Students at a struggling high school in Commerce City took to the streets Tuesday to let district officials know they want a new principal and a say in the future of their school.
“We’re tired of not having consistency,” said Maria Castaneda, a 17-year-old senior at Adams City High School. “We’re asking them to hear our voices. Enough is enough.”
Hundreds of students from Adams City High School, joined by a handful of parents and community members, left school at noon to walk a little more than a mile to the district’s administration building.
The district has been searching for a permanent principal for the high school since the beginning of the school year when they promoted the former principal to a district position. The district has tried twice to hire a new principal, even selecting finalists both times. In the latest attempt, the school board decided against voting on the selected finalist meaning the search had to continue for a school leader.
The school — serving about 2,000 students including more than 80 percent who qualify for free or reduced price lunch — is also one of several across the state that are facing state action this spring after more than five years of low performance. The State Board of Education is expected to vote on a plan to turn around the school and the Adams 14 School District as a whole later this spring. Full plans haven’t been made public and several students and parents said they were not informed about what will happen.
“I didn’t know about any of the meetings,” said Socorro Hernandez, the mom of one student at the school. “We’ve just heard the school could close.”
Hernandez said that although she worries that her child isn’t getting a good education at the school, she thinks closing the school would not help.
Most students said what motivated them to walk out was not having a principal this school year. Many students said they have had a different principal every year they’ve been at the school and they worry that many of the teachers or administrators they do trust are leaving. Students also said the instability means work on next year’s schedules is falling behind.
“Who knows the school more than us?” asked Genavee Gonzales, a 17-year-old junior. “I feel like our education isn’t adequate, but it’s not the teachers’ fault. They aren’t getting enough resources or support from the school district.”
Commerce City police officers and security officials from the school escorted the students as they walked along busy Quebec Parkway. Drivers, including some in big trucks, honked and waved at the students as the crowd chanted down the street.
“Whose education?” student leaders shouted. “Our education!”
Almost an hour after arriving at the administration building, Javier Abrego, the Adams 14 School District superintendent, and Timio Archuleta, one of the district’s school board members, came out of the building and answered some of the students’ questions for about half an hour.
Students asked about the future of specific programs that many credited with their success at the school, and asked about funding for arts classes that they felt were in danger.
Abrego told students the school leaders would decide on a lot of those programs, but warned students that the school is in trouble and that attendance and test scores have to improve.
“They can take us over,” Abrego told the students. “Yes, I’m bringing in a new administration and I’m going to tell them these are the things we need to do.”
Another student asked how students we’re supposed to be motivated to go to school if all the adults they form relationships with at the school change each year.
Abrego reiterated that things have to change.
The district is scheduled May 11 to have a hearing in front of the state board. District officials were initially pursuing a plan to give the school new flexibilities through innovation status, but the district is now going to propose that an outside company take over some portions of the school and district’s work.
The state board may also suggest the school be turned over to a charter operator. However, the state is not allowed to “take over” management of the school or district as Abrego suggested.
Some of the students promised to return Tuesday night for the regularly scheduled school board meeting.
Board member Archuleta encouraged them to continue to provide their opinions in different ways.
“You guys are critically thinking,” Archuleta told the crowd. “That’s what I ask all students to do.”