JORGENSEN: A great city deserves great schools


As an APS Board of Education member expressing my individual opinion I believe that strong schools are the foundation of a thriving community. They provide meshing points where otherwise distinct groups come together. They can offer crucial support for struggling families, such as nutrition and health programs and after-school care.

But most importantly, effective schools serve as springboards that launch our children into more successful futures, uplifting families and benefiting the community’s economy. Aurora, a city we all proudly call home, deserves nothing less.

I ran for a seat on the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education four years ago with one outcome in mind: a district that gives all its children access to a high-quality education. This district engages the community and implements proven strategies that result in sustainable student growth, academic achievement and higher graduation rates. This district holds itself accountable.

That kind of district remains my goal and to accomplish this I will not be afraid to ask tough questions, challenge the status quo and seek new approaches. I believe we all must do more and we must do it faster. Our entire district should be the pride of our community.

This week, a report by a coalition of community stakeholder groups – including RISE Colorado, Together Colorado, Urban Land Conservancy and the Stapleton Foundation – was released titled, “If Not Now: Transforming Aurora Public Schools from Failing to Great.” The report’s findings, though not necessarily new, are challenging and add a sense of urgency to what we are doing to improve our schools.

Many of the concerns raised by the report are ones that I have addressed openly with my board colleagues in an effort to hold ourselves and district administration accountable for the lack of APS’ progress.  It is hoped that all stakeholders view the report as a new and revealing assessment of the current condition of our district and use it to start focusing on our important issues:

— Proficiency rates in APS tend to be falling in reading and math – with a large gap between APS and the state.

— Growth rates for low-income students are far behind their more affluent peers – and the gap appears to be widening over time.

— Approximately forty percent of students in APS do not graduate from high school on-time, and only forty percent of graduates go on to enroll in college.

— Most urgently, APS is in its fourth year of being on the state’s “accountability clock,” and we face losing accreditation if we don’t improve. In addition, the number of schools on the accountability clock nearly doubled between the 2012 and 2014 school years.

The challenges are daunting. But with challenges come opportunity. As the report points out, all over the country, there are examples of school districts with much bigger problems than ours that are using innovative strategies to turn around their schools in exciting fashion. Similarly, within our very own district we have models of success that need to be further cultivated and spread. 

These success stories should serve as models for the district, as well as motivation to forge ahead.

I advocate for the use of innovative ideas that are supported by proven business strategies and planning.  I’m pressing for the establishment of precise measures of success along with a system of accountability that holds district administration responsible for outcomes. The Board has already adopted policies that emphasize these approaches and will continue to monitor the strategic plan and new programs for adherence to these policies.

I believe the largest factor contributing to APS’ success is broad and deep community involvement. As district teachers, administration, and the board, undertake the critical mission of effectively educating our children, we must have robust input from parents, neighborhood organizations, business interests and others who will lend expertise and a critical eye toward what we are doing.

I don’t believe that agendas or politically motivated actions will address our challenges. Instead, authentic community involvement is necessary to elevate the status of our district.  We need a “what works” agenda that focuses on what is best for our children. This is our fulcrum, and we will need to engage it independent of party-line politics.

As the report states, “Aurora Public Schools (APS) is a school district with many assets and great potential. Its diversity of students, languages, and experience sets it apart from many other districts around the state and around the country. It has a growing student population and the development of some of the nation’s greatest health science and aerospace industries within the district’s borders. APS has an incredible opportunity: the chance to create a world-class school system to match the development of the city, and to build an education pipeline that can make up the city’s professional workforce.”

I will continue to challenge myself and all members of our community to read the report with an open mind, and with the recognition of the economic and personal toll that future poor performance has on our kids and community. 

I will move forward, steadfast in a belief that a dynamic, high-quality school district is attainable for all students in Aurora. I ask you to do the same by partnering with Aurora Public Schools, in any capacity possible, to help deliver on the promise of a great city with great schools.  I respectfully ask for your vote on Nov. 3 to continue to push this important work forward.

Dan Jorgensen, Ph.D., is a Board of Education Member for Aurora Public Schools running for re-election this November.