An Open Letter to the next Superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
Updated: Aug 27, 2018
To the Future Superintendent of Denver Public Schools,
You are now responsible for one of our city’s most precious assets and our greatest hope for the future - the education of 92,331 students. As a school district, we are at a critical crossroad. Over the last decade, we have made leaps to leave behind a status quo that prescribed the nearest school to your home as a student's single option and where your zip code ensured an educational experience equal to the median earned income of a community.
We’ve built a system that opens choice and opportunities to families and gives parents the power to choose a school that best meets their child's needs. While we have seen academic gains over the last decade, we are not moving at a pace that is fast enough for our students. At the speed we are making growth as a district, it will almost take a child's entire academic career for us to build a system fit to serve them. We have seen a 60% decrease in the drop out rate and more students attending college than ever before in our city and while it is important to celebrate that, it is also important to acknowledge the places we are falling short.
Without the acknowledgement that we have more to do in this city, we are standing in the very place we dread most: the status quo. We must come to the table with urgency to change the trajectory of the 60% of third graders that are not reading on grade level in our district, to change the fact that so many of our students sit on waitlists and in order to meet our Denver 2020 plans, we need to add a minimum of 18,000 additional high quality seats in our city- 35,000 if we want to meet our moral obligation to educate all students in this city.
As our next Superintendent, you must come to this work with a sense of urgency, be bold and innovative, and have the courage to challenge the status quo while also having a willingness to co-create alongside community.
This fall, as our students return to the classrooms, we must be steadfast in our commitment to opportunities for all students and act with a sense of urgency to improve the quality of education in our city, because right now, 35,000 students do not have access to a high quality school.
In order to ensure all students in Denver Public Schools attend a world class school, we believe the district and our new superintendent must prioritize the following:
1. Utilize community driven accountability measures to build and adapt schools throughout our city.
Parents deserve to know how the schools in their neighborhood are performing and they deserve a seat at the table as schools adopt more student and family centered policies and programs. We must not let our kids languish in subpar schools; we need to listen to community when they voice concern about their current options. We must engage deeply with community, understand and be patient with their pain, and then uplift their power to create a new vision of innovation and support of high quality options. We do not have enough high quality seats for all students in Denver, the next superintendent must have the courage to confront that reality and work tirelessly to change it.
2. Uplift school of choice and affordable transportation.
If we are going to support real choice in Denver, we must remove barriers to transportation for students and families. We cannot have a system of true choice in Denver without adequate transportation provided by the district and we stand with our partners at Together Colorado and YAASPA, as they push for greater access to transportation for students. Additionally, parents need more resources to understand school quality, they need more support utilizing the school choice system and parents need to have a say in what their options of schools are.
3. Move forward with the sense of urgency that our communities deserve.
While we believe that setting community vision is critical to this work, it should not be used as a way to maintain the status quo for another year. We cannot sit back and watch as another year passes by where schools and students are not making the academic progress they need. As DPS engages in their Engage Denver efforts we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent with the status quo when there is much needed change in our district to improve outcomes for our students.
4. Give communities a real seat at the table, not a meeting with a PowerPoint.
Listen to parents. Honor their experience. Spend time with their pain. We believe knowing 1 out of every 3 third graders reading on grade level should be painful for everyone involved in this work. The reality that children who cannot read on grade level in third grade are four times more likely to drop-out of school IS painful for families who understand the risk for their child’s future if they continue to fall behind in school. If you don’t understand the problem, get closer to it. Spend more time listening in the community; they will tell you what the solution is. Help communities build power; don’t attempt to dismantle it because it is inconvenient. Work in partnership with community and create space to co-create because collaboration is the key to make our schools great.
5. Support teachers and students of color.
DPS has one of the worst achievement gaps in the country. In 2016, (the last year with ACT data) black students in DPS had an average ACT score of 16, while their white counterparts had an average of 23. In DPS, children of color are significantly less likely to have a teacher of their own race than white children. In the 2017-18 school year, 75% of the 92,000 DPS students were children of color, but 73% of the 929 DPS teachers were white. We must listen to the recommendations of the Bailey Report and act based on what we already know, that having more diverse teachers that reflect their students is good for ALL children.
The struggle for educational equity is not an easy fight and we hope that the next leader chosen by our community is ready, but also know that they are not alone. Across Denver, we have relationships with parent leaders who are ready to work with the new superintendent to identify solutions in our communities. This fight cannot wait and we hope that the new superintendent comes to the table ready to co-create solutions with community with urgency, with compassion and with a relentless belief that all our children are brilliant.
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