space crunch

DPS board approves two new southwest Denver middle schools, battle building over Lincoln High

Lincoln High School students outside DPS's school board meeting rally classmates against putting a middle school on their campus (photo by Eric Gorski).

The Denver school board signed off on plans Thursday for two new middle schools seeking to locate in southwest Denver, setting the stage for the next step of picking from among a group of district-run or charter schools vying for precious district real estate in the region.

This is the latest in a series of attempts by DPS to lift the quality of schools in heavily Latino and low-income southwest Denver.

The competition for building space in southwest touches on familiar themes, including the often emotional debate about locating multiple schools on one campus, worries that established schools are neglected as new ones open, and differing views over the roles of charter and district-run schools.

DPS wants to put a new middle school in Henry World Middle School, which is being phased out after years of struggles, and on the campus of Abraham Lincoln High School, which DPS says has the available space because of declining enrollment.

The Lincoln part of the plan is causing controversy. Students from the high school turned out in force at Thursday’s board meeting opposing the plan, saying their hallways, cafeteria and parking lots are overcrowded and that a middle school would alter the school’s identity.

“Don’t you believe in us at Lincoln?” said Carlos Martinez, a Lincoln junior. “Aren’t you proud of us? Why are you creating conditions where I have to fight for my education, every day?”

New policy test awaits

No decisions were made Thursday about putting a school in Lincoln. While the board signed off on two district-run schools, it will not vote on which schools will land in which buildings until next month.

That process will mark the first test of a new DPS policy that ties location decisions to schools’ academic performance, student enrollment patterns and other district priorities.

The board signed off on one school that wants space in the high school — Academia Lincoln, a district-run dual-language Spanish and English school emphasizing science, technology, engineering, math and the arts.

The other newly approved school, Bear Valley International School, is seeking placement in the Henry building. That school promises a rigorous International Baccalaureate program, personalized learning with a 1:1 technology ratio and biliteracy support with every student getting some Spanish programming.

Both votes were 6-0.

Two previously approved charter schools are in play for the two buildings — a new campus for home-grown network DSST, and Compass Academy. Compass Academy has temporary space in Kepner Middle School, where it opened this fall with sixth-graders only, with plans to scale up.

The charter schools identified both the Lincoln and Henry options as sought-after locations.

It is unclear what will happen with the approved schools that aren’t given buildings next fall. Board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver, voiced concern about the fate of Academia Lincoln if it doesn’t get its wish for space at Lincoln High.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said schools that are not awarded a facility in this round can try again and get one, which has happened before.

Lincoln speaks out

At Thursday’s meeting, the most noise surrounded the prospect of placing a middle school at Lincoln, which has seen its enrollment decline from about 1,900 in 2009 to 1,371 this year, officials said.

DPS says Lincoln can accommodate a 300-student middle school. An alternative high school, Respect Academy, is already housed at Lincoln, with just over 100 students.

Lincoln principal Larry Irvin attributes much of the opposition to a wariness of change at a proud school with a long history of being a large, comprehensive high school serving generations of neighborhood families.

At the same time, he said, if southwest Denver needs middle school seats and Lincoln has the capacity, “part of it just makes good sense and sound logic.”

“Regardless of what happens, Lincoln will still be here serving our kids and our community and maximizing success in high school and after high school,” Irvin said. “That won’t change.”

Standing with classmates on the sidewalk outside Thursday’s meeting, Lincoln senior Eudelia Koehler was not convinced.

“Seeing it for myself, going to class every day, I don’t see how we’re going to fit another 300 students in there,” she said.

As it stands, DPS boasts more than 20 shared campuses. Typically, multiple schools under one roof share common spaces like cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums and fields but have their own classrooms. The district is also planning for a middle school to share space at Manual High School in northeast Denver.

In southwest Denver, several schools have gotten new principals or programs, and several new charter and district schools have been recruited to open in the region in the next two years. DPS also created two new shared enrollment zones, which mean families are given preference at a cluster of schools rather than directly assigned to one school.

Southwest Denver charter schools in the KIPP, DSST and STRIVE Prep networks claim wait lists 150 to 225 kids deep, and families don’t get their first or second school choices at the rate of other areas of the city, district officials say.

“It tells us it’s important to have higher-quality choices, so people can look across the choices they have, put down a choice of one or two, and feel good they will be able to get into those,” Susana Cordova, DPS’s chief of schools, said at a community forum in August.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede