Friday, January 25, 2013

School Selection Commentary‏

Denver resident and parent Kristen Tourangeau says strong neighborhood schools and the involvement of parents and the community are more important to children than the actual selection of schools.  Tourangeau says the author of an item posted at, misunderstands the importance of the community.  She shares her thoughts with Denver Direct: 
 One often hears the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child."  While that may seem unfitting in an urban setting, in fact, it is speaking to the value of community.  Humans desire and thrive because of community.  Rather than upending communities, we need to strengthen our Denver communities to benefit all people, young and old alike.  One place to begin that process is to focus on the quality of neighborhood schools.  The resources and effort needed to do to that vary greatly from community to community, but if we were to "roll up our sleeves" and get working on each school, it could be done.  Replacing neighborhood schools with new types of schools, i.e. charters or innovation schools, is a hopeful "quick fix" to a problem that cannot be solved by market forces alone.  In fact, there is evidence that while these schools may be ideal for serving certain types of students under certain conditions, their success as an antidote for the traditional public school system across the board is far from certain.
Choice does not aid in the desegregation of our school system.  In fact, it has done quite the opposite.  Let's take the case of our Denver high schools.  How do most kids choose a high school?  They choose the school where their friends are, in effect, they prefer to stick with their "communities."  Denver's schools are no less segregated today than they were when I was bused to Manual in the first year of busing almost 40 years ago.  If you review the makeup of the student bodies in our high schools, and visit each of those schools, you will find that we have re-segregated ourselves.  GW is the black school, East is the white school, and Lincoln is the Latino school.  In general, our kids, and their parents, have "chosen" to be where they are most comfortable, with their communities, not necessarily where the education is the best.
There is no easy solution to integration and economic equality.  There is, however, great value to access for all to a good public school system.  For families with limited resources, access needs to be easy and within walking distance.  A community needs to be built around each neighborhood school, so that it can offer children the resources they need in order to succeed.  There are people all over Denver who care about their communities and their neighborhoods, and were they asked to participate in an effort to improve their neighborhood school, and offered true assistance to succeed in that endeavor, I believe they would.  
We should use boundaries in a way that strengthens schools at the elementary level, and provides students nurturing communities, and then we should widen those boundaries at the middle school and high school levels in ways that begin to eliminate segregation and encourage the integration of varying neighborhoods into a larger community.
It is not an easy, or a quick, fix, but it could be done if we had the resolve.



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