As a school board member in Jefferson County, one of my guiding principles has been that I’ll meet with and talk to anyone, especially if a person fundamentally disagrees with my philosophies and values and is still able to engage in a respectful dialogue. These are opportunities for deeper critical thinking about context and to learn more than one side of the story. That doesn’t mean we end up seeing eye to eye at the end of our conversation, but we may find some basis for greater understanding. This is essential when we’re talking about our children and their wellbeing.
Recently, the Jeffco school board unanimously passed a Family Partnership Resolution to articulate two foundational values - creating a sense of belonging in all of our schools and affirming the importance of parent/guardian/family engagement and voice in the success of all Jeffco students. These are not competing values. The resolution also affirms that it’s not the loudest voices setting policy, or the quietest voices left out of the process. As a school board, directors have to listen, learn, and then create policy in the best interest of 77,000 students.
Beginning this school year, our district provided clarification on how teachers can best get to know students by name, strength, and need. Student identities can be an important part of that equation for many students to feel seen and understood as an individual and to have a sense of belonging within their school community. Jeffco Public Schools made this clear to all Jeffco employees, balancing legal protections of student information with creative ways that teachers and staff can best understand and be responsive to their students. To say the issue is complex is an understatement and maintaining that balance requires thoughtful partnerships among our district stakeholders and across our diverse communities.
To achieve the work of thoughtful partnerships in our district, I believe school board directors have to stay grounded in good governance. Speaking on behalf of, in criticism of, or in defense of the actions of any JPS employee or employee group is not the role of school board directors, or potential future directors. The board has one employee: the superintendent. If there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, the board can ask for guidance from legal counsel, can amend or create new policy, can direct the superintendent through a board majority, and/or can ask for further data and information for future decision making. It’s not flashy and won’t go viral on social media, but that’s the job of every single school board director. Anything else is performative, at best, and damaging to good governance, at worst.
When it comes to our Jeffco students, little if anything productive can be accomplished on social media alone. None of us has THE answer to any issue because there’s often more than one right path and we don’t always agree on which path to take. I’m gutted anytime a one-sided social media post or story circulating in our community leads to violent statements or threats against anyone in our district. I’m dismayed that some individuals and groups continue to play politics with Jeffco students and continue to make some students in our district feel unsafe.
As adults, I expect that we can have difficult conversations without resorting to threats. This is what we teach our students. I have no control over how people behave in reality, but that’s my hope. What I can contribute to, at least for the next few months until my term on the Jeffco school board ends, is the tireless focus of this board on students first. We do that through thoughtful governance, not through media blitzes. We do that through balancing diverse perspectives within Jeffco, not by bowing to the cycle of outrage and noise. We do have urgent issues that need our collective attention, and I hope that Jeffco can continue to be a positive example of good governance and a school board that focuses on students’ wellbeing, not on adults’ anger. Our students have far too much to lose if we don’t engage in dialogue, rather than sowing intentional division, to create real change.