Public Comments to Board of Education
April 19, 2016
My name is Laura Welch. I am a parent of two students in Douglas County schools, one of them at Ponderosa High School.
Over the past 6 weeks, many false statements have been made by current and former members of this board regarding the students, teachers and SAC at Ponderosa High School. I have been an active parent at the school for four years, and I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.
First, a few facts about Ponderosa. We are the district’s second oldest high school. Our doors opened in 1983, and there are several high-use areas of the school that have not been upgraded since. We have been identified as a “high needs” building on the Master Capital Plan for several years. Currently, we have about 1200 students, and we have been growing over the past few years. We offer the most AP classes of any high school in Douglas County, and our students also enjoy a high number of concurrent enrollment classes with CU Succeeds and Arapahoe Community College. We house one of the only Automotive Tech and Wood Shops in the county. Although we are a 4A school, many of our sports teams compete and do quite well at the 5A level. Ponderosa students are Proud, Proven and Productive.
On March 9, our students held a peaceful gathering on school grounds to protest the treatment of their teachers in this school district, treatment that has resulted in a large number of them choosing to leave Douglas County. This is not a new or unusual phenomenon in Douglas County. We’ve seen it happen at ThunderRidge and Chaparral High Schools in the past several years, as well as at a number of elementary schools.
From the day my son walked into Ponderosa almost 4 years ago, I was struck by the great sense of family that exists in the building. The staff has been integral in the creation and maintenance of this community spirit. The majority of Ponderosa’s teachers and support staff have been at the school for a long time and have developed wonderful relationships with their students and those students’ families. Younger siblings know many of the teachers they will have when they get to the school because they’ve already gotten to know staff members before walking through the front door as a freshman. These partnerships that have been cultivated over many years give students a great foundation, one that allows them to grow and explore because they know they’ll be supported. As teachers leave, this support structure begins to fracture. Students sometimes feel abandoned. I’ve even heard of one who likened a favorite high school teacher leaving to his parents’ divorce.
These comments are meant to educate you about the wonderful culture at Ponderosa High School so that you can gain some insight into why students chose to protest last month. Whether or not you think their actions were appropriate doesn’t really matter. Our students have been taught to think for themselves and question things rather than take them at face value. They are intelligent young adults who made a decision to stand up for their teachers, their school, and themselves. They did so in a responsible, respectful manner. Instead of addressing the concerns expressed by the organizers and the students present at the protest, I have instead heard some members of this board accuse those students of being puppets of either teachers or the teacher’s union, unable to think for themselves. This is insulting and inappropriate.
Your job is to support students in their learning, not scare them into compliance with your way of thinking. Please make efforts to not only understand the students’ concerns, but to address them in a positive fashion. The district will be stronger for it.