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A Reckoning with Our History: The Messy Past of Jeffco School Closures



Jeffco is grieving, again, and it's due, in some part, to mistakes made in the past.


In 2017, as a parent of two kids at Stober Elementary, I helped to organize the community’s response when Stober was on a list of five elementary schools proposed for closure by then Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. As part of the process, I advocated for my kids’ school to stay open. I did a lot of things to try to influence the decision of the district at that time, including facilitating community meetings, talking with neighbors, reaching out to elected officials, and speaking to the board of education. I organized and participated in a process that ensured the squeakiest wheel would succeed. The process elevated privilege. The benefit to the Stober community to stay open came at the expense of other Jeffco communities. Past decision making around school closures in Jeffco favored the organized, the influential, and the privileged. It favored parents like me.


As we engage in the process of community meetings and public comment regarding the current consolidation recommendation, I’ve struggled with my own past role in perpetuating systems of harm that have heightened inequalities in my own community within the Wheat Ridge articulation area. My personal process of reconciliation among neighbors, among colleagues, and among friends means I must acknowledge the harm my past actions caused, while attempting to move to a place where we as a community can come together to address systemic equity issues that impact the most important group of all: our Jeffco students.


This is one of the primary drivers for the all-or-nothing vote with the current recommendations. A school-by-school vote perpetuates privilege and pits our schools against one another. I make no claim that the current process is without flaws, and I also know that what’s perfect cannot be a barrier to what’s good. As the current President of the Jeffco School Board, and still a parent to current Jeffco students, I am working to hold competing ideas simultaneously and not retreat into a binary way of thinking about very complex issues. I’m working hard to understand the values around small schools that are critically important to communities, while also thinking about how those values and practices can be carried into new school communities that may be better able to serve students’ and staff members’ needs. I’m thinking about how equity is a central concept both in the rationale to support the recommendation and in the rationale to reject the recommendation. I am listening to the ways in which the same data can be used to tell two different stories about Jeffco schools.


As an example, I recognize that the free and reduced lunch percentages between New Classical Academy at Vivian and Stober Elementary in 2019 were 73% and 35% respectively, which tells one story about those schools. I also recognize that in actual numbers of students who qualified for free and reduced lunch that year, those percentages translated to 81 students at Vivian and 86 students at Stober, which adds context and nuance to the story. Both the percentages and the real numbers of students are factual data. What stories we tell with those figures matters greatly.


Jeffco as a school system has been operating with very real inequities across our district for a long time. We have to ask ourselves difficult questions if we truly believe in keeping students' needs first in our decision making. Which students have access to high-quality curriculum? Which low-income students are supported by additional resources from Title I? What access is there to enrichment and acceleration? What types of staff are in the building to support students with special needs? Which schools have been on the losing end of choice enrollment? These are systemic equity questions that previous “fixes” by the district have not addressed. These inequities have disproportionately impacted special education students, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, English language learners, and students of color in our schools.


Despite these challenges, schools have risen to the task of educating kids to the very best of their abilities. We have asked them to do a lot more with a lot less. We have put bandaids on problems that require surgery. We are where we are, in part, because of the way privilege has been prioritized within Jeffco Public Schools. I have been a participant in those systems as a parent. Now, as a Jeffco School Board member, my priority around equity includes disrupting the ways in which we have left some schools with less, leaving some students with less. I own my role in this process, both past and present.


Our students need supportive communities surrounding them. If the board accepts the current recommendations for closures and consolidations, it is critical that the district design systems and structures so that students from the impacted Wheat Ridge elementary schools will thrive together in their new school environments, either welcoming new students or themselves feeling welcomed. And I look forward to seeing all those students continue to flourish as they progress together to their time at Everitt Middle School and Wheat Ridge High School. I encourage us all to think of how our actions today will impact our students tomorrow. The labeling of some communities in the Wheat Ridge area as “racist” will create long-term divisions among neighbors. This needs to stop.


I assure you, the Jeffco School Board wants strong pathways for students. We need to co-create what those pathways can look like to ensure vibrant articulation areas across Jeffco for every student. I have been encouraged - even challenged - to be brave in this process and to get uncomfortable. I may be only one member of the board of education, but I am personally and deeply committed to getting to the heart of equity within this district. I will have the difficult conversations. I will listen with empathy and understanding. And I will think about my “Why” - Jeffco students - with every decision.


Never doubt how very much I care about our students and our communities. I hope you feel the same way and are ready to join me.


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