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Op-Ed: Information Is Critical in the Drive for Equity at DPS
Anthony Camera

Op-Ed: Information Is Critical in the Drive for Equity at DPS

In my nearly fifty years as a resident of Montbello, I've seen a lot of change in Denver Public Schools. As a parent, retired DPS teacher and community member, I'm accustomed to fighting to get what our kids deserve. And now, after serving on the Reimagine the SPF committee, I want the Board of Education to adopt the recommendations we collaboratively developed over the course of nine months.

The School Performance Framework, or SPF, was supposed to be a way for families to determine if a school offers a quality education. Sadly, the color-coded school report cards were "weaponized" — used by DPS to determine which schools should be closed. In our community, school after school was shut down and reopened as a charter or innovation school.

With so many schools labeled "orange" and "red," our children began to believe they were not good enough. The punitive nature of the SPF was demeaning to our students and also to our teachers and community. The color-coded system has a negative effect on home values because when people are looking for homes, one of the first questions asked is about the quality of the schools in the community. When homes are devalued, resources for schools diminish. As more and more small schools in northeast Denver struggle with the same limited resources, we're in a vicious circle and not making the progress we desperately need to make for our children.

I will never accept that children in our community cannot achieve at the same level as those in other parts of Denver or the state. I served on the SPF committee together with diverse stakeholders throughout the city, because I don't want to see another young student have to internalize the failure brought by the adults managing the delivery of education.

I want Black and Brown children in my community to aspire to lead their city, state and country, to be engineers and scientists, entrepreneurs, electricians — the very best they can be in whatever career they choose.

Our committee came to agreement on three recommendations: first, to replace the existing DPS SPF and use the state SPF to fulfill state and federal requirements for school accountability. Second, to create a dashboard to inform all stakeholders on whole child measures, school climate and culture, and additional academic measures not captured in the state SPF. And third, to launch a continuous improvement cycle to support schools.

With change comes risk, and in designing a better system to measure school quality, we have to take a calculated risk that we are improving schools and learning environments for all our students.

The committee was clear that "Recommendations #2 and #3 are intended to drive transparent information sharing that paints a more robust picture of each school's performance and for the school district to work with schools in support of continuous improvement. These recommendations are not intended to add parameters or expectations related to triggering state and local accountability requirements." We put this in writing because we wanted the Board of Education and the broader community to understand the information was not to be "weaponized" to jump on schools when they were down.

The dashboard and improvement cycle are meant to provide the community with helpful information, such as attrition rates for staff and students, teacher experience and professional development, and details about the school principal's leadership style. Does the school's staff reflect the community they serve? How are special needs students served? What is the curriculum and does it honor the lived experiences of the community? If a school is struggling in some areas, there is an opportunity for the school to tell its story and work with the school district to get the school to where it needs to be.

Parents and the community deserve access to critical information to guide the decisions we make for our children. This data is also needed to inform the school district about its responsibilities to educate students in our community. I urge fellow Denverites to contact the Board of Education to support the Reimagine the SPF committee recommendations. The community has the power to drive the conversation about school quality and prioritize the measures we believe hold the greatest promise for establishing true equity in education.

Shirley Richard is a retired Denver Public Schools teacher. She served on the Reimagine the SPF committee and lives in Montbello.

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

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