DPS leaders must authentically engage those impacted by decisions, provide transparency about process and criteria used in decisions
DENVER – Denver Families for Public Schools (Denver Families), a nonprofit that works to center political power within public school communities across Denver, strongly encourages the Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board of Directors and Supt. Alex Marerro to provide increased transparency and community engagement regarding the district’s decision to close 10 schools. In doing so, the district should also put forward a robust community engagement plan with each of these 10 schools.
“Denver Public Schools’ leaders have been aware for years of the challenges surrounding the district’s declining student population,” said Clarence Burton, Jr. CEO of Denver Families. “Informing these 10 school communities of the potential closure of their schools, a few weeks before a planned board vote, sends a clear message that transparency and community engagement are not being taken seriously by policymakers.”
The complex reality of skyrocketing housing prices and costs of living in Denver, coupled with declining birth rates, led to an overall decrease in DPS enrollment. This decline is only anticipated to continue in the coming years. Because schools are funded per pupil, DPS must make difficult decisions that impact schools in communities that have seen the steepest decreases in their enrollment.
“Many people understand that the district has to make difficult decisions related to declining enrollment,” said Burton, Jr. “However, any decision that directly impacts students and families, especially decisions that uproot communities, must include input from those affected, transparent communication, and robust information both about the process and criteria utilized to make these decisions from the district. The confusion and frustration you’re hearing from families and educators right now is a signal to district leaders that their engagement on these items to-date has been insufficient.”
Because of this, Denver Families urges the district to formulate a robust community engagement plan which includes:
- One or more community input meetings at each of the proposed school closure sites (with supt. and district board director present)
- One or more community input meetings at each of the school consolidation sites (with supt. and district board director present)
- One or more staff and faculty meetings at each of the proposed school closure sites (with supt. and district board director present)
- One or more staff and faculty meetings at each of the school consolidation sites (with supt. and district board director present)
- Thorough transparency of the criteria and rationale used to select the 10 schools for closure and the school consolidation sites. This must include:
- Communication to staff and faculty
- Communication to families and students
- Communication with the wider-DPS audience and the broader Denver community
- One-on-one meetings with any family member or student who requests additional navigation support.
- A special board meeting/s dedicated to this decision with increased opportunity for public comment
- Support for staff and information to assist students and families with the transition including:
- Communication toolkit including web resources with information about timeline, process, and procedures
- Support for staff to ensure student and families have the information necessary and questions are addressed in a timely manner
- School mentors to assist students and families with the transition
Additionally, Denver Families urges DPS to partner with a third party evaluator to interview students, families, and staff and to compile an analysis of the process, impacts, and learnings from this experience to help ensure future decisions are predicated on best practices and an engaged community.
Denver Families urges DPS to adopt and implement these and any additional steps immediately to ensure all students, families, and school staff have the tools, resources, and information to succeed this year and in the future.