The history of Denver Public Schools follows the challenges and accomplishments made by individuals within Denver’s Black and African American community. Despite historical oppression, trauma, discrimination, and legal exclusion, contributions made by trailblazers within the Black and African American community stand as essential lessons today. It is important to explore history to deepen personal awareness. As awareness is deepened, commitment to keep this history relevant will uplift and enrich a personal experience and journey that is meaningful.
1.Teamwork: We were a diverse group of people, coming together around a common purpose. The Board was seven individuals, and during that time, I came to have great respect for each of them. In this context you would wonder, why are we here? It certainly was not the salary ($0). It wasn’t for popularity either, as you certainly could not please everyone – and at times, it felt like you couldn’t please anyone.
It may sound like we were in a bunker and needing to protect each other. But as a team, we were also able to take what we heard from voices, including children, that we encountered along the journey. And of course, we were informed and provided with resources from knowledgeable educators. Once policies and programs were put in place, the confidence was there – not to micro-manage, but there was confidence all the way around in what we were doing.
2.Collaborative Decision Making (CDM): The basic idea was that students, parents, teachers and administrators could be at the same table. The City-wide general meeting to kick-off this endeavor was such a positive experience! So much of what we desired was to shift the idea of decision making from the bottom-up instead of from the top-down. At that time, it seemed like a risk worth taking. And for the community and those that knew their neighbors and the role the school played, it also made great sense for the community to be involved.
3.Value: People in other positions of authority did not understand when I would say the most important position was to be a member of the Denver School Board. I felt it was the most important task that a person could have. But anytime you were talking about children and youth, then it also becomes a great responsibility. While I was on the Board, the lifting of court-ordered busing and re-drawing of school boundaries would take place.
We also had a teacher’s strike and this brought about a feeling of distress in me, because I had come to know and respect so many teachers. But on the other hand, we had to face the facts on the amount of funding that was available. We also had to be strong because we had to make sure that the funds were not being used to over-pay administrators. Some relationships were not quite the same following the strike.
In summary, being on the Denver School board was a truly memorable experience, one that I feel very fortunate and grateful for to this day.
Thank you for the opportunity to share,
Rev. Aaron M. Gray