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One of the talking points the district uses regularly to justify their collocation decisions (as ratified by the board majority) is that collocations go very smoothly and that there are never any conflicts.  Many of you parents, teachers and students know better, and I thought I would share the thoughts of one teacher who has experienced collocation first-hand.  Read on…

I accepted a one year contract last year at a NW middle school campus where the facility was shared by a public school and a West Denver Prep charter school. There were many complicated factors involved which made me thankful to know that I had only signed up for one year.

From my perspective there was inequity towards my public school students in regards to the shared stairwells and spaces. My students were given the farthest stairwells from their classes, which served as one function for high tardy rates. (I did action research on this topic as part of my MA program). How can this be equal for public school students to have to walk further to access their classes because a charter school had dibs on the closest stairwells…?

The reality is that I neither know nor understand who/why the decisions are made about what classrooms, areas, stairwells, and facility in general that students get. But what I do know is that the missed instruction time due to longer distances to class (which may also present tempting social situations) has negative academic effects on students. This part of the building sharing is one negative effect of the WDP schools moving into the public school buildings and I have yet to see these negative academic effects quantified with data. (to what degree are the tardy marks effecting academic achievement, etc)

There were instances where student rivalries began to occur. Since the WDP schools expect students at the middle school age to walk in straight lines down the hallway (similar to how some DPS schools have elementary school students walk.….) jealousy began to manifest itself; the public school students had the benefit of freely walking to class/lunch/recess etc and were deemed as “rude, unruly” due to the fact that they were interacting in their social environments on the way to class; meanwhile, WDP students were tagged as “good” students because they would walk in their military style lines. There was heckling between both groups as they would pass by each other when walking to lunch or other areas. The security staff had to be available to diffuse bullying situations that could occur after school due to the verbal hallway interactions. (let’s fight after school type situations) This did not occur often, the fighting between the two groups, but the tension persisted throughout the school year. The WDP students were called “West Denver Gay” by our students, and our students were called “dumb” by the WDP students. Is this type of infighting between campuses okay for this community, especially considering it is mostly the same constituency of students being served? I can tell you right now that a good amount of students from this middle school will be going to North…will the rivalry continue into the high school years?

Note:  I do NOT condone name-calling, nor is belittling others by calling them “gay” ever acceptable.  I stand with the LGBT community, and I correct this swiftly whenever I hear it.  I hope that teachers in this situation have done the same.  But I keep in mind that young people do not always have the same restraint as adults, and this type of stressful situation can bring out the worst in the most well-behaved middle schoolers.  Why exacerbate the situation?  –Andrea

One day towards the end of a school year a disgruntled WDP teacher who had been non renewed (fired) confronted me in front of students about how loud and unruly my students were when in the hallways; now, I am a union member and there is nothing in our contract about charter school teachers and their unprofessional behavior/or conflicts etc. I had to go down to the WDP principal and have a conversation with him about how unprofessional it is to confront a teacher in front of students and basically call out students/teachers in a negative fashion. My job is difficult enough as a teacher in an underfunded school; adding in extra stress that may come from teachers in charter schools in a shared building is something that I thank God that I no longer have to deal with at my new building. Luckily, this principal is a good man and he heard my concerns and immediately addressed them with said educator. Protection for teachers under these mixed campuses is at times going into a gray area; how can teacher quality be affected and quantified to student achievement? This is another piece of the complexity of mixed campuses that has not been put into raw data. (ie. How did my anxiety level look after being verbally attacked in front of students by a random WDP teacher…how could this have affected my own instruction when there was a knot in my stomach after being embarrassed in front of my students by this teacher? How could this have affected how my students learned on that particular day or other days when ambiguous issues occur?)

Speaking of teacher protection…let’s ask how many teachers from either school got parking tickets or sweep tickets because there were clearly not enough parking space to accommodate the amount of staff at the schools? My contract states that the teacher’s lounge should be a “relaxing space for adults, not students”. Well the WDP teachers are not unionized, therefore, they would allow students into the shared lounge to purchase snacks. How is my unions supposed to step in to protect us when there are non unionized employees who play by different rules? Try working one full day around students all day and not have one spot in the entire building to relax and eat where children are not present. These types of rights are afforded to educators after years of bargaining and are being diminished and put to the side when the public schools rent space to the charters.

There were no procedures or processes in place to address any of these few issues listed above. I cannot speak for the North situation, and maybe they do have systems in place to trouble shoot if dilemmas do indeed occur. However, I feel it imperative to share my own experience in one of these mixed campuses so that the same mistakes will not be made in the future.

I understand why parents are choosing WDP when certain public schools may be less effective on the state tests. However, like other charter schools, it would be better in my opinion for WDP and other charter schools to rent their own buildings and avoid moving into the public school facilities. North deserves the time to grow and become the great school that it can be. I have seen a WDP who has their own building on South Federal and they seem fine; same with the New America schools in Lakewood and Thornton, Flores Magon Academy and Arrupe in NW Denver, and others. Last time I checked there are several vacant school buildings or other buildings in the area;

I hope whatever decisions are made benefit all students in the best way possible and equity is not compromised for any student in NW Denver.