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STRIVE community: No more delays

STRIVE Prep supporters gathered before the Denver Board of Education Thursday to make a clear plea: Don’t put off the decision on the location of their new high school any longer.

The parents and students who flanked the microphone in the boardroom did not provide a preferred location. They simply want a decision.

Student Edgar Campos said STRIVE has already altered the trajectory of his young life. He was comfortable talking to the adults in the room because he has to give a speech every six weeks at STRIVE Prep, he said. The system of reward and penalties at the school keep him on track.

“Students have to really pay attention because if you don’t you will get behind,” Campos said. “This school has given me confidence that I can get to college.”

After every speaker, members of the STRIVE crowd snapped their fingers.

District staff already recommended a location for the first STRIVE high school in the charter network: North High School. Under a controversial district proposal the high school would take the place of the STRIVE Highland middle school. Meanwhile, the middle school would move into the vacant Remington building.

But a vocal contingent of Northwest Denver parents and community members have fought the proposal. They worry the addition of a charter high school will disrupt the transformation now underway at North, a turnaround school, and create unnecessary competition. Furthermore, they don’t believe there will be space for STRIVE if student projections at North come to fruition.

A working group of citizens from all affected schools proposed alternatives but was unable to garner community support for any of them. The board is slated to make a decision on the location of STIVE Prep High School, scheduled to open next fall, on Nov. 29.

At a community forum Tuesday at North High School, district staff said there were two new options for STRIVE Prep.  One of the buildings is vacant; the other is not. However, the purchase or lease of a privately owned facility would require spending additional district resources.  Due to the sensitivity of the real estate negotiations, staff declined to provide details regarding the two options.

STRIVE Prep’s CEO Chris Gibbons said STRIVE families were asked by STRIVE staff not to attend the informational meeting at North to provide a space for the North community to express its feelings about co-location and ask questions.

At the board meeting Thursday, STRIVE middle schooler Esmeralda Contrerras said STRIVE has helped her grow as an “independent scholar.”

“I encourage the Board of Education to quickly decide where my STRIVE Northwest high will be located,” she said.

The system of rewards and consequences “make us realize our mistakes, fix them and quickly move on.”

STRIVE teacher and parent Lee Vigil said STRIVE embodies a true love of learning in a “small, safe” learning environment.

“The doors are always open,” she said, adding that teachers, students and staff are leading their own kind of educational “revolution.” Middle school students never have less than an hour of homework each day and are expected to read for at least 30 minutes per day.

“The teachers and leaders at STRIVE Prep are visionary,” she said. “These scholars know where they come from, where they are going and why.”

“We have been waiting since March. We need to proceed quickly and decide upon a location. There is too much at stake to delay any longer.”

Linda Gonzales, parent of a STRIVE eighth-grader, said the board needed to make a speedy decision for the kids.

“It’s kind of important for our kids,” Gonzales said. “They don’t really think about much but school. For them next year is coming very quickly. We have a school to prepare for and get ready.”

Neither board members Arturo Jimenez nor Andrea Merida attended the meeting. Board member Jeannie Kaplan said her colleague Jimenez was in Washington, D.C., as part of a program to train Latino school board members and school leaders. Board President Mary Seawell had to leave the meeting early due to a childcare conflict, although she was there for the STRIVE testimony.

Candace Ortiz, a member of the stakeholder working group and mother of a STRIVE eighth-grader, said the time has come to make this difficult decision.

“It’s been a long summer and long few months,” Ortiz said. “I believe in all three options. I believe we do have a lot of viable options. I believe that a lot of work has gone into this… I am pleading with you tonight, as a member of the stakeholder work group, this decision is not delayed any further. Please keep the date of Nov. 29 as the date where the decision is made.”

With that, more snaps from the audience. Board members – who have already listened to exhaustive testimony on the divisive co-location plan – listened, but didn’t make any comments.