By Eric Heinz
Although just a few months ago the Denver Public Schools Board of Education decided not to move forward with any potential school closures, the enrollment numbers at struggling schools have become an issue it cannot avoid.
During a recent board meeting, Superintendent Alex Marrero presented a list of 15 schools with enrollment trends considered “concerning,” and three others were deemed “critically low.” Those latter three will close at the end of this school year.
Those schools, which have fewer than 150 students, are Fairview Elementary, the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) and Denver Discovery. Denver Discovery, for example, has an expected 2023-2024 enrollment of 63 students, with 15 incoming kindergarten through sixth-graders and only a few of them were planning to attend based on school of choice procedures.
“The most important Shared Core Value of Denver Public Schools is to always put Students First,” Marrero said in a recent prepared statement. “Some may think it is unreasonable to claim we are putting students first while closing their school. I assure you that is not the case. All of our scholars deserve equitable access to a high-quality education.”
Marrero said he would provide options to the board in the coming months about how to address the remaining schools with concerning enrollment for the 2024-2025 school year.
“I understand there’s been some mixed messages in the way that folks have interpreted the presentation (on past recommendations for school closures or consolidations), and I feel terrible about that and I apologize to the school communities,” the superintendent said during a recent board meeting.
The schools with concerning levels of enrollment, those with 250 or fewer students, are Cole Arts & Sciences Academy, International Academy of Denver at Harrington, Palmer Elementary, Colfax Elementary, Beach Court Elementary, Columbian Elementary, Schmitt Elementary, Hallett Academy, Eagleton Elementary, Kaiser Elementary, Whittier K-8 and Ashley Elementary.
Elementary enrollment has declined by 6,485 students since the peak in 2014. Middle school enrollment declined by 1,612 students since the peak in 2019, according to the data Marrero provided. That has translated into millions of dollars in supplemental funding for the schools with declining enrollment.
The students and faculty at the three critical schools set to close will get the first round of school of choice. Parents and guardians affected by the closures can call the DPS Choice and Enrollment Services hotline at 720-423-3493 to apply for their preferred schools by 4 p.m. on March 22.
DPS stated the Choice and Enrollment Services will phone affected families individually. Families must speak to a member of the Choice and Enrollment Services team to submit their application. If no action is taken, Fairview students will be automatically enrolled at Cheltenham Elementary, and MSLA students will be automatically enrolled at Valverde, DPS stated.
The families at Denver Discovery told the district they did not want to be paired with a specific school, DPS stated. Enrollment guides are available in the school front office and online. School information is also available on the School Finder webpage.
“We are at a crossroads with these three schools, and I think I’m in a much different position than I was a few months ago with these three,” Board Vice President Auon’tai M. Anderson said during the meeting. “I would love to have longer conversations than the others, but I don’t see where we can turn around. I think that there’s a tough decision we have to make, and I think that we need to make it sooner instead of dragging on uncertainty for this for these three communities.”
Board member Scott Esserman said during a recent board meeting it is vital that DPS communicate with all the schools listed, as the last time the district sent out a list of possible closures and consolidations in late 2022, it created heated backlash.
“What was put out was a snapshot and a presentation that was interpreted by communities still recoiling from the last action, which further undermined what trust existed,” Esserman said. “We continue and we will always have opportunities to build trust, and I believe this is one of those.”