Among the most important decisions that Denver voters face off on November 2 are the four school board seats in election. No institution has as much impact on the future of a city and its inhabitants as the public education system. School board members are setting direction for a district that serves 90,000 students and manages 15,000 employees and a budget that now stands (with federal COVID funding) at $ 1.2 billion. Fortunately, Denver has established a track record of achievement that has earned it distinction as one of only three urban school districts in the country to have achieved steady improvement over a decade in all three critical metrics: academic achievement, l high school graduation and university attendance.
A critical component of that success – and necessary in efforts to continue to improve – has been the core value of empowering families to determine the best education option for their students.
Educational choice means different things to different people. To us, we’re talking about unified enrollment, the Denver model that offers students and their families the ability to seamlessly select the best educational option for them, whether it’s a traditional school program, ‘a Montessori education or an arts-based school.
As seen in community forums like the Candidates Forum hosted by African leadership group, several of the candidates currently in the running for the Education Council in Denver want to limit the choice for families. But stepping back from that legacy would be turning back the clock, undermining an essential ingredient in our district’s success while ignoring the extra efforts we need to take to tackle systemic racism and unleash the extraordinary potential of students experiencing poverty in our community. .
This is why voters matter so much in this election.
Denver Public Schools Mission is “to give all students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to become active citizens in our diverse society”.
It would be contrary to this mission to reduce and eliminate the opportunities our families choose for their students simply because the choice they make in some cases is not a traditional public school program.
The DPS also emphasizes family engagement as a core value: “Research has continuously shown that family and community engagement in children’s learning has a direct and positive impact on success. school and children’s well-being. ”
Families commit to the DPS. And one of the most important areas of engagement is exercising choice. Families are more likely to exercise their choice than to follow the district’s default option. In 2020, 52% of families decided to participate in the school choice process. Among the families who participated in the choice of school, many chose district-run schools over other options such as charters.
And students of color exercise and benefit from choice of school at a higher rate than their white peers, overtaking white students in choosing schools outside of their boundaries or area.
The choice of school gives families more voice in the process and creates new communities focused on the arts, STEAM curriculum or dual language. These opportunities did not exist when the families’ only option was the school to which the district automatically assigned them. Indigenous families in Denver, for example, can now choose an option such as the Native American Academy of Denver, where educators revitalize tribal languages, learning Dineh and Lakota in middle and high school.
Schools must be able to adapt and change as the city changes. School choice allows parents to be involved in the most important thing they can do for their children: selecting the school that best matches their child’s learning style and interests. The choice forces schools and the DPS central office to respond to the needs and preferences of families. Transportation is important to ensure that the choice is truly fair, so that high quality options are available to everyone and choosing the best quality and best fit is easy for all families.
As a community, we should focus on improving choices for families and empowering parents and guardians, rather than undoing the progress made to date. Children are more likely to be successful if they attend a school that matches their interests and learning style. A fair and easy choice of school improves children’s outcomes.
Happy Haynes served from 2011 to 2019 as a general member of the Denver Public Schools Education Board (DPS). John Johnson is the parent of a current DPS student and another system graduate.
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