There is an extraordinary post today by sitting Denver school board member Jeanne Kaplan which should be required reading for anyone who still believes the DPS board has the possibility of rational agreement. Kaplan takes a Board decision with which she disagrees and pens a series of subjective moral judgements about the board majority who voted on the other side. She does not argue facts or substance, but instead attacks the intent and motivation of her colleagues. I’ve rarely read anything like it from a sitting elected official.
There is not much point in countering these claims; they totter on their own instability. However it’s worth reviewing some basic points that seem to be lost:
First is what will actually happen. Of all the decisions by DPS in the past few years, this one has far and away the biggest gap between rhetoric and impact. Indeed, from the vitriol around this vote, one would think children were about to be dismembered by feral and rabid wolves. But as a result of the Board vote, not a single child will be displaced or prevented from attending North High, and not a single teacher or administrator is losing their job. Not one.
The freestanding building on the North High campus currently occupied by STRIVE middle school students will now be occupied by STRIVE high school students. There is zero impact on the current North program next year, nor is their likely to be any significant impact for several years as the STRIVE high school builds out. If North High school remains half-full (as it is today), some facilities may be shared between the two schools. Lost in all the sound and fury is the simple truth that there is no one who will suffer any significant harm.
Second is the idea of community. Possibly the most discouraging facet of this debate was the way the term “community” has been used to mean “the people who agree with me.” To claim, as Ms. Kaplan does, that one side was overwhelmingly supported by the Northwest community is hogwash. Communities are plural, not singular. The entire point of a representative democratic society is that there are competing interests, and we elect public officials to consider multiple points of view when making decisions — yes, even difficult ones. All hard decisions have competing voices — that is what makes them hard.
Third is that actions matter most. Kaplan makes a big deal out of an online petition signed by 1,200 people over six months time. Good enough — but the ballot initiative to establish a commission for extraterrestrials in Denver a few years back garnered over 10,000 signatures. Signing a petition, particularly one that is online and unverified, is not much of a commitment. Instead, look at the Northwest residents who vote with their feet: the hundreds of families who choice out of attending school in Northwest, as well as the over 650 families in existing STRIVE middle schools who are asking for a different educational choice. These families are not online signing petitions (in fact they are probably not on Facebook at all) — but they are making a commitment with their most precious possession: their children.
The STRIVE families asking for a high school option in Northwest are mostly low-income and minority, a population that has been largely ignored and has disproportionately suffered the inequalities of our current education system. They badly want the opportunity for a different future, and yet Ms. Kaplan so easily regards them as invisible and unworthy that, for all of her finger-wagging righteousness, they merit no mention at all in her essay. Their omission says far more than anything she might write.