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COVID-19

After town hall, ALG hopes to build a collaborative relationship with APS

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As the founder and executive director of the African Leadership Group, I want to thank Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn and four members of the Board of Education for participating in our virtual Town Hall meeting on May 2. We hope this leads to a more collaborative and positive relationship than we have had with the district up to now. You can watch a video of the entire town hall here.

For many years we, as representatives of the African immigrant community, have extended invitations to Superintendent Munn to attend our events. This was the first time he accepted. His attendance represents a good first step in establishing a positive working relationship. Our community still has many questions about APS, especially in this time of remote learning. So we hope that there will be many future interactions with Mr. Munn and his leadership team.

It is unfortunate that it took a crisis as large as a pandemic to get Superintendent Munn finally to accept our invitation. It had become obvious over time that, while he was developing relationships with other communities, he was reluctant to interact with the African immigrant community. Perhaps now he will begin to understand who we are, and that while we have many questions and may at times be critical, what we want is a positive, collaborative working relationship.

To be clear, over time we have developed good relationships with some Aurora school board members. President Kyla Armstrong-Romero in particular has come to know our community. She has attended our events, eaten with us, and celebrated with us. People know her name, and feel that she fits well into our community. After this recent town hall event, we hope the same kind of relationships will develop with Superintendent Munn and other school board members.

It is hard to know for certain why Superintendent Munn at last agreed to accept our invitation. It may have something to do with an April 14 Chalkbeat article, in which I was quoted criticizing the district for poor communication about e-learning in the early days of the pandemic. APS sent out some communications that were not translated into some of the languages spoken by our families. I also pointed out that some families did not know APS was distributing computers. ALG ended up raising money to buy 15 Chromebooks and distributing them to families.

After our town hall, I hope APS leadership will now understand that if they wish to reach the African immigrant community, they can work with us to get the word out. We have the capability to translate communications as well as reach people the district apparently cannot reach effectively.

We did hear from the superintendent and board members during the town hall that they are now committed to working collaboratively and in partnership with ALG. They will respond to our invitations, attend our events, and feel free to reach out and ask for our support and involvement. We are eager to see if these commitments, having been made, are followed through on.

We, in turn, are committed to attending APS school board meetings, to know about the decisions that are made so we can communicate them to our community. We also commit to engaging in communications from the district, ensuring that messages APS needs to deliver reach our community. We also will help APS understand which languages are prevalent in our community, so that the district can provide translation into those languages.

On one issue in particular, we heard a positive message from one school board member. ALG is an organization that believes in school choice. One of our members asked school board treasurer Marques Ivey about his position on charter schools, since APS has a reputation of being at times less than charter-friendly. He said he supports charter schools as long as they are held accountable.

As an organization that favors school choice, we want to see more options available for our families. That way, parents can decide which schools best fit the needs of their children. High school choices are especially problematic in APS. No high schools in APS are performing at an acceptable level. High schools are so important to us because they are the platform on which our children are being prepared for the professional world. Without a solid high school education, forget about college.

We asked at the town hall whether APS consider this a crisis, and what do they intend to do about it. Unfortunately, we did not get an answer.

Even though ALG and APS may not agree on certain issues, we want a strong, collaborative relationship with the district and its leadership. Disagreement does not mean we are anti-APS in any way. We want to feel free to express our opinions without creating defensiveness. If Superintendent Munn and others believe we are wrong on certain issues, we would hope they would provide proof that educates and informs us. That is how positive relationships between organizations are built.

Papa Dia
Papa Dia
Papa Dia is Founder and President of the African Leadership Group. A native of Senegal, Papa immigrated to Denver in 1998. He used his first job, stocking books, to teach himself how to read, write, and speak English. Beginning with an entry-level position in a local bank, over the next 17 years, Papa ultimately climbed the ranks to become a regional vice president. In 2017, Papa left his banking career to focus his full attention on running and growing ALG.

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