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Dennis says farewell, adds clarity to a disturbing episode

Over the past two months, much has been said and written about former McAuliffe International Principal Kurt Dennis. In the interest of fairness and clarity, CPENews asked Dennis a few questions to clear up some key mischaracterizations put forward by Denver Public Schools board members.

In early July, DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero fired Dennis, ostensibly because he had revealed private information about a student in an interview in March with 9News. Dennis did the interview to express his concerns about having to search that student daily for weapons because the youth had been charged with violent crimes. (Click here for background story on the firing.)  

Then on Aug. 3, three DPS board members held a press conference to attack Dennis over unsubstantiated allegations from an anonymous McAuliffe employee that he locked out-of-control students in a so-called “seclusion room.’’  In at least the past 30 years it is unprecedented for DPS board members to harshly and publicly criticize a school leader. During an Aug. 21 board meeting public comment session, a parent accused the board of “character assassination.”

Former McAuliffe International Principal Kurt Dennis

The room was actually a “de-escalation room,’’ a place for disruptive students to calm themselves under supervision. The three board members were Michelle Quattlebaum, whose district includes Central Park, Auon’tai Anderson and Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan.

The board endorsed Marrero’s firing of Dennis on Aug. 24.

That day, Dennis issued this statement of farewell to the community:

 “I will always have great memories and fondness for my time at McAuliffe. We built a really special school and community over the course of the past 12 years, and I will miss working with the incredible staff, students and parents.

“I am looking forward to a new chapter in my life and continuing my career in education serving students in a new school district soon.”

As for his future, Dennis said he hopes to start in a new role in another district by mid-September. He declined to give details about possible legal action against the district, but he was glad to answer a few other questions.

Is it accurate that only two or three students ever used the de-escalation room?

Were they students of color or white?

“The de-escalation room was used to support two special education students (one student was Black and one student was white) at McAuliffe. Individualized Education Plans and Behavior Intervention Plans can state that the use of a de-escalation room is an appropriate intervention when a student is escalated and their behaviors are not safe for either their classmates or themselves.

“The de-escalation room provides a safe space for a student to calm themselves before returning to class. The school special education team, mental health team, parents and district representatives all play a role in creating and approving these plans.”

Click here to learn how the mother of one of the disruptive students was grateful for the room and that the staff was compassionate and communicative about its use. 

In an Aug. 7 CPEN story, Dennis said, “There is no training or handbook for (DPS) leaders, and there is no assistance with finding qualified individuals to support these programs (for disruptive students). School administrators are left to their own devices to determine how to manage very challenging behaviors and student needs while also running an entire school.”

For background click here for CPENews story about how Dennis followed district policy on the use of the de-escalation room.

Was the room used only in 2022-23?

“Correct. Prior to last school year, we had never had a need to create a de-escalation room.”

The word “incarceration’’ has been thrown around. Where did that come from?

“A disgruntled member of the facilities team used this term in a work order he submitted. No one on our staff had knowledge of them using this term, and it was completely inappropriate and abhorrent.”


 Were McAuliffe’s discipline stats over the past several years in the same ballpark as other middle schools?

 “Our discipline data was comparable to other large comprehensive middle schools in the district.”

Click here for CPENews story on Dennis’ rebuttal of district allegations.

 You were the founding principal of McAuliffe and were there for 12 years. What accomplishments are you proud of?

“Uniting the Central Park and Park Hill neighborhoods and creating a new enrollment zone that resulted in more diverse schools in Northeast Denver is a great source of pride for us. We are proud to have achieved the highest grade of any secondary school in the district on the state’s School Performance Framework. Our students significantly outperformed district and state averages for all student subgroups (race, ELD, special education, etc.)”

It seemed that you and the staff had a vision, high expectations of students and teachers. Your leadership team gave staff flexibility/freedom to accomplish those without micromanaging. Is this an accurate interpretation?

“Yes, this is accurate. Our top priorities were more time with great teachers and rigorous curriculum in a culture of high expectations.”

The first full school year of COVID (2020-21) you bought several large tents to set up in your athletic fields for classes. Despite pushback from the district, was this something you considered a success?

“Yes, our 8th grade (teaching) team this past year discussed at length how being able to serve their students in person as 6th graders made all the difference over the course of the past three years in terms of building relationships and setting those students up for success in middle school.”

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