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Families and policymakers question Denver district’s proposal to close schools

Denver Superintendent Alex Marrero proposal to close 10 schools received a rocky reception from the school board on Thursday, with some board members questioning him about a recommendation that has rocked school communities.

Three of the seven board members — Auon’tai Anderson, Michelle Quattlebaum and Scott Esserman — said at Thursday’s meeting or in subsequent interviews that they oppose the closures, which Marrero says are needed to cope with declining enrollment.

Two others – Scott Baldermann and Charmaine Lindsay – said they were undecided.

Board chairwoman Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán declined to say how she would vote. But she said she was worried about some students, including English language learners, are not getting the strong services they deserve in all 10 schools due to lack of funding. Board member Carrie Olson was absent from Thursday’s meeting due to a family emergency.

Several board members have suggested sending Marrero back to the drawing board by dismissing The resolution which led him to come up with a school consolidation plan in the first place. They said the process seemed rushed, top-down and non-transparent.

“There are a lot of unknowns that don’t comfort our families and our community in this process,” Quattlebaum said.

Marrero bills the closures as consolidations because students and staff from the 10 schools would be reassigned to nearby schools. The school board is due to vote on the package — 10 closures or none — on Nov. 17.

In the nine days since the recommendation was announced, parents and family members from all 10 schools have come together in meetings scheduled by principals to learn more and voice their concerns about a proposal. which many believe blinded them.

In several meetings, principals stood alongside mid-level district administrators in cafeterias, facing rows of frustrated parents and grandparents, some accompanied by toddlers. The meetings were full of questions and few answers.

Parents wanted to know what the class sizes will be in the consolidated schools. But officials said it was impossible to know until they see how many students will turn up next year.

The parents sought assurances that the district would not turn around and close the host schools in a year or two, once again disrupting their children’s education. But officials could not give it.

Families wanted to know how the district would provide transportation to consolidated schools amid a shortage of bus drivers. The district will do its best, officials said.

Above all, families wanted to know if they could save their schools from closing.

“Is it just fate and our elected officials are not persuasive?” asked Rick Levy, the father of a preschooler at Eagleton Elementary, one of 10 schools recommended for closure, during a Thursday morning meeting in the school cafeteria.

“They absolutely want to hear from you,” said Dana Williams, an administrator who oversees a group of elementary schools, including Eagleton.

But no elected official attended this meeting. School board members attended some meetings at the 10 schools recommended for closure, but not all. There were also no board members at a 3:30 p.m. meeting at Columbian Elementary the day before either.

In some cases, meetings overlapped, which prevented board members from being in two places at once. In other cases, the members of the board of directors were notified only one hour before.

At least two community organizations have called for stronger engagement.

EDUCATE Denver, a coalition of civic leaders, and Denver Families for Public Schools, a nonprofit that, among other initiatives, aims to increase participation in school board elections, separately called on the district to hold at least one meeting in each school that could close and in each school likely to welcome its pupils. The superintendent and local council member should attend those meetings, the two groups said.

The two groups also called on the board to hold an extensive public comment session and on the district to facilitate one-on-one meetings with families affected by the closures.

But so far, the only opportunity for parents and community members to make their case to the seven council members who will vote on the recommendation is a single public comment session scheduled for Nov. 14, three days before the vote. .

Marrero defended the tight schedule on Thursday. Slowing down the process would result in the flight of staff and students from schools recommended for closure, he said, further draining them of per-student funding. Consolidations work best when everyone can move to a new school together, he said. But some board members pushed back.

“Where we haven’t had direct conversations with affected communities until we’ve presented the plan, which is district-led, which is not community-led,” Esserman said.

The families of Columbian and Eagleton agreed that the district did not provide enough opportunities for them to speak out. Parents find that they don’t have a lot of time to organize themselves. At Columbian, parent Darcy Cornish Lovato handed out handwritten “Save Our School” signs. In Eagleton, Tara De La Fuente urged other parents to scan a QR code and sign a petition.

“One or two meetings in every school won’t cover every household,” said Arturo Orozco, the father of a fifth-grade student at Eagleton. Many parents, he said, have to work and cannot attend in-person meetings on a weekday morning or afternoon.

“It’s more than just a school. It’s a community,” Orozco said.

“Our community is going to suffer because of this.”

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at [email protected].



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