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UPDATED: Denver board agrees to close Trevista middle school

The Denver Public Schools board at a meeting in December 2014 at South High School.
The Denver Public Schools board at a meeting in December 2014 at South High School.

Updated after school board meeting, January 29, 7 p.m.

The Denver school board voted tonight to approve a plan to close the middle school at Trevista at Horace Mann at the end of the current school year due to declining enrollment and financial concerns. The school will continue to house an early childhood education program and an elementary school.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole dissenting vote. Jimenez said that while he approved of the plan to have separate elementary and middle school programs, he was disappointed that the planning process had begun so late in the school year.

At a special school board meeting, current principal La Dawn Baity, assistant principal Jesus Rodriguez, and Laura Brinkman, the director of the district’s West Denver Network that includes Trevista told board members that they had considered phasing out the middle school or delaying the closure for year, but had decided a prompt closure would be better for students.

Baity, Brinkman, and Martinez said that the decision was driven by financial, not academic, reasons. Though the school has alternated between the two lowest rankings on the state accountability system, it had the highest student growth scores in northwest Denver last year and has seen improved student attendance in recent years.

Jimenez said that the district has been aware of declining enrollment near Trevista for several years but just began working with the school to plan for the closure earlier this month. He suggested delaying the vote until the February board meeting, saying he believed the process “would have been done differently if it had occurred in southeast or central Denver,” both more affluent parts of the city.

The district is planning to create a committee in northwest Denver focused on long-term goals for school facility use in that part of the city. That committee has not yet met.

Original story starts below:

The Denver school board will vote tonight at a special meeting on a plan to close the middle school program at Trevista at Horace Mann, a school in the northwest part of the city that currently houses early childhood, elementary, and middle schools students.

The vote comes just a day before the district’s school choice applications are due. Families of students enrolled at Trevista have been granted an extension until Feb. 6.

La Dawn Baity, who has been Trevista’s principal for three years, said that the decision is being driven by financial considerations, as the school’s middle grades enrollment bring insufficient funds to cover the staff the school needs. “We’re feeling sad because it’s a loss, to our school and to our community,” Baity said. “But the middle school was no longer really viable.”

The plan for Trevista comes after several district programs serving elementary, middle school, and early childhood students have been separated into distinct elementary and middle schools. “The very strong growth in our middle schools has meant in some cases over the last several years that E-8 school communities have recommended changing back to E-5 elementaries, and we have accepted those recommendations,” said district superintendent Tom Boasberg. Boasberg said the district would also continue to have and support E-8 programs.

If the board approves the plan, Trevista would remain open in 2015-16 as a K-5 school with an early childhood program. Middle school-aged students zoned to attend the school will be guaranteed a spot at Strive Sunnyside, a charter school, or Skinner Middle School. Students enrolled in Trevista’s Transitional Native Language Instruction program for English language learners will attend a similar program at Bryant Webster. The district would provide transportation.

Baity said the school had been using per-pupil funds technically allotted to the school’s elementary school students to cover middle school programs and staff. The school’s middle school population has hovered between 120 and 140, but Baity said the school really needed closer to 200 students to fund a robust program. Overall enrollment at Trevista has dropped from 637 in 2010-11 to 514 this year.

Requirements for teachers working with English learners at the school had added a layer of complexity. Baity said finding teachers with the right mix of skills had proved to be a challenge. “We’re a turnaround school. We needed top teachers,” she said. “But we couldn’t get the best teachers in every content area and also have bilingual teachers.”

She said this was harder at the middle-school level than in elementary school. Some 45 percent of the school’s students are English learners, and 90 percent of those speak Spanish.

Because of the lack of Spanish-English bilingual teachers in the school’s middle school, DPS and school officials decided earlier this fall to move a native-language program for Spanish-speaking English language learners to Bryant Webster, according to DPS chief schools officer Susana Cordova. But that meant the school would have even fewer middle schoolers in coming years and would be even more financially strapped.

“That took an enrollment of 140 down to 120,” Baity said. “And on a student-based budget like DPS has—Well, it’s a great way to fund schools but when you lose 20 students, we couldn’t fund the teachers, the programs, the counselors, everything that a middle school needs.”

Baity and Cordova said they were not sure yet what would happen to the empty space left in the building.

In the fall, a group of parents known as the Sunnyside Education Committee had asked the district to move the Trevista elementary program to the nearby Smedley Elementary building to create a neighborhood elementary school. The Smedley building is now slotted to hold the Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School.

After learning of the plans to close Trevista’s middle school, the Sunnyside committee sent an email to the district again requesting that Trevista’s elementary program be moved into the Smedley building. A district representative replied that the district planned to wait until it had heard from a working group of community members in Northwest before making major changes.

Baity said Trevista students had taken field trips to the schools they would be zoned to attend next year and that other schools had also reached out to students and families. The principal at Skinner Middle School said her staff would welcome the students and has already created already had a transition plan for them.

The school’s seven middle school teachers are not guaranteed placements at other schools. Baity herself is leaving the school this year, in a move she said was unrelated to the plans and announced before the current closing was planned, and will be replaced by Rodriguez, currently an assistant principal at the school.

The board vote will take place at a special meeting, which includes a public comment session, at 5 p.m.

Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the superintendent’s comments about the district’s approach to E-8 schools.

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