PERRY: Aurora Public Schools Blueprint for change doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster

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Sable Elementary fifth grader Catherine Rodriguez listens to public comment at the Dec. 14 APS board of education meeting. Photo by Carina Julig/Sentinel Colorado

While it may be hard for many of you to remember, I’m pretty sure your interests and maybe even your values have changed quite a bit since you were in the second grade, or even high school.

Other than praying to be selected by Mrs. Thompson to take the class gerbil home for Christmas break, and hoping every day the gym teacher would announce anything but yet another game of “bombardment” — the cruelest form of dodgeball ever created — I remember few career proclivities while at Juchem Elementary School.

We were bused there, in the middle of nowhere in Broomfield, miles from the middle of nowhere north of Denver in the 1960s.

Since then, it’s always intrigued me how many parents agonize over their children having to attend just plain ol’ school when they could be finishing fifth grade with a pilot license or be well on their way to an engineering career by the time they graduate kindergarten.

Despite years of torture in gym classes, languishing without parole in math, kicking serious ass in theater and always tops in my class at lunch and recess, the only thing that stuck with me is a sense of curiosity that annoys my family to no end.

“Daddy,” my own little girl, Isabella, began telling me when she was in school. “We do not wonder about everything. We accept, and we move on.”

Under pressure to get Isabella into something that leads directly to a 10-figure salary after high school, we first chose for her a charter school specializing in parents agonizing over which school to choose for their kids.

Realizing the folly there, we chose to put Isabella in an international school for middle and high school. There she learned to speak very little French but with perfect pronunciation. On the positive side, she muscled through the usual classes shoulder to shoulder with kids from all over the planet and from families across every spectrum.

While she didn’t finish with an accounting degree, she became part of a community that supported her as a nervous-ish kid, and it has served her well ever since. She’s fiercely defiant of any and all forms of intolerance and bigotry, and equally insistent that anyone not playing by the rules be immediately called out.

Her eventual degree in criminal justice came naturally.

But what was so critical wasn’t the Advanced Placement academic programs or state-of-the-art language labs that buoyed me or Isabella, it was the school community.

It was the teachers who offered elementary-school me interest or pity when I was oh-so-sure of myself, and importantly and often, when I wasn’t.

It was Isabella’s community of teachers and friends who closed ranks when a pal committed suicide. When a friend’s family split up and the kids were stranded. It was a community that celebrated wins and was supported during losses, but mostly, it was always there.

So I can deeply sympathize with the parents and students of Sable and Paris elementary schools in northwest Aurora. 

The two schools, in the thick of some of Aurora’s poorest and most diverse neighborhoods, are slated to be closed for good at the end of the next school year as part of a massive restructuring of the school district, called Blueprint APS. The plan calls for closing schools, redeveloping schools, reinventing schools and more in light of declining enrollment, especially in the oldest, western parts of the Aurora Public Schools district.

For the past several months, parents, students and teachers have begged, pleaded and threatened the school board not to close those two elementary schools, and, instead, choose others to shutter or just leave them open.

They’ve made strong, tearful cases to keep the schools because they offer so many families who speak so many different languages and come from so many different parts of the world a place where their kids are safe, nurtured and offered opportunities, challenges and assistance that most schools could not or would not even consider on the same level.

But after years of agonizing research, planning, engagement and conversations, there’s no arguing against the declining number of kids, which brings a declining number of dollars and declining options for APS.

Right or wrong, the only realistic option is for APS to close schools. Right or wrong, they chose Paris and Sable in this part of the district after a very non-arbitrary process. It’s wrong that schools like these have to close, but doing the right thing, fully funding Colorado schools, isn’t an option right now and probably never.

I hope parents and students at these schools realize that while they’re losing the immediate comfort and convenience of what they’ve always known at school, they don’t have to lose the school community and what it has provided.

This is where the school board, which followed through with the most practical, logical path it could determine, can make good for those whose lives are immediately disrupted by the decision to close these two schools, and for the future families that could have benefited from the same nearby environment.

I went to new schools on three occasions and created communities where there had been none, one was as far away as Evergreen when a bunch of feisty and quirky students and teachers created Open School.

With my daughter, we created school communities two more times. Each time, I discovered that it was the drive of the students, the ingenuity of the teachers and staff and the commitment of the parents that made these new schools so important and so rewarding, not the buildings or their locations.

The APS school district needs to hire and assign porting specialists during this last year to find out just what makes the Paris and Sable elementary school communities work so well. They need to find out what it is that these schools provide to students and their families that fits them so well. And the district needs to make sure those things are moved with all the books, desks, jump ropes and dodge balls to wherever these students are going the following year.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]

 

    

 

 

 

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Joe Felice
Joe Felice
6 days ago

No, but partisan bickering and attempts at taking over control will guarantee failure.

Thomas J Foley
4 days ago

Why won’t the APS board politicians admit that their real motive is to reallocate funds from Jewell to schools in more affluent neighborhoods. Closing a few inner city schools might make it possible for the yuppies on the board to afford fabulous football stadiums like Cherry Creek Schools. That, in their minds, may be a far better use of funds than teaching a bunch of ESL kids on the west side.

Last edited 4 days ago by Thomas J Foley