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Happy New Year!  I’m so excited about working hard for our kids in 2012!

I wanted to recap what I consider to be the top five events in public education in Denver…both the best and the worst, in descending order.

2011’s worst education happenings

Number 5 has to be the scorching hot temperatures in Denver’s classrooms this year.  You’ll remember that the Rishel Middle School building got to nearly 100 degrees, and Kepner Middle School got as high as 95 degrees at one point.  What made this even more unbearable was the fact that half of DPS’ school buildings actually have air conditioning, but almost none of those are in our overcrowded southwest Denver schools.  DPS moms Stacy Smith and Mandy Hennessey deserve great recognition for starting the petition that spurred me into action and that eventually brought a calendar change decision to the board.  We haven’t voted yet, but my vote will be for the post-Labor Day option.  Stay tuned.

Number 4 is the launch of the website, ColoradoSchoolGrades.com.  This website was launched by a coalition of 18 different corporate reform-minded groups and cost nearly $1 million to build.  The site gives a letter grade to each public and charter school in Colorado, but it uses the same rehashed information publicly available from the Colorado Department of Education.  Worse, it completely ignores what parents actually want to know about schools, like whether there are enrichment or honors courses, and it gives a bad grade to schools with large populations of English learners without considering how quickly those schools bring kids up to English fluency (hint: it’s generally really, really fast!).  How corporate reformers can spend so much money to bring no new information to parents is a mystery to me.  I wrote about the website here.

SE Denver still says no to C3 at Merrill

Number 3 is the co-location of the Creative Challenge Community (C3) school into the Merrill Middle School.  C3 is a school that no one wants, and the few people that stepped forward to support it are victims of the marketing hit job on schools that is the School Performance Framework.  Merrill is an English learner zone school, with students from a multitude of nations, and they’re also being affected by the test scores of kids that aren’t linguistically ready for CSAP.  Still, Merrill produces some whip-smart kids.  And the district’s hastily drawn-up space allocation plans for the building don’t include enough space for special education or other focused type of support.  We’ll see how this pans out.

I really struggled over Number 1 and 2, because they’re both new lows in school board electoral politics.  But I’ve finally settled on the campaign hit job perpetrated on my colleague, Arturo Jimenez, by the faux education advocacy group, Latinos for Education Reform, led by my former colleague Theresa Peña.  They spent an untold amount of money in full-page ads bashing Arturo for his thoughtful consideration of charter schools in northwest Denver.  The slimy insinuation was that somehow he was not Latino enough because he did not blindly support the influx of charter schools like West Denver Prep.  I will demonstrate soon how this charter franchise, as well as KIPP, are not only pushing out students to prop up their ratings, but they also cherry pick the most fluent of English-speaking Latino students.  Stay tuned.

Number 1, then, is the amount of corporate money, mostly oil and gas, that flowed in to the 2011 school board elections.  Now with the Lobato decision behind us, affirming our gut feeling that our schools are grossly underfunded, it would have been a much better demonstration of support for schools to have donated to the many organizations that provide after school or charitable support of students.  Worse, none of the big corporate donors have ever had a child attend a Denver public school.  It’s a little sickening to know that so much money was spent to gain no new foothold on the board. It’s still divided 4-3, ideologically speaking.  The up side is that the new members are much more reasonable to work with.  I do have hope.

Now, onto the good stuff…

2011’s best education happenings

Number 5 is the action the Superintendent took as a result of my resolution, before we even had a chance to vote on it, to find a solution to the overly hot classrooms.  He convened a laudable community process (albeit with handpicked members) to work though the obstacles to changing the school year start date.  The group presented the board with a few options, and we will vote in January.  I greatly appreciate his willingness to move from his original, fixed position on the need to change the start date.

The victorious Arturo Jimenez and NW Denver

Number 4 is the victory of Arturo Jimenez in his re-election campaign to represent northwest Denver on the school board.  He beat a war chest at least 4 times as large as his and pulled off a stunning victory.  His longstanding ties to the community, his proactive and careful decision making for the kids in the North and West side, as well as his personal gravitas and knowledge pushed him over the top.  I am looking forward to more years of strong advocacy and working together.  Yay, Arturo!

Number 3 is the new, smoother relationship between “factions” on the school board.  While the new majority side did not see fit to extend an olive branch and include at least one of us in the executive committee, it’s clear that our colleagues are hardworking and conscientious…and they’re not afraid to ask a few more questions.  The mood is decidedly lighter, and while we know we still have deep ideological differences, it’s much easier to find win-wins with this new crowd.  Score for the kids!

New board president Mary Seawell and I (photo by EdNews Colorado).

Number 2 is definitely the quietest civil rights victory of recent times that you’ll never hear about.  After a lot of hard conversations with the Superintendent about equity for English learners, and after repeatedly pointing out that our charters do not comply with the English learner court order of 1999, I am happy to announce that the plaintiffs and the district have hammered out a preliminary deal that will compel every new and renewing school to comply with the court order from here on out.  I will humbly take credit for making this issue an urgent one.  Long story short, what this means is that every school must offer English-language services to every student that is identified as less than proficient in English.  There are some details to watch over, like the potential for cherry-picking, but now English learners really do have more of a choice.

Number 1, hands down, is the surge of parent activism in support of the kids of Kepner Middle School and Math Science Leadership Academy (MSLA).  As a recap, the district is trying to gut the population at Kepner so that either a KIPP charter elementary or MSLA can be co-located there.  Everyone I’ve spoken to in the community thinks this is a bad idea, and now the board knows too, because a torrent of parents came to tell us so.  I was able to get some conditions baked into the renewal for KIPP’s high school, so that the district will only allow the new KIPP school to open if their high school performs well enough.  But parents have spoken up loud and clear that they do not approve, that kids of different ages need their own spaces, and that southwest Denver’s kids deserve very careful consideration of what affects their education.  I’m so proud of these parents!

So…what are YOUR picks for 2011’s worst and best?  Sound off in the comments!