!Atencion, Por Favor!

Parents in northwest Denver say the school district doesn't listen--so they're making more noise.

"That's bull," says Montero. The school board decided to form an advisory committee immediately after the bond passed and was deciding how to recruit members when some residents preempted the board by meeting on their own, Montero says. The district is forming advisory committees for every new school being built with bond money, she notes, which further proves that the district isn't bowing to pressure from parents in northwest Denver. The board is also establishing construction advisory committees so that parents can have a say in what their new schools look like.

But like other parents, Marty Roberts isn't sure all parents and students are getting equal representation on the advisory committee. "There are no Spanish-dominant speakers on the committee," she says. "There are some who say they are bilingual, but English is their main language. Those are two different things."

Members of Padres Unidos wonder why none of them were selected to be on the committee. Montero recalls that two Padres Unidos parents applied for the position; group co-chair Pam Martinez says at least ten members applied. One parent was rejected because she no longer had children in elementary school, and the board was seeking representatives from the four feeder schools. Another parent, Montero says, applied at the last minute, after all committee members had been chosen.

Even some members of the DPS-chosen advisory committee think the district is fast-tracking the process. At the first committee meeting on March 23, the ten members were told that they were to present a recommendation to the school board by May 5. At the committee's second meeting in early April, committee member Patrick Ridgeway could no longer hide his frustration.

"The community has asked to be involved for five months, and you've given us five weeks," he told Montero and other school officials packed into the Smedley Elementary School auditorium. "You've set the agenda. I would like to ask as a committee that we can provide some things," he said--meaning that he wanted the group to be able to decide what to discuss at the meetings instead of being force-fed information from the school district. As if on cue, other committee members gathered around the table in the front of the auditorium voiced their own concerns about the looming deadline, saying it wouldn't give them time to study school programs. The district granted the committee members an extension; now they're supposed to present their recommendations to the school board on June 24.

Before the April 6 meeting began, Mary Ray, the district's acting assistant superintendent for elementary education, cautioned the committee against recommending an expensive program such as Montessori. "Any time there's [teacher] training involved, there's monies involved," she said.

Keller fears the school board will use the cost of specialty programs to deny parents what they want. But she and other parents are launching a fundraising drive to help cover any extra costs associated with the new school. Keller has already contacted two private foundations--the Rose Community Foundation and the Denver Foundation--which have money available for school reform projects.

"It's not an issue of whether it will be a Montessori school or some other type of school. It's a power issue," Keller says. "[The DPS doesn't] want this community to rally for something and win it, because if parents at other schools see a success story in our neighborhood, the district will have an uprising of parents wanting a say in their schools. It's more than just an educational issue. It's a community issue."

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