Last night the Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education voted 6-1 to reject Superintendent Alex Marerro’s most recent school closure recommendations (Dir. Scott Baldermann of Southeast Denver was the sole “Yes” vote in support of school closures). This decision reflects the unquestionably flawed process that preceded the meeting. However, it is also an acknowledgement of the failure to adequately center community and govern responsibility by both the Superintendent and the Board. None of our leaders are without blame at this moment and all of them share a responsibility to demonstrate more effective leadership in the District’s effort to address declining enrollment going forward. Unfortunately, the proceedings of last night’s board meeting do not instill confidence that a new page has been turned.
To the surprise of at least some board members, in the early moments of the Board’s proceedings, Superintendent Marerro made a last-minute revision to his recommendation to close five DPS schools. His unexpected recommendation to close only two schools (Denver Discovery School and Math and Science Leadership Academy) included previously unexplored criteria (co-location of school communities) as rationale to narrow the list of recommendations. The timing of this announcement provided no opportunity for the community to respond to the revision and the newly named criteria. This sets an uneasy precedent, which normalizes clumsy decision-making and demonstrates a disregard for transparency.
We are concerned that the Board’s decision to rescind the Small Schools Resolution, absent additional formal guidance for the Superintendent, will result in growing anxieties in DPS beyond the 10 school communities named in the original recommendation. The Board and the Superintendent have struggled to align on expectations for authentic and comprehensive community engagement. Now, families and educators are left with uncertainty on how the Superintendent and Board will ultimately reach a viable solution to the District’s financial solvency. We have been given no reason to believe this pattern of dysfunction and finger pointing will change, now that the Small Schools Resolution has been rescinded.
Even more alarming than the lack of consensus on governance has been the language of some Board Directors, which has had the effect of pitting specific schools communities, and general school models, against one another. The District faces a difficult challenge in addressing the financial hardships of declining student enrollment brought on by the rising cost of living in Denver and falling birthrates. Special interests cannot be allowed to leverage this moment to scapegoat schools they don’t like or family choices they don’t support.
We applaud Dirs. Aoun’tai Anderson and Scott Esserman for their efforts to encourage a new process that brings communities to the table and does not pit schools against each other. Families and educators are not to blame for the boondoggle currently unfolding in DPS. Denver Families unequivocally rejects any suggestion that politicians are better suited than parents to make decisions about which public school meets the needs of their children.
The district has an obligation to ensure financial solvency, and the Superintendent indicated school closures will likely be revisited. Without a clear path forward – and the continued false narratives and blaming – all communities are left to question whether or not they will be forced to go through a similar dysfunctional process. It should have never come to this point. While we can acknowledge that effectively hitting the reset button may be the right move at this juncture, we cannot ignore that last night’s DPS Board meeting was the result of collective failures from the Board and the Superintendent.
Now, more than ever, the wider DPS and Denver community must demand transparency, accountability, and a process that works authentically with community to ensure that future decisions are representative of community and led by community. Operating in silos without these elements will lead to additional confusion, pain, and harm across Denver.
DPS must do better. DPS can do better.
Today, we’re asking you to make your voices heard. Email the DPS Board of Education asking them for full transparency and robust community engagement in all future decisions. These elected leaders are your representatives and they must represent your needs, your students’ needs, and the community’s needs. Make your voice heard by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can ensure all families and all educators are centered in every DPS decision.