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Group still fighting co-location at North

A Northwest Denver community group opposed to sharing space at North High School with a charter high school is making a last-ditch effort to revise the plan, while conceding Denver school board members likely will approve the original initiative next month.

The Choose North Now or CNN leadership is proposing that STRIVE High School, scheduled to open in the fall of 2013, be located at the former Remington Elementary building, also in Northwest Denver, instead of the North High campus.

North already shares space with STRIVE Highlands Middle School and the original plan would move the middle school to Remington; CNN is now advocating to keep the middle school at North and put the high school at Remington instead.

“Keeping STRIVE Highlands at North will be less disruptive,” said Michael Kiley, a CNN member who led a meeting of the group Tuesday evening at North High School to brief parents and community residents about the issue. The Remington site is large enough to accommodate STRIVE High School, he said, and its target enrollment number of 500.

About 50 people attended the meeting and broke up into groups after Kiley’s presentation to address questions about what to do next. The consensus of the five group reports was that the Denver Board of Education was not listening to the community and was prepared to force the two high schools together.

One member asked why the Northwest Denver community was not being given a chance to reject the plan, unlike the Lake campus community, which overwhelmingly said no to an alternative proposal to locate the charter high school there. Members of CNN and STRIVE, formerly West Denver Prep, suggested Lake as a possible alternative last month but Lake staff and community members objected to the idea.

“We don’t support any co-location,” Kiley said. “You don’t solve a problem by creating another problem.”

Kiley said the schools that feed North High School are seeing rapid growth and that this will be reflected in increasing student enrollment at the high school. He said figures from 2009 to 2011 show a 33 percent increase in student enrollment at Skinner Middle School.

Such increases, fueled by gentrification in Northwest Denver, may lead to a situation where the two high schools, if placed side-by-side, would have 500 fewer seats than needed to accommodate the growth, he said.

“With gentrification comes the baby stroller and with strollers come grade schools,” Kiley said.

CNN statistics indicate North High School could have as many as 1,500 students by 2016. This could create an acute space shortage at the North campus acute if STRIVE High School is located there, the presentation concluded.

“They underestimate the demand for traditional schools,” said Renee Martinez-Stone, a CNN member, about the school board’s support for locating STRIVE High School at North. “We should have the option to say no. Co-location is a bad idea.”

Two members of the school board, Jeannie Kaplan and Arturo Jimenez, attended the meeting. Kaplan expressed support for CNN’s central premise that co-location is disruptive and harmful to education: “Co-location is not good unless it, ideally, comes from the community,” she said.

Added Martinez-Stone, about the struggle to find a home for STRIVE: “Don’t play one community against another.”

STRIVE was slated to share space with North until a community firestorm over the plan erupted earlier this year. The board backed off and allowed a group of STRIVE and North parent and school leaders to attempt to find an alternative.

In September, the coalition released an alternative plan recommending the adoption of one of three options. The preferred option presented by the group was to locate STRIVE High School at the Lake Campus. The other two options suggested opening the new high school at either Valdez Elementary School or Trevista K-8. But all three options had a measure of swap outs between middle and elementary facilities in a game of musical classrooms.

The Lake alternative foundered, though, when school community members indicated their displeasure. The Lake campus, located off Sloan’s Lake in Northwest Denver, already is home to the Lake International Academy and a STRIVE middle school program. Lake parents and teachers said they did not want to switch out the STRIVE middle program for a high school program.

“Lake has no interest. And if Lake rejects, the default will apply,” Kiley said. “This isn’t about STRIVE. This is about co-location. This decision does not mean we are done, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Suggestions about what to do next included demanding the board vote in advance of the November election, which includes two school district ballot proposals, and pursuing possible legal remedies. The school board meets Thursday but is not expected to decide on the co-location then, so a vote isn’t likely until after Nov. 6.

Despite the setback to their hopes for an alternative, Kiley said CNN isn’t going away.

“We will continue to oppose co-location,” he said. “We don’t want to displace any existing school. We’re going to make sure we support the feeder system and continue to support North.”

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