“We recognize these will be tough conversations without easy answers. … But we’ll be in this together, focused on the future of our kids.”
June 8, 2017
Dear DPS Community,
This week, we kicked off a six-month journey into understanding how our city’s rapidly changing housing patterns and demographics are impacting our students, families, educators and schools. This effort, the Strengthening Neighborhoods Initiative (English and Spanish), also will focus on exploring collaborative solutions that boost socio-economic integration in our schools.
We won’t be on this journey alone — our students, families, educators, community groups and city partners all feel the effects of these rapid changes and members of each of these groups make up a committee of more than 40 dedicated to working together.
Integration benefits all kids, not just academically but also socially and emotionally. We know this both from research and because our own students speak with passion about how much they want to be in integrated and inclusive schools, where all kids value their heritage and culture, value that of their classmates, and build bridges to celebrate all they have in common as young people.
“When I walk into class each day, I sit and work with other kids who aren’t the same as me. Because of how many different kinds of kids there are in our school, I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the different types of cultures and so much more,” East High student Deisy Hernandez told committee members at Monday night’s kick-off meeting.
“The crazy thing is, none of that seems to matter when we’re all in class together. My school experience has taught me that we are all equal no matter the race, gender or how much money we may have.”
Committee members are scheduled to meet 10 times between June and December, with a first update to the Board of Education scheduled in September. The public is welcome to attend these meetings, and committee members and district leaders will also be reaching out to community groups to broaden the discussion. (See the meeting schedule, list of committee members, how to sign up for updates and more at neighborhoods.dpsk12.org.)
We are excited about this opportunity to step back and thoughtfully consider how we can best address these issues, and you are too — more than 100 people applied to serve on the committee and we wound up with a group representative of our city and our students. More than half the committee members are DPS parents, and more than 60% are people of color.
We also recognize that these will be tough conversations without easy answers. We are asking the committee to make recommendations on our policies around boundaries, choice, enrollment and academic programs to drive greater socio-economic integration in our schools. We are also asking for recommendations on how to address sharp declines in the number of school-aged children in gentrifying neighborhoods, what we need to do to sustain viable academic programs in the face of such declines and where school consolidation is necessary.
But we’ll be in this together, focused on the future of our kids. Committee recommendations will go to our elected Board of Education, which has championed this effort. Board members Lisa Flores and Rachele Espiritu introduced the resolution (English and Spanish), and Flores, Board President Anne Rowe and Vice President Barbara O’Brien discussed their passion for this effort at Monday’s press kick-off event. (See example of media coverage here.)
“This work is going to be hard, it’s going to be real, it’s going to get messy at times,” Rowe said, “but it’s such important work in the future of our kids.”
Pictured above: Some of our great DPS kids at Columbine Elementary!
A citywide committee tasked with helping DPS determine how we can sustain high-quality, socio-economically integrated schools in our communities is being led by four co-chairs, each with a strong commitment to community service and to our district. Rick Garcia is a former Denver City Council Member and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administrator; Antwan Jefferson is assistant professor of Urban Community Teacher Education at the University of Colorado Denver as well as a former DPS teacher and a DPS parent; Diana Romero Campbell is Director of Early Learning and Education for Mile High United Way and a DPS parent; and Janice Sinden is CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and former chief of staff to Mayor Michael Hancock.