Denver Public Schools is Making a Big Mistake with Gilpin Elementary

Last spring, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education voted to close down Gilpin Montessori School in the Curtis Park neighborhood of Denver. While most numbers show that Gilpin was underperforming at a rate well below where DPS wanted the school, parents and community members remain upset over the decision to close down the elementary school. Now, DPS is trying to open another school in the Gilpin building, and, well, it’s a total disaster.

I agree with the board’s decision to close Gilpin. All the numbers I’ve seen from the district indicate that the students at Gilpin were not getting the education they deserved. Gilpin was failing students, and keeping the school open would have sent hundreds of Denver’s students into their further education and futures horribly unprepared. I understand that the district didn’t communicate the closure well, and school closure is certainly hard for families. But that doesn’t change the fact that Gilpin was failing students again and again.

But now, the district has screwed this up even more. In what appears to be an effort to appease some parents, the district has approved a plan to move a new school into the Gilpin building. But they are doing a terrible job of this. In fact, they’ve hidden the existence of this process so deeply that I was only able to attend the 8th of 8 meetings held on the matter of opening the new school because I heard about it so late. That means that many families in the community have absolutely no idea what is happening (You have to click through 7 pages on the DPS website to find any information on the process).

The new school will require the following to be considered for use of the Gilpin building: the school must currently exist in DPS and wants to move to Gilpin, or it must be another school under a governance structure approved at a previous time by DPS; it must be a secondary school (serve any grades 6-12); draw students from across Denver as to not hurt the already low enrollment of secondary schools in the Gilpin area, and have an enrollment of 600 or fewer (that’s how many students fit in Gilpin when it was an elementary school).

Let’s look at why this makes no sense. First, near-northeast Denver has its fair share of schools, and then some. There is no need for more seats at any level of education in the district, especially not a secondary school. I cheered the Gilpin closure in the spring because it meant consolidating schools in a far too spread out district. A secondary school wouldn’t work at Gilpin either; the school is built to be an elementary school, and the retrofit costs are upwards of $500,000.

Next, needing a school that will draw from across the city doesn’t make sense. Families do not want to drive across Denver every day to send their kids to whatever ends up at Gilpin. No matter what is claimed, the school will end up drawing disproportionately from the Gilpin area. There’s no disputing that. DPS conceded this at the community meeting I attended this morning.

The other 2 qualifications I have little issue with.

What is problematic is that there a consensus from everyone on every side of the education policy spectrum that there is no point to opening a new school at Gilpin, or even moving one over there. My biggest issue, however, is this: DPS is proposing this secondary school as a near-term option. They then said, that, if the data shows it’s needed, the district could look at reopening the elementary school at Gilpin. What doesn’t make sense here is why would any school want to apply for the Gilpin spot if in 7 or 10 years, they might be forced out for the elementary school to reopen? It simply doesn’t make sense.

Instead, I propose some solutions, based off of my own ideas, and what I heard this morning. First, move McAuliffe @ Manual to Gilpin. McAuliffe being at Manual High School has been rough so far. The Manual community doesn’t want McAuliffe in their building, and McAuliffe parents don’t like being in the Manual building. While I think both schools could make it work, and are complaining over things that are ridiculous to me, moving McAuliffe to Gilpin would appease a lot of people, and it wouldn’t cause changes in enrollment at other middle schools in the area. It’s the best option based on the criteria.

Next, I propose moving the Downtown Denver Expeditionary School (DDES) to Gilpin. Already existing as an elementary school that pulls many students from the Gilpin area, it would work well to move the school to Gilpin. Most parents at the meeting this morning supported this move. DDES is currently in a big building downtown without a playground or normal elementary school facilities. Moving it to Gilpin seems like a logical move. DPS has said they may consider this, even though DDES is not a secondary school.

My final proposal is for DPS to sell the building, and have it be used instead for a multi-use business space. It would fit in well with the surrounding area, and could make the district a ton of money, especially if the district were to keep the building and rent out space. Thus, funding can be improved in the district, and then no one is fighting over the building. We simply don’t need another school in the area, and while this plan would never happen, it could work (it’s just never been done).

I’m hoping to find time to talk to some of the DPS board members as I volunteer for their campaigns this fall leading up to the board election about what exactly happened with the decision at Gilpin. But I can say this for sure: it’s a disaster, and there are almost no good options to fill in the Gilpin building.


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