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Alternatives possible in North co-location

There are two new possible locations for STRIVE Prep High School – other than North High School, Denver Public Schools officials announced Tuesday.

The problem is district officials say they can’t disclose details about the sites while they are involved in “good faith” negotiations.

Bill Fulton, co-director of The Civic Canopy and facilitator of a 10-member working group established by the Denver school board to seek out possible alternatives to a North co-location, talked about the latest development at a community meeting Tuesday in North’s auditorium.

“It’s a little shaky,” Fulton said. “We’ve got two options but we can’t tell you much about them. The more you talk about them, the less likely they are to become successful options. I can tell you we vetted them with the district.”

Fulton said, “It’s not foolproof. There is a possibility they will not work out.”

One of the buildings is occupied; one is not, said North High Principal Nicole Veltze, a member of a working group.

The district would likely have to purchase or lease one of the privately-owned buildings, which will not be an easy sell since that money would have to come out of another pot, such as early childhood education or programs for at-risk students. Fulton said consensus had not been reached by the working group.

That was the big news as residents heard the latest on a controversial district plan to place STRIVE, the first high school in the Denver charter network, on the North campus beginning next fall.

Under what district staff called “the default decision,” STRIVE Prep high school would replace the STRIVE Prep middle school now sharing the North campus in a wing adjacent to the main North building.

But it was hard to find anyone in Tuesday’s audience who would welcome STRIVE Prep.

Meeting turns tense

In fact, sentiment at the meeting grew increasingly tense as North parents, students and alumni complained that their voices have not been heard during several prior meetings.

At one point Tuesday, a woman grabbed a microphone and jumped on stage encouraging the roughly 200 people in attendance to walk out of the school in protest. “We are not letting STRIVE into this school. Sorry,” she said. Nobody left the auditorium.

District staff in May proposed co-locating STRIVE Prep at North due to empty seats at the historic school located on North Speer Boulevard, a few blocks northwest of I-25. Members of Choose North Now, a community group that formed to fight the co-location, and other critics say STRIVE students will take up seats that a steadily growing and improving North will need.

They say North, a struggling school that’s been the target of numerous turnaround efforts, and its new principal need time to continue reforms underway to ensure the school becomes a top-notch, comprehensive high school for the entire northwest quadrant of the city.

Members of the STRIVE Prep community were noticeably absent from the meeting.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg attempted to ease the audience’s concerns with stories of other controversial decisions that he said worked out well for students and families in Northwest Denver.

“I strongly, strongly support all three schools in question here,” Boasberg said, referring to STRIVE, North and Lake, another campus where STRIVE is co-located. “We have seen tremendous progress at all three schools.”

“We are investing more in North this year than any school in the district … and it’s showing (through) academic growth, community support and increased enrollment.”

Furthermore, Boasberg said work by the district and community members over the past three years has resulted in dramatic enrollment gains at the middle school level. A few years ago, all he heard were grumbles about the lack of quality middle school options in Northwest Denver.

“Six hundred more families send their kids to middle schools here in Northwest than did three years ago,” Boasberg said.

Boasberg also said that there are 40 school co-location arrangements in the district and that while not perfect, they’re doing fine. Boasberg said there’s ample room at North for STRIVE Prep.

Ample room at North

“This campus … is the same size as East High School,” Boasberg said. “East has 2,300 kids. North has 950 kids. There is plenty of room for this high school to expand and support that expansion.”

Boasberg was joined by school board members Jeannie Kaplan, Mary Seawell, Happy Haynes and Arturo Jimenez. However, Jimenez stood in the back of the auditorium as his colleagues stood in front of the stage with the working committee members. He later said he was not invited to join the others at the front of the auditorium.

“Respect is mutual. This process hasn’t been mutual,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez’s position on STRIVE, formerly known as West Denver Prep, has been the subject of debate. He called STRIVE “one small school with limited and exclusive enrollment” but during his 2011 re-election campaign, he said he was “very proud … to to be the person who helped usher West Denver Prep into north Denver,” a statement that angered STRIVE supporters.

Jimenez said his major concern is that the high school co-location does not address the desire for a solid feeder pattern in Northwest Denver. STRIVE Prep would not have a school boundary but would draw students from across the city.

Several issues were raised by those in attendance, such as how the common spaces – cafeteria, athletic fields, library – would be shared. At capacity, STRIVE Prep would serve 500 students while North is expected to grow to 1,500.

Boasberg assured those present that STRIVE would not take away seats from North. As STRIVE grew beyond 350 students, portable classrooms would be added to make room for STRIVE.

And if it got to a point where North needed the classroom space occupied by STRIVE, the board would have to find a new home for STRIVE. When Boasberg talked about this, a woman yelled out: “Why not now?”

Meanwhile, students raised concerns about what they perceive as a policy or guideline by STRIVE that its students not “co-mingle” with North students. One student questioned whether he would get “chastised” for talking to a STRIVE student.

Veltze said students would be allowed – and encouraged – to interact as part of school clubs or other “productive” activities. She assured students no one would get chastised for talking to a STRIVE Prep student during school hours.

Sophomore Lyzette Gonzalez, 15, said she wanted to make sure the “North tradition” is around for her kids. Her father and uncles were Vikings.

“I want my children to see me in the yearbook in 2015,” Gonzalez said.

NW Denver residents still want answers

Felicia Medina of the Sunnyside United Neighbors said she has attended several community meetings about the proposed co-location but never gets answers to her questions. For starters, why can’t STRIVE Prep open in the vacant Remington Elementary building?

“We’ve asked the questions repeatedly and now we need answers,” she said. “We’re not opposed to the use of Remington. Nobody approached us.”

David Diaz, a former North math teacher who now has three younger children in the Northwest Denver pipeline, wore his purple North jacket with gold stripes and Choose North Now button.

He asked the audience for a show of hands to illustrate opposition to STRIVE’s placement here. Nearly every hand shot up.

Diaz said many people in Northwest Denver believe the district engages in “covert operations” when it comes to school reform. While the district says now it would add portable classrooms if STRIVE grows out of the old science wing, he worries the charter school would ultimately take over the English wing, which he said happened at West High.

He, too, has lots of questions.

Instead of answering questions, he “goes into that sales pitch again,” Diaz said, referring to Boasberg.

“It’s frustrating. How do you undo a done deal?”

Veltze said regardless of where STRIVE Prep ends up, the focus needs to remain on the kids.

“We need to make sure we make this work for Northwest Denver,” Veltze said. “We need to keep our focus on equity for our kids.”

School board members are scheduled to hear additional public comment Thursday. Board members are expected to discuss the issue at their Nov. 29 meeting.

“This is a process that really is about community,” Kaplan said. “I don’t know that we’ve paid enough attention to the community. There is a history here that really needs to be honored… One thing we can learn from you all is to do this kind of outreach before we make a decision.”

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