A commentary from Jeffco Guardian:
“What can I do?”
This is the number one question heard these days when the topic of the ongoing and controversial Jeffco board majority actions comes up. It comes from everyone: parents, teachers, grandparents, coworkers and neighbors. People are feeling helpless and, unfortunately, somewhat hopeless. They see a the Board majority of WNW pushing forward their own agenda regardless of what anyone says about it. They do this under the pretense that they were elected to do just that.
These feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are very understandable. But I would venture to take that further and say that these emotions can also be very motivating!
The first thing to tell someone when you hear this question is that you understand how they feel, and that they are not alone. There are many, many others who feel the same way. I wish we could tell people that we have the ability to rein-in WNW and control how they vote, but the sad truth is until they do something blatantly illegal or so crazy that it gets district-wide attention , we can’t. However, we must remind ourselves that they are human and, if we speak their language and do so respectfully, we can try to appeal to their humanity. I believe they know – on some level – that forcing their agenda down our throats is wrong. They want data so let’s show them data, and let’s do so respectfully.
Before I get into recommendations of things you can do, I should first address another related concern I’ve heard: “I don’t feel like I know enough about what’s going on yet to be able to have an intelligent conversation about my concerns with the board.” I totally understand this hesitation and concern.
When I first started digging in, I had never attended a board meeting before and didn’t know all the jargon. Honestly, there’s still SO much I don’t know; it’s overwhelming sometimes. My recommendation is to start with what you do know. Start by calling board members and sending them emails. Ask for an explanation. Tell them that you want to understand their perspective. Ask for more information and their viewpoint on specific things, such as charter school equalization. Ask how that reallocation of funds will affect neighborhood schools. Share with them your and your child(ren)’s experience(s) at your school. Share with them the successes and the challenges your school’s teachers and administrators face.
Ask about the employee compensation issue & budget negotiations – why the impasse? Do not feel like you need to present all the facts in the letter. Bottom line is that you deserve their perspective, and they have an obligation to you as a taxpayer to explain themselves. I encourage people to be respectful and not belligerent in any way. The likelihood of receiving a response is magnified if you come across as you are: a concerned citizen who wants an explanation. Best thing to do is just sit down and write your first letter – you have to start somewhere! Below are the District’s instructions for emailing or ‘snail-mailing’ the Board, plus the guidelines the Board has what correspondence will be published and what will not:
Public correspondence received by the Board of Education office at email@example.com or 1829 Denver West Dr., Golden CO 80401 is available for public viewing. If addressed to individual board members and not provided to the Board office, the correspondence will not be included….
Letters addressed to the Board of Education that contain the name of a student or involve a student issue are not available to the public (* unofficial). The Board does not respond to anonymous letters or letters that are copied to the Board but not addressed to the Board.
Hopefully you’ll get a response – please let us know if you do!
So, that said, here are some specifics:
- Approach the board. This can look a lot of different ways: come to board meetings, sign up to speak during meetings, email board members, call them. We need to let WNW know – on a regular and consistent basis – that we are not ok with how they are manhandling the district.
- Keep reading. Read blog and facebook posts. Read articles on the reform movement elsewhere in Colorado and the nation. Read local newspapers. Peruse the web and look for data that substantiates positions you support or don’t support. For example, look at the research that shows the advantages of early literacy and full-day kindergarten if you are for providing free full-day kindergarten to Jeffco schools with a population that is 35% or more free & reduced lunch (e.g., low income).
- Contact your state representative and senator. Let them know that education is important to you. Give them specific examples from your/your child’s experience regarding how budget cuts over the past several years have affected education in your school. Tell them that paying down the negative factor is important to you so funding can be restored to our schools.
- Talk to…well, everyone! Don’t be shy. It’s easy enough to start a conversation by just asking, “so what do you think about what’s been going on with the Jeffco School Board?” If they have an opinion, great – conversation is started. If they don’t know what’s going on, that’s great too! You have an opening to tell them what’s been going on and ask them if you can email them with updates! Develop a distribution list of your own. You don’t have to start your own blog (unless you want to!) or write your own email updates if you’re too busy – just forward those you receive to your network of friends, coworkers, family members, and neighbors.Keep the conversation going. The reality is that most people in Jefferson County either are not aware of the strife surrounding this new board majority or are not clued in yet as to how it affects them if they don’t have children or grandchildren in the schools. It’s important for those folks that you emphasize the fact that if our local schools tank, so will our home values. Businesses look at the health of our school district when determining whether to locate or remain here. Did you know that by the year 2020, 75% of entry-level jobs will require a college degree? Our schools better be healthy if we are to meet this demand!
- Try to resist the urge to let them divide us! We are all Jeffco: neighborhood schools, GT, SPED, charter schools, option schools! I have been feeling a lot lately that one of the underlying goals is to cause divisiveness and competition amongst our populations – all of us fighting for our “fair share” of the pot. We ALL need to be successful if Jeffco is to be successful! Don’t fall prey to this trap. We need to remain unified and supportive of one another.
The question, “what can I do” can easily be answered by knowing the one thing “you can’t do,” and that is to become discouraged. Discouragement breeds complacency, which we need to avoid like the plague. If we get complacent, WNW’s will and confidence will grow – and they will get even more bold with their maneuvers (hard to even fathom). In fact, that is what they are counting on!
We need to take every opportunity to let this board majority know that we are not okay with the direction in which they are taking this district and our schools. We need to call them on every questionable or out-of-line move they make. And similarly, if we agree with or applaud something they do, let’s tell them so! We must be in this for the long haul; they have a 4-year term…and unfortunately, they’re just getting started.
The last point that I would like to make is that you DO have a voice and you DO make an impact on the outcome here. WNW takes you doing nothing as support for what they are doing.
Regardless of whether you have children, grandchildren, or no children in the schools, we all have a moral obligation to advocate for children, “for the least of these”, for those who don’t have a voice. We thank you for the part you are playing and we applaud your efforts!