AURORA — Parents and community activists told Aurora school board members Saturday that the board has waited too long and needs to take drastic action now to improve academically struggling Aurora Central High.
“There is deep, deep pain at this school,” said parent organizer Patty Lawless of Together Colorado. “We can’t wait two years for an innovation plan to start.”
More than 100 parents, students, alumni, teachers, and other community members filled Aurora Central’s cafeteria for a two-hour meeting to discuss the future of the school. Because Aurora Central has been labeled as failing by the state for five years, it faces sanctions that include closing the school or handing it over to a charter school operator.
Superintendent Rico Munn, however, has a different plan. He wants to free Aurora Central and other elementary and middle schools in the Original Aurora neighborhood from district and state policies that he believes hinder student learning. His plan, ACTION Zones, would use the state’s school innovation law to create more flexibility at those schools.
The school board will direct Munn on Tuesday either to put his plan into action, convert Aurora Central into a charter school, or reboot the school with a new administration and teaching staff that would be required to follow existing district policies and state law.
There was not a clear preference from the community Saturday on which path the district should take. Instead, parents wondered why the district waited so long to improve the school and what actions it is taking now to improve Aurora Central when the new school year begins in August.
“What guarantees do I have as a parent that my students are going to be successful?” asked Rich Rimpson.
Board members and district officials told the audience that actions have been taken to improve the school. They also acknowledged that those actions haven’t been quick enough.
“We have to take responsibility,” said school board president JulieMarie Shepherd. “But I have to think about moving forward.”
Munn will begin his third year as superintendent of Aurora Public Schools in July. Since he was hired in 2013, he’s spent most of his time redesigning the district’s central office to better support schools.
“We want to be closer to students and their needs,” said John Youngquist, the district’s chief academic officer, explaining the districtwide changes. “We want to be closer to the needs of teachers and the needs of administrators.”
At the same time, a new principal was also hired at Aurora Central and the school was awarded a $1 million grant to improve the school.
Parents wondered how APS officials plan to make Aurora Central safer, how the school was tracking attendance, and what the district was doing to hire teachers who look more like the community, which is mostly Latino and black. Aurora Central also serves a large English language learning population and refugees.
Some parents said they wanted to be involved in their students’ education but were rebuked by administrators.
“Let us be involved in our children’s lives,” said Erika Flores-Rowe.
One of the most heated portions of the meeting was an exchange between school board vice president Cathy Wildman and Jesus Calderon, a recent Aurora Central graduate.
Calderon presented a list of concerns about the school compiled by parents.
“If I were a parent, I wouldn’t let my children go here,” Calderon said. “Why is it that nothing happened during my four years here?”
Widlman responded, “Let me turn this back on you, what did you do during your four years?”
The crowd booed.
“I did my part, I got good grades,” Calderon said.