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Voices: Lessons from North co-location

Term-limited Denver Public Schools board member Jeannie Kaplan says it’s not too early to start thinking about the next election in light of the board’s recent vote to place a charter high school at North.

The Denver Public Schools Board of Education voted 4-3 after a lengthy meeting Nov. 29 to co-locate STRIVE Prep NW, a charter high school, at North High School, a neighborhood public school, despite broad opposition from the Northwest community.

After a few days of reflection here are some lessons I have learned.

The Board of Education has a co-location policy, which states the following:

The District …will assign schools to Shared Campuses after carefully analyzing:

1) Enrollment and performance data and trends in potentially affected schools

2) Community views

3) Preferences of the new and existing schools

4) Compatibility between new and existing schools

5) Geographic feeder patters

First lesson learned: DPS board policies do not matter to the board majority. (The majority consists of President Mary Seawell, Vice President Happy Haynes, Secretary Nate Easley and Treasurer Anne Rowe.)

The district convened a stakeholders working group on June 21 to find a consensus decision on the location of STRIVE NW. Its first final report was presented to the board on Sept. 14. Among its conclusions and recommendations were the following: (Italics are where we are today.)

1) Make sure whatever decision the board makes is a GOOD decision. Do not be constrained by an artificial time line. Thursday night’s decision is open to interpretation as to whether the choice timeline is a real or artificial deadline.

2) Develop a plan, spearheaded by a strong feeder pattern for the NW region of Denver. No plan is in the works.

3) Find a solution that causes the least amount of disruption to the students. STRIVE Highlands will move to Remington, feeder patterns of Trevista and Skinner middle schools will be affected, creating disruption to many students.

4) Engage the communities involved in meaningful dialogue. Answers to questions raised at the community meeting on Nov. 13 arrived in email boxes Thursday night after the vote was taken.

5) The thing that kept the working group at the table was the belief that the default solution of placing STRIVE NW at North was not satisfactory. The default resolution was passed 4-3.

Second lesson learned: Recommendations from citizen advisory groups do not matter to the board majority.

During the decision-making process each school that was cited as a possible location for STRIVE NW was allowed a veto of that option, except North High School. Every other school refused to allow STRIVE into their building.

Third lesson learned: Equity does not matter to the board majority.

Some 1,200 people signed an online petition saying, “Do not co-locate STRIVE high school at North.” Teachers wrote and signed a letter saying the same. Students met with board members begging this co-location not take place. Organizations such A+ Denver, Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform and the Colorado League of Charter Schools pushed for this co-location, yet few of their members have students attending either school. This kind of undue influence gives rise to the belief the 1 percent are making education decisions for the other 99 percent.

Fourth lesson learned: Listening to directly impacted communities does not matter to the board majority.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg and board President, Mary Seawell talked about collaboration with community members and board members, yet when faced with an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership resulting in a less divisive solution they were unwilling to do so. Actual talk of compromise did not occur until the 11th hour and an attempt to work out a win-win solution at the board meeting was tabled before any meaningful negotiating occurred.

Fifth lesson learned: Talk is cheap. Collaboration and compromise do not matter to the superintendent and the board majority.

So after several days of analyzing and digesting what happened on Thursday night, here is the most important lesson I have learned: Election Day on Nov. 5, 2013, does matter. I am term-limited. Four Board of Education seats will be decided.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this post erroneously included the Colorado Children’s Campaign as a supporter of the co-location at North. That reference has since been deleted.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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