As the Denver Public Schools board prepares to vote Thursday on the renewal of contracts for more than a dozen charter schools, four members of the African Leadership Group spoke at a public comment session March 16.
ALG members expressed concern about the current board’s perceived hostility to charter schools. Here are their remarks.
Papa Dia: I appreciate the opportunity to address you tonight on an important topic. As the founder and leader of the African Leadership Group, and as a parent, I have a deep appreciation for the importance of providing educational options for our children. No two children are alike, and no one school model can accommodate the needs of all children.
The Covid-19 pandemic and school district responses to it have demonstrated again that large systems often struggle to adapt quickly when conditions on the ground change.
These are just a couple of the reasons that I, and my organization, strongly support school choice generally, and charter schools in particular. It concerns me that some members of this school board appear to be hostile to the very idea of charter schools. While this is presented as a politically progressive position, it is in fact reactionary, and defends an unacceptable status quo for low-income families and families of color.
Instead of attempting to undermine charters, I would suggest that this board focus its attention on truly making school choice an option for all DPS families. This means figuring out how to make transportation available to all families to whatever school they choose, whether it’s a charter or a school run by the district.That would be a truly progressive step in the right direction.
As you begin the process of hiring a new superintendent, please do not make opposition to charter schools a litmus test. If you truly value educational equity, then your primary focus should be to hire a leader who wants the same variety of educational options to be available to members of my organization as to the district’s most wealthy and privileged families.
Ikunda Buretta: Good evening, school board directors. I am the mother of two Denver charter school students. As such, I am dismayed at the negativity some of you display toward charter schools. I chose charter schools for my children because I believe they provide the best model of education to serve their learning styles.
To be honest, I do not care about governance models. I do not care whether the schools my children attend are overseen by an elected board like this one or the nonprofit boards that run charters. What I do care about is having options from which to choose. I have not heard from any of you a reasonable argument for why you would take away these options.
Please keep in mind that if Denver begins to limit or shut down charters, this will disproportionately affect people of color. I know you are all about equity. Why, then, would you take such a blatantly inequitable position?
Please align your rhetoric with your values and stop demeaning and threatening charter schools. Thank you.
Vivian Mensah: Good evening. I am the founder of an organization called Diversifying Our Communities. I do not need to tell you that diversity comes in many different forms: Age, race, gender, ethnicity, culture, nationality, educational background to name but a few.
If we believe in creating a society where diversity thrives and all people are accepted for who they are, then what would cause anyone to believe that providing parents and children with a diversity of educational options would in any way be harmful? Among our children there is a diversity of learning styles. We need a diversity of school models to match the needs of our children.
High quality charter schools provide options for families that in many cases are not available in schools run by districts. The fact that they are popular with families and have long waiting lists should tell you, as school board members, everything you need to know about them.
I have heard recently that some of you have made negative statements about charter schools, and might make decisions that would make it more difficult for new charters to open and existing charters to receive contract extensions.
Of course it is your responsibility to ensure that all schools are of high quality, those run by the district as well as charters. I would not expect you to approve or keep open any school that can not perform over an extended period of time.
But to hold a prejudice against schools simply because they are charters is wrong, and does not serve the children of Denver well. Please keep open minds on this issue. Thank you.
Anne Keke: Good evening, school board members. My name is Dr. Anne Keke, and I am a public school educator at Colorado Early Colleges, a charter school in Aurora. I am here to night in my role as a member of the African Leadership Group.
I am a strong believer in school choice, and that means I am also a strong supporter of high quality public charter schools like the one where I teach. Denver has long been recognized nationally for its openness to charter schools, and for its rigorous process for ensuring those schools are serving students well.
I have read recently that this school board is considering changes to that rigorous authorizing system, and is also far more skeptical of charter schools than past boards have been. I find this both sad and puzzling. I admire your often-stated commitment to equity, and so I wonder how you reconcile these two conflicting positions.
To me, one of the cornerstones of equity is that all people, regardless of background, have equivalent access to educational opportunities. Obviously not everyone is going to be able to afford Kent Denver of Colorado Academy. But should people for whom elite private schools are out of financial reach have no options open to them?
Denver is rich with high quality charter schools, as well as a wide range of excellent district-run schools. Why would you even consider depriving the very people who are most in need of viable options for their children of a chance to choose the model that would work best for them?
Please do not develop reflexively anti-charter positions or policies. This pandemic is almost over. As soon as possible, please spend some time visiting some of your charter schools, and please, keep an open mind.