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COMMENTARY: Northfield High Needs All the Seats on Sandoval Campus

Continued enrollment growth in Central Park brings challenge to keep DSST-Conservatory Green on campus.

In 2016, Denver Public Schools said that at full build-out, Northfield High School was expected to serve “1,200 to 1,500 students over time — and possibly up to 2,000 students by 2030.”

Northfield enrolled 415 students that fall. DPS was confident in its enrollment projections and co-located another high school, DSST-Conservatory Green, on Northfield’s home, the Paul Sandoval campus.

In fall 2022 Northfield enrolled 1,872 students – nearly 400 more students than were projected when NHS opened. DSST Conservatory Green currently has 574 students which brings the current campus enrollment to 2,446 — considered full Sandoval campus enrollment in 2016.

The growth trend that has emerged is expected to continue, increasing enrollment for several years as build-out of homes in Central Park continues. Perhaps most importantly, more students in Central Park are choosing to stay in Northfield’s boundary for high school.

In 2016, the district stated the total campus capacity would be 2,400-2,500. But the district now says that capacity in the DSST building can be as high as 700-825, although the model of DSST does not include that many students. Similarly, the district now says the capacity at Northfield alone is 2,400. That would suggest that there is no capacity issue. In fact, that would indicate the campus is 779 under capacity, based on the district’s revised projections of up to 3,225.

The campus plan has not changed since  2016 to increase building capacities. The capacity is now considered higher due to practices such as rotating classrooms between teachers, and shared workspaces for teachers, which are not considered “best practice”.

At the January 2023 CPUN monthly meeting, DPS Superintendent Alex Marreo and Liz Mendez, Executive Director, Enrollment & Campus Planning, reiterated that they stood by the district’s 2014 resolutions on enrollment preferences that said:

“Every single student in the Near Northeast High School Enrollment boundary (DPS Board Resolution 3549) who wants to enroll at Northfield High School is guaranteed a seat at Northfield now and in the future.”

The accompanying DPS Board Resolution 3549  said the district will  “make available at least 35% of Northfield High School seats to families from adjacent neighborhoods.”

At that January CPUN meeting Marrero also said “there has been no conversation about DSST moving. I haven’t engaged with anybody in that network. But I am not opposed to the conversation.

“But I would love to see that, quite frankly, down the road in the future . . .  there is a lot that we can do when we have one entity on one site. So, I’d love to get the majority of our schools in that form.”

Reserving 35% of seats for non-Central Park students was a priority because the district and the Central Park community wanted a school with diversity; Central Park is predominantly white and affluent. Reserving seats for students from areas with more racial minorities and of more modest means was, and still is, considered the way to do that. Along with Central Park, the school draws from Montbello, Green Valley Ranch, Aurora and Commerce City.

Northfield’s student body still meets the district guarantee of at least 35% of students from school boundaries outside Central Park; 35.5% this year, including among the current freshman class at 35.9%.

This year, all students who selected Northfield in Round 1 of the choice process were placed at NHS. However, some students from Central Park who selected a different school during Round 1 but changed their mind later and wanted to attend Northfield, have not been admitted.

This is the first year Central Park boundary students have been turned away.  This is also the first year that siblings of existing students at Northfield from outside of the district have been turned away. The waiting list for Northfield had over 200 students in the fall of 2022.

DPS used East High School’s in-boundary rate of 61% as a guide for a behavioral assumption to project that 60% of students would remain in-boundary for Northfield.. However, a factor that apparently was not considered was that 86% of Central Park families remain in-boundary for feeder elementary schools (versus 45% of Park Hill families who remain in-boundary for elementary).

The percent remaining in-boundary to attend Northfield has increased every year:

  • 30% in 2017,
  • 46% in 2020,
  • 60% in 2022.

DPS is now using 70% as the anticipated steady-state rate for students in Central Park remaining in-boundary to attend Northfield.

The district does not know how many students leave DPS for private schools, and this loss is not factored into the calculation of the number of students who remain in-boundary.

This author stands by testimony delivered to the DPS Board of Education during the public comment session of its meeting in December of 2016:

“Based on anticipated needs at full enrollment at Northfield High School, community stated preferences, and DPS’s assurance to provide for ALL in-boundary and 35% seats for out-of-boundary students, DPS should plan for Sandoval-campus-wide expansion of the program at Northfield High School.

“Temporary placement of DSST at Sandoval Campus through year 2021 or 2023 should only be considered if it is possible to also accommodate the anticipated needs of Northfield High School in 2019, in addition to the rapid growth projected for Northfield during the subsequent six years.

“DPS should anticipate Northfield requiring all 2400+ seats on the Sandoval campus as early as 2023 – and potentially hundreds more.

“The anticipated demand for Northfield High School does not leave enough space for campus sharing between a DSST-size program (500-515 seats) on a fully-built Sandoval campus (maximum seats of 2400-2500). Northfield could surpass a size to allow such sharing in fall of 2022 and could fill the fully-built campus by fall of 2023.” 

2016 Chalkbeat story on DPS locating DSST-Conservatory Green on the Paul Sandoval Campus


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