Two groups on opposite sides of the proposed co-location of a West Denver Prep charter high school at Denver’s traditional North High campus have hammered out at least the beginnings of a compromise.
A resolution reached at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, less than an hour before the start of a scheduled seven-hour public comment session before the Denver school board, would provide another two months for a small working group to find alternate locations for the charter high school.
If an alternative isn’t found, the co-location would move forward but the charter high school’s classroom space would be limited to a separate building on the campus and the charter would not hold classes within the main North building.
Under the current proposal, the West Denver Prep charter high school would have access to four classrooms within the North building. The two schools would still share some spaces, such as the cafeteria.
Michael Kiley, one of the leaders of Choose North Now, the community group opposed to the co-location, briefly outlined the resolution in publicly speaking to school board members.
“I want to encourage everyone to consider it carefully, to read it and to understand the immense effort and trust that went into it from all concerned,” Kiley said.
Several of those involved said school board President Mary Seawell facilitated meetings over the past four days between leaders of Choose North Now and West Denver Prep, along with North High Principal Nicole Veltze and DPS Chief Academic Officer Susana Cordova.
Seawell and school board member Happy Haynes, who participated in the meetings, said they support the resolution and Seawell said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, who is on vacation, is in agreement. Chris Gibbons, the CEO and founder of West Denver Prep, which are among the district’s highest-performing schools, also said he backs the plan. So does Moira Cullen, head of West Denver Prep’s board.
But Kiley acknowledged the resolution is “recent” and noted it had not been widely distributed before Thursday’s meeting. Renee Martinez Stone, a Choose North Now leader who participated in the meetings, described it as a “first draft.”
“It’s not done,” she said, adding, “No one is walking away from the table. We have other people to include” in reviewing the resolution.
That includes school board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents Northwest Denver and who said he was “excluded” from the discussions.
Jimenez, who has said he is opposed to the co-location, said he doesn’t support the resolution as currently written.
“There’s still time to fix this resolution,” he said.
Jimenez said he wants to help craft a resolution that would “welcome West Denver Prep” to an adequate facility and that might address other schools in Northwest Denver.
Seawell said board members could vote on the resolution at their June 21 meeting. All board members received a copy of the resolution at Thursday’s meeting, she said, except Andrea Merida, who did not attend the public comment session. Boasberg also was absent from the session.
School board member Jeanne Kaplan, who has expressed concerns about the co-location, said she had not had enough time to study the three-page resolution and couldn’t yet say whether she supported it.
Much of the public comment session, which began at 5 p.m. Thursday and was scheduled to end at 12:15 a.m. Friday, was devoted to the North High co-location issue, with impassioned pleas coming from both sides.
Students from West Denver Prep middle schools talked about their desire to continue in a similarly rigorous program at the high school level, while North High students lobbied for leaving their school alone to continue progress recently made under Veltze’s leadership.
Some parents argued for additional academic choices in Northwest Denver while others said North, which has undergone numerous unsuccessful district-mandated reforms, needs stability and space to flourish.
West Denver Prep currently operates a middle school in a building, known as the 1913 building, on the North campus. The current plan calls for that program to move into the former Remington Elementary building in fall 2013 while the new West Denver Prep high school would move into the 1913 building, opening in fall 2013.
West Denver Prep’s first high school is slated to open this fall in the former Lutheran High School in southwest Denver. Several North High supporters suggested that building also serve as the home for West Denver Prep’s second high school, but Gibbons said the program already has a waiting list of 75 students.