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Stapleton's High School and Middle School Conundrum

Monday, August 6, 2012 Leave a Comment

The Middle School Conundrum

5280 has a great article in this month's issue on Denver's middle school conundrum (read "Stuck in the Middle") that begins with this premise: DPS middle schools suck.

Take the example of Wash Park's Corey Elementary: high performance scores and an affluent student body. The school is next door to Merrill Middle School, where 80% of the kids qualify for free lunch, test scores are low, and a large population speaks English as a second language.

The problem? Students are choicing out to higher performing charter or private schools, leaving the public schools struggling with low performance scores.

This could be the story of Stapleton and Bill Roberts.

Like Corey, Bill Roberts Elementary gets great test scores*. Bill Roberts Middle School? Not so much - although they are improving.

In the early years, when Stapleton didn't have enough kids to fill all the middle school seats, they filled them from the surrounding neighborhoods. Some would argue it was those students who pulled the test scores lower.  In turn, this led to Stapleton kids leaving Bill Roberts and choicing into area charter schools like DSST (Denver School of Science and Technology - which made the 5280 list of Middle Schools with Distinction).

But now that Stapleton schools are full of Stapleton kids, the problem persists. Why?

Part of it may be the high school problem.

The High School Conundrum

Stapleton schools feed into George Washington High School. It is 6.2 miles away, on Monaco and Leetsdale. It is a rough and tough school. GW has a separate and competitive International Baccalaureate program. 

Personally, I don't know of any Stapleton kids who go there. The few high schoolers I know are at DSST, DSA (Denver School of the Arts), or Machebeuf.

Then there is Montbello and East High School. East has a long wait list.

Well, be grateful that the bubble of kids is coming - because that a means a new high school must be in the plans. 

The proposed Stapleton high school is scheduled to be on the ballot this fall as a bond measure. Meaning Denver taxpayers are going to vote on it. 

If it passes, it will be built north of I-70 (56th and Central Park Blvd.) and will take kids from Stapleton, Green Valley Ranch, Park Hill and Hilltop middle schools. If you have a 6th grader, you should care now, because your kids will be the first class in 2015. 

It's not a given that it will be on the ballot. The School Board will vote on it in August.

The International Baccalaurete Conundrum

Last year, the buzz all around Lowry and Park Hill and Mayfair was the new middle school in Stapleton with the IB (International Baccalaureate) program - McAuliffe International Middle School. Everybody wants their kids there. Stapleton residents get priority.

Here's the rub: because Stapleton has shared boundaries, the kids attending Swigert Elementary School - and immersed in the IB curriculum - are not guaranteed a spot in McAuliffe Middle School. The lottery process starts anew at middle school, ensuring all Stapleton kids get a shot at their school of choice.

So that leaves many of us asking: What is the point of attending the IB school only to return to the regular DPS curriculum in middle school, if they don't get a spot at McAuliffe?

For that matter, will the IB program at George Washington High School be able to accommodate Swigert-McAuliffe kids? What happens to all these IB kids when they get to high school?

* * *

When we were considering moving to Stapleton from Lo-Hi five years ago, we spoke with some Stapleton residents. 

"The key to Stapleton's success is going to be its schools," one of them said. "If the schools don't succeed, this experiment will fall apart."

His words have come back to us many times over our five years here. What do you think?

* * *

Test Scores*

I admit: I know next to nothing about test scores - what they measure or what they mean. But here's what I found:

  • 5280 Magazine uses the Colorado Growth Model, explaining: "Currently, the Colorado Growth Model provides the most reliable way to assess which public schools are helping their students thrive today. The Growth Model primarily measures what percentage of a school’s kids are meeting their performance benchmarks at each grade level and how much the school is helping their learning improve year over year. A school with a growth number of 50 is performing at the expected rate; those below 50 are struggling to keep pace, and the ones above 50 are excelling. "
  • EdNews Colorado lets you find your school's state rating here - or  search for your school's CSAP scores here.