A Reckoning with Our History: The Messy Past of Jeffco School Closures

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Parents Speak to Jeffco Board of Education About Proposed 2017 School Closures

Jeffco is in mourning, once again, and it’s due, in part, to mistakes made in the past.

In 2017, as a parent of two children at Stober Elementary, I helped organize the community response when Stober was on a list of five elementary schools proposed for closure by then-Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. As part of the process, I advocated for my children’s school to remain open. I did many things to try to influence the district’s decision at that time, including hosting community meetings, talking with neighbors, reaching out to elected officials, and talking to the school board. I organized and participated in a process that guaranteed the success of the creakiest wheel. The process has elevated privileges. The benefit to the Stober community of remaining open came at the expense of other Jeffco communities. Past decisions regarding school closures at Jeffco have favored the organized, the influential, and the privileged. It favored parents like me.

As we engage in the process of community meetings and public comment regarding the current consolidation recommendation, I have struggled with my own past role in perpetuating prejudice systems that have increased inequalities in my own community in the area. of articulation of Wheat Ridge. My personal process of reconciliation between neighbours, co-workers and friends means acknowledging the hurt my past actions have caused, while trying to move to a place where we as a community can come together to resolve issues. systemic equity that have the greatest impact. group of all: our Jeffco students.

This is one of the main drivers of the all-or-nothing vote with the current recommendations. A school-by-school vote perpetuates privilege and pits our schools against each other. I do not claim that the current process is flawless, and I also know that what is perfect cannot be an obstacle to what is good. As the current chairman of the Jeffco School Board and still a parent of current Jeffco students, I strive to simultaneously hold competing ideas and not fall back on a binary way of thinking about very complex issues. I work hard to understand the values ​​around small schools that are critically important to communities, while also thinking about how these values ​​and practices can be passed on to new school communities that might better meet the needs of students and staff members. I think of how fairness is a central concept in both the rationale for supporting the recommendation and the rationale for rejecting the recommendation. I listen to the ways the same data can be used to tell two different stories about Jeffco schools.

As an example, I agree that the free and reduced meal percentages between Vivian’s New Classical Academy and Stober Elementary in 2019 were 73% and 35% respectively, which tells a story about these schools. I also acknowledge that in actual numbers of students who qualified for free and reduced lunch that year, those percentages translated to 81 students at Vivian and 86 students at Stober, which adds context and nuance to the story. The percentages and the actual number of students are factual data. The stories we tell with these characters matter a lot.

Jeffco, as a school system, has long operated with very real inequalities in our district. We must ask ourselves some tough questions if we truly believe in putting the needs of students first in our decision-making. Which students have access to a high-quality study program? Which low-income students are supported by additional Title I resources? What access to enrichment and acceleration? What types of staff are present in the building to support students with special needs? Which Schools Lost in Elective Enrollment? These are systemic fairness issues that the district’s previous “patches” have not addressed. These inequalities have had a disproportionate impact on special education students, students who are entitled to free and reduced-price lunch, English language learners, and students of color in our schools.

Despite these challenges, schools have risen to the task of educating children to the best of their abilities. We asked them to do a lot more with a lot less. We put bandages on the problems that require surgery. We are where we are, in part because of the way privilege has been prioritized within Jeffco Public Schools. I participated in these systems as a parent. Now, as a member of the Jeffco School Board, my equity priority is to disrupt the way we left some schools with less, leaving some students with less. I own my role in this process, both past and present.

Our students need supportive communities around them. If the board accepts the current recommendations for closures and consolidations, it is essential that the district design systems and structures so that students from the affected Wheat Ridge Elementary Schools can thrive together in their new school environments, either by welcoming new students or by feeling welcome. And I look forward to seeing all of these students continue to thrive as they progress together toward their time at Everitt Middle School and Wheat Ridge High School. I encourage all of us to think about the impact our actions today will have on our students tomorrow. Labeling some communities in the Wheat Ridge area as “racist” will create long-term divisions among neighbors. This must stop.

I assure you that the Jeffco School Board wants solid pathways for students. We need to co-create what these journeys can look like to ensure dynamic areas of articulation across Jeffco for every student. I was encouraged – even challenged – to be brave in this process and felt uncomfortable. I may just be a member of the school board, but I am personally and deeply committed to getting to the heart of equity in this district. I will have difficult conversations. I will listen with empathy and understanding. And I will think about my “Why” – Jeffco students – with every decision.

Never doubt how much I care about our students and our communities. I hope you feel the same and are ready to join me.

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