Denver Public Schools will not close Montbello Career and Technical High School as initially recommended by district officials

The Board of Education overseeing Denver Public Schools will not close Montbello Career and Technical High School after voting unanimously Thursday to postpone the motion indefinitely.

The decision came after Superintendent Alex Marrero announced Thursday that he was reversing the district’s recommendation to close the school at the end of the academic year after receiving feedback from members of the community, including those who attended a meeting of the school board Monday and advocated for keeping the school open.

Marrero’s announcement drew applause and a standing ovation from members of the public watching the meeting Thursday.

“I heard you,” said board member Michelle Quattlebaum to the Montbello Career and Technical High School students and staff members at the meeting. “I told you I heard you and I see you.”

District officials initially recommended the northeast Denver alternative school’s closure, saying it cannot continue to stay on the same campus as another school — Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy — next academic year.

The discussion about closing Montbello Career and Technical was not part of the school closures the district is considering in anticipation of declining enrollment. The latter closures are not expected until the end of the 2023-24 school year, and Marrero sent a letter to families Thursday, saying “we will share a school consolidation plan in the coming weeks, and the Board of Education will vote on next steps in November.”

“We don’t know what the outcomes will be for the other schools,” said President Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, noting that the board has difficult decisions to make in the future.

Before Thursday’s vote, board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson said he encouraged his colleagues to not close the school.

Other board members, including Scott Esserman and Charmaine Lindsay, said that after hearing from students and staffers they had also decided that they could not close the school.

“I walked out of there absolutely certain there was no way we could close a school that’s being successful for students. Period.” Esserman said describing a meeting he had with students and staff members.

The school started as Push Academy in 2011 at Montbello High School before closing and transitioning into Montbello Career and Technical about five or six years ago, said spokesman Scott Pribble.

In 2020 the school board directed the district, the largest in Colorado, to open Smith STEAM on the same campus in fall 2021 and to search for a permanent facility for the school, which is modeled after historically Black colleges and universities.

The district’s original presentation planned for Thursday, which recommended the closure, stated that two other schools — Legacy Options High School and Vista Academy — have space to accept students from Montbello Career and Technical. The latter school has 70 students enrolled for the 2022-23 academic year, according to the district.

Montbello High School, which reopened this year, is adding credit recovery programs that help students struggling to pass certain courses meet the requirements needed for graduation, as well as other supports, according to the presentation.

Montbello Career and Technical students and employees told the board during a Monday meeting that they didn’t want their school to close.

“MCT is more than an alternative high school that just offers credit recovery,” said Arnetta Koger, principal of Montbello Career and Technical, during Monday’s meeting. “MCT offers the only automotive technical pathway program in (far northeast Denver).”

The school provides more one-on-one support for students, said Laura Hutchinson, a teacher at the school, during Monday’s meeting.

“Not all students succeed in giant campuses, in traditional learning environments,” Hutchinson said. “And we make a learning environment that is different. It’s smaller.”

And Smith STEAM students and families told the board they wanted a new location for their school, saying the current building doesn’t even have a kitchen to provide hot lunches to students.

“The building we’re in is not a school,” said Jessie Matthews, student body president at Smith STEAM during the meeting. “My school doesn’t have a place where I can study. I don’t have a place where I can go and sit quietly to read.”

Marrero responded to the meeting’s public comments in a letter sent to families Tuesday. He noted Smith STEAM has low enrollment and that of the 135 students who attend the school, about 14 receive breakfast and about 40 lunch daily.

“There are 38 schools in DPS which do not have kitchens onsite, including the MCT facility,” Marrero wrote. “Hot breakfast and lunch items are prepared off-site and then delivered to these campuses daily.”

Although the school doesn’t have a library on campus, students have access to the district’s digital library, Marrero said. The district updated the gym in 2017 with new flooring and paint, but Marrero acknowledged it is intended to be used for physical education classes and not for sports competitions.

“As the school grows, district leaders will continue to work closely with the school leader of RFSS to determine the specific scope of facility and academic improvements needed to support the ongoing success of RFSS,” Marrero wrote.

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