2 new APS magnet schools — named after African-American trailblazers — accepting student applications

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EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier story headline indicated these are the first magnet schools in the district. They are the first magnet schools created under a comprehensive program called “Blueprint” making strategic changes to how school facilities are used. The district has operated other magnet schools in Aurora for many years.

AURORA | Registration for Aurora’s two new magnet schools focused on arts and entrepreneurship is now open.

The magnet schools are slated to open this fall as part of Aurora Public Schools’ “Blueprint APS” plan. Students from across the district along with those not currently in APS can apply through Feb. 11 to be part of the inaugural classes.

Blueprint APS is the district’s multi-year plan for managing its school buildings in response to changing enrollment trends. As part of the plan, APS will turn seven campuses into magnet schools focused on different specializations.

The Clara Brown Entrepreneurial Academy will open on the site of Wheeling Elementary and serve K-8 students, focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation. In the 2022-2023 school year it will open for kindergarten through third grade, and add a grade each year after that.

The Charles Burrell Visual and Performing Arts Campus will provide education in the arts to K-12 students on the site of Peoria Elementary School and Aurora Central High School. It will begin with kindergarten through third grade, sixth grade and ninth grade.

Both schools are named after African-American trailblazers in Colorado, and were selected from community surveys before being formally approved by the board of education in the fall.

Born into slavery in Virginia in 1800, Clara Brown became a prominent entrepreneur and philanthropist in Colorado during the Gold Rush, and is reported to be one of the state’s first Black settlers. She helped newly freed slaves relocate to Colorado until her death in 1885, and was posthumously inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.

Charles Burrell became one of the first people of color to perform in a major symphony orchestra when he joined the Colorado Symphony (then the Denver Symphony Orchestra) in 1949. He has been described as the “Jackie Robinson of the classical world” and performed with jazz legends including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker throughout his career.

Burrell retired in 1999 and celebrated his 101st birthday this October. He was present at the November APS board meeting, and was given a standing ovation after the board voted unanimously to name the school after him.

During public comment, Stephen Brackett, a member of the band Flobots, spoke about how influential Burrell has been for Black musicians. Brackett said the musical opportunities he grew up with in Denver would not have been possible if not for Burrell.

“I do not think there could be a possible name greater than that of Mr. Charlie Burrell to be on one of our buildings,” he said.

Burrell thanked the district for honoring him. He said it’s something he never would have expected in his lifetime.

“This will be the shortest speech you’ve ever heard,” he said. “I would like to say after Duke Ellington, the famous man of our time: it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

District superintendent Rico Munn said that several years ago he had the honor of recommending to the board the first school building in the district named for a person of color, Edna and John W. Mosley P-8.

“Given our rich diversity and our rich background here in Aurora, one is not enough,” Munn said.

The district named principals for the magnet schools earlier this school year. Former APS assistant principal and principal on special assignment Laura Burke will be Clara Brown’s principal. Jessica Brown will direct the visual and performing arts campus, with Mehran Ahmed serving as the high school principal and Shawn Graziani as the elementary school principal.

Brown previously founded a performing arts high school in Philadelphia. During a September interview, she said that the school will work to incorporate the arts into a wide range of curricula and to prepare students for future careers in the arts if that is their goal. She hopes to partner with artists in Aurora and Denver for internships, teacher residencies and other programs.

“There’s so much richness here in the arts,” she said.

After the initial application, magnet schools may conduct a lottery or hold interviews or auditions to determine who can enroll, depending on demand. Applicants who are not currently APS students may be required to provide more information. Applicants will be notified later in February of their status, according to the district website, and can then make a final selection.

Each school has several upcoming virtual open houses for those who want to learn more. Register online at magnet.aurorak12.org.

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