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A Mom in DougCo, Colorado, Asks for Help

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This letter is an excellent description of the damage that so-called reformers do to good school districts. In this case, it is Douglas County, Colorado. I urge Amy to join the Network for Public Education, which will connect her to others in Colorado who understand the facade of reform that brings a wrecking crew into the district. Carol Burris will reach out to her.

Can you help?

Amy writes:

I’m a mom of two daughters in Highlands Ranch, CO (an affluent south suburb of Denver, which is heavily Republican). My school district (DCSD-Douglas CO School District) has been under siege since our local 2009 elections, when a majority of “Reform” candidates were elected from within our 7 district “boundaries”, and more in 2013. I admit, I voted for most of them, and I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand what the “Reform” movement was, or how it could dismantle an entire thriving and successful district so quickly.

Over the last 4 to 5 years, as I’ve watched the teacher’s union be dissolved, charter schools (from outside CO) invade and fail, and vouchers drain public money away from neighborhood schools. I’ve watched on-site school teachers/administrators who I have great respect and admiration for, either leave (for neighboring districts… they’re actually called “refugees” within the school systems), retire early, become fearful of speaking up, and sink into a slump of morale. I’ve never been a political person, and I’ve traditionally leaned conservative, but the last 4 years, I’ve become active with other parents in our district to stand up against this “reform” DCSD board agenda that has depleted and destabilized our local school system. We’ve gone from once being the top performing district in the state (attracting top educators/teachers), to having the highest teacher turnover in the state, and massive budget shortfalls.

The board’s pet project, creating the new C.I.T.E. teacher evaluation program, is a dismal failure, and has cost us as taxpayers millions. Our district’s legal fees over the last 8 years are staggering, not to mention millions in fines from the CO BOE, for non-compliant decisions of our Reform board directors. Bottom line… our district needs help.

This November’s election will give citizens the opportunity to replace several of the Reform board members, and despite our county being heavily Republican, I feel parent and teacher grass root groups have a chance. But my concern is that SO many residents in our county simply don’t understand the complexity, and direct links between these board members, and harm in our schools. I’ve been a (moderate) registered republican most of my life, but in this area, I’ve become pretty darn “liberal”, based on watching the impacts on my daughter’s schools, and researching “why”.

We are a county/district packed with “families”. Many Denver citizens have/had moved to our suburbs specifically to get into our school district. I BELIEVE, despite resident’s political identification, that this is an issue that can be persuasively won (taken back) in our county. However, during our last few election cycles, lobbyists, money, and out-of-state players seem to flood into our little district. I’ve come to realize Douglas County, CO, is somehow very important to much bigger players. A group called LPR (Leadership Program of the Rockies… ) has been a major influence on our district, and I’ve come to feel as though our local citizens are being manipulated by this group. More directly, by its members and graduates (the 4 remaining “reform” board members are all affiliated with LPR.) They and have even appointed/hired other LPR members to positions within the district… (I.e. the F-Time attorney recently hired to work in our school administration). Is it even normal for a previously highly successful school district to have a FT “in-house” attorney as a school district employee?

I’m really just one small person, and there are certainly others also advocating in my district who are much more knowledgeable about everything that has occurred over the last 10 years. I’m reaching out to you, because of what I’ve read about you, your passions, and your impressive educational and professional background. Do you have any insight or advice for how our grassroots citizens (who understand the need to stand up and “do something”) should proceed between now and the crutial elections this November? Specifically…

* what are the best and most effective ways to get our local community “aware” of these issues? (as many people just find the topic boring, and/or assume no matter who is elected, the “district” is bigger than any one board member)
* assuming we get local voters better educated, what practices result in getting them to ACT (I.e. voting; and potentially across their GOP “party” identifications, if only on this ONE local issue)?
* How do we find, solicit, and promote the best potential “anti-reform” school board candidates for this November’s local election? The “Reform” candidates in previous elections have come across as VERY intelligent, highly educated, and very “successful” people with high level jobs… even I incorrectly “assumed” (in prior elections) that these professional smart people (I.e. an attorney, a rocket scientist etc) would make logical good decisions for our kids and schools. Because they had very professional “day jobs”, and kids in our schools, I guess I assumed lobbyists or outside influences wouldn’t have much effect on them. Now I know each received sizable campaign donations from places like the local GOP party, and LPR sources.
* how can we most effectively raise money for our future candidates, to be able to compete against heavily funded “reform” candidates?
* Is it possible to keep these special interest and even “national” entities out of “our” small local elections?
Thank you for the important work you do. And if I don’t hear back from you, know you have inspired “little people” like me about the crutial importance of public education, and why we can’t treat it as a for-profit commodity.

Most Sincerely,

Amy Smith

Highlands Ranch, CO

Citizen and mom in the Douglas CO School District
[email protected]

PS: these are websites involved local parents and teachers have formed over the last few years…
Involved Douglas County teachers and Citizens…
Douglas County Parents…

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