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Dreams of a middle school at Manual High School stall

A new middle school at Denver’s Manual High School won’t be among new offerings for parents next year, due to a dip in the high school’s ranking.

The middle school, which Manual administrators hoped would address problems with high school preparedness, was contingent on an improvement in Manual’s school ranking to “green” under the district’s School Performance Framework (SPF). That hope came to an end last month with the release of the district’s school rankings that showed Manual High School dropping from “yellow” to “red,” the district’s lowest.

Vernon Jones, the school’s assistant principal, said that he will continue to push for a Manual middle school.

“We’re denying students what they need which is a solid middle school,” said Jones. “We need earlier investment in our kids.”

According to Jones, it’s difficult to get students up to speed who come in unprepared for high school.

“What they’re telling us is that to get up middle school achievement is to raise high school achievement,” said Jones. “High schools get held accountable because we’re the last stop.”

According to district representatives, the conditions ensured a focus on the high school’s performance before establishing a new branch of the school.

“Our first and foremost consideration is serving the students already in the Manual building,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief of innovation and reform. Plus, she said, middle school can be an especially hard nut to crack.

“Generally our schools that serve 6-12 continuums struggle more in the middle school performance area than in the high school performance area,” said Whitehead-Bust. Success at the high school level improves chances of success at the middle school level.

The termination of the plan promises to have repercussions beyond Manual High School as well. The middle school was part of a district plan to fill a gap in middle school demand in near Northeast. Now, the district will have to look elsewhere for extra seats and focus on improving Manual’s academic performance instead.

But, said Whitehead-Bust, nothing is stopping Manual from trying for a middle school in the future.

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