New school year. New superintendent. New opportunities.
Summer’s transition to fall is apparent in a variety of ways — whether that’s the changing colors in the aspen trees, or in our schools moving from the excitement and uncertainty of the back-to-school phase to buckling down into the regular routines of the school year.
In the latter case, faces that in August belonged to new students, new teachers, new parents, or new administrators have by now become more familiar. But that doesn’t mean we’ve learned all we can about one another – or that we can’t continue to continue to learn and do new things together. That is especially the case with new Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Dr. Jesús Rodríguez.
I encourage Dr. Rodríguez to immerse himself in all of our diverse communities — from Basalt to El Jebel to Carbondale and Glenwood Springs — and to spend quality time out of the office listening to students, their parents, alumni and members of the community.
Dr. Rodríguez has already scheduled three virtual listening sessions this semester. That is a great start. And I hope that he also meets people where they are – and in person. Many of our Latino families do not have or are uncomfortable with the technology to join a Zoom meeting. Others have work schedules that don’t allow them to join an early-evening meeting.
Second, we hope to see a thoughtful plan that ensures that our schools are preparing all students, especially Latino students, for college, a meaningful career, and a healthy life.
Many of us at Voces Unidas are graduates of the Roaring Fork School District. From those experiences, and from our work engaging our community on a daily basis, we know that the district can do better. Students deserve intentional plans to address the worsening and unacceptable student achievement and opportunity gaps between white and Latino students.
“The pandemic has exacerbated the difference in achievement between many of our students,” Dr. Rodríguez said in a statement issued in August. “Our work is to narrow that difference in achievement, as well as to elevate the achievement of every single one of our students.”
We are pleased to see that Dr. Rodríguez is already identifying some of the challenges and we look forward to seeing a comprehensive plan to address these long-standing achievement gaps.
Today’s students — who’ve been set back by the pandemic and policies that have failed too many of them for too long — cannot afford to wait. For every year we get it wrong is another generation of students who we fail as a community.
Third, we hope to see the district recommit to increasing parental and family engagement in significant ways. Research shows that when parents are engaged at all levels of school and district life, student outcomes improve. We see and value past efforts by the district to strengthen parental engagement, but the district is far from where it needs to be.
It will take significant time, resources, and energy to open up schools and find meaningful roles for today’s parents to help guide the district. We believe that parents belong in every decision-making process of the district and schools.
To begin this work will require bold leadership from the top and a cultural shift at all levels as well as unprecedented work to build the culture and infrastructure to start and sustain long-term parental engagement.
Finally, an area that cannot be overlooked is the importance of great teachers, great principals and great support staff — in every classroom, in every school and in every department. Dr. Rodríguez and the district must develop a long-term vision and plan to be more intentional and successful at attracting, recruiting, supporting and rewarding great talent that resembles the diversity of our students. Representation matters because it has ripple effects in a system. Having diverse educators in the classroom, as school leaders, and as administrators means that more perspectives, insights and lived experiences will help identify and come up with solutions to today’s challenges.
I spent a decade working in some of the largest urban school districts in the country, from Denver to Austin to Palm Beach. I know the work is hard and it demands all of us to get involved and be engaged.
Our school district is great in many respects. And it needs to be better for many, many more students. Dr. Rodríguez must help us get it right.
Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, a Latino-created, Latino-led non-profit organization working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. He is a graduate of Basalt High School.