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Voices: Voters reaffirm support for DPS reforms

Denver school board President Mary Seawell says last week’s election results simply confirm growing community support for school reform in Denver.

Since last week’s resounding victory in Denver for a bond and mill levy, I have been asked numerous times, what are the takeaway messages? The broadest message is simple. The voters of Denver believe in public education and believe that Denver Public Schools should be entrusted with the dollars to support our students.

Some in the education arena are already framing the victory as a signal the city is finally on board with reforming our schools. I think that evidence of support was there way before this election. The tremendous enrollment growth in Denver of almost 11,000 students over the last few years is due in large part to fewer families leaving the district, a result of better choice options and stronger neighborhood schools. The historical flight of students transitioning between elementary and middle school has largely been erased.

I also believe there was a message from Denver about our core shared values as a city of mainly Democrats, something represented in all of the district’s reform work done in the last four to five years. The value is simply that the best way to address poverty, racism, and social inequity starts with making sure all children have access to a high quality education. We believe it should be the right of all students to choose their path for college or career instead of having it dictated to them by achievement gaps and high dropout rates.

One of the messages I heard loud and clear is how important it is for Denver’s education community to work together. The now familiar positional lines were erased, at least temporarily, because better funding for education is what unites us. The most prominent leaders were:

  • Denver Classroom Teachers Association – Our teachers are the ones trying to teach 28 or more students in a classroom where it’s over 100 degrees. They are the ones trying to differentiate instruction to reach every student. They are the ones who don’t get paid enough. They phone banked, walked and organized to get 3A and 3B passed.
  • Board of Education – Nate Easley, Happy Haynes, Jeannie Kaplan and Anne Rowe rejected the familiar and tired 4-3 dynamic of the board and came together by adding key bond projects and pushing for better oversight for the bond and mill.
  • Denver’s city leaders – Mayor Michael Hancock showed once again he cannot and will not stay on the sidelines when our kids’ futures are at stake. He included 3A and 3B as part of his vision for what Denver can be. City Council members Chris Herndon, Robin Kniech, Judy Montero and Chris Nevitt rejected the divisive anti-bond campaign and supported DPS.
  • Denver’s state senators and representatives – Dan Pabon, Crisanta Duran, Mark Ferrandino and Angela Williams made it clear to their constituents they supported both measures.
  • Community organizations – Denver Democratic Central Committee, the Downtown Denver Partnership, A+ Denver, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Stand for Children and many other groups.
  • School communities – Families and staff from Valdez and Bromwell elementary schools stepped up to the plate to campaign for 3A and 3B .

As the final vote shows, the vast majority of our community supported the bond and mill, but as the readers of EdNews know, there was a loud but small group in opposition to the bond. For those of us on the Yes on 3A and 3B side, jeopardizing resources for our schools as a way to prove a political point is repugnant.

The irony of the election was the focus on the bond by the No on 3B campaign led by a sitting board member. It is ironic because the mill levy/3A, which he supported, is actually the true education reform measure. It includes early childhood education seats for over 800 low-income children – a key reform in closing the achievement gap. It takes the lessons learned from the Far Northeast turnarounds in how to individualize instruction through the use of tutors and expands that support to all parts of the city. It gives our schools technology to utilize blended learning to allow teachers to differentiate instruction.

Part of the message the No on 3B campaign tried to frame was this election as an opportunity to reject the direction of DPS and humble the superintendent.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg is already humble in the places it matters. He knows how much better our district needs to do. He knows that too many of our kids are still in failing schools. And he is humble enough to know that he cannot get there alone. He needs our teachers, our parents, our principals, our neighborhoods, our education partners and our school board to productively challenge and fight alongside him if we are going to make our school system work.

Sadly, we will only be given a short breather before the campaigning around next year’s school board election starts. As always I will work to make the board dynamics better but after three years I know unity without results is not something worth our time.

For those of us willing to come to the table we will move forward doing the work of improving the Denver Plan, creating a more comprehensive and useful superintendent evaluation, making sure the bond and mill oversight committees are strong, ensuring the district improves the way it interacts with school communities and doing our many other duties that will actually make a difference in the performance of the district.

Thankfully, Denver voters chose to support what is right about DPS – our students. Our city is in this together for our kids. They answered the call to do their part with a simple and powerful message, “We believe in Denver Public Schools. Now, get to work.”

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