Resolved to be a Welcoming Community

Last spring, I addressed the Board of Education and asked them to pass the Resolution to Reaffirm Aurora Public Schools’ Inclusive Practices and Beliefs for All Students Regardless of Documentation Status. They did so unanimously, and for that I am grateful. In light of this week’s announcement that DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) would be rescinded, I am compelled to reiterate what I said that day.

On December 12, 2006, ICE officials carried out a raid on the Swift Meat Packing Company. It spanned six states, including Colorado. That day, thirteen hundred undocumented workers were swept up and taken into custody. In Greeley alone, more than 200 children came home from school that day to find that one – or both of their parents – were gone. Many more parents pulled their kids out of school that day; they had heard a rumor that the government was coming for the children next.

Although Greeley is 60 miles away, it didn’t take long for the ripple effect to reach Aurora. That morning, I was working in my office at Crawford Elementary where I was principal. All of a sudden, I heard a loud commotion out front. Frantic voices. Crying mothers. I ran to see what was going on.

“What’s wrong? What happened?” I asked. I reached out to hug the woman who closest to me, but before I could get my arms around her, she grabbed my hands, got down on her knees, and begged me to keep her children safe. She begged me.

Of course, parents want us to teach their children, but the number one thing that parents want us to do is to keep their children safe. While this resolution doesn’t have the power to guarantee a child’s safety from all possible calamities, it does have the power to send a critical message. It intentionally names the baseline of school culture for all our students – whether immigrant or native-born – that Aurora Public Schools is a welcoming community, that we embrace our strength of diversity, that we protect families’ rights, that we care about students’ emotional wellbeing – not just their test scores – and that we stand beside all of them as they work to shape a successful future.

Celebrating Success: Well Done, APS!

Aurora Public Schools moved up a step on the State Accreditation Ratings, and I, for one, am celebrating! Though some may argue that this is not a cause for celebration, I strongly disagree. Of course there is a long way to go. Of course there is much more to do. Of course this isn’t enough. But teaching and learning are complex. It takes a long time to see the results of change and even longer to feel confident that the results are indicative of a trend. But being one step higher on the accreditation ladder is an achievement that’s definitely worth celebrating.

Making this happen is no small task.

As a retired teacher and principal in the district, I understand the razor-sharp focus on achievement, the tireless attention to student monitoring and feedback, and the ongoing hours of collaboration that are required to move the needle in the right direction. It takes knowing what the students already know, understanding what they need to learn next, and believing in every student’s ability to achieve. It takes a highly qualified team of teachers and support staff with the right balance of skill and passion to get the job done right.

Yet, all the best practices in the world won’t matter if students aren’t in school. It also takes a dedicated team of parents who work hard to make sure their children are in school every day. The fact that graduation rates increased demonstrates that parents and schools are developing stronger partnerships to ensure that students are in class, ready to learn, and motivated to meet their goals.

And last but certainly not least, hats off to the students! They worked hard. They persevered. They took on the challenge of learning under many different circumstances, including being English Language Learners, working after-school jobs to help make ends meet, and participating in sports, music, and drama programs. They made learning a priority, and it paid off.  

I have every confidence that Aurora Public Schools will take last year’s success and learn from it; they will analyze what worked and what didn’t; and they will apply what they have learned to all the teaching they do this year.  

This celebration is only the first of many more celebrations to come!

Betsy DeVos Got It All Wrong

While speaking to the American Legislative Exchange Council this past week she said, “Our opponents, the defenders of the status quo, only protest those capable of implementing real change.” In this one statement, DeVos promotes three key understandings that demonstrate an incredibly flawed sense of school leadership; one, that she is in the business of fighting her “opponents”; two, that her “opponents” are just fine with the status quo; and three, that real change only comes from outside the organization. This is not the stance of a great leader.

Great school leaders work with teachers and other members of their organizations. They do not set up adversarial relationships or cultivate a ‘them vs. us’ mentality. Rather than shutting people out, they bring more voices to the table. And while it’s true that leaders sometimes make unpopular decisions, they do so after listening thoughtfully to the ideas of others. There will be many times when compromise is possible, but only when the door is open for authentic dialogue, not shut against a foe that must be overcome.

Great school leaders understand the complexities of teaching and learning. They do not berate teachers and assume they are satisfied when their students under perform. They know that every teacher wants every student to be at the top of the class. Leaders join forces with teachers to analyze the many possible reasons for under performance, develop strategies to meet student needs, and participate in professional learning to develop their understanding of content knowledge and best practices. They do not defend the status quo. They raise the bar.

Great school leaders believe in the power of shared leadership to effect change. They hire the most qualified people, read the best research, and compile data from several, valid sources. They do not believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water. Instead, they collaborate with other leaders to design educational models within public schools such as magnet schools, teacher-led schools, lab schools, and schools of innovation, for example; models that increase student achievement and build stronger communities. They trust one another and hold each other accountable as they seek to change what isn’t working and endeavor to strengthen what is.

Making schools better is not about fighting opponents and blaming others. It’s about realizing that we’re all in this together, that we all bring valuable skills to the table, and that we all have an important role to play in the success of our children’s education.