Middle schoolers at Denver Language School, a language immersion charter that teaches students Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, will have a new home next year: the Denver Northeast school building that previously housed the Gilpin Montessori, now closed.
By a 6-to-1 vote on Thursday, the Denver School Board chose the charter from among seven middle and high schools that applied to use the building. The vote takes into account the recommendation of a nine-member committee that cited the school’s strong academic performance, healthy enrollment demand and racial diversity as reasons it rose to the top of the real estate competition .
Finding a suitable location in a hot market where school buildings are scarce is often one of the biggest hurdles faced by Denver charter schools looking to open or expand. The Denver language school, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, housed its college in a facility that lacked a science lab and art room.
Board member Carrie Olson noted the inadequacy of the school’s current layout and said it “desperately needs” a building for its middle school students. However, she also expressed frustration that the selection process “pitches schools against each other.”
Board member Jennifer Bacon, who represents the Five Points neighborhood where Gilpin is located, was the only one not to vote. While praising the Denver language school, she expressed concerns about the extent to which the community was involved in the decision.
The committee that recommended Denver Language School included four community members and five district employees. One of those community members, Gilpin’s former mother, Katherine Murphy, urged council on Thursday to vote against the recommendation. She said she wanted “a revamp” in which community members would have more of a say.
Another member of the committee, Curtis Park Neighborhood Association President John Hayden, told council earlier this week that he felt the process was “too rushed”. He and others pointed out that the board voted to close Gilpin Montessori last December, but the district didn’t solicit applications from schools wanting to use the building until October.
However, Hayden said the committee felt Denver Language School would be a good choice. He noted the school’s willingness to engage with its neighbors, including possibly hosting after-school language classes or helping translate neighborhood bulletins into Spanish.
Parents and community members who live near Gilpin had previously expressed concern that whatever school was placed there would siphon off middle school students from existing neighborhood schools. But that possibility would be less likely with Denver Language School. Due to its language immersion model, few new students enroll after kindergarten.
Denver Language School has been open since 2010 and currently operates on two campuses east of Denver. One is a former district-run elementary school and the other is rented space in a church. The school serves over 700 students from across the city and provides them with bus transportation along a certain route for a sliding fee.
Next school year, the school’s fourth through eighth graders will be housed in Gilpin while construction is underway on its other elementary school campus. Once this work is complete, only grades 5 through 8 will be housed at Gilpin.
The school plans to enroll up to 365 students in grades five through eight in the future, according to the committee’s recommendation, meaning it would not fill Gilpin’s 600-student capacity. Earlier this week, board members briefly discussed possibly co-locating other programs there, if not an entirely different school.