“A blight on the urban landscape.” That was how Principal Karen LeFever described Denver’s Wyatt-Edison Charter School before its renovation. Built in 1887 by renowned Arts and Craft Movement architect Robert Roeschlab, the once grand structure stood decayed and neglected – a haven for vagrants and criminals. As part of the overall rejuvenation of the northeast section of Denver, the community obtained a school charter and saved the historic building.
Area residents, working with the building owner, coordinated with Edison Schools to restore and update the facility. “This is a huge community story. The community rallied around the project – not just local residents, but the greater Denver community – and said they would take a chance,” says LeFever. Funding for the project was achieved quickly through generous gifts from private citizens and grants. Edison Schools also helped with a portion of the financing.
In 1998, the tacky turquoise boards that had once covered the windows came down and a new school for grades Kindergarten through Six was born. The modernization restored Wyatt-Edison’s former beauty. “When people walk in, it has such presence; it is grand; and you feel important and humbled,” says LeFever. The modernization returned happy memories to long-time residents – former students now in their 80’s and 90’s.
More importantly, it delivered a rigorous educational environment for a new crop of students in this economically disadvantaged region. Currently, the school is making significant gains in Math and Reading proficiency.
“There are so many pieces that are a part of that [improvement]: the community wanting a choice, Edison having a good design with technology and infrastructure, and having hope in the community. This community never lost that,” says LeFever. Wyatt-Edison now has 660 students in grades K-8. An addition to the building has been constructed, and plans call for landscape redevelopment.
With an experienced teaching staff and a high-quality education platform, the school has a waiting list of 200 students. It is also a focal point in the rejuvenation of the entire area. Adds LeFever, “Wyatt-Edison is a phenomenal story.
It is having a phenomenal success.”