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DPS board candidate Kimberlee Sia: Union-reform divide is a false dichotomy

Editor’s note: This article was written by Kimberlee Sia, a candidate for Denver Public Schools Board of Education District 1, representing southeast Denver. Boardhawk has offered to publish commentaries from school board candidates, including Sia’s opponent, incumbent Scott Baldermann, through October. 

School board elections over the last few years have been defined by candidates put into two groups – those supported by education reformers and those supported by the teachers union.

As someone who has been the president of a teachers union and worked in charter schools, I have a unique perspective on both sides of the issue.

I believe this is a false dichotomy that is driven by adult politics and is not focused on what is best for students. I believe you can both support new ideas and innovation in schools and ensure teachers and all educators are supported in their important work.

As a first-generation college student raised by a single mom, school was where I thrived and saw a path toward a brighter future. I was fortunate throughout my K-12 education journey to have educators support me and my love of learning.

I became a teacher because I wanted to ignite this same love of learning in others. I have spent 25 years working in public education alongside students, families, and the community. I have been a teacher and a principal. I have worked at the district level supervising principals, leading professional development, working in operations and finance, leading all aspects of academics as a Chief Academic Officer, and serving as the CEO of a charter school network.

Most recently, I was the President & CEO of Colorado “I Have A Dream” Foundation, a Denver non-profit offering after-school and summer programming for youth in Southwest and Far Northeast Denver, along with supports for families and one-on-one mental health therapy for both kids and adults.

Throughout all of my time working in schools and supporting students and families, I have focused on providing a quality education for all and removing barriers that impact the academic outcomes of students. I have worked with community to identify the opportunities they would like to see for students and to partner in addressing the challenges that arise. I have worked as a bridge builder by keeping the focus on students and rising above the dichotomy of charter versus traditional and non-union teachers versus union teachers.

Families are focused on ensuring their children are getting the best education possible, in a safe and caring school environment. The majority of families choose schools for their child based on these criteria, and not on the governance type of the school.

Ask most families and they will tell you they chose a school because of the amazing educators, because it has a specific learning focus like expeditionary learning or STEM, or because it is the school across the street from their house. I have yet to hear from families that chose their school because of its governance model.

This false choice is perpetuated by adults focused on bringing their own issues into the schools. Our students do not have time for the adults to be focused on politics when it comes to their education.

My opponent, lacking much of a compelling record based on his four years on a troubled school board, has charged that I want to pit schools against each other, strip teachers of their rights, and segregate our schools. These things could not be further from the truth.

I have led when it comes to collaboration between schools in DPS. I was the co-chair of the DPS Collaborative Council for five years where district leadership, board members, and traditional, innovation, and charter school leaders worked together in the best interest of DPS students.

I have fought to protect teachers’ rights as a member of the teachers union every year I was a teacher, a member of the contract negotiation team for six years, and the teachers union president for four years.

And segregating schools is abhorrent to me. I am the mother of multi-racial children and have spent the last 25 years working in schools that predominantly served students of color, students whose families qualified for free and reduced lunch, and multilingual learners. I pride myself in working to collaborate with others, especially across lines of difference.

I have fought to address the inequities that exist in education and our communities through community partnerships and advocacy at the city, state, and federal legislature.

As voters fill out their ballots in this election cycle, it’s time to take a look at how the politics of past school board elections have, or have not, benefited our students.

Instead of voting for candidates based on false dichotomies, perhaps vote for candidates who have experience working with students, families, and the community.

Vote for candidates who will listen to feedback and make decisions in the best interest of students. Vote for candidates who truly believe Denver Public Schools can be a top-notch public school system for all of our students.