Bilingual school sought But DPS undecided on elementary's focus

Community members hope a new school to be built in northwest Denver will be the first dual-language elementary school in the city, offering instruction in both Spanish and English.

At two recent meetings, parents have voiced strong support for adual-language school managed under the Montessori philosophy.

The new school is to be built at West 36th Avenue and Zuni Street.

Maureen Keller, a former DPS teacher, said the neighborhood has seen a revitalization in recent years. The neighborhood is a mix of diverse cultures, but most residents are Hispanic, a major reason for the dual-language proposal.

“The only thing we don’t have in our neighborhood is a good school,” said Keller, who envisions her 15-month-old son, Johnny, attending the school in two years. “Having been a teacher, I know how important it is to get kids off to a good start. The Montessori model would do that.”

Montessori begins enrolling children at age 3, and teachers stay with the students from grade to grade. Hands-on instruction is emphasized, and classrooms include students from different grades. Denver has only one Montessori school, which has been a huge success since it opened a few years ago.

The new school, estimated to cost $ 12.8 million, is one of a handful that DPS is building in the next five years, thanks to a $ 305 million bond package voters approved in November. The school site, once home to Mount Carmel High School, a defunct Catholic school, has been abandoned for several years.

Because of crowding in northwest Denver classrooms, DPS wants the school to open in time for the 2000-01 school year. That would mean breaking ground in the spring – not a lot of time to decide what type of school it will be.

School board member Rita Montero, who represents northwest Denver, indicated at a recent meeting that she favors either a traditional or “fundamental” school
– a more rigorous institution that requires a lot of homework by students.

Assistant Superintendent Wayne Eckerling said the school board is still debating what to do at the school. The district is in the process of setting up community and staff advisory boards to decide on curriculum.

“Nothing has been finalized yet,” he said.

Some community members fear DPS will ignore their wishes because the district needs to get construction started on the building as soon as possible. They also would like to be consulted more during the school’s planning phase.

“We realize there is a short time line,” said Patrick Ridgeway, who lives in the neighborhood, “but we also want to be a part of the process. The community wants to work with DPS.”

Ridgeway would prefer a magnet school. Students from throughout the city can attend such schools, and free busing is provided. However, that might not fly with DPS because the immediate need in northwest Denver is to ease crowding.

School board President Sue Edwards said that community input will be sought before any school design or program is implemented.

“Nothing has happened,” she said.

“There’s not any water under the bridge. The ship hasn’t left yet. It’s still very early in the process.”

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