by Trisha McCombs, parent
Published Network for Public Education
Once upon a time there was an idyllic suburban setting with a top-performing school district. Families from across the Denver Metro area flocked to this picturesque, growing hamlet that boasted of community, family, and great schools. Then, recently, a dark force known as School Reform has taken a tight hold on this school district.
This area is Douglas County, Colorado, about 20 miles south of Denver. In 2012 our county was ranked the 6th wealthiest in the United States according to MSN. Our school district (known as DCSD or DougCo) has over 65,000 students, about 6,000 employees, and covers almost 900 square miles. I have lived here since 1998 and have seen the growth and subsequent prosperity. Along with it I’ve seen the DCSD schools excel in every possible way. Now I watch them being thrown under the proverbial bus by our current school board and Superintendent, Dr. Liz Fagen.
It all started with a School Board election in 2009 when a slate of politically motivated candidates were voted into office. Their campaigns were largely (and I do mean LARGEly) funded by the deep pockets of individuals that don’t even live in our county AND have ties to ALEC.
In the short span of 3 years, we have seen an erosion in the Douglas County School District while an agenda is being enforced. You may recognize the themes of this agenda: a voucher program which is currently tied up in litigation; demoralization of teachers as they are subjected to ambiguous evaluations and bizarre market-based pay programs; severe budget cuts despite a growing general fund balance; increased class sizes; major increase in the number of charter schools; the list goes on…
The School Board and their hand-picked, ambitious Superintendent are steam-rolling their ALEC brand of corporate reform “no matter what” (yes, they have said that), and have basically disengaged themselves from the public at large. Long gone are the days of community engagement and collaboration.
So as the Douglas County School District faces the typical formula for privatization — proliferation of charters; starving public schools; voucher pushing; officials disengaging with the public — we have become very aware no one is immune to this warped idea of “reform”. It is not isolated to inner-cities or under-achieving districts…it is happening in high-performing, high-rent suburbia. And the powers-that-be who are pulling the strings are looking at Douglas County and humming the tune “If we can make it there, we’ll make it anywhere…”
The hope lies in the election in November as the Douglas County community has the chance to vote out 4 of the 7 corporate reformers on the Board of Education. With that in mind parents are starting various grassroots movements including sign-toting protests, blogs, and forums. What is proving to be highly effective in our effort to save our public schools are informational house parties. Unlike the hipster notion of house parties, there is no loud music, dancing or strobe lights…these are just get-togethers of involved parents sharing information with other parents and community members who have no idea that their public schools are in danger of being taken over by Corporate America. It is ironic (and awesome) that the fight for public education fully rests in the act of educating the public.