Editorial: Work Together for All Jeffco Kids

This morning at church, I noticed a child with an Excel Academy t-shirt walking into Sunday School with my daughters. Excel Academy is a charter school within Jefferson County Public Schools and is just up the road from our church. Just a few days ago I stayed to the end of one of the marathon Jeffco School Board meetings where the battle raged over charter school funding. If I listened to the rhetoric from some people at that meeting, this family from Excel was the enemy.

The big debate Thursday was over whether to equalize funding to charter schools in the district to the tune of 3.7 million dollars. The budget is not finalized and approved yet, but the board majority voted in favor of leaving a placeholder for these funds.

On the same night, the board voted down $600,000 to expand full day kindergarten to more schools in the district. This would allow for schools with 35% or more of children on free/reduced lunch to receive free, full day kindergarten. It would have lowered the threshold on which schools receive free, full day kindergarten. You can read the rationale from Jeffco staff on why full day kindergarten is important here.

One of the ways to spin Thursday’s school board meeting is that the battle was between charter schools and children growing up in poverty. Very quickly this can turn into a form of class warfare as most charter schools in Jeffco are in the suburbs and their rates of students on free/reduced lunch are very low.

The battle continues to rage in Jefferson County Schools.

Seeking common ground and building bridges is becoming a rarity in Jefferson County Schools. Each side is spinning the events to rally their troops. Follow Jefferson County Students First or Jefferson County School Board Watch and you will see the different sides of the spectrum. The bottom line is that the rhetoric matches our current divisive and polarized political climate throughout the county.

How do we stop this toxic climate evident on blogs and in school board meetings? How do we actually focus on student success for all our Jeffco kids?

I think it is really pretty simple yet hard to do on a daily basis.

Assume positive intent.

As an Apple retail employee, one of the best skills we learned was to assume positive intent. Regardless of how we felt about someone’s action, we assume their intentions are positive. It is amazing what happens when we assume positive intent. We still give feedback on the action we see, yet we don’t go into it assuming that the action had malicious intent. We listen to others and ask why they acted in the way that they did. There are many that are assuming that the new Jeffco Board majority wants to destroy Jeffco Schools. Is that true? Or are we just scared that we are losing our power within the system? Let’s assume positive intent, give feedback when necessary and listen to their side of the story.

Communicate

The new school board majority does not explain their actions very often in public. There might be a good reason for this but it also means that those who are opposed to them assume their intentions are not positive. One way to fix this is for the new board majority to be open and honest about their intentions. Explain why they voted against the $600,000 for more free, full day kindergarten classes. Communicate these reasons through various forms of communication, not just at the board meetings. Board President Ken Witt is actually doing this on his campaign Facebook page as he answers posts from critics. You can follow these discussions here under the comments.

As for me, I don’t want to play sides with the board. With the challenges of poverty in our Jefferson Articulation Area, we need all sides to work together for these children to succeed. With Edgewater Collective, we are building a cradle to career pathway so all these children can succeed. Our daughters attend Lumberg Elementary where over 91% of the children receive free or reduced lunch because of family poverty. We need to make data driven decisions on what works in our area because each data point represents one of my daughters’ classmates. And we need to innovate and try new things because the current reality in our area is not good enough.

So let’s start asking the tough questions.

How are all the iPads that our area students received driving student achievement? If they aren’t, then a lot of taxpayer money was spent to give each child an iPad to use during the school year. Why is student achievement important? Because this means that Prince, Julian and the other kids my daughters go to school with will graduate high school and enter a career. We are talking about their lives. We show a strange sort of racism/classism when we don’t push them academically or write them off because they grow up in poverty.

As I dropped off my daughters at Sunday School, I once again realized that though our kids attend different schools with vastly different demographics, we are all part of Jeffco Schools. Charter school families are not the enemy. They seek the best for their children just as we do. They want the best resources for their children to grow and develop. We are all part of the same team.

All of our kids in Jeffco deserve to succeed in school and in life and efforts to divide and scare constituents doesn’t help us achieve this end.

1 Comment on "Editorial: Work Together for All Jeffco Kids"

  1. I very much agree with you about positive intent. But I do ask, how is this positive intent?http://www.tipofthespear.net/S-Colorado_JeffCo_schools.htm

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