Wednesday, February 17, 2021

AV #226 - Montbello – Doublespeak from DPS – Unification is Closure


Third in a series

    Denver Public Schools appears ready to offer this foolishness. The district has plans to “reunify” three schools by closing them.

    Here are the exact words from the draft of the school board resolution, presented on February 4. 


Board resolution – Montbello High School and Feeder Middle High School Unification

-        for the board vote on Feb 21, 2021

Sentence 1. DPS will “reunify” three schools. 

Sentence 2. DPS will “close” these three schools.   

Happy talk about reunifying rather than honest talk about closure. Nonsense. Infuriating.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: In order to reunify DCIS-Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and Collegiate Prep Academy, the board approves opening a new comprehensive Montbello High School and a feeder middle school beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. In order to open these two schools, the current DCIS-Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and Collegiate Preparatory Academy will close at the end of the 2021-2022 school year and students at these schools will be prioritized with enrollment at these two new schools.$file/Board%20Resolution%20-%20Unification%20Process.pdf

(To track the change in the district’s plans for Montbello, compare this with two previous board resolutions - at Addendum A. For more on the resolution, see 3 schools may close to make way for Montbello,” Feb. 3, 2021[i])

At that Feb. 4 board meeting, DPS staff gave its version of events and reviewed the resolution. Montbello may be a small story, but the revelations that evening struck me as significant. I will limit this newsletter to three issues: clarity and transparency, and district policy on school choice and the closure of schools.

      Deputy Superintendent Michael Ramirez introduced Joe Amundsen as “leading this work.” Amundsen is the Director of School Improvement at DPS. 

1.   Amundsen reviewed “key events that got us to where we are today.” He gave a different narrative than what AV #225 recounted last week. “As you know,” he asserted, “this Reimagining Montbello process has been the desire expressed throughout the community ever since Montbello High School began the phase out as part of the Far Northeast Turnaround Plan a decade ago…

Ever since 2011?


 “The Reimagine process initially launched with a focus on the facility considerations as a listening tour. It then became overwhelmingly apparent that the right thing to do was to bring back Montbello high school

Overwhelmingly apparent? To whom? When, exactly, was that? AV #225 quoted from news articles in 2018, 2019, and the winter of 2020 when this was by no means clear. Five quick points in Addendum B. Why is DPS is pushing a false narrative?

and open a feeder middle school., both as a source of pride for the community and the region, as well as a way to ensure students have access to high quality programs and diversity of academic and social opportunities.”[ii]

Amundsen harped on the need to “be clear,” “give clarity,” “get clarity.” This resolution “clarifies.” It did not.


  Clarity? “three schools will unify into…” and be closed. How embarrassing if DPS board members actually vote this month to support such an obvious absurdity.

    I was grateful for board member Tay Anderson’s choice of words later in this session: “as we dissolve these schools.” Dissolve, defined in Webster’s as: “cause to disperse or disappear; destroy.” “To bring to an end. Terminate.”[iii] Hardly a synonym for unify.

“It’s important for us all be clear that (the three operating schools) will be open next school year in their current locations during 2021-22, and then after the next school year these three schools will unify into the new the new Montbello High School and feeder middle school….”

“This will give some clarity on how the current schools will close out and the new schools will open…. So this resolution clarifies here in the resolve that, ‘In order to…’”


2.   School Choice – no longer a fundamental principle for DPS?

    From the Board Resolution (draft).  “ …. Students at these schools will be prioritized with enrollment at these two new schools.”     

   Amundsen: “For 2021-21 students will attend their current schools and in 2022 will transition to the new schools.”   

This past decade DPS earned kudos for its strong commitment to parent choice (see Addendum C). In a district honoring choice, students are not “transitioned” from one school to another just because it is in the same building. This year over 1,300 families and students chose to attend a school, located at Montbello High; they chose a school, each with a specific mission (see Addendum D). In 2022, if choice is real, they will not attend a new much bigger school, with a different mission and new leaders, merely because it sits on 5000 Crown Boulevard. On Feb. 4, we heard little from DPS to indicate it now operates as a choice district. To me, it sounded much like the DPS … of 1995.


3.  School closure - Is this how the new Board of Education will close schools? Is this how we build trust?

     To listen to Vice-President board member Jennifer Bacon, one senses some members of the Denver board are feeling rather smug. (See AV #225). Over a year ago we began to hear this message: We won’t make the mistakes of our predecessors because we’re committed to the community, we listen, etc. etc.  As demonstrated by its initial actions around accountability: “A new Denver school board takes a softer tone with low-performing schools” (Addendum E.) In dealing with seven schools, all Accredited on Probation (the lowest rating possible) on the Denver’s 2019 School Performance Framework, and all on Turnaround Plans with the State SPF, the board exhibited great patience with the schools. The message from the new board seemed to be: We’re not like that old board. You can trust us.


   That was December of 2019. Those seven schools were granted “two years to improve.” And yet in Montbello, we now see three other schools—please note, rated slightly better (all Accredited on Priority Watch)—about to be shut down. Closure based on what criteria? Based on their academic performance? Apparently not. I imagine the school communities of DCIS at Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and Collegiate Prep Academy are more than a little confounded by this plan.


  Is this how the new board builds trust? Put a pretty face on closing schools … and call it unification?


  Aren’t we glad the new board is so much more sensitive to the feelings of the schools it decides to close? No more threats. We just do it. And you’re gone.



Addendum A

Note the evolution of the fate of “the three schools on the campus.”

 Board resolution Sept. 19, 2019 – signed by Anne Rowe and Dr. Carrie Olsen

“for the three schools”

WHEREAS, this work is focused on planning for the renovation or rebuilding of the Montbello campus for the three schools located on the campus and that any change in academic programming will be governed by Board action and Board policies such as the School Performance Compact and the Facility Allocation Policy.$file/Montbello%20Resolution.pdf



Board resolution on Reimagining Montbello– Oct. 22, 2020 - signed by Dr. Carrie Olsen and Tay Anderson

The key word is now unity. Three school communities reimagined as one large comprehensive high school.

WHEREAS, in March of 2020, in response to years of community advocacy and feedback from the Montbello community and the advocacy raised in the Reimaging Montbello process, the Superintendent along with Board members committed to unifying the existing school communities of DCIS-Montbello, Noel Community Arts School and Collegiate Preparatory Academy and reimagine them as a large comprehensive Montbello High School as well as a feeder middle school in school year 2022-2023; 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Board of Education reaffirms its commitment to reimagining Montbello, opening a large comprehensive Montbello High School at its current campus, as well as a feeder middle school in school year 2022-2023, and utilizing funds secured through the 2020 Bond ballot initiative to improve the Montbello High School facilities in service to the students and staff of Montbello High School;



Board resolution (draft) – Montbello High School and Feeder Middle High School Unification

 [Included a paragraph reaffirming that Oct. 22, 2020 vote]

WHEREAS, on October 22, 2020 the DPS Board of Education of School District No. 1 (the “District”) voted to affirm a commitment to opening a large comprehensive Montbello High School at its current campus, as well as a feeder middle school in the school year 2022-2023, and utilizing funds secured through the 2020 Bond ballot initiative to improve the Montbello High School facilities in service to the students and staff of Montbello High School and committed to taking actions on the formal process for unifying DCIS-Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and Collegiate Preparatory Academy… 


To reunify” has now taken on a new meaning. It means “to close” the schools.

In order to reunify DCIS-Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and Collegiate Prep Academy, the board approves opening a new comprehensive Montbello High School and a feeder middle school beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. In order to open these two schools, the current DCIS-Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and Collegiate Preparatory Academy will close at the end of the 2021-2022 school year and students at these schools will be prioritized with enrollment at these two new schools.$file/Board%20Resolution%20-%20Unification%20Process.pdf


Addendum B

 Let’s get the story right


1.      AV #225 presented news articles from 2018-2020 which reveals a different narrative, beginning with the Chalkbeat article from April 2, 2018: “In far northeast Denver, there’s a heated debate over the desire for a traditional high school.”


2.      The 2018 summary of the Far Northeast Commission at the DPS website makes no mention of the hope for a comprehensive high school (


3.      Nor does the letter from the Superintendent Tom Boasberg written to the Far Northeast community dated May 30, 2018 -

4.      It was late February 2020 when this headline appeared: "The idea of reopening a comprehensive high school in the Montbello neighborhood in far northeast Denver is back on the table." [iv]

5.     No decision was made "to bring back Montbello High and open a feeder middle school" until March 2020. (See Addendum A, above.)

Addendum C

                                           District policy today – a far cry from those days when “we” at 900 Grant Street could determine enrollment


   Has Denver Public Schools returned to the days where the district controls enrollment? Where we, DPS, will “transition” you, the student, from one school to another, regardless of your preferences?  As I listened to the school board meeting on February 4, I thought we were back at 900 Grant Street, long before the district changed its policies and made an extraordinary effort to honor parent choice.


   Here is what the district says, on choice. (For now at least. It is on the website. I assume this still holds.) From DPS - Choice & Enrollment, How Does SchoolChoice Work? -


    …DPS launched the one-application, one-deadline SchoolChoice process in 2011-12 — to ensure equity, consistency and simplicity in school enrollment. During the application window mid-January to mid-February, families rank their top school preferences and submit their Choice application. DPS then matches students to schools based on those preferences, as well as school admission priorities and available space.

   The system is highly effective in placing students in their preferred schools. Last year, 81% of incoming kindergarteners were placed in their first choice; 83% of sixth graders received their first choice; and 85% of ninth graders were enrolled in their first choice. 

   DPS is one of the only districts in the country in which virtually all its schools are options in this enrollment process. Because of its commitment to real choice, DPS was twice rated the No. 1 school district in the country for school choice by the Brookings Institution.


From DPS School Choice – How it all works 2021-22 -


Philosophy of the system

Seeks to maximize the number of students getting their most preferred option, subject to space.

Balances students [sic] preferences with a set of admissions priorities for schools, such as:

·   Neighborhood preference / boundary 

·   Siblings 

·   Other considerations (children of full-time school-site staff members, qualification status, socioeconomic diversity, etc.)

Who participates in Choice?  DPS has the highest participation rates in the United States.


Addendum D - “students … will transition to”

 “For 2021-21 students will attend their current schools and in 2022 will transition to the new schools.”

 In 2020 roughly 1,600 students and their families chose to attend these three schools, each with a distinct mission and purpose. Why does Denver Public Schools think these students will “transition” into a school whose mission and purpose is still unknown?  

(Enrollment 935, Fall 2020)

DCIS at Montbello prepares students in Grades 6-12 for college, career and life by helping them understand how to seize the countless opportunities the world has to offer. By graduation, every DCIS at Montbello student will be multilingual, inter-culturally competent and prepared to solve problems and lead communities worldwide with knowledge and compassion. To empower and equip students to thrive in our increasingly complex world, DCIS at Montbello offers a globally minded approach to education that combines rigorous academics, intercultural interaction, public service, travel opportunities – and extracurricular activities that are a whole lot of fun. 

(Enrollment 396)

Noel Community Arts School prepares students for success in college and career by ensuring high achievement and creative thinking through rigorous academics and meaningful application of the arts (mission). 

(Enrollment 340)

At Collegiate Prep Academy, we prepare every student to be college and career ready in order to be productive citizens of a global society (mission).  We provide acceleration with support (vision). Collegiate Preparatory Academy (CPA) is a grade 9-12 high school dedicated to preparing students for the realities of university and the workforce through a rigorous education and college credit opportunities. 



Montbello High School – opening in 2022 - mission and vision statement   ????????????



Feeder Middle School at Montbello – opening in 2022 – mission and vision statement   ?????????? 



Addendum E

 School closure – Is this the new “friendlier” approach?

No attention to academic performance, we just CLOSE YOUR SCHOOL. 

*No school shall be subject to redesign or closure until the district has provided and documented significant supports for the improvement of school performance.”[v]  DCTA’s proposed changes in the collective bargaining agreement, 2017.

  When several current board members ran for office, they joined the teachers union in seeking a change in the district’s policy on school closure.* In December of 2019 Chalkbeat Colorado wrote of the new board’s more tolerant approach to poor performance (excerpts below). Melanie Asmur made it absolutely clear how schools and parents felt about closures: we read of threats, pain, fear, and trauma. 

A new Denver school board takes a softer tone with low-performing schools

By Melanie Asmar, Chalkbeat Colorado (Dec, 20, 2019)                (Bold mine)


  The Denver school board is in the midst of radically changing its approach to school improvement, moving from an inflexible strategy that closed or replaced struggling schools to a more collaborative one that gives schools time to turn things around.

  But it’s clear that some schools still perceive district intervention as a threat. At the last school board meeting of the year — and the first regular meeting of a newly elected board — students, parents, and teachers lined up to give emotional testimony in defense of their schools. The crowd for Hallett Academy, an elementary school in northeast Denver, was so big it snaked down the aisle.


   For Hallett and the six other schools up for intervention (see box), the school board unanimously approved the most forgiving option under district policy: a two-year improvement plan, meaning the schools have two years to boost student test scores.

  “If we’re asking a school to turn around in one year, in 365 days, it’s not enough time,” said Tay Anderson, one of three new board members elected in November.

* “But the union-backed candidates also pledged an end to school closures and a halt to approving new charter schools.

   “The union-backed candidates also questioned the merits of Denver’s school choice system, which they said creates winners and losers: those who are lucky enough to get into a good school and have the transportation to get there, and those who don’t.”

“Why the Denver school board ‘flipped’ and what might happen next,Chalkbeat Colorado, Nov. 7, 2019.[vi] More on “flipping the board” and the 2018 election.[vii]

  Thursday’s votes were the first significant action taken by the three new board members: Anderson, Brad Laurvick, and Scott Baldermann. All three were backed by the Denver teachers union, and their election “flipped” control* of            

the board to union-backed members.

  For many years, Denver routinely closed or replaced low-performing schools. Sometimes the school board turned them over to other operators, including charter schools, it thought would do a better job.

  While test scores and graduation rates have improved districtwide, these closures were always controversial and painful. The union has long opposed school closure and advocated for a less drastic approach to improving schools. But the shift away from closure actually began last year, before union-backed board members held a majority of seats.

  Jennifer Bacon, who helped lead the shift and is now board vice president, said the district is still working to build trust with parents and teachers who felt traumatized by the previous approach. Thursday’s emotional pleas are evidence it’s not quite there yet, she said.

  “What you saw up here was remnants of that fear,” Bacon said. “We’re trying to have them trust us again by saying, ‘We will give you the space to improve — but you also have to improve.’”


  The tone at the work session was different than in past years. As school principals presented their improvement plans, board members asked how the district could help. They also talked about the flaws and limitations of the district’s school rating system, which it is in the process of reimagining. The ratings are largely based on standardized test scores, and all seven schools up for intervention received the lowest rating, red.


  AV #224 included the results for the schools at Montbello High now slated for closure:  Section 3: Did the closing and restructuring lead to “great schools” at Montbello High? A bleak picture. It is clear that the three schools have not performed well. I simply point out that their struggles and their low academic performance were not as troubling—based on the district’s own SPF—as they were for the seven schools in the Chalkbeat article reviewed by the Denver school board.  All seven, I should add received the lowest possible rating in 2019 on the state’s School Performance Framework, Turnaround Plan.

  Consider the contrast in the chart below.

  Seven schools were given the lowest rating on Denver’s SPF. The Denver school board granted them two years to improve.

  Three schools were given the second lowest rating on Denver’s SPF. Once “reunified,” they will close.

From Denver’s School Performance Framework, 2019 

Ratings: Lowest – Accredited on Probation    Second lowest - Accredited on Priority Watch 

7 schools

“Board giving struggling schools more time to improve”

(Chalkbeat Colorado)



3 schools

“will close at the end of the 2021-22 school year”

Board Resolution (Draft)


Compass Academy

Accredited on Probation


Collegiate Preparatory Academy

Accredited on Priority Watch

DCIS Baker

Accredited on Probation


DCIS at Montbello

Accredited on Priority Watch

Denver Discovery School

Accredited on Probation


Noel Community Arts School

Accredited on Priority Watch

Denver Montessori Jr./Sr. High School

Accredited on Probation




Hallett Academy

Accredited on Probation




STRIVE Prep – Green Valley Ranch

Accredited on Probation




STRIVE Prep – Montbello

Accredited on Probation







[ii] From the Denver School Board meeting on Feb. 4, 2021. Transcription is mine; I apologize for any errors in capturing the quotes accurately.

[iii] Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1983.

[v] DCTA’s proposed changes to Article 5. “Your DCTA Bargaining Team proposed changes to Article 5 that would require the District to provide more supports to help save a struggling school, a moratorium on charter schools, and strengthening teacher voice in SLT .” School Closures and Charter Schools, Feb. 27, 2017, Article 5 - Student Achievement, Instruction and Educational Reform 5-1 Guiding Principles,

[vii]Anderson is part of a movement to ‘flip the board,’” Denverite, by Lindsay Fendt, Nov. 8, 2019.

“Unlike his 2017 campaign, in which he ran for a district seat, Anderson’s 2019 campaign was for a citywide at-large seat.

“With Bacon and Olson on the board, the anti-reform camp in Denver began to grow louder, realizing that they could take the board majority. “Flip the board” became a Facebook group and a rallying cry at teacher protests. Anderson fully embraced the anti-reform stance during his campaign, calling for a moratorium on charter schools.

“‘They believe that we as a district should be building more schools, but we can’t even fund the ones we already have,’ Anderson said. ‘They talk about school choice, but school choice is only a reality for people that have the means to travel to a school outside their neighborhood.’

In a resounding call for a change in the Denver education system, all three anti-reform candidates won their elections.

“‘Two years ago we asked the question and two days ago we put a period on that answer,’ Bacon said on Wednesday.”