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NORTHWEST COMMUNITY COMMITTEE PROGRESS REPORT

OVERVIEW
The Northwest Community Committee (NWCC) is working to connect the results of current and previous
community efforts through a comprehensive community dialogue. This process, initiated by a June 2010
resolution of the DPS Board of Education, is jointly supported by the Institute on the Common Good
(ICG) from Regis University and the Denver Public Schools. Over 100 people applied and 67 members
were selected for the NWCC. Committee members represent a majority of the 24 schools in the
Northwest Denver region of the district. The NWCC is comprised of 48 parents, 6 teachers, 6 principals,
3 students and 3 representatives from neighborhood organizations.

The NWCC core outcomes include: improve academic performance; establish clear ECE-12 feeder
patterns; support and inform the long-term future options at North High School; address school capacity,
facility utilization and continuity of programs; address program offerings at existing schools including
high school configuration; consider options for new schools; and review strategies to meet the needs of
English language learners and students with special needs.

The NWCC has held 7 meetings with the focus of each meeting as follows:
• December – Overview, History, and Visioning
• January – Initial Issues and Values Framing
• February – Building a common understanding of the core issues through research
• March – Expert Panel: Feeder Pattern and Alignment
• April (2 meetings) – Best Practices at Elementary and Secondary Levels
• May – Mind Mapping of Core Values

NWCC INCLUSIVITY OF THE SPANISH SPEAKING COMMUNITY


The Spanish speaking community is well represented in the membership of the overall committee. 9 of
the 67 members of the committee identify Spanish as their primary language. Developing best practices
relative to inclusivity of the Spanish speaking community in Northwest Denver has presented challenges,
including but not limited to difficulties around access, outreach, translation and communication in
general. Each of these challenges requires culturally responsive strategies. DPS and ICG have worked
diligently to address these challenges. Likewise, Spanish speaking members have demonstrated grassroots
leadership and self-empowerment by arranging meetings with district translators and personnel to learn
about specific education issues and voice their concerns.

District translators have played the critical role of conduits with the Spanish speaking committee member
to ensure inclusion of their voices in the overall process. Services provided by the translators have
included interpreting at all of the meetings, translating a survey, email communication and all meeting
materials into Spanish, and providing cross cultural communication in general. Other services include
providing articles for DPS’s Spanish language newspaper to explain the progress and direction of
education reform and utilizing the district’s Spanish speaking radio program.

Despite the successes, work remains for Spanish speaking parity in the committee. For the second phase
of the process, additional culturally responsive strategies could build upon the strategies already in place
and allow for more inclusivity. Some strategies that the NWCC is considering include the following: 1)
further development of a website in Spanish that will keep the community informed about the NWCC,
with alternate plans to communicate with those unable to use or who do not have access to computers; 2)
develop a phone tree to increase communication; 3) develop posters and invitations and place them in
strategic places in the community; 4) for those suffering from the digital divide, find locations in the
community where community members can access computers and provide computer training; 5) place
information in recreation centers and other community locations where residents congregate; 6) provide
focus groups in select Northwest schools, with an intent to elicit information regarding education reform;
7) work with the Spanish speaking committee to deliver surveys to strategic locations and assist residents
with completing them.

NWCC EMERGING THEMES AND PRIORITIES


The NWCC process has undergone major renovation to meet the changing and adamant needs of
committee members. Consistent themes started to emerge from the first meetings of the NWCC but as
the committee asked for information on existing initiatives, resources and educational research and broke
into distinct working groups, documenting and prioritizing emerging themes was challenging.

The first sub-groups were Communications, Data and Systems/Partnerships. While the Steering
Committee worked diligently to support these subcommittees and themes began emerging from this small
group work, the challenges of having consistent attendance, representation and report back to the larger
group proved difficult and it was decided to have small group work in the larger meetings to help with
these challenges. This led to a breakdown into small groups based on grade level—ECE-5, Middle
School and High School (and subsequently to Elementary and Secondary). In this phase, the some
subcommittee members put preliminary “recommendations” on the table. The recommendations fell into
three distinct categories which the Steering Committee designated as: 1) Systems; 2) Programming; and
3) Supports.

From these categories, the committee convened again in May and engaged in mind mapping work
intended to confirm work to-date and gain clarification on members’ desired directions for the work in the
fall. Participants at the May meeting dove deeper into the Systems, Programming and Supports
categories, culminating in “dot voting” to prioritize the emergent themes.

The dot voting was then tallied by the steering committee to determine priorities for work in the fall of
2011, with the goal of writing community recommendations by November. A resounding number of
votes focused on Programming options at the secondary level, including: 1) Increased options; 2) Dual
language alignment; 3) High school IB alignment; and 4) World language alignment starting in the 6th
grade. The next highest priority for committee members was under Supports in which the emphasis was
greatest on: 1) Social Worker/Psychologist including family support and training; 2) The need for a
positive school culture that is welcoming to families and community; 3) Educational supports based on
purposeful data; and 4) Community partnerships. The final priority falls under Systems with the
following themes: 1) Communication protocols; 2) Professional Development for Principals/Teachers; 3)
ELA transition and all teachers ELA trained; and 4) Accountability and transparency.

These emerging themes will guide the development of a plan for the fall meetings with research,
budgeting and assessment taken into strong consideration during the summer.

WHAT HAS WORKED


Access to DPS Personnel. A recurring concern from community members relates to the role of DPS
employees in the committee’s work. Some committee members want DPS employees excluded from the
discussions. Some of those same committee members, and others, appreciate the knowledge and insight
that DPS personnel bring to the NWCC. While a question remains about whether to include DPS
personnel in, or exclude them from, specific discussions, the fact is clear that DPS has offered extensive
access to its education experts at meetings and by correspondence. DPS has shared internal reports on
best practices and compiled data in response to needs and requests of committee members.

Bottom-up Process. The NWCC process allows the community to define and develop needs and
preferences before an eminent DPS Board decision causes community reaction. The membership of the
committee reflects a strong focus on parent and community member, not school district, representation.
Thus, the committee’s purpose and composition are meant to reflect community ideals for NW Denver
schools.

Community Involvement. Northwest Denver community members are passionate advocates for
improving programs and options in their public schools. They are committed and resilient, even when the
task at hand looks similar to issues addressed in past public processes. Some examples of committee
members’ contributions to the process help to highlight the commitment of NWCC members to school
improvement, including the participation of Ivonne Cardenas and Xochitl Rico on the Educa radio
program, Elisa Cohen’s leadership in creating a survey for distribution to Northwest Denver families, and
Amber Tafoya’s assistance with facilitating the May mind-mapping activity.

Facilitators. The ICG at Regis University, under the direction of Dr. Paul Alexander, and with the support
of his staff and professional facilitators, has shown a true commitment to Northwest Denver schools and
community through its ongoing support of this process. As a nonprofit organization, ICG has committed
substantial time and resources to the NWCC and has assumed shifting roles and responsibilities in the
face of administrative changes within DPS. ICG serves as the primary contact for NWCC member
comments and questions and has shown responsiveness to community members’ concerns in this ever-
evolving process. ICG’s responsiveness often involves advocating directly to DPS on matters within the
district’s control.

Translation. As highlighted above, the DPS translation team has provided exemplar support to the NWCC
process. Not only has the translation team provided translation in meetings and for all documents and
communications concerning NWCC work, but the team has also helped educate Spanish speaking
committee members on issues relevant to the NWCC’s work. Without the skilled assistance of the DPS
translation team, the NWCC process would suffer from a language and information divide among
participants. With the team’s support, the process has taken important strides toward bridging that divide
and engaging all members around common priorities.

HURDLES
The NWCC is charged with a large, seemingly amorphous task that requires community participation and
consensus in unprecedented form. The committee’s proactive, rather than reactive, charge requires a
cultural shift in how community members and district personnel engage. This shift requires a level of trust
and dialogue that does not come easily for all community members and district staff. To date, the
committee’s progress toward making this paradigmatic shift is quite remarkable considering that the
NWCC was formed without clear outcomes, identified funding, leadership, or a defined process, all of
which have presented challenges over the past several months and, thus, consumed a great deal of DPS
and ICG staff and steering committee members’ time. Even so, the lack of trust among community
members and district representatives continues to serve as a barrier to constructive dialogue. Participants
in this process, including the steering committee members and district administrators, have remained
reluctant to present options for consideration by the committee as a whole. The lack of options and
identified outcomes has clearly frustrated some committee members, leading to decreased attendance at
NWCC meetings. At the same time, the community-driven approach of the committee is intended to
allow NWCC members to bring forward options that receive support at the community level.

The NWCC’s work in the fall will address these hurdles by engaging committee members and district
personnel in constructive dialogue around specific, identified priorities, with ongoing outreach to the
larger community.