As a 27-year-plus resident of Douglas County, I can remember being excited and proud to be associated with the Douglas County School District and its board. My wife and I shepherded four children through Douglas County’s school system, and have an overwhelmingly positive story about the district’s school system.
In 1995, I and a cadre of parents embarked on an immense challenge with DCSD — we initiated a charter school, one of the district’s first. As we built our needed partnering relationships with the district staff, the board, the League of Charter Schools and the state, we found more than a willing audience. We found that we were welcomed as a force for making a great education program even stronger. We were encouraged, supported, advised without hesitation, particularly by the district staff and board members.
The model of education we were introducing to the District was Montessori — different from, but complementary to, “traditional” models of educating. We were not seen as a threat of any kind, but as a worthwhile expansion of educational choice. In fact, during our consultations with DCSD staff, we were enjoined to make sure we consulted the district teachers — they were a valuable constituency. We viewed this as a challenge, because we were to be hiring certified Montessori instructors who are not represented by any union, so we wondered how we would be received. We were relieved and delighted at the warm, supportive welcome, and got lasting counsel from them.
After an eventful and sometimes grueling two-year “project,” we had an approved charter. We were supported and babied along the way by every department, and were welcomed with open arms by our school board. Today, 16 years later, DCS Montessori proudly stands beside our partner schools in the county, providing quality education for in-district children as well as open-enrolled students.
Now the rub. What a sad difference to read about, and hear the stories of, a dramatic shift in that partnering spirit, especially shown by a majority of our present board members. The politicized character of the discussion about school choice that surrounds the debate about the proposed voucher program is disturbing, not because there’s anything wrong with the idea, but because of the polarized and polemic discourse. From here, this looks like a group of people who have an ideological agenda and are intent on hammering it into place with little or no regard for real listening and hearing of reasoned debate. The ads bashing the AFL-CIO, the ACLU, the teachers, and anyone else who happens to think that the free expression of religion is different from a subsidized expression of religion are repulsive tactics.
To those who say, “well the other side is doing it too, and worse,” I say there doesn’t have to be sides — my experience is that reasoned people can find a solution for improving our school choices without taking sides — just engaging in discourse. And I use my chartering experience as proof of that premise.
The present atmosphere in DCSD reminds me of the debates that are happening in school districts one state to our east — not a pretty sight. So, my message to the board members at issue here: “We’re not in Kansas, Toto.” Please reclaim and regenerate that quality of creativity, listening and partnering that has for so long characterized our district’s leadership of our district.
Randy Nicholas is a resident of Highlands Ranch.