School choice should exist within my neighborhood

The ‘Reimagining Montbello’ process was supposed to be for the community and by the community.  Every meeting, however, seemed to be the Denver Public Schools district versus the community.

My desire in this matter is two-fold; I am born, raised, and active in Montbello, and I am also fortunate to get to teach and lead in Montbello.

The trauma that exists from the politics in our community can definitely be felt when people who have heard it all before continue to be ignored. Decisions have always been made for us, cloaked in the idea that it was for the best. 

So once again we are talking about “Reimagining Montbello.” At its inception, two options were presented: 

  1. Remodel
  2. Rebuild   

The fate of four schools was also on the table. The schools are Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello (DCISM), Noel Community Arts School  (NCAS), Collegiate Prep Academy (CPA), and Strive Prep Montbello.  These schools currently have a combined enrollment of 1.948 students, according to the DPS website.

There have been drops in enrollment, some of which I believe stems from this process. The decision was made to open a traditional, district run, middle school and comprehensive high school on the campus. This decision was made despite the efforts of students, parents, and staff to keep these other schools intact.   

This decision will result in the closures of DCISM, NCAS, and CPA effective spring 2022. No decisions regarding the location of Strive Prep Montbello have been shared. But in conversations, decision-makers have made clear their intentions to move it to an undetermined location. 

All this is taking place while DSST Public Schools has forced the opening of its Rachel Noel high school this fall. That decision was made by the State Board of Education after the Denver school board tried to push the start date to fall 2022, in line with the new traditional middle and high school start dates. 

The dialogue about school choice, traditional vs. innovation vs. charter, etc., rarely seems to be centered around how exactly students will be supported, but mainly where they will go to school.  Quality of education and supporting our students needs to become the focal point of any conversation.

The community needs schools that serve the community the right way. Balancing the wants and needs of our students is vital to the success of all institutions in the Montbello community. 

If the focus is not shifted to the quality of education as opposed to the type of school that provides it, then the new middle school and high school will suffer the same fate as the numerous institutions that preceded them. 

If the expectation is to have high-quality schools then Strive Prep Montbello deserves a place on this campus. The students being displaced from DCIS, NCAS, and CPA will be able to fill the anticipated enrollment needs of the new schools. The 243 students at Strive Prep Montbello deserve to feel included in the community. 

Any move from the campus will displace and adversely impact many of our students. Any option outside of continued sharing of the campus with the other two schools is a disservice to our students.  Many people have advocated for schools that serve ALL students. If that is true, then allowing students choice in the neighborhood should be a given.  

Prior to the pandemic, you could walk through the halls of Strive Prep Montbello and feel the great work taking place. We have been able to create an inviting place for students to learn and grow.  Being able to reprogram students to overcome fixed mindsets and deficit thought is a priority. Strive Prep Montbello is passionate about providing:

  1. Culturally Responsive Curriculum
  2. Restorative Practices 
  3. Social/Emotional Learning
  4. Community Building

Our commitment is to being an anti-racist institution that serves the needs of our students and community. True learning takes place when every single student identity is recognized.  It is in this belief that we can foster an environment of achievement, perseverance, and justice.  

Principal Fellow Jay Gordon says that, “we have a staff of educators dedicated to producing healthy, emotionally strong people that can fuel change.”  It will not be in spite of but because of all of our active presence in the community that we will be able to change the narrative in our neighborhood. 

Building a community of connectivity and collaboration is necessary for the success of all of our students.  Dedicating ourselves to ensuring that all schools are a good choice, and making every neighborhood a place where true learning and development can occur is a promise we must keep. 

Note: A community update meeting on the Reimagining Montbello initiative is scheduled for January 28th, 2021 from 6PM to 7:30PM.  More information can be found here:

Gene Fashaw
Gene Fashaw
Gene Fashaw is the sixth grade math teacher and grade level lead at Strive Prep Montbello. He grew up in Montbello and also coaches basketball and flag football. He is the treasurer for Shop Talk Live and a Teach Plus Policy Fellow.