School Daze

August 2000

In the corner of the commons, a couple of girls are crying. Across the hall, a separate clutch of Abercrombie-clad clones screams with delight. The boys are more circumspect. One somber soul silently loads books into his locker, careful not to look up as his buddies boast about the school they’ll attend next year.

Must be May 1, the day when college acceptance and denial letters arrive, right? Wrong. Try late February or thereabouts, when Denver’s private high schools send out their own thick or thin envelopes.

It didn’t used to be this tough – or stressful – to score a spot at a private high school in metro Denver. Private and parochial schools had a following but never the feverish rivalry among applicants that’s the tradition back East. And if you did opt for a private education in Colorado, the right family tree could usually guarantee a spot, even for a weak branch.

Not anymore. The news for families seeking a private high-school education for their kids is straight forward: It’s getting harder to get in. Cash flow thrown off by the economic boom, school-safety concerns, a swarm of out-of-staters, and peaking student populations have cranked up applications for nearly all grade levels at private, independent, and parochial schools in Denver. At the most competitive schools this means 10 or more students are vying for every opening. And while the Front Range population has skyrocketed, the growth of private schools hasn’t kept pace. There’s a new level of intensity among families competing for the relatively few open spots.