It’s been a while since I wrote a real blog post. Not a short piece for campaigning, but the kind I used to write before the internet ate my writer’s website. As I head toward the end of my first full academic year on the school board, I wanted to share a bit of the journey.
First, I have a whole new appreciation of what goes on at the Ed Center. I can’t attest to what it was like up until now, and I will stand firm that decisions were made in the past that I believe did not benefit students, but when I actually talk to our current superintendents and members of the cabinet, I get an appreciation of just how many moving pieces the district has and what it takes to keep it all running.
For example, I took a tech tour last week. I was assured by Chief Information Officer Jill Ibek that anyone who wants to know how Jeffco spends their tax dollars on tech and how it benefits kids can call her to schedule a tour. You’ll see the equipment and expertise it takes to keep 69,000 kids online at all times. You’ll also see that many people listed in the “administration” portion of our budget are not in their Denver West or Quail Street offices because they are out in schools. You’ll meet people whose jobs fall into this same category repairing hundreds of ChromeBooks that got into altercations with their students.
That’s one example fresh on my mind. I’ve had great conversations with cabinet members about restorative justice that is well implemented (not the halfway implementation that leads to disaster), heart-to-heart talks about how we prioritize spending, deep dives into how best to support instruction, and a whole lot of discussions in every area about equity.
I was talking to my minister’s wife about this next part last Sunday. I came onto the school board expecting to drive change, especially in the areas of equity and employee relations. What I found was that the work was already underway. My job has been to make sure our policies support this work and to assure the people doing it that I have their backs.
I came in knowing how policy governance works (thank you Reverend Wendy Williams and all of my past board colleagues at Jefferson Unitarian). I didn’t really expect quite so many people to believe that my job was to intervene at the individual student level at individual schools or to create rules at the micro level. It makes sense, though. Very few people have ever even heard of policy governance. It’s a governance model that focuses on creating policies that lead an organization in the right direction and that support the work of the people in charge of operations. For Jeffco, it means that all of the people who are doing the work of educating kids can be secure in the knowledge that there is a chain of command. That a board member with a 30,000-foot view of the district will not presume to come barging into a school and undermine leadership.
There’s been one exception, one that is built into policy. That was an expulsion hearing. It’s a big responsibility, balancing the safety of kids and the smooth running of a school by adults with an individual child’s educational needs.
It’s also a big responsibility to balance parents’ heartfelt desires for their children with those very children’s autonomy. I really do believe that most parents want what’s best for their child. As an educator for 30 years, that’s what I saw most of the time. Sometimes I had students who were pretty low on their parents’ list of priorities. Sometimes I met parents who were doing very destructive things to their kids with good intentions, both parents who were too permissive and parents who were too autocratic. Of course, you can’t teach for 30 years without making mistakes and being painfully aware that you’re not always right, yourself, about what’s best for a kid. My belief is that a district and all of its schools should partner with parents, but in the end, our work is kids.
The same is true when it comes to teachers. Having been a flawed educator myself, I don’t believe the teacher is always right, and I know that accountability is vital to the welfare of kids. I also know that teachers, administrators, and support staff who feel undervalued, overworked, and unsupported cannot do their best for kids, no matter how much they want to (and they want to). I think we’re headed in the right direction on both counts. Where data can seem like more water in an ocean educators are drowning in, we’re trying to make it the water the whole district swims in, successfully. An objective gauge teachers and leaders can use to check their results and adjust course, not random numbers that serve no other purpose than to browbeat. I also hope negotiations are feeling more collaborative and respectful than they have in the past.
I’m proud of the work we’ve done, even when it’s been heartbreaking and/or unpopular. Let me tell you, I did not run for the board to close neighborhood schools. I did, however, run on the promise to make sure every child’s school was fully funded, that no kid would be stuck in a school with fewer opportunities because they were being short-changed. I wish it hadn't meant closing schools, but I am excited to see more fully resourced schools for all kids next year. At the same time, Regional Opportunities has offered me a chance to use my years of experience teaching high-achieving debate kids, smart and powerful kids designated at-risk, and every other kind of kid to imagine high schools that serve every one of them. It’s incredibly exciting work.
In closing, I want to remind you all that we try very hard to be transparent in Jeffco. My hope is that, rather than hearing about schools from your regular national news source and assuming Jeffco is the same as the picture you’re presented, read our agendas and watch our meetings here. In return, we ask the same of our community. If there is an issue you see arising in your child’s school, and you want us to know about it, we need clear information. We need to know the school, and when applicable, we need the names of people involved. As I said, intervening isn’t really our job, but we can head you in the right direction, and sometimes it really does inform the making and implementing of policies. Anonymous letters and hearsay are simply unactionable. We want to help.