In 2016, Colfax Elementary’s enrollment was 319 students. This year, it’s 248, a decrease of over 22%. Concerns about the drop prompted the West Colfax Association of Neighbors (WeCan) to organize a discussion not just about Colfax, but the future of other smaller schools as well. Parents, community members, teachers, Denver School Board member Brad Laurvick, and Councilwomen Amanda P. Sandoval and Jamie Torres discussed the school, how the lack of affordable housing impacts students, and a way forward.
The biggest concern from the community was whether the drop in enrollment and the departure of the school’s principal could mean the school is on the chopping block, but Director Laurvick and DPS staff wanted the community to know there’s no plans to close the school. “Being small is not a bad thing,” said Laurvick, adding that he wants to see investment and support for neighborhood schools like Colfax. “You shouldn’t have to go to another school somewhere else to get what your child deserves and needs.”
Part of the problem, according to Laurvick, had been the district’s philosophy of rapid school openings when there wasn’t a student population to support it (Denver’s school age population has decreased and with it DPS’ enrollment). For Laurvick, the decrease in elementary aged students is certainly a factor, but “it’s also one of the challenges of a district that opened too many schools after a decade of thinking ‘oh let’s just open a new charter school. Let’s just open a new charter school.’ I think that’s negatively impacted the quality of education our kids get.”
While city government doesn’t have a direct role in DPS, Councilwomen Torres and Sandoval addressed one of the related challenges schools like Colfax face: student displacement due to a lack of affordably-priced housing in the area. As rent prices increase and home ownership in the area stays out of reach of many, families are forced to move to more affordable areas, uprooting students and furthering the decline in enrollment. Torres and Sandoval discussed rental assistance, zoning to allow more accessory dwelling units, and other housing policies to help families stay in the area. Colfax Elementary has one of the highest rates of students experiencing homelessness in the district.
The WeCan forum was the first of what neighborhood, school, and elected leaders all said they hope is a series of community meetings about the future of local schools.
Parents’ concern about changing school leadership may have been alleviated when the district announced the new interim principal. Michelle Koyama will be joining the school as acting principal, leaving her current role as the NW Regional Assistant Instructional Superintendent. Parents with older students may also recognize her as the former Executive Principal of Lake and Skinner Middle Schools, and previous to that role, was the principal of Skinner for 7 years.
Note: Readers have asked for more coverage of different schools across North Denver. Was this article of interest or are there other topics you’d like to see covered? Email us at News@DenverNorthStar.com or call (720) 248-7327 and let us know to help shape future coverage.