I have contemplated writing this open letter to you since I was informed of my contract non-renewal on June 4, 2014. It was the day that marked a moment of clarity for me, reminding me that I, my children, and my community are inconsequential to an agenda that leverages us but continues to leave us to strive in the same cycles of insanity perpetuated by a core disposition of deficit and doubt toward us. It has become clear. Eyes wide open.
I have weighed if it was worth my time to reach out to you considering that I have learned that dissenting voices are usually dismissed and quickly categorized as fringe. I have weighed the value of writing you publicly because I know that such public communications of concern and accountability are costly for the writer or speaker. I have weighed writing you because at the end of the day, what are you really willing to do? Does community voice matter? Does a dad speaking up and out for his children and those of his neighbors’ matter to you? Does the voice of a former employee, who worked tirelessly for students and families, give you pause?
Then I began to consider that this open communication to you is not about you at all! It is about my children, my neighbors’ children and my community. This communication is about how I have heard the rhetoric from individuals over and over again. I gave people a chance, even went to bat for and asked others to do the same, admonishing them to trust the communicated process, holding to hope that it would turn out for the good of all. I defended you and others telling people that I had to hope differently. Fool me once….enough is enough! (Just a few highlights of some of those moments):
- Closure of Manual (2006)
- Re-Opening of Manual (2007)
- Innovation Act (2008)
- Board Elections (2009)
- PS1 co-location at Manual, FNE Community process, Manual Principal hiring (2010)
- Manual Principal hiring, Easley recall effort (2011)
- Innovation Renewal, Extended Learning, GALS co-location (2012)
- Board Elections, Fundraising Support (2013)
- Manual Educational coup d’état, Phase out of Montbello (2014)
I’ve heard the talk of commitment to and desire to collaborate with my community, but what I’ve seen and experienced is a by invitation only engagement strategy; if you will agree, not challenge, and carry the company lines back and serve as a buffer between central office and the “radicals” in the community you are welcome. Absurd. I see and hear that our schools and our children still have yet to see the resources and appropriate supports to ensure their success. Leaders are still having to cut or limit essential services (mental health, interventions, elective/special offerings) when central administration could tighten its belt more to ensure more direct dollars and control of those dollars at the school level. The walk and the talk aren’t matching.
What I have seen is a systematic starving, what appears to be an intentional disadvantaging of some of the schools in my community to make way for an agenda that promises “high quality” seats for all on a time table that ignores that there are students that we are obligated to serve well now. If you have the cure or the fix, why not give it to all of our schools for all children now? Can’t the district replicate the cure in district run schools? If we’re getting it done at school A, why can’t we do it at school B? What supports and resources need to be given? What expertise can be lent to expedite transformation? Or is that against the strategy? I guess you need some desert places to drive demand for water.
What I have heard is the rhetoric of choice, which really turns out to be chance, placing our children and community at the mercy of a process that has an embedded belief that it is okay to serve some and allow others to languish in a misery created by the educational malpractice that has been unapologetically visited upon them. I hear the rhetoric of choice but how is it real choice when the choice of parents and scholars can be overturned so easily by you by changing school leadership mid-year? How is it real choice if the only choices are poor choices? How is that equity? How is that just?
What I have felt is dismissed, like many in my community, because we dare to question, dare to seek understanding, dare to demand that our community not be dismantled by people and agendas that are here today and gone tomorrow, and never held accountable for their experimentation and resume building at the expense of our children and community. Folks come and go, never having to look again in the faces of the scholars and families that continue to be failed. We who live here, worship here, play here, grocery shop here, raise our families side by side our neighbors, we are accountable to those lives and faces every day!! We must give an answer for our actions at the barbershop, the grocery store, church, or at the community pool.
What I have seen is a constant turnover in leadership at 2 of the 3 high schools in NE Denver, Manual and Montbello, when we know the importance of consistent leadership to drive transformation. A number of our elementary and middle schools have struggled through numerous leadership transitions as well, and yes, even some of the charters placed in our community have struggled with leadership turnover. This of course has impacted teacher retention, recruitment, and development. This has impacted the very important formation of community, collaboration, and school culture. It has been done, intentionally or at best with little thought to the impact on our children, school staffs, and our community.
I have seen the continued struggles, school to school, stemming from a lack of resources to meet known needs, continued bureaucratic battles with central administration, imposed programs because of grant dollars that wag the dog, the infusion of market based competition knowing that existing district run schools and some non-network charters were not on level ground to truly compete, and the list could go on. I wonder which DPS values these approaches align with? Students first? Equity? Collaboration? Integrity? Accountability? Fun? Please let me know. The walk and the talk don’t align.
I don’t lay this all at your feet; our elected board members definitely have a responsibility to those that elected them to represent us. But then again I do, because you said it yourself! When you spoke of Manual in a recent article, you owned that you had played a role in our struggles. The buck stops with you, you said. Well, I’ve seen a lot of good people losing their jobs for what you said you were accountable for. How does that work? Contract extension? What does your accountability look like? How does it match the families that now struggle because of reduced wages, reassignment, or unemployment? Loss of benefits? Being added to “the list” unable to be rehired in DPS and even shut off from other opportunities because of the whispers to pals in other districts? If the buck stops with you then accountability should begin with you.
I have five children and I will continue to fight for them. I am in a position where I serve/volunteer to ensure that 800 of my neighbors’ children are served well in our community. I will not relent. I was in a leadership position at Manual with the responsibility to serve and support 400 scholars, their families, and the amazing team and community partners. I will continue to honor that commitment as best I can. I have a larger commitment to my community, and every child, every day, in every classroom deserves our best. I will not back down from the urgency of the moment for them. I was born fighting and there is still a fight to be won for our children….to abolish inequalities and make real our nation’s promise that all individuals (including our children) have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Until it is realized we fight on; embracing our responsibilities but also holding others accountable to doing right by our children!
I believe that my community desires better, deserves better, can deliver better, and is destined for better but there must be deliberate inclusion, by you and your staff, of all stakeholders to share power and responsibility, rather than the usual smoke and mirror processes that continue to give voice to a select few, who actually speak for very few of us. This must happen or there must be a community REVOLUTION, an action to transform people and this institution to seize power and responsibility to design a path forward that ends the dismantling of a central piece of what makes us community, OUR schools!
Pastor Vernon (PJones) Jones Jr., DPS Dad/Advocate