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53 percent of DPS students opt out of assigned campuses

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About 53 percent of the students in Denver Public Schools attend a school other than the one assigned to them, up from 34 percent in 2004. Families are exercising their school-choice options more so than in surrounding districts, where numbers are on the rise nonetheless.

In DPS, choices are plentiful, but district officials say more families would take advantage of them if they better understood their options.

“What we look for is somewhere where I can trust leaving my kids all day and where I feel I can be a part of their education,” said Armida Solis, a parent of four DPS students.

When Solis moved to the north part of the city, she tried her neighborhood school, but she eventually returned her kids to southwest Denver’s Charles M. Schenck Community School, which she knew and trusted.

“I didn’t like the neighborhood school, . . . so I decided I’m going to look around and ask,” Solis said.

The choice process in DPS will change in the next year or two to make more parents aware of their options and to remove barriers to access by providing transportation and standardardizing applications.

Currently, 11 percent of DPS students attend a traditional school other than their assigned neighborhood school. That number — about half of which are kindergartners — doesn’t include students enrolled in a magnet program or one of Denver’s 30 charter schools. Choicing into those programs currently requires filling out different applications.

But all told, DPS estimates 53 percent of its 79,000 students attend a school outside their attendance area.

In Jefferson County, 31 percent of students attend a school other than their neighborhood school, including those who attend one of 15 charter schools.

An average of 25 percent to 31 percent of students in Boulder Valley School District choice into a school.

Douglas County, which is working on changes to its choice-enrollment process, sees 21 percent of its students choice into a school.

In Aurora Public Schools, 16.4 percent of the district’s nearly 37,000 students attend a school other than their neighborhood one.

Denver resident Martha Madrano, who is raising one of her grandsons, decided the boy needed to be in a different school when she learned he had been acting out in class.

“I felt they weren’t really meeting his needs,” she said. “I downloaded some statistics, and I read a lot, and I said I want him to go to West Denver Prep.”

The boy was accepted to the school by lottery on Madrano’s first try. The sixth-grader is now excelling, earning A’s and B’s, she said.

Three regions in DPS have already eliminated neighborhood-school assignments.

Elementary students in Stapleton are not automatically assigned to a school, but parents have three neighborhood schools from which to pick. Families near Lake Middle School can choose from three. School assignments also have been eliminated in far northeast Denver, where choice is being used as part of the turnaround strategy for troubled schools.

In those three neighborhoods, families near the schools get a priority ranking over other families in the city trying to choice in.

Likewise, the charter schools serving those neighborhoods give priority to close-in students.

“In the district’s opinion, anytime you get students and parents proactively thinking about what school is best for them and planning, it’s a good thing,” said Shannon Fitzgerald, DPS’s director of school choice.

At the end of the first round of applications for 2011-12, 92 percent of families in far northeast Denver have turned in their choice forms.

About 85 percent selected one of the schools in the region. The most requested was Denver School of Science and Technology, a high-performing charter.

According to DPS, 96 percent of students who turned in a choice form were placed in one of their top three preferences. Across the district, the number of students placed in their top pick was slightly lower.

For years, East High has been the school most requested on choice applications.

This year, 926 students requested East for the 2011-12 school year. East is already operating at about 125 percent of capacity. More than 200 ninth-graders are still on a waiting list. Choice requests for Morey Middle School are also high, with 319 for the 2011-12 school year. Morey now has a waiting list.

The new choice rules are still in the early stages of development, but if the model in far northeast Denver is successful — including providing transportation — it could be replicated districtwide.

Throughout the rest of DPS, most parents who choose to enroll in schools outside their neighborhoods must provide their own transportation. (The same is true in other districts, including Jefferson County and Douglas County.)

“It remains to be seen how the concept will be played out, but a lot of people here are optimistic,” Fitzgerald said. “For people who don’t have a car, for instance, it might be opening up some barriers.”

Yesenia Robles

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  • comment avatar Native April 7, 2011

    It would be interesting to see some statistics on who is leaving what schools and where they are choosing to attend. I wonder what role racial environment plays in all of this movement? More than most would attest to, but all are thinking: … est2/print

    If your kid is in public school – they have already lost. Some friends of mine have made sending their kids to private school a priority and it has cost them. Smart parents.

  • comment avatar ArchieBunker April 7, 2011

    The notion that private schools are better is fallacious. They simply exclude the problem kids and low-achievers. If public schools could do the same more easily, they would likely out-perform private schools in every way.

  • comment avatar At Least We Can Hope April 7, 2011

    Obviously there is a greater range of school performance in DPS, usually related to neighborhood demographics. That creates an incentive for some families to consider schools outside their own neighborhoods. It’s healthy in the long run though some low-achieving neighborhood schools may suffer from the loss of families interested in education.

    In the burbs, bland sameness prevails in all things. Hence, there is little reason to choose one school over another.

  • comment avatar Archie April 7, 2011

    A perfect example of how more school choices would help inner city kids. This article shows that parents are trying to get their kids to good places. Let’s give them even more choice for good with vouchers.

  • comment avatar Joe F April 7, 2011

    They’re just moving the kids to a different room on the same ship. The ship is headed in the wrong direction, however. Vouchers. NOW. No more teacher union excuses.

  • comment avatar Cliff B April 7, 2011

    The problem will not go away as long as teachers and teh schools they are in are not attending properly to their students. Martha Madrano as described above moved her grandchild out of the school because they were not attending to his needs properly. Apparently now the child is doing excellent and there are no problems in his new school. Doesn’t the first school want to know what they were doing differntly that caused the child to move out of their school? That same teacher and protocol is in place and yet another student will take this child’s place. It cost a tidy sum in caregiver’s time, district administrators time and individual school time to transfer a student let alone the disruption to a child’s routine and circle of friends. I am glad we have choice and my family takes advantage of it but the story should not end there. We need to root out poorly performing teachers and administrators. If I were that first principal I would want to know what we were doing wrong that we did not serve our customers properly enough that they left us. Alas, that is simply not the attitude of the principals. Families are not looked upon as customers to be served and whereby the service should be continualy improved. Was there an exist interview with this family? – not likely

  • comment avatar Charles April 7, 2011

    It’s not that amazing that over 50% of DPS parents-students want choice in education. Just imagine if DPS extended the education choice program options that exist within our DPS pre-k program run by James Mejia?

    The DPS pre-k choice program is effectively the same ‘school voucher’ that Douglas County built it’s program upon, except DougCo improved it by retaining 25% funding for the District.

    Why do union bosses and the anti choice crowd hate progressive educational choice policies, yet support the same old tired programs and reforms that have over 50% of DPS kids dropping out of high school?

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