Southwest Denver parents, organized by some of Denver’s most prominent education reform advocacy organizations and incensed over an apparent delay to improve their schools, are taking matters into their own hands tonight.
That’s when they’ll meet with their school board representative, Rosemary Rodriguez, to discuss how they hope Denver Public Schools moves forward to improve their chronically low-performing schools.
The meeting will feature testimony and ideas on how to improve schools from more than 60 parents, several of whom have been asking for a vast reform effort in the mostly poor and Latino southwest corner for months.
In a rare instance, tonight’s meeting is not organized by Denver Public Schools, but by school board member Rodriguez and a coalition of advocacy groups, including Stand for Children, A+ Denver, Democrats for Education Reform, and Latinos of Education Reform.
“I’m very happy that my son is getting a good education [at a KIPP middle school],” said Graciela Contreas, a Stand volunteer and southwest Denver mother. “But speaking on behalf of other families, I know Denver needs to do a better job at some of their schools.”
Abraham Lincoln High School, her district-run neighborhood high school, is a case in point, Contreas said, shaking her head.
“Lincoln is not a good school,” Contreas said.
Among the suggestions parents plan to pitch Rodriguez tonight are an immediate increase in tutoring, a serious discussion about granting innovation status to some schools, and thoughts about how to create high performing programs — either run by the district or a charter network — that are also is in compliance with a court order that dictates how DPS must teach English language learners.
The parents and the coalition that backs them released a report last spring that detailed the plight of the city’s southwest schools and kicked off the campaign to improve the neighborhood schools.
According to the report, of the 42 schools in southwest Denver, only three were given the highest rating on the district’s evaluation of its own campuses. It also found that only about one student out of every 10 are college or career ready by the time they finish high school.
Southwest Denver schools serve more than 22,000 students — about a quarter of the entire district.
“Rosemary is our greatest hope,” said Mateos Alvarez, city director for Stand. “This is why we knocked on doors for her a year ago. We believe Rosemary can lead us into a place where we can get this done.”
Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she hopes to hear what parents want and then present that to district officials.
“Parents have been asking — at every board meeting — for a plan for southwest Denver,” Rodriguez said. “And I want to give them an opportunity to tell me what kind of schools they think would best serve their kids. Then my intention is to take their feedback to district and say, ‘this is what parents want, these are their priorities. How does that fit in with what you have in mind. And can we create a plan for the area that we can point to and that we can be accountable to.’”
Advocates behind tonight’s meeting say part of the reason the meeting won’t include any district officials is because southwest families have grown tired of waiting for the bureaucracy to act.
“So much time has passed,” Alvarez said. “We don’t know if they’ve dragged their feet, we just know it’s taking a really long time.”
But Susana Cordova, Denver’s chief schools officer, said that’s not the case.
Her team has met with 29 different southwest school communities to discuss transportation issues and access to high performing programs and has provided regular updates to the Kepner Middle Schools community on a delay to phase-in new programs, and has held frequent conversations with Valverde Elementary School families about a transition between principals.
Cordova also plans to present a comprehensive report and plan to the school board in December about how to move forward in southwest Denver.
“We take the parents’ concerns very seriously,” Cordova said.