Newest District 5 School Board Member Reflects on Recent Months

By Erich Jegier

Marlene De La Rosa. Photo courtesy of Denver Public Schools

Denver Public Schools Board of Education Vice President Marlene De La Rosa was elected in November 2023 to represent northwest Denver’s District 5. The Denver North Star recently met with De La Rosa to discuss current school board business.

Board Redistricting

The DPS Board adopted a new district map on April 18 in a 5-2 vote. De La Rosa and District 2 representative Xóchitl Gaytán voted for an alternate map, citing population trends and community input. 

The new district map needed to address an increasing population in northeast Denver with a decreasing population in southwest Denver. District 4 contained 33,000 more people than District 2. 

De La Rosa was disappointed that the adopted map did not do enough to balance the districts. 

“If you read the projections, the far northeast is the fastest growing neighborhood in Denver,” said De La Rosa, who noted that two new schools are opening in the district.

In a community survey, the adopted map received 58 votes while two alternate maps (both preferred by De La Rosa) received 97 and 90 votes. De La Rosa said she “understands their frustration” when the community felt their voice hadn’t been heard.

Redistricting takes place every 10 years in order to balance the populations of the school board’s five districts. The process utilizes federal census data as required under the Voter Rights Act and Colorado state law. 

“The principle of one vote, one person ensures equal representation across the districts we represent,” De La Rosa said. 

School Consolidation

In light of declining DPS enrollment, a proposed school closure policy, originally discussed last fall, is back on the table. The policy would require the superintendent to provide school closure recommendations each October, and the board would decide on closures for the next school year by January, ahead of the district’s school choice window.

“We are committed to providing students with the best learning environment possible,” De La Rosa said, adding that the policy is about the process and not specific schools. A vote on the policy could come as early as the June 13 board meeting.

The proposed policy, Executive Limitation 18, is deemed necessary due to “shifting demographics and impacts on budget,” De La Rosa said, since funds from the state are allocated largely on a per-student basis. 

School closures can be a major disruption for families if not properly executed. A wave of closures in March 2023 received negative feedback due to poor communication during the decision-making process. 

Some board members, including De La Rosa, have mentioned the additional need for a school boundary review given the impact on school enrollment. De La Rosa said the demographics of many Denver neighborhoods have changed significantly since boundaries were last updated in the late 1990s.

La Raza Report

The La Raza Report, released March 19, examined the Latino community’s DPS experience and identified barriers faced by students, families and teachers. The report, written by the Denver-area Multicultural Leadership Center, LLC, gathered insights from 15 years of data, 600 focus group participants and 3,000 survey respondents. It outlined 35 recommendations to improve Latino outcomes including culturally relevant curriculum, a Latino parent leadership council and support for paraprofessionals earning teaching certifications.

De La Rosa described her response as “thrilled” when she learned Dr. Patricia Hurrieta had been named to lead the implementation of the report’s recommendations. DPS also commissioned a five-person La Raza Advisory Council to prioritize the recommendations, gather community and district input, and develop measures for success.

De La Rosa noted the recent influx of migrant students in DPS schools and applauded community response. She added that “continued support is going to be necessary.”

DPS’s Community Hubs are helping, De La Rosa said. She said she was proud to share that several migrant parents have earned their GEDs and would be receiving their diplomas in a June 8 ceremony. 

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