Hopes High For West High Makeover

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5min 00sec

West High School is phasing out and two new schools are in its place.

One of the worst high schools in Denver - where many student can barely write or do math - is trying to change things so much this year that they hope teens who’ve never dreamed of going to college will now actually make it there. The change starts today.

Here is a transcript of Colorado Public Education reporter Jenny Brundin’s report.

Reporter Jenny Brundin: Rocio Salcedo always heard bad things from her friends about West High, where her daughter would likely go one day. Last year just 4 percent of West High’s freshmen were doing math at grade level, only 10 percent of tenth graders were writing how they should.

Salcedo: (Spanish)

Reporter: She asked them, ‘Why don’t you look for a better school? Why don’t we find a better school?’ West High was a school that people seemed to have written off. Enrollment was plummeting, they ran through principals at a rate of about one a year, and students were failing. The district’s Antonio Esquibel.

Esquibel: You know for too long, I think West was neglected by the district. But I also think to a certain point neglected by the community, and then also there wasn’t a targeted or stream-lined focus within the building.

Reporter: All that began to change a couple of years ago when a Denver school board member approached community leader Veronica Barela. He asked her to help the district found out what people wanted for the school. She found plenty of interested parents and they got cracking, researching school models across the country. Barela says the group didn’t want a charter school –they wanted an entity open to working with the community. Parents and school leaders met non-stop.

Barela: Sometimes we would meet twice a week. I mean, we just sort of met and met and met and worked and worked.

Reporter: The group settled on two programs – both are education management non-profits based in New York City - that would be folded into West and eventually take it over. The 6th through 9th grade schools both focus intently on preparing students for college.

Barela: And will get them going in life where they needed to go.

Reporter: Now that seems pretty basic. Don’t all high schools try to do that? Robert Villareal, who’ll head up one of the new schools – West Generation Academy, says it just wasn’t happening. Students at a school like West were not treated like they were going to college.

Villareal: I’m a Latino. When I went through high school and then when I went to enroll at college and they asked me what my major was, I didn’t have any idea what other professions there were. My father was a concrete worker. I had no idea. My father never wore a tie! But by going through our model, the kids can conceivably explore different professions and have an idea of professions they don’t even know right now exist.

Reporter: Kids in both schools will attend 200 days, instead of the traditional 180. Eight hours a day, instead of 6 3/4s. That’s 30 percent more time in classroom. Villareal’s students will do internships and site visits for two month-long career intensives.

Villareal: Doctors, lawyers, dentists, green energy, pharmaceuticals, web site designers….(fade under)

Reporter: Villareal ticks off all the professions the school is building partnerships with. Across the way in the same building, Principal Teresa Klava says kids at her school, the West Leadership Academy, will be able to ask questions like these:

Klava - What does it take to do this field? What type of degree do you need? Where do you access that degree locally? Where do you ask it abroad, you know or farther away from Denver? What are the prerequisites for that ?

Reporter: Remember the parent Rocio Salcedo, the one who was worried about how bad West High was? Now she’s excited. She loves the career focus of the two new schools. I ask what her hopes are for her daughter.

Salcedo: (Spanish)

Reporter: Salcedo tells her daughter they’ve put a lot of hope in her. She must have a profession, they tell her. She’ll work hard. They tell her it would make them proud to have anattorney, a doctor, veterinarian, an architect, whatever she wants--but she has to have a career. Another feature Salced likes about the schools is that kids will get more focused attention. Teachers will have 2 ½ hours each day to plan and collaborate. And at West Generation Academy, they’ll set aside half an hour a day for kids to talk about emotional, social and psychological issues. Principal Villareal.

Villareal: There will never be a student who leaves our school and turns around at end of day and says to themselves, ‘nobody said hello to me, nobody saw the beautiful white tennies that I’ve been trying to get for 3 months, or nobody noticed that I was angry today,’ we are going to eliminate that element outside of our school environment.

Reporter: While many people are excited, some lament loss of the 129-year old West tradition. Community leader Veronica Barela says one thing is staying the same: kids from the two new schools and the old West High, as it phases out, will be on the same sports teams.

Berela: Yes, they’re still the Cowboys (laugh). It’s still orange and black!

West Leadership Academy

College Board Schools

West Generation Academy

Generation Schools