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Lake families, staff say no to high school

Teachers and families at Lake International School made it clear Thursday evening they will not be rolling out the red carpet for STRIVE Prep High School.

Within minutes of a hastily-organized community meeting, 92 people had signed a petition opposing the co-location and the idea of high school students mingling with sixth-graders in the hallways of the historic school on Sloan’s Lake.

“We are very united as a faculty,” Lake IB Principal Amy Highsmith told the crowd. “We don’t need any more changes at Lake … We have endured a lot over the past years.

“We need a chance to flourish.”

The crowd of about 50 mostly Latino families clapped during her remarks.

As a turnaround school, Highsmith said progress is happening but the 3-year-old school needs more time to fill its seats. With 387 students now, it has a goal of having at least 450 to 500 students enrolled within the next few years.

Highsmith said STRIVE would ultimately be a 500-student high school, while STRIVE Prep’s Middle School, which now shares Lake’s campus, only has 315.

“I know this building,” she said. “I know every broom closet and we don’t have space for that. We have offices that are in closets.”

The option of locating a new STRIVE Prep High School at Lake, and moving the current STRIVE Prep middle school to an as-yet-undetermined location, grew out of anger over a district plan to place the charter high school at North High.

The top alternative solution from a working group made up of representatives of North and STRIVE Prep was to place STRIVE Prep High at Lake, and move the STRIVE middle program elsewhere.

STRIVE charters, formerly known as West Denver Prep, are among the highest-performing schools in the district, while Lake and North have struggled, but that doesn’t seem to ease concerns about co-location.

Latest co-location concept new to Lake families

For most families who filled Lake’s stately library, it was the first time they had heard about the possibility a high school could be sharing space with their kids at school. STRIVE Prep Middle School families were not at the meeting, although Lake staff said the two schools work well together.

Yana Smith, the district’s chief community engagement officer who facilitated the meeting, made it clear that if the community did not support the co-location, STRIVE Prep High would be placed at North and begin educating students there in fall 2013.

Once people wrapped their heads around what was being suggested, questions started to fly.

One woman wanted to know what would become of STRIVE Prep Middle School if the high school moved into Lake.

The response? “No one knows.”

“Denver Public Schools has not said ‘yes,’ ” Smith said. “That was a recommendation that came out of this community (working) group … Because the Lake community was not represented in that group, your voice needs to be at that table.”

Smith said she was “a little fuzzy” on why North High didn’t want STRIVE to share its campus.

Michael Kiley, a co-founder of Choose North Now, which spurred the creation of the working group and the search for an alternative, said North will reach building capacity in 2016, based on enrollment projections, so it doesn’t have room for the charter school. He said his group does not support putting STRIVE Prep at Lake, either.

“We don’t support forced co-location at any school,” Kiley said, to more claps.

Concerns about mixing middle, high school students

Bill Fulton, co-director of The Civic Canopy and facilitator of the working group that came up with the Lake suggestion, said North has worked extremely hard over the years to build momentum for its academic programs.

“There is a feeling that an additional high school on that location would jeopardize (the momentum),” Fulton said.

The crowd groaned as Fulton described the working group’s perception that it wouldn’t be “that big of a difference” to swap out a middle school for a high school at Lake.

Lake student Somerae Nuanes, 11, said she loved her school because of its architectural beauty and small class sizes, but didn’t want to see more fights break out in its hallways.

“When I am walking in a hall and a sixth-grader bumps into a seventh-grader, there is a small argument,” she said. “If an eighth-grader bumps into a ninth-grader, it will not just be an argument but most likely a fight.”

“It’s not a good idea,” said Jose Martinez, whose son is in sixth-grade at Lake, after the meeting. “He’s a little kid. They’re going to harass him. I don’t want any bullying or harassment. In sixth-grade, they’re just starting to learn how to be grown-ups.”

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