Janel Highfill lives in Northwest Denver. She is a parent of two students at Brown Elementary and a member of Stand for Children.
I was filled with nervous excitement Wednesday night as I pulled up to Edison Elementary, where I was part of a small group of parents leading a community discussion about Northwest Denver schools. We first had the vision for this last February after joining Stand for Children, an education advocacy organization that has been supporting our efforts to gather parents, community members, and teachers to share concerns and priorities for our schools.
As I stepped out of the car, I thought of North High School, just a five minute drive from Edison, with a remediation rate of 75 percent. That means that out of the 189 students who graduated in 2009, only 47 left with the skills needed to dive into college-level work. I also thought about the impact of recent budget cuts on schools like Brown Elementary, which has been successfully transformed and is now on the road to success. Northwest parents and community members like me are frustrated by these issues, but this meeting wasn’t about complaining, it was about finding solutions.
Given our excitement at the thought of coming together to discuss these pressing needs, I was surprised by what I saw in front of Edison: DPS Board members Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan standing in front of building trying to silence the dialogue.
Yes, you read that right. Two elected board members were passing out fliers with inaccurate, anti-Stand for Children propaganda. With DPS’s recent focus on Northwest Denver and the forthcoming Northwest Community Committee, which will create a feeder pattern plan for schools in our quadrant, you’d think that Kaplan and Merida would welcome and encourage parents and teachers to roll up their sleeves and brainstorm solutions. But instead, their goal seemed to be to discourage us from having a conversation.
Several of us invited Kaplan and Merida inside to our meeting, which, despite their efforts, was a great success. Perhaps if they had come in to hear our ideas, Kaplan and Merida would have gleaned valuable insight into what matters to parents and teachers. Perhaps they could have used our input to lead the district to provide the quality education that all kids deserve. Clearly, these aren’t their top priorities.
DPS is facing a number of struggles, including an intense debate around the Far Northeast turnaround plan. I’m surprised that Kaplan’s and Merida’s top priority last night was to stand outside Edison Elementary and attempt to stop parents from coming together. Is this really how our elected school board officials should be spending their time?
Most of us who are committed to education issues, no matter which “side” we fall on, agree on the values of parent and community engagement and focusing on children’s need first. Those of us who met last night passionately embrace those principles. Those who stood outside, clearly don’t.
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