Charting a promising future and dispelling disinformation about charter schools

Karlota Arnaiz-Palacios teaching at DSST during the 2020-21 school year

This article was written by Karlota Arnaiz-Palacios. She is a graduate of DSST Green Valley Ranch and a member of the University of Hawaii-Hilo Class of 2022.

As I prepare to enter my senior year at the University of Hawaii, I don’t know what I would have done without the backing and constant support of the educators at DSST Green Valley Ranch.

Although I often complained at the time, the rigor of the coursework prepared me for a future in ways I’m just beginning to understand.

My mom works at DSST, I have a sister who graduated in 2020, who is now pursuing a BFA at the University of Denver, and my youngest sister will be a 6th grader at DSST GVR Middle School this year. The high expectations at the school were consistent with what I expected of myself, because – knowing that my parents sacrificed everything for me and my sisters – I felt a strong need to succeed.

I am hoping to run for the Board of Education in a couple of years.  I want to be able to make positive changes to the system while my sister is still a Denver Public Schools (DPS) student. I think representation is important. As a woman of color, I didn’t see a lot of women leaders who looked like me when I was a student in DPS.

It is frustrating when I see disinformation about charter schools. Some people with their own agendas seek to deny the role charters play as quite often the best option for a lot of us students of color to get a good education. Charter schools are free public schools. They accept students through the DPS choice system the same way other schools do.

I wish members of the current Board of Education spent more time visiting our classrooms, listening to the voices of students and alumni like me rather than making wrong assumptions about the charter school movement, that we are “beaker babies” – not just young people hungry for a future filled with potential and opportunities.

DPS has a history of redlining, limiting high quality education options for students of color. Given this troubled history, I still don’t understand why the current board sought to deny a high school to the talented students at DSST Middle School at Noel. Students and their families wanted to continue the path to a bright future. 

It’s good that the State Board of Education forced the Denver board to do the right thing, and not surprising to me that DSST Elevate will open this fall with full enrollment and a wait list. 

Students and their families want public schools that prepare them for bright futures.I don’t believe education should be a political issue. Every child has the right to a great education – and we need board members who are focused on ensuring every child is able to fulfill that right. We need leaders in schools who understand the needs of our current students.

It’s important to have in-depth conversations with students about what they want. For example, I think it’s really important to support students on their journey of self discovery.Teachers and counselors should question what students really want for their future, as opposed to what their parents or others may expect of them.

I finished high school thinking I wanted to be an engineer. When I found myself unhappy as a freshman at a college in Iowa, my teachers and counselors from DSST told me I was not a failure. They backed me up and helped me prepare for a transfer to the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

One of the most diverse universities in the United States, the environment at Hawaii reminded me of the mix of cultures that I experienced at DSST. I like the melting pot of cultures and the fact students come from different socioeconomic levels.

Now majoring in archeology, I’d like to get a PhD in cultural anthropology. With the pandemic, I was able to study remotely this spring while also holding a job as a substitute teacher at DSST Byers and DSST Green Valley Ranch (GVR). I taught Spanish and history at GVR, and the experience was humbling.  Teaching is difficult work, a lot harder than I thought it would be. 

But I love it and would like to teach in the future, supporting college or high school students. I want to help more students be successful by relating to and and understanding what they’re going through.

There is an election in November for the Board of Education. Denver voters should study the candidates and elect people who listen to what the community wants, and put students first.