clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Manual community hears proposals from potential neighborhood middle schools

Manual High School in northeast Denver.
Manual High School in northeast Denver.
Marc Piscotty

Members of the Manual High School community heard pitches Thursday night from potential middle school programs that, if opened, would send students to Manual after eighth grade.

The programs discussed Thursday could be co-located at Manual or in a different building.

Barbara Allen of The Denver School for Speech, History, and Debate and Kurt Dennis, the principal of McAuliffe International Middle School, appealed to the community to win support for their potential programs.

The two outlined how they would partner with Manual, described possible curriculum, and shared why they thought they were quality school leaders.

Thursday’s meeting was the latest piece of a long conversation about a middle school for the Manual community in northeast Denver. The academically struggling school has been without a direct feeder pattern, in which students follow a line of neighborhood schools from elementary to high, for decades. Some believe a middle school that partnered with Manual would reverse trends of low enrollment and subpar academics.

The audience hesitated with the idea of constructing a new building or having a middle school share the Manual campus with the high school program.

Some, instead, urged to redraw the current boundaries so an already existing middle school could partner with Manual.

“Why not simply put Bruce Randolph back to the feeder school it was, and have those high schoolers come over here to Manual instead of all this rigamarole,” Marge Taniwaki, a Manual alum, said. “The answer to that is politics.”

Allen’s and Dennis’ proposals were the first step in the next phase of Denver Public Schools’ improvement efforts at Manual.

Earlier, DPS hired Nick Dawkins to lead the school next fall.

Dawkins will be responsible for introducing a biomedical training program at the school. District leaders hope this program will create a pathway to college or career for Manual students.

“After reviewing data from other schools we saw that sort of program prove to be very successful,” said Lainie Hodges, a member of the Manual Thought Partner Group and board chair for Friends of Manual. “Students that participate in career and technical education and career tracks tend to have higher, and better grades.”

Manual’s history of low academic performance has been well documented. As the city’s oldest high school, it has endured a constant churn of leaders and failed reform efforts in the 20 years since court-ordered busing ended.

Today, 84 percent of students who live within Manual’s boundaries choose to go to other schools. Some people have pointed to the attendance boundaries drawn after busing ended in 1995 for the school’s struggles.

Allen, who proposed the Denver School for Speech, History, and Debate as the primary feeder for Manual, wants high community involvement with her new school.

“If you want to bring about change you’re going to need numbers, we’re going to need people to turn out,” Allen said.

Dennis said he wants students at the future McAuliffe to go to Manual.

“Our goal in wanting to start a middle school here would be to help create that feeder, that’s going to get kids to this campus and then allow Mr. Dawkins to meet those kids, to be present every day, shake their hand and greet them every day,” said Dennis.

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.