Both school districts serving Aurora students are in precarious positions, and both need thoughtful leaders, open to innovation, to lead Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek schools through a variety of obstacles.
In Aurora Public Schools, we recommend voters choose Amber Drevon, Vicki Reinhard and Nichelle Ortiz. In Cherry Creek schools, we suggest Angela Green Garland fill the District C seat on the board.
The challenges for APS are critical and pervasive. The school district serves a wildly diverse community of students, many of whom come from financially struggling families and speak a language other than English at home. The district has some of the most worrisome student mobility rates in the state. This is a school district that regularly takes in immigrant students who might never even have seen a textbook before arriving at an APS school.
Many things in Aurora have created an oversized pool of underperforming students. The academic hurdles they face often stem from unmet basic needs and overwhelming stress in their personal lives. Thousands of students don’t have stable housing, adequate clothing, dependable food or a home that’s conducive of academic success. Struggling parents often work two or more jobs, and many children work alongside their parents.
The biggest problem APS faces is providing unmet personal needs for children in a state that under-funds schools that don’t face even half the problems abundant in APS.
Superintendent Rico Munn has pressed forward with a package of reforms that appear to offer hope for a district that has a handful of schools under some type of state review or control.
The effort has had mixed results and raised serious questions. The APS district has opened its doors to numerous charter schools, a dubious decision. A few of these schools have shown promise to the community at large, but many clearly skim the best students from the most engaged families in APS community schools. They then erroneously claim their academic programs are superior to others.
Cherry-picking students out of local schools or even out of a community benefits no one. It’s a shell game,
Beginning next year, APS will begin discussing and implementing its “Blueprint” redevelopment project. It may mean closing some schools, turning some into centers for essential social services and even creating regions of educational emphases.
The effort will call for extreme dedication from the next school board to scrutinize and then champion a path forward.
Former APS school board president Amber Drevon would be instrumental in leading the charge ahead. She’s already versed in the complexities of the school district. She understands that APS faces a possibly disastrous teacher shortage as well a dearth of funds for services APS students desperately need, which the state won’t provide for. She has proven herself fiercely independent and loyal to parents and families.
Likewise, parent and community advocate Nichelle Ortiz has made it clear to voters she, too, would be a strong, independent voice on the board. Ortiz would bring new energy and ideas to a panel that needs to hear from parents who are often unsure about school and district policy. Ortiz would bring a strong sense of parent advocacy to the school district leadership.
Vicki Reinhard is a passionate educator and brings a wealth of real-world experience and insights to the school board. Having taught special education students for years, she had first-hand knowledge of how a growing population of students with all kinds of unmet or special needs are often overlooked.
A former teacher-union leader, she will be a strong voice for educators on the board. Some in the district fear her tenure will create an anti-administration element on the school board. We’ve seen how administration leadership usually becomes an eye-opening experience for new board members. Board tenure usually creates new understanding of the needs of competing forces.
Along with current board members, these three candidates promise to create well-rounded, ardent advocates for students, parents and teachers.
New reality for Cherry Creek
The challenges are just as critical but less pronounced in Cherry Creek schools — for now. This school district is taking a double hit.
Cherry Creek schools has seen a sharp increase in students who come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and communities, and many of whom struggle with academic proficiency. Cherry Creek schools has long worked to meet the challenges created by poorer students in the northern part of the district, historically with mixed results. Much has been done, much more needs to be addressed for the same reasons Aurora Public Schools struggles. Now, students from financially troubled families, many of whom also struggle with English skills, are more prevalent. They live across much of the district, not just in the north area of the area.
At the same time, the school district is seeing a decline in current and future enrollment, mirroring that in many other school districts.
The bottom line is the district is seeing an increase in students that require more resources at the same time it will see budget dollars dwindle because of declining enrollment.
The next school board must work with the administration to find a way to navigate through the challenges to keep its relatively higher student testing scores from slipping.
Angela Green Garland is the natural choice to meet these challenges. Garland has served on a host of school district boards and committees and is already entrenched on what’s been successful in Cherry Creek schools and what needs change. She’s spent years talking with parents about district programs and challenges and brings a keen understanding of real-world issues Cherry Creek families face.
The district’s other two school board seats up for election this year have candidates unopposed.