Dear Team DPS,
“The two hardest things to say in life are hello for the first time and goodbye for the last.” -- Moira Rogers
In January of 2019, I stepped into the superintendent role here in DPS during a time of strife and discord, leading up to the first teacher strike in 25 years. And now, 24 months later, I am stepping out during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. You might think that my time in DPS has been colored by these challenges and that I leave unhappy or dissatisfied, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is that I have been honored and humbled to work in DPS, even in the most challenging times, every day of my 31 years. I have loved aspects of every job I have ever held in DPS, from my very first day walking into my own middle school classroom, where to this day, I remember the paper bag of supplies that my principal handed me, to the hardest times during this pandemic, when we struggled with rising case rates and an array of concerns and fears. And the reason I have loved them all is because of all of you. As I moved around the district, from middle to high school teacher, from the classroom to school leader to district leader, I have grown my circle of colleagues, confidants, community advocates, and critical friends.
I have learned so much from you all -- from my most fiercely loyal friends to my harshest critics. I have always welcomed feedback, because I know first-hand how important education is. It changed my life and continues to change our students’ lives. And we have a lot to be proud of together. Denver is a better place for families as a result of the hard work we have done together -- teachers, leaders, students, and our community.
We have continued to graduate more students year over year and fewer and fewer of our students need remediation when they leave our doors. Last year alone, our high school students earned an amazing 54,000 college credits -- giving them a head start on a degree and saving their families an estimated $8.7 MILLION dollars! More of our students are on track to be reading at grade level in third grade and our multilingual learners have outpaced their Colorado peers year over year for many years in a row. Our leaders have the ability to tailor and design their school plans to the needs of their communities, and our educators are committed to educational equity in ways that you seldom see in large districts.
We still have a lot of work to do to make this happen for all kids -- not by accident, but by design. But the team here in Denver -- school teams, support teams and our community -- is poised to do this if we believe in our kids and focus on what they need to achieve rigorous academics, social emotional supports, a commitment to equity, and a relentless work ethic.
As I leave, I’d like to share two quick memories that speak to the power of education. When I was a junior at Abraham Lincoln, my AP European history teacher, Ms. Carol Kucera, told us on the first day of class that she would take everyone who got a 4 or 5 on the AP test out to a fancy dinner at the Hungry Farmer, a restaurant on West Alameda. I had never been there or to any fancy restaurant for that matter. My family was more of a Village Inn type, and that motivation, coupled with her insistence on excellence from everyone, inspired me to study harder than I ever had before. She offered extra study sessions and was the kind of strict teacher who still was able to motivate us to take the extra steps to really do our best -- a “warm demander” before I had ever heard that term. And when my results came back, she made good on her promise. I, along with the other kids who earned 4s and 5s went to dinner, which was probably a first for many of us. That is what great teachers did for me. They believed in me and saw in me what I didn’t see in myself.
And the second story I want to share is about Peter Lubembela, a 2017 graduate of Noel Community Arts School (NCAS). I met Peter and was immediately struck by his passion and activism. He is now a senior at Howard University and has already founded an organization called 10for10. Peter got involved in education policy while still in high school and was an ardent advocate for supporting and keeping NCAS open. Peter came to the U.S. from Tanzania, perfected his English, and excelled in his classes; there was never a class he didn't want to take or a cause he didn’t want to get involved in. He was that kid who just drinks in all that school has to offer. We had a meeting in the summer while he was working on an internship with Students for Education Reform. I remember talking with him about what an impact it made on me when, while I was in college, I first read literature that reflected my culture, and we bonded over that experience and how important it is for all students to see themselves in their learning. Howard University is doing that for Peter and he has kept in touch with me over the years. I continue to be impressed by his accomplishments. When I say school changes lives, this is what I mean.
To the countless teachers I have worked with and who have taught my children -- Yolanda, Elaine, John, Hayley, Ryan, Jennifer.
To the amazing leaders -- Carrie, Antonio, Sheldon, Sandra, Cristina, Wendy, Debbie, Darlene, Chris, Dan.
To the students -- Hilda, Alex, Zahra and Ana, and the parents and community members -- Martha, Armida, Kathy, Van, Ariel, Krista, Elliot and so, so many more people.
I wish I could take the time to name everyone who has touched my life. You have blessed me with your commitment and dedication to serving the Denver community, and I am forever grateful for the chance to work alongside you all.