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The black excellence resolution rhetoric (Part I)

I begin this piece, the first in a series examining the Black Excellence Resolution in Denver Public Schools, with a phrase that we are all familiar with: Talk is cheap! I assert that talk is cheaper still when it is put on paper and becomes a report, resolution, or even legislation that is to benefit black children, black families, and/or black communities. 

Black children, families, and communities remain at the mercy of the control of oppressors, comfort of white moderates, and the courage of black elected leaders. Our current reality only yields change if oppressors yield control, white moderates are comfortable with the change, and black elected leaders courageously push and stand.

But those things don’t happen often, or maybe ever. We stay stuck in the “with all deliberate speed” cycle where nothing happens because oppressors still want control, white moderates covet their comforts, and black elected leaders remain conflicted knowing that courage often gets you unelected or worse. 

Talk is cheap, so let’s make it a report. The Bailey Report. And then, in February 2019, a Resolution on the Excellence of our Black and African-American Students.

WHEREAS, in 2016, in response to concerns from our schools and the community, DPS commissioned Dr. Sharon Bailey to research in detail the experiences of our African-American educators as well as their perspectives and concerns about how our African-American students are being cared for and educated. In response to this report, the Board and the Superintendent commissioned the African-American Equity Task Force in the fall of 2016…

We really needed a report to tell us how we are doing. Those previous parent and student satisfaction surveys weren’t getting the message across. The calls to Human Resources from black employees that were dealing with microaggressions weren’t enough. Turnover rates of black teachers and leaders didn’t tip anyone off. We needed a report in 2016. 

Mind you that the district has been grappling with how black children, families, teachers and leaders have been received and treated by this district since inception: Very heatedly in the 50’s and 60’s; hit a tipping point in the 70’s with Keyes vs. Denver District 1; from the 70’s through the mid-90’s grappled with integration; and from the 90’s to now we have had to endure that integration did not cause the anticipated transformation of hearts and minds. 

The structure and systems remain in place. Supremacy ideology continues to choke the potential of this district to be anything but talk when it comes to transforming the lived realities of black children, families, communities, teachers and leaders.

But every February, space is yielded to give false hope that something new is going to happen for the good of black children. Every February, a celebration of history, people, the struggle, the strength, the culture and the grit. Maybe this is the year. Change is coming. We quickly fall back into the hands of oppressors and their control, white moderates and their comforts, and black elected leaders and their conflicts of courage.

WHEREAS, on December 5, 2018, key staff and stakeholders embedded in the work of increasing African-American success identified the following key district level barriers to ensuring the success of black students: • Lack of clarity about what equity means for DPS and competing priorities impeding focus; • Unclear expectations regarding what equitable outcomes we seek to achieve; • Confusion around how our belief in schools as the unit of change and flexibilities should impact district-wide priority setting to target supports for black students across the system; • Need for more effective structures for collaboration and cohesion of work across the district; • Need for district team members at all levels to engage in and commit to the hard and intentional work of becoming more culturally proficient in service to our students and communities;

Talk is cheap, so let’s make it a resolution with a timeline for implementation that we won’t keep. It will score points and look like progress. Sounds good.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the Board embraces the excellence of Black and African-American students and will prioritize and target their academic achievement. To this end, the Board directs the Superintendent to create a plan by May 31, 2019 to be operationalized by the start of the 2019-20 school year that utilizes the tools, systems, resources and talent that exist within our district and community and increases the investment of students and their families in their own successes by focusing on the following three main areas of work, and therefore see marked improvement for Black or African-American students over the next three years: School-Level: Prioritize Black Student Success, District-Wide: Be a District that is Community Driven, Expertly Supported, Central Office: Equitable by Design

Talk is cheap. Over the next parts of this series, we will look transparently and deeply at the progress or lack thereof at the school level, district level, and at the central office, to live up to what they’ve put on paper. 

We need more than words. We must have deeds that are set on dismantling a status quo, intentionally designed, supremacy influenced, structure and systems that do not want better and the best for black children, families, teachers and leaders. We resolve that it will be so. 

Stay tuned!