Denver Public Schools plans to put out an unusual late “Call for New Quality Schools,” announcing that it is looking for a replacement for Henry World Middle School and for a new middle school to share a building with Abraham Lincoln High School in southwest Denver.
School staff and families found out about the plans this week. Officials say the new schools are part of an effort to bring better schools to southwest Denver and to address declining enrollment and academic challenges at Henry and Lincoln. (See DPS’s presentations about its plan for Lincoln High School and its plan for Henry World Middle School.)
The district’s board will vote on any final proposals in the fall, and the schools would open in 2016-17. That’s a unique timeline: All other new school applications for 2016-17 — which were due this month — will be presented to the board in June.
Board member Rosemary Rodriguez said that figures from the first round of school choice applications in the district and the schools’ low scores on the district’s school ranking system prompted DPS to make new plans for the schools now instead of waiting until next year.
DPS is targeting schools in southwest Denver for improvement efforts, prompted partly by a report put out by local advocates highlighting challenges in the region and calls from parents for the district to address problems in southwest schools, which serve mainly low-income and Hispanic students.
Several southwest schools have gotten new principals or programs, and several new charter and district schools have been recruited to open in the region in the next two years. DPS also created two new “shared enrollment zones”, which mean families are given preference at a cluster of schools rather than directly assigned to one school.
Rodriguez said that those shared enrollment zones highlighted problems at Henry. Fewer families chose Henry this year than last year, even as the overall participation rate in the district’s school choice system in southwest Denver jumped from 67 percent to 91 percent after an extensive outreach effort.
Last year, 53 percent of families zoned to Henry chose to attend other schools. This year, 74 percent of families chose to go elsewhere. Rodriguez said that she has heard that many families in the area send their children to Jeffco Public Schools.
Plans for Lincoln
Lincoln’s enrollment is also declining. The school enrolled 1,900 students in 2009 but now has closer to 1,400. The district has started a number of new high schools in the area in recent years, including KIPP Collegiate and DSST College View.
Some of the space left empty as Lincoln’s enrollment has dropped might be filled by the new middle school. There would be no cap on Lincoln’s enrollment even if another school is placed in the building.
The district is also planning to expand Lincoln’s career and technical pathways program and add a new digital technology program. The program would be supported partly by the city of Denver and potentially by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The district also says it will focus on improving college readiness at the school, though just how it will do so is not yet clear.
“Right now, for every 100 9th graders who start at Lincoln, one graduates from college in four years,” Rodriguez said. “We need to change that.”
Plans for Henry World Middle School
Henry will be phased out a grade at a time starting in 2016-17. That means that the school will have just 7th and 8th graders in 2016-17, just 8th graders in 2017-18, and then will be closed altogether. The school is also becoming a turnaround school, which means it will get some additional funds and resources from the district as it is phased out.
Whatever new school the district approves would open with 6th graders in 2016-17 and would add grades as the old school phases out.
The district has hired Lindsay Meier, currently an assistant principal at Skinner Middle School, to develop a proposal for an International Baccalaureate middle school program similar to the one that already exists at Henry World Middle School.
But the new district program is not guaranteed a spot in the Henry building. Rodriguez said the school will be evaluated against schools that are already approved to open in southwest Denver, including DSST, Compass Academies, and Strive, and with other proposals that might be submitted using a facilities policy the board approved earlier this year.
At a community meeting at Henry World Middle School last night, parents’ biggest concern involved discipline and school climate. Henry made national news in 2013 for a bullying incident, and local news last year after many teachers voted no confidence in one of the school’s then-administrators.
Rodriguez said there is a perception that the current interim principal is not excited to be at the school. “There’s a lot of dismay about current trends.”
Don Roy, currently the interim principal at Manual High School, will lead Henry through the phase out starting this summer.
Roy said that he knows staff and community members are apprehensive about the changes. He said he plans to introduce more consistency in the school’s approach to discipline.
“It’s an ongoing job,” he said. “You have to work on it every day.” Roy said he is committed to staying at the school through the phase out.
Update: This story was updated to reflect that DPS has not officially put out its new “Call for Quality Schools.” The official announcement will be released in April.