Professional Educators

Colorado: Transformation Tour in Denver Part 2 – School Board Meeting

By Paula Monroe, NEA Executive Committee

In the end, as so many had heard and didn’t want to believe, the Denver Public Schools School Board voted 4 to 3 to “reconfigure Montbello High School and its five feeder schools”. The decision came at approximately 1:30 a.m. on November 18. The Board meeting room was still packed. Students from Montbello who held up posters signed by the MHS students that read – Montbello High School 30 years old too young to die! – were in tears. Teachers and staff left in tears. It was very disheartening and disappointing.

That being said, DCTA did a great job of organizing community support and building a community coalition around saving these schools.I believe that work will assist them tremendously as they work next year to change the balance on the DPS School Board. The 3 advocates they currently have did all they could to get the Superintendent and the other 4 Board members to listen to what the teachers, students, staff and community was saying and give the schools that were showing progress a chance to succeed. It was evident that the School Board President, Nate Easley (a candidate who had graduated from Montbello High School and DCTA had helped elect) and Superintendent Boasberg had already decided and were going to make this happen. I sat with Carolyn Crowder and Henry Roman, DCTA President, in the front row until the vote was taken. DCTA is very fortunate to have Carolyn as their Executive Director and Henry Roman as their president. They are clearly dedicated to the staff and students and will continue the fight. We need to be there to help them!! Public education is on the chopping block in Denver and it is a truly scary site to see!! We can’t stand by and let this happen to the students and educators who will be the victims of these on-going efforts.

As I was talking to a friend about my PSC visits in Denver, she said it sounded a lot like Dickens’ Christmas Carol. How? Well, my own education in Colorado public schools – though many years ago – is the ghost of Christmas past.

After my recent visits to three of Denver’s Priority Schools, I saw the same dedication and love of teaching that my teachers had when I was in school. I saw the genuine excitement in the advances that two of the schools – Montbello High School and Oakland Elementary School – had made in just a few months under new leadership and with a sense of being part of the solution for their students. Both of these schools had started down the path of transformation.

But the ghost of Christmas present showed up at the DPS School Board meeting where the 4 to 3 vote to dismantle both of these schools and three others under the mantle of reform and turnaround passed at 1:30 a.m. Each of the two staffs and students from Montbello HS and Oakland Elementary School made presentations to the school board about the progress that was already happening and asked for more time to prove they could make it work. Even though the board overwhelmingly admitted that the process used to arrive at the decision they were going to make “was not perfect,” the vote still passed. Three school board members tried in vain to allow these schools to succeed under their new principals and the transformation plan that staff was committed to but to no avail.

Education reform is not something you can do to educators. Research shows that successful reform and change is something that works when the educators’ voice is listened to and heard. Parents, teachers and other educators engaged and involved will drastically increase the opportunity for success – a fact that seemed ignored by the majority of the DPS School Board.

So, to the ghost of Christmas future – when will we (that being the collective we) wake up and see that it takes all of us focused on what works for students to make our Priority Schools succeed? When will the “experts on education” take time to listen to and hear the voice of “expert educators” and join us in the challenge to ensure every student has access to a great public school?

As we approach the Christmas holiday, it is my hope that the dedicated staff at Lake Middle School, Montbello High School and Oakland Middle School will find peace in the fact that they are truly a blessing each and every day to each and every student fortunate enough to have them as teachers and educators. I was certainly blessed to spend a few hours with them and will be forever grateful for all that they do every day to make a difference in the lives of students.

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