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It was mid-morning, and Montbello High School teacher Holly Wells was shouting.
“You want to catch the frisbee as you’re running,” she yelled over the rumble and beeps of construction equipment. Her gym class has been meeting outside because the school’s gymnasium, like much of the campus, is inaccessible due to a multi-year renovation.
But Wells doesn’t mind. She’s dealt with noise and inconveniences before. To her, the temporary sacrifices are worth the long-term reward: A reunified Montbello High School in far northeast Denver, a community of largely Black and Latino residents that hasn’t had a comprehensive high school in more than a decade.
The reunified Montbello opened its doors last month, 42 years after the school welcomed its first students in 1980 and nearly 12 years after Denver Public Schools decided to close it because of low test scores and graduation rates. The district replaced Montbello with three smaller schools it hoped would do better and divided the building between them.
That division splintered the heart of the community. After years of advocacy by alumni and others, the district agreed to reopen and renovate Montbello, setting aside $130 million in bond money to do it. The school’s graduates are thrilled, its new administration is enthusiastic, and students said they’re excited to show what they can do.
“It’s essential we unite as a community to try to break down the stereotypes around Montbello and push our excellence because that’s what we are,” said senior Isaiah Torres, who previously attended one of the three small schools.
But there has been tension in the reopening, too. Not all of the teachers from the small schools were rehired. Some community members who advocated the hardest to reopen Montbello have spoken out against decisions by the new administration. And longstanding community groups said they haven’t felt welcome at the reunified school.
“Montbello High School is and always will be sacred,” said MiDian Holmes, a 1998 graduate. “When you attempt to re-establish and you want that same sacrament, you can’t cut corners. I’m not necessarily talking about cost. I’m talking about voices. … If you don’t create a process that’s inviting to those voices, you’re about to perpetuate more pain.”