By, Lynn Kalinauskas
GPHC Education Chair
Following the decision to phase-out Smiley Middle School within the next two years, Denver Public Schools held its first Greater Park Hill/Stapleton Community Meeting in Smiley’s cafeteria on February 6. The vast room was packed, with many people standing for the two hour meeting. This was the first in a series of meetings intended to give the community a chance to voice its ideas, wants and concerns about middle school programs in the Greater Park Hill and Stapleton communities.
At issue is not only the program that will replace Smiley but also the configuration of Park Hill’s neighborhood school boundary. Tom Boasberg, DPS Superintendent, who was present at the meeting, explained that DPS’ “best thinking” at this time would be for Park Hill and Stapleton to have “one community enrollment zone” for middle school. That is, the two neighborhoods would have priority to choice into five schools: McAuliffe in the Smiley building on Holly Street, the new middle school that will replace McAuliffe at its present location, a new school to be built in Stapleton north of I-70, Denver School of Science and Technology-Stapleton and Bill Roberts. With the exception of DSST-Stapleton, Boasberg said most families would be able to choice into their preferred school.
If the expanded school boundary becomes a reality, Park Hill residents would have to choice their children into these five schools (or other preferred schools) with no guarantee of obtaining a first choice. The superintendent also noted that transportation would be provided but did not offer any details about transportation logistics. Boasberg insisted that East High School would remain within Park Hill’s boundary for high school: “Let me say that even stronger, repeat it: There are NO plans to change the East High School boundary.”
It remains unclear whether these meetings are to gauge the community’s interest or resistance to the proposal and the extent to which community voices will be taken into account when final decisions are made. Nonetheless, both Park Hill and Stapleton residents had questions.
One Park Hill parent expressed her interest and welcomed McAuliffe to the neighborhood, while another pointed to DPS’ chronic neglect of Smiley and the desire to see DPS support whatever school came to the Smiley building in the hopes of building a strong middle school for Park Hill.
Several Stapleton families expressed frustration that they had bought into the K-8 model presented to them as Swigert-McAuliffe International School only to have that model dismantled and turned into two separate schools. Another Stapleton parent expressed concern about co-locations in general and how a co-location would work at Smiley given that the new school there would share the building with Venture Prep High School (its middle school is also phasing out).
To the concerns of co-location Boasberg answered, “Wherever McAuliffe is, they will be sharing. If they stay in Swigert, they will be sharing. If they go North of I-70, they will be sharing. And that’s simply a fact of life … unless McAuliffe wants to grow by 500 kids, which they do not, wherever they go they will be sharing.”
His answer contradicted McAuliffe’s principal Kurt Dennis who, in a presentation to the Park Hill community on December 18, stated that he would be willing to see McAuliffe grow to the point of occupying the whole building, should Venture Prep no longer be there.
Co-locations seem to be favored by the current DPS administration, the stated goal being to better utilize available space. But they are rarely a happy marriage and one school is often favored at the expense of the other. One school gets the bigger gym, better access to the computer room, or the exclusive use of the band room, to name a few scenarios. Managing a co-located school also takes administrators’ time not to mention teachers’ time. Co-location is also difficult for students as it cultivates a needless competition over resources.
It is difficult to estimate what percentage of the meeting’s attendees lived in Park Hill. Participants were asked to identify themselves as parents, students, DPS employees, but not as residents of one neighborhood or the other. If reorganizing boundaries were to occur, it is important that both communities be equally represented at these meetings.
It remains to be seen what voice the community will truly have in shaping the new school that will occupy Smiley’s space and the boundary that will limit or open possibilities for Park Hill residents.
Lynn Kalinauskas has lived in Park Hill for 12 years. Her children attend Park Hill Elementary and Smiley Middle School. She works for an educational nonprofit and teaches at UC Denver. She can be reached at email@example.com. For materials from the DPS Greater Park Hill/Stapleton community engagement process, visit communityrelations.dpsk12.org.