GUEST COLUMN: Denver’s school board fails at leadership | Opinion | #Education

This past summer, EDUCATE Denver assembled a coalition of over 35 civic leaders, in support of Denver Public Schools (DPS) students. We did so because we understand that high quality public education and healthy cities go hand-in-hand. At launch, we made a commitment to hold the Board of Education accountable to operate in the best interest of our city’s children. We also made a commitment to the Board of Education that we would provide support to that end. We firmly believe that high-impact board governance can be achieved through guidance, mentorship, best practice and dedication to sound leadership.

At present, Denver is regrouping after a difficult and confusing district process around school closures. In the context of this emotionally charged situation, our Board of Education displayed antics that heightened anxiety in the community, increased the level of mistrust, and delayed transformative changes that are necessary to bring about equity and excellence in our schools.

It continued a pattern of inappropriate behavior that hinders our ability as a city to offer better opportunities and outcomes for students served by DPS. Ultimately, the failure of this board to lead effectively threatens the long-term strength of our economy and the overall health of our communities.

In 2019, the Center for Public Education published a report that sheds light on the Board of Education situation in our city.

The report, which identifies eight characteristics of effective school boards, suggests:

1) “Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.”

To the contrary in Denver:

Communication between district leadership and the board is strained;

Communication between certain board members is disrespectful and dysfunctional;

Communication between board members and some community members has been inflammatory; and

Communication between the board, district leadership and the community is repeatedly rushed, confusing, exclusive or insufficient.

2) “Effective boards are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.”

To the contrary in Denver:

Specific school data related to closure selection was not transparent;

Data that substantiated the prudence of closure for some schools was ignored by district leadership, who backed off that recommendation; and

District leadership recently asked the community to “disregard” published academic data.

3) “Effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.”

To the contrary in Denver:

The superintendent and board are clearly not aligned regarding school closure and consolidation;

The board publicly and regularly reveals its division;

Board members have engaged in mainstream- and social media-based disputes regarding interpersonal dynamics, power struggles and threats among board members; and

Board-initiated decisions are being made without full consent or collaboration of all members.

It is imperative that we move DPS toward better governance.

The district’s leaders must take more seriously the privilege bestowed upon them by voters, who believed that these individuals had the capacity to lead with competence and courage. At this point, we need assurance that our board members will work tirelessly toward student success.

Today, we are asking business and civic leaders in our city to join us in calling the DPS Board of Education to a higher standard of governance. EDUCATE Denver understands that not all elected school board members come to the job with skills managing extensive community engagement, writing policy or managing multimillion-dollar budgets.

Our coalition can provide support to that end. First, however, we must secure their commitment to a better show of character, much improved communication, true community partnership, and student-centered leadership.

We must also demand a near-term, public articulation of next steps regarding the board’s plan to address under-enrolled schools in our communities. If you agree that the DPS Board of Education must improve, once and for all, please add your name to our list of supporters by sending an email to info@educatedenver.org. Together, let’s establish a much higher expectation for education leadership in our city.

James Coleman, who represents Denver’s state Senate District 33 in Colorado’s General Assembly, and Rosemary Rodriguez, who served on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education 2013-2017, are co-chairs of EDUCATE Denver. EDUCATE Denver, which advocates for DPS students, is a civic coalition of over 35 leaders in business, philanthropy, public policy, faith-based and community organizations who understand that high-quality education and a thriving city go hand in hand.

James Coleman, who represents Denver’s state Senate District 33 in Colorado’s General Assembly, and Rosemary Rodriguez, who served on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education 2013-2017, are co-chairs of EDUCATE Denver. EDUCATE Denver, which advocates for DPS students, is a civic coalition of over 35 leaders in business, philanthropy, public policy, faith-based and community organizations who understand that high-quality education and a thriving city go hand in hand.



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