By Van Schoales
Members and Friends,
We are about to celebrate my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, where we reflect, eat, and welcome others to our family table.
As I was thinking about what new cranberry concoction to add to our family’s cranberry standards (we always have at least three: a basic freshly-cooked cranberry with sugar and orange, the gelatin canned version and always Mama Stamberg’s, with horseradish and sour cream, yum!) I was thinking about the relationship of Thanksgiving to public education. No, I wasn’t thinking of those horrible mass produced hand prints turned into Turkeys hanging around Kindergarten classrooms, but was reflecting on how we welcome, celebrate and support others to learn in our schools.
My love of Thanksgiving comes from a having a rich diversity of food and people from family, neighbors and new friends around the table. I love the combination of Indian and Persian appetizers with a mostly traditional Turkey dinner at my sister’s table in Los Angeles. I find the food and human diversity is often indicative of the variety and richness of conversation around the table.
Great schools should look more like a great Thanksgiving feast with different people bringing different perspectives yet having the same experience. Too few public schools and school systems, Denver included, seem to care much about the educational ideals of diversity with excellence these days.
Denver like most school districts is highly segregated by race and class because of housing, school district and state policy. While there are some efforts to integrate schools today, it’s mostly thought of as a failed public policy experiment scarred by the experience of forced busing in the 70’s when there was little attention paid to academic achievement for all students and many families had few school options.
Too often these days, school reformers, me included, celebrate the relatively rare yet growing number of “90-90-90” schools that get 90% of their kids to 90% proficiency when they are made up of 90% low-income kids. These are great schools and we need more of them, but we also need more schools that reflect the best of a wonderful Thanksgiving table where all are welcomed, celebrated and supported. I think it enriches all of us – rich, poor, middle class, white, black, brown, English language learner, and Special Needs – to share in the learning with one another. It’s the hope of a great American public education.
Denver has a few very good schools with a diverse student population where most students do well regardless of poverty or race. Most schools in Denver are not very diverse, especially at the elementary level where a school’s student population typically represents the demographics of Denver’s segregated neighborhoods.
Given the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I’d call out and celebrate some of the schools that perform well and are committed to being diverse. This is not a complete list but is meant to highlight some of the good schools that actively work to have a diverse table and strive to meet every student’s needs. While none of these schools have closed the variety of achievement gaps by race and income, they are making strides to embrace diversity and make sure every student group makes progress towards a set of academic standards that will set them for success at graduation.
- Denver School of Science and Technology for single-handedly improving the number of low-income and students of color in Denver going to college in STEM fields.
- Odyssey Charter for being the first high performing school in Denver to preserve seats for low-income students.
- Ana Marie Sandoval for being the first in Denver to demonstrate that dual language instruction can work for all students.
- Denver School of International Studies for embracing a truly global education for all.
- Denver School of the Arts for welcoming and celebrating all students regardless of race or sexual orientation to achieve excellence in the arts (too few low-income Denver students have access to DSA, which is largely the fault of the district for not having a quality arts feeder elementary school).
- East High for supporting more low-income and students of color to excel while it preserves a large traditional comprehensive model that tracks high achievers to the best colleges in America.
- Lincoln Elementary for being a neighborhood school that serves a diverse population of students that consistently does well on academic performance.
Denver has 162 schools with far too few high performers with a diverse student population. More can be done to support excellent and diverse public schools in Denver. Just a few practices that schools and the districts could do include:
- Enable high performing neighborhood schools to preserve some seats for low-income students as DSST and Odyssey have done.
- Support location of new schools in locations that further support a diverse student population.
- Expand transportation systems like the “Success Express” in far NE Denver to enable more low-income students easier access to high quality schools.
- Create high quality feeder pipelines for low-income students in low-income neighborhoods that can thrive in the Denver School of the Arts, International Baccalaureate and other high quality high school college tracks.
The research is very clear that student diversity with a well-designed education program can benefit all students regardless of their academic status. Denver is uniquely positioned among urban districts because of the high number of middle-income students currently attending Denver schools. It would be great to see the district and more schools actively designing schools like a great Thanksgiving table where all are welcomed and celebrated.
Have a great Thanksgiving.