What We Have Heard:
Themes from Surveys, Comments, Focus Groups & Gatherings
Community members have been incredibly honest, vocal and candid about their points of view. There have been many diverse ideas shared, however several big themes have continued to come up across many of our conversations:
The community is seeking a unifying leader
Many community members have expressed frustration and concern about what they describe as a politically complicated and divisive environment. Many parents, staff and community members named the need for a leader who can help the DPS community heal, bring everyone together, and develop a strong and shared vision for DPS’s future and every school within the district.
Racial Equity is top of mind for nearly everyone
Many stakeholders expressed the need for improved equity, and they expressed a desire for the following:
- A need to ensure that all schools have access to similar resources, programs and supports for students. Need a champion of equity initiatives and hold people accountable to equity. Parents shared the concern that their children may not have the resources they need to be successful. Many shared the concern that students with diverse learning needs may not be able to access the best possible supports, depending on their particular school. And many staff and families and students have shared the perception that some schools have more resources than others, and that the schools with less programs and resources seem to be the schools with more Black and Brown students.
- A request for greater respect for the cultural and racial diversity that exists in DPS. DPS students are cognitively, linguistically, racially and culturally diverse, and the community expressed the need for focus on a culturally responsive, sustainable, and linguistically diverse education. Students, school leaders and teachers in particular shared the notion that DPS’s curriculum is still too heavily focused on a euro-centric (some used the term “white supremacist”) point of view. Stakeholders shared the perspective that students aren’t able to see themselves in the history and in the curriculum being taught, and that the rich diversity of student cultures aren’t honored or integrated enough in the typical curriculum being taught. Members of the Native American community shared the experience of things celebrated at school can sometimes connect to traumatic events in Native American history, and the desire to bring more sensitivity to the content, school culture and norms to respect and embrace the many cultures that exist within the DPS community. Additionally, community members expressed the need for DPS teachers and leaders to reflect the diversity of the student body.
- A need for equity in policy and practices. Parents and DPS staff alike, expressed a need for changes in policies and practices negatively affecting BIPOC students and teachers and staff, including in the areas of: student discipline, student tracking, student grading and testing, student access to resources, teacher assessments, teacher and staff compensation and advancement opportunities. Participants called out systemic racism as the reason why DPS has struggled with many of the same issues over years, and are asking for a leader who will bring change to the current systems, policies and practices in place that do not serve all students equitably and serve to negatively impact Black and brown students.
Authentic community partnerships and responsiveness
From central office staff, to school-based staff and parents, to students, to community members, one big idea stood out above all. Many people desire a stronger sense of partnership and collaboration with the district, and have appreciated the responsiveness from the district in recent history, and want to make sure that the next superintendent shares a core value for community-centered leadership that has the following characteristics:
- Present in the community. Community members desire a superintendent who will be present in communities and accessible. Stakeholders spoke of leaders who take time to connect with individuals, and take care to respond to concerns, and address them as quickly as possible.
- Not just input, a seat at the table. Community members shared frustration that decisions have been made in the past that had big consequences for specific communities, but didn’t have enough community voice in the decision. Stakeholders shared the desire for a superintendent who doesn’t just value community input, but rather someone who wants to partner with community members to help shape priorities, and to make decisions in partnership wherever possible.
- Advocacy and Voice. Students in particular shared the desire to be able to have their voice valued and to have the ability to be able to influence key decisions within the district. The ability to have access to leadership was a top request for many of the stakeholders who met with us.
Strong academics, and meeting the needs of the whole child, especially post-COVID
Community members shared the need to look holistically at student learning needs, and to strengthen access to great content, especially in reading and math, with an emphasis on recovering from learning loss post-COVID. In addition, many expressed the desire to think more holistically about student learning, looking beyond standardized tests to understand students’ social emotional learning needs, support mental health, and creating safe learning environments for children.
These top themes do not represent the whole of everything we’ve learned, but they are the key sentiments that were shared consistently across most of the groups with whom we had the opportunity to speak.
How does this information inform our process?
We are using the insights shared from community members in three important ways. We are revising the job description to ensure that the key themes from our discussions are well-represented. We have been keeping and continuing to keep these key themes top of mind as we continue to screen candidates and craft interview questions that get at the key ideas we heard from the community. And we are seeking ways to engage community members with candidates in thoughtful and authentic ways. We will share more progress as we go.