Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero attended the monthly meeting of the Central Park United Neighbors (CPUN) on Jan. 17 to discuss education issues relevant to Central Park. He was joined by Liz Mendez, Executive Director, Enrollment and Campus Planning, and Amber Elais, Executive Director of Operational Service Delivery.
- Student capacity of the Sandoval Campus which is now home to Northfield and DSST-Conservatory Green high schools,
- Guaranteed seat at NHS for any Central Park student and continued reserving 35 percent of seats for students residing outside Central Park,
- A new auditorium at Sandoval,
- Possible changes to enrollment zones,
- More early childhood education classrooms,
- Building the last Central Park school,
- Redistricting for DPS board members.
- Healthy Start Times
Below are responses from Marrero and Mendez to questions posed by Amanda Allshouse, CPUN past president. They were edited for clarity.
Two High Schools on Sandoval Campus
Are there any plans to move DSST off the Sandoval campus? At what point would DPS consider it necessary to move DSST to dedicate the entire campus to NHS? (DSST is a public charter STEM network comprising 16 schools on eight campuses in Denver and Aurora that was founded in 2004.)
DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero
Marrero: I would love to see Northfield be one entity with different opportunities for students. But I also know what I inherited. So, 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. So next time I engage with Mr. (Bill) Kurtz (CEO of DSST network) I will see if that’s even in the realm of his desires. But I would love to see that, quite frankly, down the road in the future. I know that there was a time and place for co-locations and where I came from New York City that became the norm.
But I also know that 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.
Students Who are Guaranteed a Seat at Northfield High School
Could you reaffirm your commitment that any student from the Central Park community who wants a seat at Northfield high school will have one, and that 35 percent of seats at Northfield High School will continue to be set aside for students from outside Central Park. District planners are working from the assumption that Northfield enrollment will level off at 2,000 (currently nearly 1,900) and DSST will remain in the 500 range for a eventual total of 2,500 students.
Mendez: I have been working with Northfield Principal Amy Bringedahl on how many kids we expect in the upcoming years at Northfield and how they continue to fit in the space that Northfield is using today.
And we agree that Northfield can continue to accept any boundary students who would like to attend the school.
Based on what we have seen in the percent of boundary students who choose Northfield, if that trend continues, it’ll be right around 70 percent (boundary students) in the future.
We believe that we can continue to serve all kids who want to attend from the boundary and continue to take 35 percent of kids from outside the boundary, and fit in the space with DSST on the campus.
Auditorium for Northfield in Next Bond Issue
Northfield students and families requested an auditorium, but it was not included in the 2020 DPS bond. The campus continues to need this amenity as the student body does not fit in the cafetorium. Would you be willing to put an auditorium at the top tier of priorities for the next bond committee to consider?
Marrero: What I can promise is that once I engage with the new bond committee, I can bring the auditorium up in terms of prioritizing it.
Mendez: Oh, that’s not something I can answer tonight. Without having really begun that process. You know. . . bond committees go through a very rigorous process to rank and prioritize all the needs because there are always more needs than we have funding.
Changes to Enrollment Zones
In some areas of Denver, DPS uses “enrollment zones” rather than traditional single-school boundaries. An enrollment zone is a geographic area where the students living within it are guaranteed a seat at one of several schools, not just one particular school. Central Park elementary enrollment zone includes six schools: Bill Roberts, Isabella Bird, Westerly Creek, Swigert, Inspire, Willow. Central Park shares a middle school enrollment zone with Greater Park Hill.
Can you talk about the goals and timeline and process for any changes to any of the enrollment zones? And which schools would be impacted.
Marrero: There has been some conversation about enrollment zones becoming a directive from the board for the superintendent. So, there’s an opportunity there for the community to weigh in.
I would say to reach out to our board to see where we are but also possibly even to suggest some boundaries and perhaps even inviting them out to one of your sessions.
Mendez: For several years we have been talking about the need to take a deep look at our school boundaries and our enrollment zones in the district. Hopefully in the next two to three years we really can address our boundaries, taking a look at them and seeing if there are changes that need to be made.
I can’t tell you if it will have an impact on Central Park. There are tons and tons of data we’d have to pull before we were able to present any kind of plan to the board, but that all needs to come from the community. So, I can’t tell you any specific outcomes of that since we haven’t started that yet.
Early Childhood Education Classrooms
With the anticipated prioritization of early childhood education, does DPS plan to build out the infrastructure to better support early childhood education across the district and specifically in this community?
Mendez: Yes, there is definitely a need that the ECE department and mine to be aware of . . . there’s really not enough ECE classrooms in the Central Park area. We are constantly looking at ways we can add additional seats.
We have been talking with Swigert about the possibility of adding ECE classrooms, but we have nothing to announce. But those conversations are ongoing.
Last Central Park School
Does DPS still plan to build a school on the parcel it’s been given between 61st and 62nd avenues and Emporia and Florence streets in North End? How will this be funded and what kind of school will be built?
Marrero: Can’t prioritize it now for the next bond . . . we haven’t even created the list in its entirety yet . . . I invite you to poll the community and get back to us because we can definitely use that data as well.
Mendez: Yes, we still plan to build something on that parcel. We haven’t had the funds (need another bond) and the (enrollment) need is still emerging. It is rare that we have a piece of property and so we recognize that’s a privilege . . . that we get to hold and to consider what to use it for.
We still do have enough room for the students in the Central Park area. There are several desires that we’ve heard from the community, several different options that we’ve been discussing such as would it make sense to build an ECC center there? I know there are some people who would like to move one of the shared campus schools to that site.
In advance of the next bond would be the time to talk with the community . . . about our forecasts, about our population, and about our space capacity constraints, and really dig in and figure out what’s the best use of that site.
I recently walked it, and I was imagining the different things that could go there . . . it’s definitely a cozy little site in a nice, quiet neighborhood.
Equalizing DPS Board Members’ Districts
Why are school board district boundaries being redrawn? Central Park is in District Four that stretches east from near downtown, Montview Boulevard on the south, and to the city’s borders on the far northeast and north. Board rep is Michelle Quattlebaum.
Mendez: DPS board redistricting efforts are underway. The DPS board, like the city council and other legislative bodies, is required to balance our districts by population after each federal census.
So, what we have to do is make sure the total population in those five districts is close to equal. Currently it is not close to equal.
So, we want to hear from you over the course of the next month until Feb. 20. On our website you will find a lot more information about the process and a slideshow on the options
Healthy Start Times
With the new Healthy Start Times, middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:20. What is DPS doing to ease reliance on cars for getting kids to and from school, especially in the absence of cutting bussing?
Marrero: It (new start times) is anchored around science. Yes, there are other reasons after that fact just to make it a robust and well thought out strategic initiative, but it is anchored in science, and I know that it’s causing some and will cause more disruption.
But that’s not to negate the fact that there are current struggles with our schedule as it is both for families but also in terms of us being as efficient as we can possibly be.