Reimagining High School

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The invitation read “Reimagining High School.” The description was too enticing to refuse. We’ve spent years complaining about our public education and here was an opportunity to be part of the conversation. It’s really the only way you’re granted an official permission to complain.

It’s a snowy Saturday morning and I’m headed to the Jeffco Public Schools building. Up to the fifth floor and into the boardroom. Also referred to (by me) as the house of jazz hands.

Truly a well planned and executed meeting. Great job by the planner and moderator Amanda Perkins with Kochab Advising, keeping everyone focused and on time. If there was any group of overachievers, this was it. Active in their schools and communities, professionals in all facets of education and of course, city politicians and much more. Everyone that has managed to add a few hours to their everyday for community work.

We sat in groups and began discussing this three-year project that would involve the professional and business communities and, of course, students and their families. The goal being how to “create a culture of instructional excellence. A place where all Jeffco students have extraordinary student experiences that recognize their strengths and challenge them to improve and support them to succeed.”

I sat next to city councilor Leah Dozeman, who is also a Peak Elementary parent. Since we are both from Wheat Ridge, our conversation revolved around our high school and how well it was known for its excellent career path program. In fact, Jeffco overall has had huge success in concurrent enrollment, work-based learning and industry certificates where students enter the workforce already certified in their chosen careers.

Unfortunately this same school is suffering from a declining enrollment: 1,223 students in 2020 reduced to 970 in 2023. The attendance rate went from 85 to 79 percent in the same span. Clearly the writing is on the wall. Not to mention the feeder middle school (Everitt) with a record low 18 percent proficiency in math and 25 percent in reading and writing (per JeffcoSchools/Insight). While the high school staff is amazing, there is only so much they can do in getting students caught up in the four years they are together.

What is missing, what’s not working and what already exists that we need more of? What do our students want or need from their high school experience in order to succeed after graduation? What does success even look like? And what knowledge and skills do our students need to succeed after graduation? Pretty deep stuff for a snowy Saturday morning.

Amanda did everything in her power to herd the cats. You can imagine the instant conversations at every table. The answers varied from the need for schools to increase their reading/writing and math proficiency to the need to increase theater and music and everything else in between. There was also the usual mention of the need to increase funding.

The enrollment numbers aren’t pretty for public schools. Especially when compared to private and charter schools. But I see the tide turning with Jeffco’s acknowledgment of these stats. This meeting is probably the bravest conversation I’ve seen come out of the board room. No jazz hands today. All great ideas and an excellent place to start. Stay tuned for more news on this initiative to reimagine our high schools.

Guy Nahmiach is the Publisher of the Neighborhood Gazette.

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