By Pat Crowley, Parent of 2 former DCSD students & Community member
Published online January 22, 2017 in Denver Post Your Hub
Seven years ago, after decades of smooth sailing, a “reform” school board was voted in and charted a new course for the children and parents of Douglas County. Existing standards, curriculum and instructional practices, many of which were serving our students well, were tossed overboard. The same fate befell teachers, principals and experienced local administrators, although some escaped via life rafts thrown by neighboring districts. Since the reformers came to power, the seas have become rocky and turbulent and millions of dollars have been wasted on the experiment known as the “reinvention of American education.” The damage has been severe. The district now has an unprecedented four schools under state scrutiny for under-performance and we have lost our “accredited with distinction” rating.
In the fall of 2015, the community, frustrated with the continued decline in our schools, overwhelmingly voted in three non-reform candidates to the Board of Education. Despite efforts to the contrary, the “reinvention of American education” is still being conducted at the direction of the “reform” majority. Although the former superintendent who carried out the bulk of these directives is gone, and many of her top appointees have scurried away like rats abandoning ship, the policies remain.
The three recently elected school board members give hope for a course correction, but it is a constant struggle for the ship’s wheel as the current reform-oriented majority attempt to retain control. The battles are public and sometimes ugly, but that is democracy, and that alone is progress. Long executive sessions where decisions were made under the veil of secrecy have been eliminated. The long-awaited community, teacher and parent surveys have been conducted by third party entities, and all three recently elected board members come prepared and ask probing questions in an attempt to hold everyone, including themselves and their fellow board members, accountable to the public they serve.
As a result of reforms, focus shifted from serving local students and parents to the creation of unnecessary multi-million dollar custom developed software platforms. The teacher evaluation system has now been deemed to be so flawed, even by the school board president, who for years championed its development, must now be “reworked.” How can that be done when the interim superintendent has no experience with the system, her staff are the same people who were in leadership positions when it was created and implemented, there is currently no Human Resource Director to provide needed guidance, and no source of funds has been identified to create the solution? Lost in the discussion is the fact the State of Colorado had developed a system that our district could have utilized for a minimal cost.
It will take years to repair the damage from the reform storm, but we have begun. A course correction is being attempted, but cannot be fully implemented until those responsible are held accountable by the voters in 2017 in the same manner as the three reform board members were that were voted out in 2015.