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Southwest Denver parents to district: improve Kepner now

Parents and community members from southwest Denver met with the city’s school board Monday to share their thoughts on four possible school models that could transform a struggling middle school in their neighborhood.

While the committee did not make an explicit recommendation on which models they’d like to see at Kepner Middle School, they did make a direct request: fix their middle school now.

“I applied [to send my children] to STRIVE,” one Kepner mother said through a translator. “Because, right now, I’m not in accordance with Kepner.”

Her student is now on a waiting list.

Kepner Middle School is one of the district’s lowest performing middle schools, and has been for years. Parents have voiced concern over the school’s climate. They say bullying among students and school disrespect for parents, who generally only speak Spanish, is rampant. Earlier this year, the district announced they would phase out the school while introducing two new schools in the building.

The transition is expected to begin with the 2015 school year.

But that’s not soon enough, some said Monday.

As part of the district’s planning phase, they formed a committee of parents, community members, and special interest groups to develop a vision for the school and review applications for new school models to take over the Kepner campus.

The committee toured high-performing schools in the district and met with representatives from the four schools biding for Kepner in April.

That process has left parents wondering, a mother said, “what about my kids [at Kepner] now?”

District officials did not respond to those concerns during the meeting. However, previously they have said the district is lending additional support to the school and have seen evidence of improvement at other schools as they’ve been phased-out.

Vying for the Kepner campus are three charters and a district-run school conceived by some of the current staff at Kepner.

Both the STRIVE and DSST networks have made pitches, as well as the education-advocacy group City Year, which has never operated a school before.

The district-run school would be called the Kepner International Dual Language Academy and would be based on a popular program that the school currently offers, which takes students to Europe as part of their language studies.

The committee, in their report, found reasons to like each school and had plenty of concerns, too.

Broadly, parents wondered if their students would be guaranteed a seat if the school became part of a popular charter network or if their students have to take an admittance exam. They also were concerned about whether charters that traditionally have smaller student populations could operate in a more populous neighborhood.

Denver Public Schools officials said any student living within the Kepner boundaries would be guaranteed a seat at the building and there would be no admittance test.

Other concerns included whether any of the programs that applied to take over Kepner would have a robust anti-bullying program and how the schools planned to keep parents actively engaged and informed. Another top concern was whether the new schools would have enough bilingual teachers who understand the neighborhood’s culture and could effectively communicate with its students and parents.

DPS board President Happy Hanes told the committee she expects the district to answer those questions when officials make their recommendations to board on which schools to authorize at a special June 2 board meeting.

Kepner parents presentation to DPS board

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