education

What does the future of public education look like in Denver South?

In his first State of the State address in January 2019, Colorado Governor Jared Polis laid out what he called his “Bold Four” plan for what he hoped to accomplish in his first year in office.

It focused on key goals for the economy, environment and healthcare system. But it was his focus on improving education in the state that got the most attention, starting with his promise to fund free, full-day kindergarten and preschool in every community in Colorado.

During the campaign, Gov. Polis said: “It’s time for us to not just talk about valuing teachers and investing in our students, but to actually roll up our sleeves and get it done. My goal as governor will be to build an education system here in Colorado where teachers are respected, where public schools in every community are supported, and where every child gets a strong start and the great education they need to unlock a bright future.”

For the most part, this has been welcome news. Colorado is a state that ranks 30th nationwide in pre-K-12 education quality and attainment, far from the top and far from where the fast-growing state would like to be. After all, Wallethub ranked Colorado the fifth most-educated state in the country last year, in terms of college-experienced adults. It’s going to take bold steps to get our school systems and our students up to where they need to be in order to thrive and succeed.

But here in Denver South things are different.

In fact, according to Niche.com’s 2019 Best School Districts ranking, the public school options in the region are well above the statewide average, with the Cherry Creek School District ranking seventh statewide in overall performance. The site’s rankings are determined based on a range of U.S. Department of Education data including test scores, college readiness, graduation rates, teacher quality and more.

That’s great news for the region, but it still isn’t proving to be enough to keep up with demand.

The Denver South region added more than 7,400 jobs in 2018, up 3.2 percent from the year earlier, for a total employment base of some 239,000 people. This was more than metro Denver as a whole, which rose 2.6 percent over the same period.

But, one thing is for sure, there weren’t 7,400 students graduating out of the area’s schools last year.

So, based on simple mathematics, employers in our area are being forced to import much of the labor they need to run their businesses. That’s expensive, and it’s squandering the great resources we have here in the region in the form of our population.

The improvements that Gov. Polis has suggested to boost Colorado’s education system are a good start to bridging this gap, ensuring employers have access to a deep pool of prepared, experienced workers going forward.

What might it all look like here in Denver South? Here’s what it might mean for our region that already has some of the top schools in the state.

Targeting skills

By equipping all students with the skills to compete in a 21st-century economy, Denver South will be better prepared to staff up and support the economic growth of the region, both now and in the future.

Increasing collaboration

Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum, which is why the introduction of teacher-led professional development communities could be so powerful in Denver South. By putting teachers in direct contact with the local employers who might someday be employing their students, both sides will learn from each other, taking those experiences back to their own workplaces and schools.

Improving infrastructure

School facilities see a lot of use and abuse, and sadly they are among the first line items to face cuts when budgets get tight. Gov. Polis has committed to building and renovating schools across the state, and that impact will surely be felt here in Denver South in the form of new and improved facilities for our students.

Investing in teachers

From raising teacher pay, to providing access to professional growth opportunities, to even building affordable housing and providing student loan relief, there are a number of options in play to attract and retain the best teaching talent in Colorado. In Denver South we already have some of the best teachers in the state; this will help make sure we can keep them here.

All in all, an improved public school system will benefit all Coloradoans. It will help develop our workforce, staff up our growing companies, and ensure that the region, and the state, remain competitive for years to come.

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