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Reopening Montbello, West high schools has yielded predictable results

It is painful to read of hopes dashed.

It is crushing to think of the Montbello community investing so much time and effort into a “new” high school, when the early results are so grim.

At a school board meeting in February 2021, Joe Amundson, then the Director of School Improvement at Denver Public Schools, gave a brief history of and current goals for Montbello. “It … became overwhelmingly apparent that the right thing to do was to bring back Montbello High School … as a way to ensure students have access to high quality programs and diversity of academic and social opportunities.”

High quality?

In August of 2022 the Reimagine Montbello coalition celebrated the school’s “rebirth.” A CBS news headline read: “Reopening of Montbello High School means ‘absolutely everything’ to many in community.”

What does it mean now?

And what does Denver Public Schools tell us, in light of the achievement scores from year one? Has any district leader involved in the design and implementation come forth to acknowledge the bad news?

Déjà vu

On the state’s 2023 preliminary rating, Montbello High is rated near the bottom of Denver’s 12 large high schools. Not coincidentally, it joins West High, that other “new and improved comprehensive high school.” Only Abraham Lincoln, a high school on the state’s accountability clock since 2014, scored lower.

School 2023 – Preliminary Rating  and % Points Earned
Montbello Priority Improvement 38.6%
West Turnaround 36.4%
Abraham Lincoln Priority Improvement 36%

The district decided in 2020, without evidence, that it would be best to re-create the larger schools at Montbello and West. DPS could have anticipated that a majority of the students at the two schools would be Black and Hispanic. The hope, of course, that the district would find strategies to serve these students better than had been the case, for so long, in these two communities.

Here are disheartening 2023 scores on the high school achievement tests.

Reading and Writing

On the Evidence -Based Reading and Writing assessment:

9th grade – Among Black students, scores at Montbello and West were over 80 points below those across the district. (DPS average -779. West – 698. Montbello – 691.)

10th grade – Among Hispanic students, scores at Montbello and West were roughly 60 points below those across the district.

11th grade – Out of all comprehensive high schools in DPS, Montbello and West joined Abraham Lincoln with the lowest SAT scores. Among Hispanic students, scores at the two “new” schools were 70-80 points below those across the district.

To underline these gaps, for all students at the two schools, 49.6% of 11th graders in DPS met or exceeded expectations. However, at Montbello, 16.9% met that target. At West, just 9.8%, only 13 students, did so.

Math – Montbello

My newsletter of October 2021 (Another View #238 – $130 million for the new Montbello High – Will we have a school design worthy of the price?) predicted that the demographics for the new Montbello would be similar to the student body at Abraham Lincoln. As DPS had failed to restructure and improve Lincoln over many years, I feared we might see Lincoln’s dismal results replicated in the “new” Montbello. In short, was DPS about to open another failing high school?

In 2023, on the math assessments, Montbello’s ninth graders matched those at Abraham Lincoln. Less than 10% met or exceeded expectations.

PSAT – Grade 9 Percent Number of students meeting or exceeding expectations
STATE 46.6%
DPS 37.3%
Lincoln 9.0% 22 students
Montbello 9.2% 26 students

Scores for sophomores and juniors were even lower.

PSAT – Grade 10 Percent Number of students meeting or exceeding expectations
STATE 38.0%
DPS 30.7%
Lincoln 9.0% 22 students
Montbello 4.7% 11 students


SAT – Grade 11 Percent Number of students meeting or exceeding expectations
STATE 35.2%
DPS 27.7%
Lincoln 4.2% 8 students
Montbello 6.2% 14 students

I pause at those small numbers. Some of us recall the embarrassing data from the old Montbello, prior to its closure. In 2010 The Denver Post reported that “Of every 100 freshmen who enter Montbello High, six graduate and head to college without remediation.” In 2012 72% of its graduates required remedial classes in college. Such damning information spurred the district, at that time, to commit to a major transformation of the schools in the Montbello community.

How sad to think we have come full circle, to see so few students performing at grade level.

I take no pleasure in pointing out such gaps between the achievement level at these two schools and the rest of the district. But the larger school community at both Montbello and West must have these facts.

And with these facts, to ask some hard questions of Denver Public Schools.