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Coverage of last night’s FNE meeting

October 27, 2010
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EdNews Colorado has a good article about last night’s meeting regarding the turnaround plans for schools in the Montbello & Green Valley Ranch neighborhoods. I wish someone had included video of more of the parent & community questions; this crowd was not convinced that DPS is looking out for them or their kids.

I’m pressed for time today, so I can’t give a really thoughtful write-up just yet, but one piece of this whole thing is bugging me. On spec, the ideals expressed in the two community/coalition plans and DPS’ plans are well-aligned. Key differences emerge when you look at two issues: labor and accountability.

There is no solid evidence to suggest that DPS can’t accomplish its stated goals while keeping the existing schools and staffs largely intact. Given the shakeups in leadership, and poor communication between school staff and central office people, there has not  been a true assessment of the quality of the staff at each school. What we do know is that there has been a negative culture and climate (largely the result of poor leadership) in many of these schools for years, that has only just begun to be addressed.

For the most part, teachers in this community are extremely committed, and willing to do whatever it takes to help children succeed. Late nights for teachers are not  uncommon in the area, and many go above and beyond to help out in the community. A good number of these teachers have only been recently hired, anyway, which blunts the “entrenched culture” argument behind reconfiguring schools. (The truly entrenched culture that we need to address is the one at 900 Grant, but more on that some other time…). So why not give the new leaders a chance to work with their schools and continue making the kinds of changes (smaller class sizes, better materials and technology in classrooms, etc.) parents have been asking for all along?

The community is very much in favor of keeping experienced, trained teachers in classrooms, and maintaining relationships with those who have demonstrated their commitment to the community. They are very clear that they don’t want an influx of Teach for America or other alternatively licensed teachers running classrooms, and they want newer teachers working in tandem with more experienced ones, not on their own. That would be really difficult to do in this scenario, especially in the turnaround schools where they must get rid of 50% of teachers in order to meet the federal terms. Unless DPS is just trying to drive down costs and/or get rid of veteran teachers, what is the real justification for the staff overhauls?

Additionally, while DPS states that one of its aims in the proposal is to increase “teacher, student, and parent accountability,” they make no mention of increasing their own accountability– the thing virtually everyone agrees is most needed. This community is tired of being “experimented on” and having their community institutions treated with disrespect, especially by those they feel don’t understand or respect them, and have been deaf to their concerns for years. That same question keeps coming up in different forms, and it still remains unanswered– “Why hasn’t anything been given a chance to work, and why should we believe this will?” And another– “Is anyone actually listening, or have these decisions already been made?”

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