Open Schools Safely and Consistently
I like to frame the discussion of issues arounds stories, but I have no stories about having school during a pandemic. While there may be a few sturdy folks who have been alive since the last one, they wouldn’t have been school-aged at the time. The truth is, no one has navigated school with a full understanding of COVID19 and all its implications.
I’m not an epidemiologist. I’m not in the room with the teams of professionals with decades of collective experience and expertise who work at Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH), the CDC, and the WHO. They understand public health better than I.
Of course, they aren’t educators, but I spent 30 years in the classroom and am in constant communication with educators who have been navigating these uncharted waters since late 2019. I have heard stories of the impact of on-again-off-again in-person/online instruction. I have heard families struggling to juggle jobs and children and technology limitations. What I am hearing loud and clear is that we need kids in school and we need consistency.
The leadership of JCPH and Jeffco Schools must work together to safely keep our kids in school, in-person, without interruption in ways that do not imperil the health of those children, their families, or vulnerable staff members. The vaccine has been a major milestone, but many of our students are not yet eligible, and we have much to learn about COVID19.
I will work in tandem with JCPH to serve our children’s educational and emotional needs while preserving the health and safety of our whole community.
One of my students, a ninth-grader, got her father out of bed every morning after he had spent the previous night drinking. He was sluggish, hard to wake, and even harder to get on his feet. But if he didn’t get out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, and go to work, he and his daughter would be evicted. She made sure he had done all of these before she bolted out the front door and raced to get to her first class at 7:30 a.m. Fortunately, the school wasn’t far, and she usually made it on time. Another student’s single mom worked the night shift, not returning home until 8:00 a.m. The student was 17, and she cared for her younger siblings until Mom got home. She had no car, but she was able to walk to school in time for second hour, so her counselor always scheduled her with first hour off. Every opportunity these girls will have in life has depended upon a solid start in their neighborhood schools.
I spent 20 of my 30 years as a Jeffco teacher in an alternative program (ACE) embedded in a neighborhood school, so I know that one size does not fit all. A strong neighborhood school, one with options ranging from at-risk intervention to advanced placement classes, is a lifeline for students and their families. We have a responsibility to care for this important aspect of our communities. I will advocate for neighborhood schools getting the resources they need to serve all the students and families in their communities.
As is true of districts all across the nation, Jeffco schools have faced hard times. In 2011, as a result of the economic crisis and resulting budget cuts, the majority of my colleagues and I voted to cut and freeze our salaries, as well as take furlough days. We wanted to do our part to help the district and keep cuts as far from the classroom as possible, though anything that impacts educators impacts students. The sacrifices we made then significantly impact my retirement today, but I still feel we did the right thing at the time.
The district promised to get educator compensation back on track as soon as possible, but a new board majority was elected in 2013 that actually created a pay scheme that was ultimately found to be unfair by an independent fact-finder. Although that board majority was recalled and a transparent salary system re-implemented, trust between the district and its educators had been damaged, and Jeffco remains well below neighboring districts, like Denver and Boulder, in educator compensation.
This is also true when it comes to compensation for our educational support professionals, vital members of the Jeffco Schools team who have struggled for years in negotiations to get compensation commensurate with their contributions to student achievement.
Betrayal of trust is no way to retain the quality educators we are fortunate enough to employ, and offering less-than-competitive salaries will not place us in an advantageous position for new hires. Jeffco has made commitments to our educators regarding compensation, and we must prioritize responsibility for those commitments to the best of our financial abilities. What we cannot offer in financial compensation, we must offer in work/life balance, by cutting back on extraneous tasks that do not directly benefit students.
Our students deserve educators who are committed to them, which means we need to be committed to our educators.