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Denver school board votes to close STRIVE Prep - Kepner charter school

A fence that says “STRIVE Prep” sits in front of a school building. Snow covers the ground.

STRIVE Prep - Kepner charter middle school will close at the end of this school year.

Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat

STRIVE Prep - Kepner, a charter middle school in southwest Denver, will close at the end of this school year after the Denver school board voted Thursday to shutter it for low test scores. 

The school has a “red” rating and its students scored in the first percentile on state math and reading tests last spring, according to a district memo recommending closure.

The closure vote was rare for two reasons. The Denver school board hasn’t voted to close a charter school since 2011, though more than a dozen have surrendered their charters voluntarily over the past decade, often because of low enrollment. The STRIVE Prep network is surrendering the charter for another of its schools, Lake, this spring.

The school board also hasn’t voted to close a school — district-run or charter — for low test scores since 2016 when it closed district-run Gilpin Montessori. It hasn’t voted to close schools for low enrollment, either. In November, the board rejected a recommendation from Superintendent Alex Marrero to close a set of small district-run schools.

Though school closures are often controversial and spark forceful pushback, the vote to close STRIVE Prep - Kepner was quick. There was little discussion among board members. Vice President Auon’tai Anderson was the only member to vote no. He said he opposes closing any school without robust community engagement, which he said didn’t happen in this case.

“I want to acknowledge the pain that some families may be sitting with right now,” he said.

STRIVE Prep didn’t publicly oppose the superintendent’s recommendation to close its Kepner school, and no teachers or parents spoke during a special public comment session Tuesday. 

In a letter to families last month, STRIVE Prep acknowledged that it fell short at its Kepner school, which opened in 2016 as a replacement for struggling district-run Kepner Middle School.

“STRIVE Prep asked for the opportunity to operate Kepner to better deliver for kids and families, and despite our best efforts, we did not live up to our promises,” the letter reads.

Charter schools can appeal closures to the State Board of Education. But STRIVE Prep will not appeal the Kepner closure, spokesperson Julia Virnstein said.

STRIVE Prep - Kepner has 178 students this year, Virnstein said. District data for last year shows 91% of the school’s students were Hispanic, 86% qualified for subsidized school meals, and 82% were English language learners, which is far above the district average. 

The school is part of Denver’s second-largest charter network. Its sixth and seventh graders will need to find new middle schools next year. Denver Public Schools’ window for families to choose schools for next year opens Friday. Some STRIVE Prep students may choose to attend Kepner Beacon, a district-run middle school that shares the Kepner campus.

The board on Thursday approved 19 other charter schools to keep operating within Denver Public Schools. The board voted to renew their charters for periods ranging from one to five years, depending on the schools’ academic performance and other factors.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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