Denver school board approves new DSST building on shared campus, pledges support for Northfield High

The Denver school board unanimously voted Thursday to place a charter school on the same campus as year-old Northfield High School over the objections of some Northfield parents and students, but not without making specific promises to support the school.

Northfield High School opened in fall 2015 with about 200 freshmen. (Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat)
Northfield High School opened in fall 2015 with about 200 freshmen. (Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat)
Northfield High School opened in fall 2015 with about 200 freshmen. (Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat)

By Melanie AsmarChalkbeat

The Denver school board unanimously voted Thursday to place a charter school on the same campus as year-old Northfield High School over the objections of some Northfield parents and students, but not without making specific promises to support the school.

Charter high school DSST: Conservatory Green will be located in a separate building from Northfield on the Paul Sandoval Campus in northeast Denver starting in the fall of 2018. The school will open in the fall of 2017 in a temporary space on the nearby Samsonite campus while a new, 500-student building is built for it on the Paul Sandoval Campus.

“The driving goal, at least the lens I’m looking through, is how can we place good bets on things that have good track records of working so that more parents and more students have the opportunity to participate in them?” board member Barbara O’Brien said.

By placing a link in the high-performing DSST charter chain on the same campus as Northfield High, “we’re almost guaranteeing” that more students will have a high-quality option, she said.

Northfield High is the district’s first new comprehensive high school in more than three decades. The school’s vision is to serve a diverse student population, offering every student the opportunity to participate in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program.

In making the move, the board made a number of pledges to vocal Northfield parents, many of them from Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood. A separate resolution, also passed unanimously, says Denver Public Schools will do several things to address parents’ concerns, including:

  • Review enrollment at Northfield High in the spring of each year through 2019 and expand the school as necessary to meet the enrollment commitments.
  • Add a new parking lot with at least 100 parking spaces by fall 2017, barring any unforeseen circumstances such as construction permit delays.
  • Work with Northfield High to create a library that meets the International Baccalaureate authorization standards no later than fall 2018.
  • Fund and build a full-service cafeteria to serve all students on the Paul Sandoval Campus — and renovate the temporary cafeteria into additional classroom or office space — by fall 2018.
  • Continue to explore options for adding athletic features on the Paul Sandoval Campus commensurate with campus enrollment and funding availability.
  • Provide the staff time and funding required for Northfield High’s application to be certified as an International Baccalaureate school.
  • Guarantee every student in the boundary a seat at Northfield High, making available at least 35 percent of seats to families in surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Provide marketing and recruitment support to Northfield High leadership.
  • Provide appropriate shared campus support based upon campus enrollment to promote a positive working relationship with all schools on the Paul Sandoval Campus.

Board members said it’s rare for the board to make such specific promises to a school but they hoped it assured the community that DPS is committed to making Northfield a success.

The new, $22.4 million building for DSST will be funded with money from the $572 million bond issue approved last month by Denver voters. Parents and students from Northfield High took issue with that use of funds, saying they believed the 500 extra seats promised in the bond proposal would go toward expanding Northfield High, which serves just freshmen and sophomores this year and will expand to serve juniors and seniors over the next two years.

The district’s website contributed to the confusion. Until recently, a DPS webpage showing the projects proposed for “Northfield High School at Paul Sandoval Campus” under the 2016 bond said “addition of 500 seats at the Paul Sandoval Campus.”

The words “Northfield High School” have been removed from the page so it now simply says “Paul Sandoval Campus.” Denver Public Schools spokesman Will Jones said he requested the change after a parent pointed out that the original wording was misleading.

But some parents were still upset. If we can’t trust DPS to provide us with accurate information about the bond, parent Dipte Nevrekar asked, “how can we trust you with our children?”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg apologized for the wording on the website.

Northfield High sophomore Jack Seward also addressed the board. He said some students are concerned that putting a DSST on the campus will “hinder” Northfield High’s growth and asked the board to “carefully consider” the implications of doing so.

But board members repeated the district’s pledge to build more seats for Northfield when necessary. DPS officials said they anticipate asking voters to approve another bond issue in 2020, which would build out the last 500 seats at the high school. The district expects Northfield serve 1,200 to 1,500 students over time — and possibly up to 2,000 students by 2030.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.