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“Education’s role in our society cannot be minimized…It is quite probably the most critical investment a people can make.”  — Richard T. Castro

Kepner Middle School, the cornerstone of the Westwood community, in Rich Castro’s district, is under attack.  I am asking for your help and swift advocacy to help this school community thrive without starving its predominantly Latino student population of badly needed resources and support.

The Situation

The Denver Public Schools has forced a vote onto the agenda for the current board’s last meeting on November 17, which would halve the current Kepner student population.  The Superintendent has stated unequivocally that the purpose of this would be to “co-locate” another school into the Kepner building, possibly an untested charter school that does not currently exist.

Kepner Middle School

As a result of the ill-conceived closures of Rishel and Kunsmiller middle schools, Kepner is now overcrowded, with nearly 1200 students in a building that should comfortably hold around 800.  Class size is a profound problem for this school, and the population size now makes safety and services hard to deliver.  But to gut the student population by half only to make room for another school does not solve the overcrowding issue.  As simple logic will tell you, simply cramming students into fewer classrooms still results in overcrowded classrooms.

Schools are funded on a per-pupil formula.  Simply put, the fewer kids in a school, the less money there is to fund a whole-child program.  This means that curriculum becomes narrower, and important things like music, arts, cultural history or advanced maths become scarce.  With less dollars to spend, a school can focus only on the CSAP tested subjects of reading, writing and math.  Kepner’s students deserve a robust, rigorous and well-rounded education, just like kids in the more affluent parts of Denver.

Finally, it is a fact that the predominantly Spanish-speaking parent population has not been given a chance to fully consider the district’s proposed solution, nor have they been given the same caliber or amount of engagement opportunities as have families in other parts of Denver.  The district has simply informed Spanish-speaking parents of the change, before any recommendation was put before the democratically-elected board that has the sole authority to make that decision, and has interpreted the lack of immediate push back as a sign that families were happy with the change.  It is truly disappointing that DPS continues to show such a profound lack of cultural competency.

The Silver Lining

Part of the catalyst for this change is also the opportunity for some of our West Denver kids to attend the transformed West High next year.  Thanks to Vice President Arturo Jimenez’s leadership and strong collaboration with the Westside community, West will offer a very robust and innovative 6th through 12th grade program next year.  In fact, it’s a wonderful option for our kids, and therefore, the district is correctly considering the re-mapping of the boundary for West so that some students in Villa Park, Barnum and Westwood go directly to the new West, as opposed to first going to Kepner.   This, by itself, is a very good thing.

The Complication

While the district wants to provide this long-overdue opportunity for our kids, we also need to consider what happens to Kepner.  The Kepner community deserves to have the right balance of enough kids to be able to fund their robust, whole-child program while at the same time being able to properly support each individual student.  Choice should mean that our kids can benefit from either one of two strong choices.

It is possible to relieve the population pressure at Kepner and still provide equal opportunity for kids that attend both West AND Kepner.  The right win-win solution here is to reduce Kepner’s population by redirecting some kids to West, while also providing support and resources to Kepner to expand their program even further.

The late Richard T. Castro and wife, Virginia

Without this win-win, we again create a system of haves and have nots for a chosen few and which has the potential to create division in the Latino community where it is not necessary.  Additionally, even Spanish-speaking parents deserve the basic respect and appreciation for their tax dollars, and low-income families have a right by federal law to fully benefit from the portion of Title I dollars that is specifically earmarked toward community engagement and thereby become active partners in their children’s education.

How you can help

The community will have two opportunities to go before the school board and let them know that an equitable win-win is possible here.  The dates for public comment are on Monday, November 7 and Thursday, November 10.  You must sign up by Sunday, November 6 or by Wednesday, November 9.  Please call 720-423-3210 by 5 p.m. on either day to get on the schedule.

You may also send an email to the school board at board@dpsk12.org.  Tell them that the community insists upon enough time to develop the right win-win situation for ALL West Denver’s kids.  Let them know that West Denver’s families deserve the respect of seeing the full data, understanding all the pros and cons and helping to create a strong program at both middle schools.

You can come to the board meeting on Thursday, November 17 at 6:30 p.m. to let your voices be heard.

Finally, contact the two new board members that will take their seats on November 17.  Anne Rowe can be reached at annerowedps@yahoo.com or 303-264-9594, and Happy Haynes can be reached at happy@happyfordenverskids.com or 720-295-8364.

Friends, this is a basic issue of justice.  For far too long, West Denver’s kids have been marginalized and left to fend for themselves.  It is time for the Denver Public Schools to make the right investment in our kids’ future, just as Rich Castro envisioned, and just as our kids deserve.