For the second time in three months, the Denver school board voted unanimously Thursday to reunify a comprehensive high school that had been dismantled in the past decade.
Montbello High School in far northeast Denver will reopen in fall 2022. To make that happen, three small schools — Denver Center for International Studies Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and Collegiate Prep Academy — will close at the end of the 2021-22 school year, and a charter school will likely have to move.
Across town, West High School will reopen this fall. Both West and Montbello high schools were previously shuttered and replaced by smaller schools that district leaders hoped would improve education for the Black and Hispanic students who attended them.
But in recent years, the communities around West and Montbello advocated for the return of their comprehensive high schools, which had served not only as educational institutions but as neighborhood hubs. Test scores and graduation rates have improved districtwide from a decade ago, and new district leadership has moved away from believing that the best way to boost academic achievement is to close schools and reopen new ones.
There are currently three schools on the Montbello campus: DCIS Montbello and Noel Community Arts School, which are run by the district, and STRIVE Prep Montbello, a charter school. District-run Collegiate Prep Academy is located in a different district building.
At Thursday’s school board meeting, no one spoke against the resolution to shutter DCIS Montbello, Noel, and Collegiate Prep Academy. The resolution calls for the district to open a new comprehensive middle school and high school on the Montbello campus. The project will be funded by $130 million from bonds approved by Denver voters in November.
“People in the Montbello community wanted their high school back, and that is exactly what we are doing here today,” school board member Tay Anderson said.
However, some parents and students from STRIVE Prep Montbello asked the board to reconsider relocating their charter school, which is slated to happen as part of the plan.
“Have you guys ever felt like [if you were] moved from a new school, [you] felt lonely on the first day? That’s exactly how I would feel if we would be moved away,” said student Benjamin Montez. “STRIVE Prep Montbello is a key gem in our neighborhood.”
Board members did not directly address the issue of relocating STRIVE Prep Montbello. But board Vice President Jennifer Bacon, who represents Montbello, pledged more generally to continue to engage in conversations with the community.
“At the very least, we owe it to our community to do the best that we can to be clear on next steps,” she said, “and to continue to have conversations so that we can ensure not only that voices are heard but that the power or abilities to make change for our community are shared.”