A letter to the next superintendent of Denver Public Schools:
Be brave enough to demand results for kids.
Families across this city demand meaningful, measurable results — our kids’ future is at stake.
“Will our children be prepared for a life of opportunity?” This is the question that has resurfaced over and over again with Denver families during the past year of remote learning. Over the past eighteen months, Transform Education Now has made thousands of calls to families. On those calls, we check to make sure that the family we are speaking with has everything they need to support their child — we connect them to meal programs, ensure they have wi-fi and computer access, and then generally check on how remote learning is going in their house. No surprise: Most often, families reported that their student was receiving significantly fewer opportunities for learning, and they are worried about their child’s future. In fact, in our winter 2020 survey that included 650 parents, half reported that their student was not ready to move on to the next grade level.
As we all return to school in person in August, this is a moment where our students deserve more than just a return to normal. They, like all Coloradans, deserve better. Kids across this city were behind before the pandemic. Studies estimate that the average student has fallen two to three years behind over the course of COVID learning disruptions. How we approach the next five to ten years of student learning will determine the future for a generation of students.
At TEN, we believe that we must do the following in order to see meaningful, measurable results that will catch kids up. As the incoming superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Dr. Alex Marrero, starts setting goals for the coming year, we hope he commits to doing the following:
Empower communities to lead in their schools. Innovation led by community allows for schools to adapt quickly to what their students need. We observed this clearly over the last year: The schools that were most in touch with their communities were able to facilitate the most adaptive and supportive programming for their students.
Empower families by giving them data about how their child is doing in school. Denver Public Schools has committed to building a dashboard that clearly communicates opportunities available to students at schools across the city. This will be an opportunity for Dr. Marrero to renew the promise of a high-quality public education to families across this city. Families have the right to know that their student is on track to move on to the next grade level, and that their school is supporting every child in meeting their brightest future.
Embrace Denver’s family of schools and individualized programming. Every child deserves an education that makes them feel motivated, challenged and inspired. It should be personalized, individualized and interactive. Students are thriving at STEM schools, language schools and small school models across this city — the new superintendent must embrace a portfolio of student-centered school models and ensure every student in Denver has access to high-quality school choices. Eighty-three percent of DPS families in transition grades participated in school choice this year, and of that, 42 percent did not attend their assigned boundary school. Families in our city have embraced choosing high-quality options that work for their child, and the superintendent must do the same.
Connect Denver students with the world and our city: The pandemic helped our city realize that we needed to do far more to ensure that every student had access to an up-to-date device and free, high-speed internet. But connecting doesn’t stop with modems and routers — we need to connect our students with the city of Denver, by providing extended learning opportunities through museums, botanical gardens, civic organizations and businesses. Students can learn everywhere, so let’s recognize these opportunities as part of their education. TEN is proud to support proposed Initiative 25, which would give Colorado families access to grants to access extracurricular learning.
Promise every Denver student they’ll graduate with acceptance to college or the credentials for a high-skill, high-wage career. The Denver children sitting in a first-grade classroom, recovering from lost learning during the pandemic, will be the lawyers, doctors and software engineers of the future. They deserve a simple promise: They’ll graduate with a college acceptance letter or the credentials for a career, based on their goals and interests.
Denver Public Schools’ central responsibility is to prepare every child for life, for work and for success. We have the opportunity to ensure that promise is kept.
Ariel Taylor Smith, a former DPS teacher and parent of a DPS student, is co-founder and executive director at Transform Education Now.
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