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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sánchez

Let's not get sidetracked

For community members interested in the health and well-being of the Roaring Fork School District, here’s a different perspective.

On March 15, the board made public its formal evaluation of current Superintendent Dr. Jesús Rodríguez, hired last May.

It read, in part: “As a final note, it was clear to both the board and our consultant at CEI that there was a deliberate negative campaign against our Superintendent through the open-ended feedback process. We were appalled to read such hateful and racist comments about our Superintendent, who is a leader of color, and were saddened that this emerged in what was intended to be a productive Superintendent evaluation process for our district. We strongly condemn any such rhetoric concerning our Superintendent, leaders of color in our district and community, and most significantly, our students of color.”

As a Latino who grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley and graduated from Basalt High School, it’s difficult to express how disturbing this is to read. It would seem as if those attacking Superintendent Rodríguez fail to recognize that nearly six out of 10 students in the district are Latinos, a majority of whom primarily speak Spanish. Or that they are unaware that Latino students are, on average, academically 2.8 grades behind their white peers and, according to the school district, Latinos face an achievement gap as high as 40%.

We cannot let the distraction of personal vendettas — be it internal personnel disputes, irrelevant contract clauses, or exploratory housing-assistance proposals — sidetrack us from the larger concern of achieving the district’s stated mission “to ensure that every student develops the enduring knowledge, skills, and character to thrive in a changing world.” The district has longstanding, systemic equity issues, and Rodríguez was hired to find a way to resolve them.

To be certain, he is eminently qualified to address those issues and provide a quality education to all students. Dr. Rodríguez came to the RFSD as the deputy chief academic officer in the Dallas Independent School District, where he led the academic vision to cultivate high-quality learning experiences for an exceptionally diverse student body at some 230 schools. He has served as an educator in a variety of capacities in his home state of Colorado, including as a bilingual classroom teacher, a successful turnaround school principal, and instructional superintendent in a network of 25 schools in the Denver Public Schools. He also served as executive director of the BUENO Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he established collaborative relationships to promote language equity and inclusion across the state.

He has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and Spanish from the University of Northern Colorado, a master’s in educational equity and cultural diversity from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and a Ph.D. in education leadership and policy studies from the University of Denver. His unique background and demonstrated commitment to equity in public education put him in sound position to lead us into the future.

Not only do his credentials equal those of our former superintendent, but he has since become the only licensed superintendent currently working in the Central Mountain region. Superintendent certification has never been a requirement in Colorado, and Dr. Rob Stein did not have an administrator licensed during his entire tenure with the school district.

Superintendent Rodríguez has demonstrated his commitment to this mission by working with school leaders and the district instructional team to develop a new Learning Acceleration Plan that identifies some of the root causes of the disparities reflected in student achievement and lays out important strategies for improvement. Notably, the plan includes strategies to strengthen the culture and climate within schools so that all students are prepared to learn without distractions in the effort to improve student outcomes across the board.

It will take time and money to implement, just like any education program. But the school district receives additional state and federal funding every year specifically to improve outcomes for students who are English language learners or from under-resourced households. Those funds have been misdirected for decades, as reflected by our current student achievement gaps.

Transparency and both internal and external engagement are critical to any effective school system, but ultimately, the success of RFSD boils down to trust. We must trust in our elected board to make leadership decisions with the intent to benefit the entire community, just as Superintendent Rodríguez should be able to trust that the community won’t substitute racism and hate for a fair evaluation of his abilities. Indeed, he should be recognized for his bravery as the first administrator in recent history to invite public feedback in his public performance review.

For now, and for the first time, the RFSD has a plan to address its most pressing educational and cultural concerns, a starting point for work long overdue. What we’d like to see next is a plan to invigorate robust community engagement – not just among Latinos, but all parents, teachers, administrators and the broader community – rather than misdirected outrage every time a particular decision or idea doesn’t sit well with certain people.

Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, two Latino-created, Latino-led non-profit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties


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