Editor’s note: We are publishing two blog posts about new developments at Manual High School because of the extraordinary place the school holds in Denver Public Schools’ education reform landscape. In the late 1990s, Manual was one of the first comprehensive high schools transformed under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s small schools initiative. Manual was split into three separate high schools in a failed experiment that ended when then-Superintendent Michael Bennet closed the low-performing school for the 2006-07 school year. It reopened in August of 2007 to great fanfare. But last year’s departure of Principal Rob Stein left the school facing new challenges. This has been a tough year at Manual, and the possible departure of Assistant Principal Vernon Jones, a popular figure, has touched a nerve in the Manual community. EdNews has invited incoming Manual Principal Brian Dale to submit a post as well.
The following post was submitted by Vernon Jones.
Last night I was moved by the show of support from the Manual High School community and the students that I have served over the last eight years of my life in a number of capacities.
They heard that budget cuts and a restructuring of Manual’s administrative team were going to force me to look for new employment. The budget cuts that most schools are faced with are unbelievable and dare I say shameful. If we really believe that our children are our future then we should invest in them like our future depends on it.
Our schools should be fully resourced with the staff, the tools, and the facilities that they need to serve our students well. That’s an entirely different issue, but one that requires courageous action as a state immediately.
Let me first say that Mr. Brian Dale, who will serve as Manual’s principal next year, was dealt a very challenging deck. He was hired to lead next year but so many decisions had to be made today before we could even talk about next year. A major decision was how to deal with budget cuts. He had to come in and decide what his administrative team would look like and make these decisions based on limited if any interaction with our existing team.
A very difficult position to be in, but one that often comes with the territory. I did not envy his predicament, but that’s why he was hired, to make the tough decisions that would ultimately help Manual to move forward.
That’s what this is about, and has always been about for me and so many others, moving Manual forward. Even in difficult budget times we must keep our eyes focused on where we want to go. Mr. Dale, when being introduced to our staff as our new principal, remarked to Herb, a community member who had served on the search committee that he “wanted Manual to be the best high school in the city.” I genuinely believe that to be Mr. Dale’s desire for Manual.
In my few interactions with him he does not strike me as one who will settle for being less than the best. I hope that I am correct in my assumption. I respect that he came in and took the bull by the horns and made a tough decision. I told him as much after our conversation on Friday, April 8.
Leadership is not simply about making a decision, it’s about making the right decision. Being a school leader is not about making the budget drive the school but letting the priorities of the school drive the budget. Even in crunch time we can’t shrink back from what we know to be the right things and/or people to continue the forward movement of a school. Pay cuts are a reality. Staff reductions are a reality. Yet those pay cuts and staff reductions should be driven by the priorities of the school and the number one priority of the school should be what is best for students.
An administration that is 100 percent Anglo, a teaching team that could be 90 percent Anglo, serving a 99 percent minority student and family population isn’t what is best for students. I fundamentally believe that in a majority-minority school district we should see minorities serving in more influential school leadership positions.
We must have diverse faces in front of our students that are all culturally competent and highly capable of providing high quality differentiated instruction or high quality leadership and stewardship. We must have folks who speak their languages and can provide them excellent academic and social supports. We don’t compromise quality but we must be sensitive to the needs of our students.
I listened from a distance last night as our students, whom I have grown to love and respect, spoke up. They were frustrated because it seemed that the budget had more say than them. They were frustrated (angry) because in our attempts to balance budgets we often ignore what matters most, our students. We cut staff. We cut programs. We cut elective offerings and then after the dust is settled we try and piece back together a plan that is focused on students.
It seems backwards to me. If we are all about students, shouldn’t it be all about students? If we are honest, too much of our adult priorities color the lenses through which we make decisions.
This is about my students. I hear their voices each day. I take note of their frustrations, their pains, and their struggles. I see their anger, their outbursts, and many immature choices and I seize those moments to educate them, to equip them, and to empower them for better. I heard them, and our community, loud and clear tonight and I will not ignore them. I will affirm to them that their voice matters with my decision.
Mr. Dale has a challenge in front of him and I want to help. I told him when we first met that I am committed to Manual and seeing it become the success that many of us dreamed about when we re-opened and that T-Bolt nation longs to see again. My wife attended our community meeting tonight and when I arrived home she said to me, “I am honored to share you with those students. Knowing that your time away from us is spent investing in their lives makes it all worth it. You have to keep fighting for and investing in those kids because if you did anything else, it wouldn’t be who you are.” An amazing woman indeed!
The budget challenges are what they are so I’m not asking Mr. Dale to do anything more for me. I don’t even want Mr. Dale to pay me because I know the constraints he is under. Resources are tight and we need every penny to serve our students well in the classroom. I trust that Mr. Dale wants me at Manual because he knows that it is the best thing for students. I know that he knows that he needs all of the talents on our existing administrative team, and others, to grow Manual and to develop a middle-years program that will help Manual thrive for years to come because it is the best thing for students.
I know that there are other people within our district, foundations and philanthropic community who are committed to what is best for students and that’s who I am asking to step up. I know that the district is working to see what is possible, but really I want Mr. Dale to be able to take whatever he was going to pay me and use it to fully resource our existing team for the work in front of us.
Manual is at a critical juncture and the last thing we need is a chopping of critical dollars and people. If we all want to see this “flagship innovation school” thrive then we need to be creative with how we resource it during these difficult times.
I am looking for a courageous sponsor (or collaboration between the district and our partners) who will help Manual by sponsoring me, in my existing administrative designation, for the 2011-2012 school year so that I can continue my direct service and be at the table to move Manual forward. I cannot yield a position of influence when I know that me serving in that position is the best thing for students and for our community.
Who is willing to help us continue to do what is best for students? Who will invest in an innovative neighborhood school so that the right people can continue to do the right work for students? Don’t let difficult budget times cause us to shrink from doing the right things for our students. They spoke. Did we listen? Did we hear?
Popularity: 37% [?]