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Citing ‘feedback,’ Denver schools officials drop East-Manual merger plan

Denver Public Schools officials are no longer considering a plan that would merge its lowest performing school, Manual High School, with its flagship campus, East High School.

But they are taking applications for yet another new principal for Manual, according to a pair of letters district officials sent to parents at both schools.

Last spring, the district and school officials contemplated creating a ninth grade academy at Manual High to serve incoming freshman for both schools. There’s plenty of room at Manual High, due to shrinking enrollment numbers. And East High, one of the city’s most popular schools, is overcrowded.

But vocal communities from both campuses protested the idea. The plan could have been implemented as early as this year, but because of the backlash, district officials put the plan on ice as last school year came to a close. Now, according to the Denver school leaders, the plan in permanently postponed.

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“We heard considerable feedback from both the Manual and East communities on this proposal, and we’re no longer considering this option,” said Susana Cordova, DPS’s chief of schools, in a letter to Manual parents. “We do believe there are still opportunities for a future partnership between the Manual and East communities and will continue to explore those through the Manual Thought Partner Group.”

East High School principal Andy Mendelsberg was more blunt in his letter to parents.

“Entering freshman will begin their high school career at East, and that will not change,” he said in his letter.

Mendelsberg went on to promise support for the Manual community.

Had the ninth grade academy come to fruition, it wouldn’t have been the first time the schools worked together. During the 1970s and 1980s, the two schools shared resources. Student who enrolled in the East-Manual Compact, as it was known, could take classes at either campus.

The compact ended around the same time a court lifted Denver’s mandated busing plan. Since then, academic achievement has plummeted at Manual. Despite several attempts at boosting the school’s performance — including some short-lived successes — Manual students continue to lag behind their district peers in most subject matters. In 2013, Manual also has the district’s lowest graduation rate.

Manual’s lackluster test scores, declining enrollment, and the mismanagement of funds led district officials to name Don Roy as principal in January. He replaced Brian Dale.

But Roy’s tenure at the school is coming to an end, according to Cordova’s letter.

“This fall we will also launch a local and nationwide search for a long-term leader for Manual, with the goal of having that individual in place by the start of the 2015-16 school year,” Cordova said.

District letter to Manual High School parents

District letter to East High School parents

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