I am a proud Far Northeast Warrior and Raptor.
That’s because for the last eight years I have been lucky enough to work as an educator in the Montbello and Green Valley Ranch communities. In 2010, I was living in California when my sister started sending me articles about the serious changes that were about to take place at one of Denver’s oldest schools, Montbello High School. At the time, the changes included new leadership and a federal grant to support turning the school around. I got really excited about the opportunity to support Montbello’s turnaround, and reached out to the new principal to see if he would be interested in having me come work as an assistant principal for him. I loved the history of Montbello, the commitment and pride of its community, and the opportunity to be a part of changing the narrative for students who deserved excellence from their educational institution. Fortunately, the principal hired me, and I moved to Denver in June of 2010 to prepare for the 2010-2011 school year.
Unfortunately, within three months of being there it became clear that the winds of fate did not support a turn-around, and it was decided that we would be phased-out.
The Montbello students, at that time and for years prior, had experienced unprecedented leadership turnover. I know that stable leadership can make a huge difference in schools, and so I committed to staying at Montbello until the last class, freshmen at the time (Love you Class of 2014!!!), graduated. The rest of that year, and the three years that followed, were rife with deep joy and deep sadness: a community in mourning for an institution it had fought for, and children grappling with losing a place they loved and deciding whether or not they should stay.
Imagine being “told” through the decision of adults, ‘this school isn’t good enough and it’s going to close. But it’s good enough for you until you’re done.’
Teachers who had spent years trying to salvage a school without consistent leadership were losing their jobs. In fact, we had to reduce 50 percent of our staff each year. What a disaster.
I can’t argue against the fact that all of us in the Far Northeast needed to commit to better results and more quality school options for kids, but I hated how it was handled because of how much was missed in the way of honoring people and community in the process.
So as closure became more imminent, my commitment to the Far Northeast community continued to grow as well. I knew that after my students graduated, their younger siblings, cousins and friends would need great teachers and leaders, too. And, I needed to figure out how I could continue to support all of our community’s kids.
During my time at Montbello I built a relationship with DSST Public Schools (a public charter organization within Denver Public Schools), and it was a visit to DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School that convinced me I wanted to join DSST after Montbello closed. It was a humbling and inspiring experience to walk into a school serving OUR kids, and see them getting the incredible results that all our kids deserved. I have always known that our educational challenges have nothing to do with what our kids are capable of, and everything to do with how we, the adults, serve them. However, I had yet to see it proven in action. As I lamented over the ways I knew we were failing our students at Montbello, I felt so hopeful knowing people were getting it right somewhere in our community. I joined DSST as a school director in training so that I could learn how to lead impactfully for our teachers and our kids in the Far Northeast.
I feel so proud to have been a Montbello Warrior for four years, and feel equally proud to be a DSST Raptor now. I currently teach siblings and family members of students I had at Montbello, and it just feels like a big family community to me. I have spent the better part of a decade working with students and families across Far Northeast Denver, and here’s what kills me:
Still today, not enough of us are coming together to workshop the best ways to make sure every kid in our community has access to a great education.
Why are we spending so much time arguing about school governance models (charter vs. innovation vs. traditional) instead of trying to build collaborative relationships across school teams and critical trust among our community’s families and students?
DSST is usually the first to name what we still need to work on, and we have some serious work that we’re doing. We, too, could be doing more in partnership with our community schools. Our politicians could be more focused on our kids, not the adults, and supporting the bridge-building amongst schools that could truly change our Far Northeast story for the better. Our students and families deserve better results than they’ve received, and they are once again demanding that we step up—not for them—but beside them in the fight for equity. We should all be working together to achieve that in a serious way.
That’s the conversation we should all be having every day. Let’s pull the best from all of us and spread those ideas around until every school school team feels empowered and equipped with the resources to make the moves needed to get our kids prepared for college and the world beyond.
Caroline “G” Gaudiani is the principal of DSST: Green Valley Ranch Middle School. She served as assistant principal of Montbello High School from 2010-2014. Her post is the second in a CO School Talk series on the “Road to Equity and Excellence in Northeast Denver.”