EDUCATE Denver calls for more transparent school closure process

Following on the heels of the announcement of proposed Denver school closures, the city’s newest civic coalition focused on education is calling on the school district to be thoughtful, collaborative, and transparent in its decision-making process.

EDUCATE Denver, a new coalition of civic and business leaders created to push for better academic outcomes and the closing of opportunity gaps in Denver Public Schools, issued a statement Friday detailing how it believes DPS should go about deciding which schools should close as enrollment declines.

Denver Superintendent Alex Marrero released a list Oct. 25 of 10 schools that could be closed by the end of this school year, though he used the words “consolidation” and “unifying” instead of closure. Those schools are all under-enrolled, and nine of them are attended predominantly by low-income students of color.

Marrero wants to fast-track the decision, which means the Board of Education could vote on closures at its next regular meeting on Nov. 17.

That’s too soon to allow for community input, EDUCATE Denver says.

“The coalition appreciates the difficulty the district faces in this task and the need to provide students with the kind of programming that they deserve,” the statement says. “However, EDUCATE Denver is also sensitive to the emotional trauma that surrounds school closure, and believes that affected families and staff members need more data and more time to understand the programmatic shortcomings of under-enrolled schools, the quality of proposed alternatives, and a clear timeline for transition.” 

EDUCATE Denver says DPS should explain clearly the criteria it is using to identify schools for ‘consolidation;” how much money the district will save by doing this; and what costs the district will incur as a result of closing schools.

The statement also outlines a proposed process for involving and informing the community.

Here is the full text of the statement:

EDUCATE Denver, a civic coalition for DPS students, today announced its support for absolute transparency and thoughtful community outreach by the Denver Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) in the context of school consolidation decisions. The coalition appreciates the difficulty the district faces in this task and the need to provide students with the kind of programming that they deserve. However, EDUCATE Denver is also sensitive to the emotional trauma that surrounds school closure, and believes that affected families and staff members need more data and more time to understand the programmatic shortcomings of under-enrolled schools, the quality of proposed alternatives, and a clear timeline for transition. EDUCATE Denver acknowledges the district’s fiscal responsibility and the need to right-size, but urges a collaborative and inclusive community engagement process ahead of any vote to ensure that school communities are adequately informed before implementation in 2023-2024. Families should be empowered to co-create solutions that ensure every student is placed in a high-quality program that meets their needs. It is the BOE’s responsibility to manage a school closure process that is carried out in partnership with the community.

“EDUCATE Denver understands the programmatic impacts and financial challenges that accompany declining enrollment in the district,” said Sen. James Coleman, co-chair of EDUCATE Denver. “However, as board members consider school consolidations and closures, they must move with families through a transparent process that includes their voices. Clarity around the criteria used to inform these recommendations and commitment to a timeline that allows for meaningful dialogue in each school community is non-negotiable.”

A Transparent Process

EDUCATE Denver believes that the criteria and data related to school consolidation should be easily accessible to all school communities systemically impacted by these decisions. The Board of Education, district leadership and the school closure committee restricted this data early on in the process and now owe communities both education and support. The community deserves to know:

  • The criteria used for consolidation and closure decisions
  • Criteria excluded from consideration
  • Why certain schools that met criteria were selected over other schools
  • A timeline for feedback, decision-making, choice, transition and integration with receiving schools and that the timeline will support a seamless start to the 2023-2024 school year
  • What number of schools might be considered for future consolidation or closure
  • What savings the district will realize as a result of the closures
  • What costs the district will incur as a result of the closures
  • An overview of how the decisions advance equity and provide immediate benefits for children, families and educators

Move Students Toward Success

EDUCATE Denver acknowledges that in the case of underperforming or low-quality school settings, school closure and transfer can be beneficial to students. Our coalition seeks a district commitment to any student in transition that their new school will offer a superior experience, including:

  • A stronger track record of academic outcomes than their previous school.
  • Program continuity in a more robust environment (e.g., dual language; special needs).
  • Location within 1.5 miles of the student’s home with safe passage or accessibility via district transportation (if a higher performing school does not exist within that radius, district transportation will create access to the nearest qualifying school).
  • A designated staff member who is responsible for that student’s transition.
  • A personal learning plan to facilitate continuity of learning.

DPS Must Partner with Community in School Consolidation Process

EDUCATE Denver anticipates the emotional experience and uncertainty that will accompany school closure in many communities. Our coalition calls upon DPS to facilitate an authentic community process to educate stakeholders regarding the need for school consolidation and to ease their transition. That process at a minimum should include:

  • At least one facilitated 90-minute community meeting at each school designated for potential closure. (The superintendent, a senior staff member and the area BOE member will attend).
  • At least one facilitated 90-minute community meeting at each school designated to receive new students. (The superintendent, a senior staff member and the area BOE member will attend).
  • At least one 60-minute on site meeting with staff at each school designated for potential closure. (The superintendent, HR and the area BOE member will attend)
  • At least one 60-minute on site meeting with staff at each school designated to receive new students. (The superintendent, HR and the area BOE member will attend)
  • An extended BOE public hearing.
  • Additional on-site intervention as needed to address the unique needs of each affected school community.
  • Robust district-to-parent resources (toolkit, website, etc.).
  • An assigned school choice mentor who will assist with process and selections; school choice priority for displaced students.
  • A one-on-one meeting with each family, conducted in conjunction with community partners to communicate new school, transportation, and timeline information.

“The district must act as a good faith partner to the community as they transition families into new situations,” said Rosemary Rodriguez, co-chair of EDUCATE Denver. “We must all acknowledge the trauma of such transitions and not further traumatize by excluding families from the conversation. The district is responsible for helping families understand the challenges in their current school environment and for illuminating the opportunity of a new setting. It is critical to honor the power of parents and to partner with them in creating solutions.”

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