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston spoke in favor of the proposal. The Denver Democrat compared the current Montbello High program to a bus that picks up 100 students but only delivers six to school, hearkening to Montbello’s history of failure.
Said Johnston, “What is amazing is that day after day, month after month, year after year we continue to put that bus on the road.”