One of the mainstays of strong and stable communities is direct access to high-quality educational institutions. While City Council has few touch points with our public school system, nonetheless, I have made it a priority to do what I can to strengthen our public schools at all levels, with a particular emphasis on North High School, an institution synonymous with all the neighborhoods that comprise Council District 1. I am not alone in this commitment, and we’ve just had an enormous and exciting success with a uniquely North Denver partnership.
Building off of last year’s generosity by The Salazar Family Foundation, a family with direct connections to North High, a cadre of North Denver change-makers recently forged a relationship between North High School and Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park. There were several people – all local – with an obvious and deep commitment to our Northwest Denver community who helped bring this partnership about.
North High School, just a few short years ago, was a struggling institution, with mediocre academics, a low graduation rate and a high drop-out rate. Extra-curricular offerings were paltry, college was for the lucky few, and even participation in sports was anemic.
Forward-thinking Principal Scott Wolf and his commitment to students has been key to an improved trajectory. North High School is now on the path to being one of Denver’s premier high schools, reestablishing a strong culture of academic excellence, including Advanced Placement, honors and college credit classes, and an improving graduation rate. Preparing students for post high school success is the priority, and college-readiness is now the norm. Students are learning that great futures are forged by their efforts at North.
Much of this drastic change is due to Principal Wolf’s manifest belief in the kids at North, his dedication to their future and well-being, and his desire to integrate North High School further into the Northwest Denver community.
Part of North’s success can be attributed to its very active alumni association, spearheaded by Joe DeRose, who is a fiercely dedicated North alumnus. The alumni association has been working non-stop to get North more integrated into the community, building relationships with private businesses, donor foundations, and helping North kids get scholarships to college.
Another group with a desire to improve the community is HUNI – Highlands United Neighborhood Incorporated, whose Education Committee is chaired by Roy Lopez. Lopez has been in real estate for 37 years and understands how important it is to have strong schools that are dedicated to serving all the kids at those schools.
After moving into the neighborhood, Lopez perceived that North had some unmet needs; and after our brief conversation at Common Grounds on 44th about his concerns, he harnessed his can-do attitude and went on a mission to discover and document those needs, and then started working out a plan to fund them.
These three individuals, Scott, Joe, and Roy, have their hearts and minds in the right place and have done incredible things in a short amount of time. Together, they have used their drive, intellect, and shared commitment to fortify North High’s ability to deliver higher quality education to all students, and, more importantly, made it possible for other North Denver stakeholders to support and strengthen efforts to improve the academic environment at North.
When Revesco and Stan Kroenke purchased Elitch’s in 2015, Rhys Duggan, CEO of Revesco Properties, a shareholder and managing member of Elitch’s, moved into North Denver. Rhys had an immediate wish to get Elitch’s more involved in the North Denver community and had been exploring options of how to do that when a conversation at the Puppet Theater on 38th made him aware of the work being done by HUNI & North alumni. Elitch’s, a North Denver institution once located at 38th and Tennyson and now just across the Platte River, met with the group and quickly provided an extremely generous $600,000 in funding for several of the much-needed projects at North. The donation, along with other commitments, is a major investment in our community’s future, made possible and better by members of our community, or as Rhys put it: “A strong school makes for a strong neighborhood, makes for a strong city.”
One of the pleasant surprises of having a full-time job involving conversations from all walks of North Denverites is the ability to make serendipitous connections of unconnected individuals capable of some truly impressive follow-through on great ideas to improve life in Northwest Denver.
I don’t think such a spectacular outcome would have been possible if these entities and the individuals involved in them did not have such a strong belief in community – OUR community – and the good that can be achieved when you are committed to making a positive difference.
Elitch Gardens is committed to doing their part to support the school, its students and its educators in the years ahead. They are offering discounted tickets available to residents of the area served by North High School including zip codes 80212, 80211, 80204, and 80202. https://www.elitchgardens.com/northhighschool/
This is a repository of articles by CM Espinoza. For day-to-day information and press releases please follow the CD1 Office on Facebook.