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School Choice: ‘A Stepping Stone in Creating Transparency and Accountability’

Julieta Quinonez is currently the Multicultural Outreach Manager with the Denver Public Schools, where she works to close the communication gap with non-English-speaking parents. Before coming to the Denver schools, she worked for Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a non-profit organization that rallies parents and students around the issues of educational excellence, racial justice for youth, immigrant rights, and quality healthcare for all.
I’m a proud parent of a Denver Public Schools kindergartner and a supporter of school choice. I believe that an essential part of ensuring educational equity is giving all parents the right to send our children to a high-quality school that best meets their educational needs. A recently published report by the Center of Reinventing Public Education, “How Parents Experience School Choice,” found that:
Denver parents were less likely to report struggling to get the information they needed to choose but were more likely to report struggling to find transportation options.
The study also found that when given the opportunity to choose, parents take advantage of it, even though their options might be limited. This was exactly my experience when looking for a high-performing school for my child.

Choosing the Right School

I started doing research last year when my child was finishing his second year in a Head Start program. I live in Thornton and I made a conscious and informed decision to enroll my child at a Denver Public School, mostly because of my knowledge of DPS schools, their academic performance, and their proximity to my job. (Colorado has statewide choice, which allows families to attend schools outside of the district where they live, if seats are available.) Due to my work hours, I needed to enroll my child at a school that offered excellent after-school programs. One of the challenges I faced was finding school transportation for my child. Because I was “choicing in” to another school district, I was automatically disqualified from having transportation provided for my child. I’m lucky to have a flexible work schedule that didn’t limit my options, but I spoke to several Spanish-speaking families at the Head Start program—which is located in a low-income neighborhood—and most of them chose their neighborhood schools because they lacked transportation. Although academic achievement was very important to them, they were left with choosing low-performing schools.

Good Communication from District

Aside from this frustration, the school district goes above and beyond to empower parents to select the right schools for their children. During the course of my research, the DPS Enrollment Guide helped me better understand the choice process and gave me a comprehensive list of schools to select from. In fact, many of the parents I spoke to at the Head Start program relied heavily on the guide to initiate their research. It provided transparency and easy access to data that shows how well schools support student achievement; a list and a description of programs and resources that help meet children’s needs; and was available in Spanish and online. Thanks to the school district’s outreach efforts, parents were kept up to date due to public service announcements on the radio or items run in newspapers. Many of them, including myself, followed various district pages on social media. In addition, when I had a question, school staff were always very willing to help, in English or Spanish. Once I identified my top three schools, I scheduled visits to each one of them and each school accommodated visits during mornings and evenings. These visits were extremely important since they allowed me the opportunity to speak directly to teachers and principals. Many of the parents I spoke to had done the same.

Parents Need More School Options

There is an urgent need to increase the number high-performing schools, especially for low-income students of color. The school choice process is a stepping stone in creating transparency and accountability across school districts. Denver Public Schools is a good example of choice that works for the benefit of both parents and students. I strongly support public education, and I believe that with continued parent-organizing efforts, the right leadership, strong and effective teachers and principals, we will move toward a more equitable education system that closes the achievement gap and helps all students succeed.  
Julieta Quinonez is currently the Multicultural Outreach Manager with the Denver Public Schools, where she works to close the communication gap with non-English-speaking parents. Before coming to the Denver schools, she worked for Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a non-profit organization that rallies parents and students around the issues of ...

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