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A new parent voice in DPS

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced Friday the creation of a forum for parents from all Denver schools that he pledged to publicly meet with every other month.

The creation of the Superintendent’s Parent Forum comes after bruising public hearings in December and January in which some parents, particularly those angry about proposed reforms in Northwest Denver, criticized district leaders for failing to hear their concerns.

Each of Denver’s 140 schools will select two parents to represent them at the meetings, the first of which is tentatively scheduled for March. Meeting locations will rotate throughout the city.

“This will be open to the public and we welcome all parents,” Boasberg said during a press conference at Harrington Elementary School in north Denver.

The idea won praise from school board members who have pushed for more parental involvement. Members Nate Easley, Jeannie Kaplan and Arturo Jimenez attended the press conference.

Jimenez, who represents Northwest Denver and is a former director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, called the forum “a really good start.”

“I often hear … that just some parents and some organizations with competing political points of views tend to have the ear of the administration,” he said, “so this removes those barriers.”

Denver School Board Vice President Arturo Jimenez called the parent forum "a really good start."
Denver School Board Vice President Arturo Jimenez called the parent forum "a really good start."

But Jimenez said the forum should not take the place of a stronger community engagement process in the neighborhoods around struggling schools, which may face dramatic reforms such as closure or staff turnover.

And he said DPS leaders need to be ready to respond to more sophisticated concerns – such as questions about the math curriculum and school ratings – rather than simply telling parents to become more involved.

“They already understand how important education is,” Jimenez said. “They are turning around to us saying, ‘We know that but here’s what we need you to do.’ ”

Federico Peña, the former Denver mayor who chairs the DPS citizens’ advisory group A+ Denver, applauded Boasberg for being the first DPS superintendent to take such a step.

“If done well, this could produce perhaps the most effective and most powerful parent organization of any school district in the country,” Peña said. “Time will tell but it will be up to all of us in this room to make sure this works.”

DPS already is home to parent groups such as Padres Unidos and Metro Organizations for People but while Boasberg praised those efforts, he said the forum will be the first group reporting regularly and directly to him.

Mercedes Martinez, a Harrington parent, said she and other active parents have asked how they can help more.

“Sometimes there are challenges in school and we want to help but we don’t know how,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “I think with this partnership … we are going to be able to establish our communication to do our work.”

"To improve our schools, the most important thing we can do is reach out to parents," said Denver School Board President Nate Easley.
"To improve our schools, the most important thing we can do is reach out to parents," said Denver School Board President Nate Easley.

Another mom, Marlene DeLaRosa, said DPS has taken a number of steps in recent years to improve parental involvement. That includes parent liaisons in schools and hosting Parent Leadership Institutes.

But DeLaRosa, who serves on the Parent Empowerment Council, said in meetings with Boasberg, “most of the time we listen to him.” The council reviews parental involvement plans mandated by governmental grants such as Title 1.

“Often, we hear more from the administration than the administration hears from us,” she told Boasberg at the press conference, before asking, “Are you going to spend … less time talking and more time listening?”

Boasberg laughed: “That would be my fondest wish, actually.”

With nearly 300 parents serving on the forum, he said, “I guarantee you it will be very much of a two-way dialogue.”

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@pebc.org or 303-478-4573.

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