Far out! (Welcome to Denver’s Far Northeast)
Denver residents and other interested parties were treated on October 12th to a presentation of the Denver Public Schools proposal of what should happen with struggling schools in the zone currently known as the Far Northeast. This area includes the much maligned Montbello (sometimes hurtfully referred to as Montghetto) neighborhood as well as the area known as Green Valley Ranch. The area is relatively new as an urban zone (about 40 years for Montbello, slightly less for Green Valley Ranch) and primarily consists of single family homes and strip mall developments. In fact, it is a zone that was annexed long after the city was established and has long been ignored as a functioning part of the city. Some metro area residents are unaware that the neighborhoods actually are a part of the city of Denver. Economic status varies considerably: some residents receive Section 8 housing benefits, others are poor working class, however, there are white collar as well as blue collar residents. Both neighborhoods suffered a high loss in property values due to the economic crisis, due to a disproportionately high number of foreclosures in the area. Both neighborhoods have large numbers of African American and Latino residents and high populations of English language learners, although there are more language groups represented in Green Valley Ranch than in Montbello.
It would be safe to say that many families are not active in the school community and that socioeconomic factors as well as language barriers are the most likely explanations. A committee had been working on ideas for revitalizing the area’s schools since Spring of 2010. As I understand it, its initial work focused primarily on identifying community values and principles, which then supposedly aided the district in choosing the two new school models to bring into the area. However, my sources say, it was not made clear to the committee until this September that the elementary schools chosen would be replacing other schools, nor that remaining schools would replace 50% of staff. Once that process was in motion, the collaboration seemed less obvious to most community-based committee members.
October 12th’s meeting was identified as a community meeting, but in fact it was a presentation of decisions which are already in the implementation stage, from the district’s perspective. Principals chosen for the approved models are already hired and have been spending time in the turnaround schools, doing whatever it is that new leaders do. This, despite the fact that the Far Northeast Community Committee has yet to finish its work and the DPS Board of Education is not scheduled to vote until November 18th on the recommendations, which are probably less made by the committee than by other interests. Perhaps then, it was not an enormous surprise that some attendees of the October 12th meeting chose to disrupt the meeting, urging others to vote ‘no’ for “choice by chance”. Remember that we are talking about people who already feel marginalized to some extent, and many felt this was the first and only opportunity to weigh in on the decisions that will affect their community schools, and many people are concerned that DPS will eventually go to a lottery model much like the ones seen in a couple of current “documentaries”. While, perhaps the disruptions were a nuisance to the committee and DPS process, I can understand the perspective that gave birth to them.
I found it more disturbing, as well as telling, to see the xenophobic comments provided on the 9 News website in response to the October 12th events. It bothers me (no, disgusts me) to see people making snide comments about fuchsia-haired students, or assumptions about gangs, as well as anti-immigrant or anti-Latino statements about “anchor babies” or suggesting that a vote for Tancredo will fix the schools. (At the same time, I can’t help but notice that some of these “sages” have flawed spelling and grammar/punctuation skills, so I can’t conclude that their schooling, however blissfully non-diverse it may have been, led to a superior intellect or expressive ability. Does it cost anything to use the spell-check function, people?! ¡Chin****!) Again, I am driven to make the point that I know I have previously expressed. Yes, we know there are disengaged communities, and communities that are somehow marginalized. We also know that poorer communities often have schools with lower standardized test scores (because test scores are all that matter in evaluation of quality these days). If you live in an ivory tower, perhaps you don’t know these things, but most people (like me) working and/or living in these areas, or others paying attention have noticed. So, I ask this of DPS, A+ and other well-intentioned (I hope) people: shouldn’t there be a concerted effort to engage the entire community before making decisions for or on behalf of them? Or, as I have already asked here, why not actively involve communities in making their own decisions rather than doing to or for them?