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'This isn't a school. This is an office building:' STEAM Academy lacking basic necessities, founder says

STEAM Academy lacking basic necessities, founder says
STEAM Academy lacking basic necessities, founder says 02:34

Leaders at one of Denver's newest schools are calling on the district to improve students' learning environment. Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy opened in 2021.

Co-founder Brandon Pryor says the school was created as a space to celebrate students of color. It took years of planning, but Pryor feels that effort hasn't been matched.   

"We've faced pushback at every turn fighting for our people, for fighting for black students," said Pryor. "You would think that the district would meet us with that same level of intent, that same level of passion, but they didn't."

Last year, the district apologized after listing an incorrect address, 13 miles away from STEAM's location, on the SchoolChoice application. 

Pryor says Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy is missing critical features like a kitchen and library. 

When DPS approved the school, the resolution stated this is a "short-term facility…suitable until a longer-term facility option can be identified." 

"We don't want to be here any longer. Period. This isn't a school. This is an office building. We want a brand new facility," said Pryor. 

Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy co-founder Brandon Pryor   CBS

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Jim Carpenter says a new facility is not in their current planning. 

"It is very important to us that we are providing high-quality services to all of our students in the facilities that we're in," said Carpenter. 

Pryor says their facility's lack of a kitchen is inequitable, especially considering how many DPS students rely on school for a hot meal. They have a delivery service through the district, but Pryor says they struggle to keep food warm. 

Carpenter says there are over 30 schools across the district that don't have a full kitchen. The district does not have plans to add a kitchen to STEAM academy. 

"Not having a kitchen is not an uncommon situation at DPS and we have solutions to respond to that," said Carpenter. "We need to make sure that the warming tables are working appropriately and that the delivery is happening as it should so that we're providing hot food to students."

Carpenter says DPS has made significant improvements in the school, adding an art room, science room and music room. He acknowledged there is not a full library, but says the district has identified a multi-use space to provide books and resources for students. 

Pryor says there was once a pair of bookshelves that was considered a library, but they're no longer there. The bookshelves had to be removed in order to make room for more lockers. 

Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy currently serves 9th and 10th graders. Next year they'll add another class, and then another in 2024. 

It shares a campus with Montbello Career and Tech. The capacity of their current facility is 275 persons. Co-location next year is not an option

Carpenter says the capacity limit is sufficient now and will be sufficient for another year.  

"Even if every student were to come every day, and as you know that doesn't happen at any school or office. But even if they did, we would still be at about 200 students in a building with a 275 student capacity," said Carpenter. 

DPS is continuing to look at what the facility can support. He says enrollment fluctuates every year and the district will work closely with the school leader in order to make sure the facility can support the school as it grows.

"This is the reality of trying to find the best possible facilities for schools in an urban environment. We don't have the opportunity to build everything from the ground up, so we're retrofitting facilities in order to make them fit at schools," said Carpenter. "I think it's important to recognize that this [facility] has been operating successfully as a school for a number of years with a different school program there."

Pryor says changes need to be made in order to retain and recruit more students. He says the only HBCU-themed high school in the U.S. deserves better.

DPS says they are giving it their best effort. 

Jim Carpenter, Denver Public Schools' Deputy Superintendent of Operations CBS

"Our goal is to support every one of our 93,000 DPS students in the best way possible," said Carpenter. 

CBS4 asked if he feels that goal is being reached at STEAM. 

Carpenter said: "I think that it's being reached at that school, in the same way that we're endeavoring to reach that goal in every school."

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