Op-Ed: What We Really Need Is a Plan for Students

Op-Ed: What We Really Need Is a Plan for Students
Denver Public Schools
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A recently released poll showed Denver parents' concern that students may be falling behind academically and urgently asking for a plan for student learning, and it was that ask in particular that was lost in negative headlines. As a former school leader and classroom teacher as well as the wife of a current school leader, I feel deeply connected to the responses I’ve seen coming from other educators to these pieces. I felt the gut-punch and banged my head on my desk in solidarity. 

And I want you, fellow educators, to hear that you really are being seen! In fact, a 57 percent majority of Denver Public Schools parents say they are satisfied with the learning options being offered to their students (a point that was lost in the negativity). You’re doing an amazing job in an untenable reality, so please, keep persisting! We need you. 

And we need your help. 

As a parent of two DPS high-schoolers and someone who took this survey, it is important to call out that the real lede got buried, and it is something I hope we can all agree on: We need a comprehensive plan for what comes next in place before the end of the school year. An opportunity exists in this moment for us to come together and engage in future-oriented thinking. It may be tempting to wait for our next superintendent to lead this effort, but we need a plan now — for our kids, for our teachers and for our families. And our elected leaders need to hear that from us. 

We call for our district leaders and school board to take up this urgent task now and discuss it at the upcoming school board meeting this week. The creation of a plan defining what post-COVID lockdown learning looks like must include input and feedback from all constituencies in our public school system. By bringing together a roundtable of parents, educators, leaders, elected officials, mental-health professionals, community leaders and philanthropic partners, we stand a greater chance of adopting a plan for how we help our kids while preserving the (ever-dwindling) sanity of our school teams.

Without question, we’ve all faced a difficult year. There is a real and urgent need to figure out possible actions to take so we can start to answer questions like: How can we be creative about supporting the social, mental-health and academic needs of our kids? How will we figure out which students need which supports? How do we find the pockets of excellence and replicate what’s working? How do we break away from the box of “return to business as usual,” and instead return to school in such a way that helps all of our kids self-actualize by delivering them a more tailored version of support? What are our top three priorities, and how do we build a rigorously realistic plan to actualize them? What should be considered when evaluating funding allocations?

This is the work of leadership. We all are in this together, and we all must be a part of creating the solution.

Dignified. Diligent. Humble. Solutionist. Unified. These are the values of the last school in which I had the privilege to serve. They come to mind today as I consider the work we have to do and the characteristics it will take to do it...especially the idea of unified diligence. It will take all of us coming together to call for the creation of this plan and our diligence in seeing it through to completion and adoption. 

Let’s use this moment to reframe our thinking and reclaim our shared desire to create a better future for all our children by calling for not just a seat at the table, but the construction of an entirely new table around which we can sit in determined collaboration.

Kaye Taavialma is the parent of two Denver Public Schools students in high school. She is a former educator and school leader, and a Stand for Children parent advocacy fellow.

Westword publishes op-eds and essays on matters of interest to the Denver community on weekends. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to editorial@westword.com, where you can also comment on this piece.

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