The Boys School of Denver (BOYS) board of directors voted Feb. 18 to close the school at the end of this school year, the same year its first complete class will continue on to high school. The all-boys middle school (grades 6 through 8) first opened in 2017 in the West Highland Neighborhood.
The decision came the same night Denver Public Schools’ SchoolChoice enrollment numbers came in, showing projected enrollment for the 2020-21 school year would dip below 100 students.
Families, students and faculty expressed sadness, while some community members expressed shock that the school had waited until after families made their SchoolChoice for next year to make the announcement. DPS did extend the SchoolChoice window for families that had selected BOYS as their first choice for next school year.
Because public school funding is tied to enrollment, the school said the combination of low enrollment and increasing expenses made continuing to operate the school “unsustainable.”
The school had also struggled with finding a long-term location, opening three years ago in the Riverside Church at I-25 and West 23rd Avenue and relocating this school year to Renewal Church at West 32nd Avenue and Irving Street.
A statement to families reads: “A robust BOYS middle school experience of high academic quality requires the space to effectively execute and grow our movement-based curriculum. It also requires a sufficient student population to be able to provide strong programmatic supports. Since opening in 2017, BOYS has struggled in each of these areas.”
Executive Director Carol Bowar said simply, “It’s heartbreaking.” She said her own son goes to BOYS and is fortunate he’s in eighth grade and will be continuing on to high school next year. But for some families, she said that BOYS school offered “a really unique model and there’s nothing like it in DPS. Those families finally found a place their kiddos could thrive at a small school with [lots of support] and many don’t feel they will be able to find that in a bigger, more traditional school.”
It’s heartbreaking … there’s nothing like it in DPS.
BOYS parent Corey Silverman echoed that sentiment, saying his eighth-grade son Tobin has “become emboldened and confident in his knowledge and how he expresses himself thanks to the BOYS school staff.” Silverman said that while there has been what he referred to as heavy turnover in the teaching staff, the remaining teachers have come together to help the students. “It’s really a shame there will only be one graduating class,” Silverman said.
Bowar said BOYS did more than ever to recruit students this year, but added, “It’s hard to recruit in a church with no gymnasium.”
She said the environment in Denver right now is “just not friendly to small schools: enrollment zones are not friendly because families have to choice in, and there’s declining enrollment, and that DPS can’t provide a facility. So, it’s one thing after another stacked up against you, and it makes it just economically not feasible.”
The school’s statement said the school had not anticipated a scheduled increase to PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association) contributions in January and it had experienced sudden significant increases in the cost of essential services the school purchases from the district.
It also said that BOYS’ sister school, the Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS) has been sustainable because of its location, economies of scale and financial resources. Bowar said that the difficult decision to close BOYS will make GALS more financially sustainable because they will be operating just two schools instead of three, one of which was “very much in the red,” but she said it’s not a silver lining: “It’s still heartbreaking.”
Photo from BOYS School of Denver Facebook page.