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Denver school board votes to reunify West High School

Exterior of Denver’s West High School.

A new West High School and a separate West Middle School will open on the campus next fall.

Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat

Facing no public opposition, the Denver school board voted unanimously Thursday to merge two high schools into one next fall, effectively reunifying the former West High School.

The idea to reunify West High originated with students at the two small secondary schools that currently occupy the campus: West Early College and West Leadership Academy. Students said splitting the campus between two schools created academic and social disadvantages, with one student likening the competition between the two schools to a turf war. 

“My peers and I believe that coming together will make us stronger as a school and more proud to be from the West campus,” student Layla Lucero told the board earlier this year.

A new West High School and a separate West Middle School will open on the historic campus next fall, replacing the small schools that currently serve students in grades 6 through 12.

School board member Brad Laurvick, who represents west Denver, called the merger “an opportunity to bring together the best of two wonderful schools.”

Superintendent Susana Cordova reminded the board of the student protests that occurred at West High in 1969, known as the West High “blowouts,” in which Chicano students marched against the racism and discrimination they experienced in the classroom. 

“What we are seeing today currently in a similar vein is our students speaking up, speaking out, and asking for the opportunity to create greater justice for their community,” Cordova said.

The reunification of West High is one of two efforts underway to bring comprehensive high schools back to neighborhoods where they were dismantled. The hope at the time was that smaller schools would better serve students there, many of whom are Hispanic or Black.

But a decade later, communities in west and far northeast Denver are calling for the return of their traditional high schools. The process to reunify West has been faster and simpler than one to bring a comprehensive high school back to the northeast Montbello neighborhood.

The district previously reunified Manual High School, which at one point was split into three smaller schools. Board member Tay Anderson, a graduate of the reunified Manual High, said he’s excited to witness West High’s “comeback.”

“We will be able to see the Cowboys ride once again,” he said, referring to the school’s mascot.

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