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Mary Titus Sam, a retired DPS teacher after 41 years’ service, has successfully educated children across the demographic spectrum and truly believes that every child, including the poor, can have grade-level skills if they are taught.  She prepared remarks for last night’s public comment period at the board of education meeting, but in a move evoking the First Amendment-quashing Douglas County school board, she was not allowed to speak.  She has important food for thought.

The following text contains remarks I planned to make at the public comment section of the DPS Board of Education Meeting on November 26, 2012. Board President, Mary Seawell, decreed that my colleague and I would not be allowed to speak because we are not a part of the group that came to speak about the North High co-location nor the active teacher group that has been granted the opportunity to voice their concerns.

–Mary T. Sam, Retired DPS Teacher and Community Activist

To the DPS Superintendent and Board of Education:

I am speaking to you tonight to ask you to cease and desist using the School Performance Framework (SPF) to appear as if you are successfully educating children of color. As I watched a board meeting I heard a request for $500,000 to pay a consultant to create this document full of skewed, massaged, and spun data–designed to make people believe that a DSST Green Valley Ranch High School can compare to Steck Elementary, to make stake holders believe that you are truly closing the achievement gap–that KIPP, DSST, and Strive (aka West Denver Prep), are stellar charter schools.

I have put together a chart that compares the raw achievement data to the SPF rankings for various schools, and it is clear by your rankings that you do not believe that children of color can learn. It is not okay for you to tell stake holders that a school is distinguished when only 70% of its students read at grade level, only 60% can do grade level math, and only half of its students are proficient writers. You cannot tell me that that school, DSST GVR High, deserves a higher ranking than a school where 100% of 3rd graders, 96% of 4th graders, and 100% of 5th graders are proficient readers–where the lowest proficiency rate in any subject or grade is 96. Perhaps you do not understand that my black stake holders expect that kind of achievement for our children, that we can live with 80% proficiency rates that trend up, but we are dismayed to find out that you believe that 51% proficiency in our schools meets anyone’s expectations.

Mary Sam’s chart, page 1 (click to expand)

Mary Sam’s chart, page 2 (click to expand)

I understand that on the SPF you only compare schools to schools that have similar demographics. That means that you have put minority kids in a whole separate category, which thwarts the purpose of closing the achievement gap. You are running two separate and unequal parallel universes within DPS, while comparing them on the SPF as if they are one. That would be a $500,000 lie. Then you show the SPF to our local leaders to prove to them that your so-called reforms are working. When given the raw data in comparison they recognize the lie.

Your so-called reforms have been in place since the inception of the Denver Plan in 2005. You have had seven years to improve our schools. You have fired some of the best and brightest of my colleagues, most of them older, many of them black. You have filled our struggling schools with the inexperienced, you have taken away union representation under the guise of innovation. You try to hide the failure by talking about growth.

My solution? Start talking about status, stop firing your teachers–start talking to them. Ask the people (the teachers) who matter most in a child’s educational life what they need to succeed, and then give it to them. Keep our neighborhood schools intact–and watch what happens.

I realize Ms. Sam’s words might sound a bit out of context or even harsh to some, but they ARE the truth. You keep hearing the district hide behind numbers like “median growth percentile,” which is a calculation based on all kids that are of like ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Instead, what we really need to see is the growth of a student every year, balanced against what “grade level” proficiency means. What we also need to see is an average of all the student growth for a school building. That would be more meaningful.

The reality is that our college remediation rates (the rate of first-year college students who take a remedial course) have in fact skyrocketed, we’ve really made no significant progress on the graduation rate, the school choice process is a nightmare for even the most savvy parents, and the only cure the district can come up with is more charter schools and more co-locations.

As I said at last night’s board meeting, accountability starts from the top. There are seven people who can put a stop to this snowballing failure, and those are the board members who have the power to discipline, hire or fire the Superintendent. Three of us will be up for reelection next November, and one seat will come open.

Hold us accountable, Denver. Hold us accountable.