In Denver these days, it’s no secret that the city has been changing – fast. Despite rising income levels, the cost of housing has shot up, and people flocking to the Mile High City are less likely to have school-age children. These changes have placed a considerable strain on lower-income populations across the city, as neighborhoods gentrify and families are priced out of their homes.
When the Denver Board of Education passed a resolution to establish the Strengthening Neighborhoods initiative in March, they made it clear that ignoring this problem was not an option.
Our challenge: Propose practical solutions for how Denver Public Schools (DPS) can provide high-quality, integrated schools that not only offer the best educational outcomes for Denver’s children, but also help to promote and sustain vibrant, culturally-rich neighborhoods. Data shows that integrated schools offer improved educational outcomes for all students. Drawing on our deep roots in Colorado and passionate commitment to the success of Denver’s kids, we signed on as co-chairs and began nearly six months of work with a dynamic group of committee members.
More than 50 percent of the committee members are parents and former DPS students, and more than 60 percent are people of color. We have engaged with families and more than 300 community groups from across the city to seek solutions to the challenges gentrification has brought to the city’s schools.
To build a solid foundation for any changes we suggested, we set four overarching recommendations to guide the district’s approach.
The first is that DPS should establish measurable targets for increasing integration in our schools. Moving forward with a set goal gives everyone something in common to aim for and a much clearer outcome.
Second, we recommend that DPS, along with community partners, develop and produce a set of resources to help schools create integrated environments. It is going to take time and intentional action to create inclusive excellence, and teachers and school leaders need well-designed, effective tools and tactics to learn from each other and gain insight into best practice.
While DPS has an important leadership role to play, the district cannot solve these issues alone. Our third overarching recommendation is that the district commit to ongoing coordination and advocacy with the City of Denver and partner agencies, such as the Office of Children’s Affairs, the Office of HOPE (Housing and Opportunity for People Everywhere), the Office of Economic Development, Human Services, Denver Housing Authority and local non-profits.
We intentionally designed our recommendations to include community involvement at every step. Families and communities must be true partners in this work, and changes cannot be something that just happens to them. To reflect that commitment, our final overarching recommendation is that DPS step up its public engagement and communications efforts regarding the benefits of inclusion and diversity.
Although we don’t know all that the future holds for Denver’s neighborhoods, one thing is certain – our work does not end when we present to the board on December 21. The implementation of our recommendations is extremely important to everyone who volunteered time and resources to work on this committee. To this end, our recommendations include pilot programs that we think will make an immediate difference for Denver families and we encourage the district to publicly track the impact of these pilots.
As we dig into the implementation phases of this work, we’ll share more about the detailed action steps that DPS and its partners are starting to take. We’ll be back here on CO School Talk with blog posts about the committee’s recommendations for equity, access, and design and sustainability in the coming weeks.
About the authors:
The Strengthening Neighborhoods initiative co-chairs are Diana Romero Campbell, president of local literacy nonprofit Scholars Unlimited; Antwan Jefferson, assistant professor of Human Development and Family Relations at the University of Colorado – Denver School of Education and Human Development; and Janice Sinden, CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Learn more about the Strengthening Neighborhoods Committee at dpsk12.org/neighborhoods.