Joint Statement to Innovation Leaders and Their Communities from Scott Esserman and Carrie Olson Regarding the Passage of Parts 10 and 11 for Executive Limitation 12

Denver Public Schools Board of Education

“Go with empty hands to those you have hurt and make amends.” – Marge Piercy

On March 24, 2022, we each voted in support of new Parts 10 and 11 of Executive Limitation 12 (EL). As with most policy changes, the passage of this EL was welcomed by some and not by others. The weeks leading up to the vote were filled with acrimony and polarization rather than thoughtful consideration and productive dialogue. As a result, some members of our communities experienced disillusionment and harm throughout the process, which was only deepened by the final votes cast, especially ours. 

We release this joint statement for those who experienced harm and as a first effort to repair that harm and restore relationships. It is our hope that, through intentional effort, we might be able to forge a new path forward that can unite us, rather than allow division to continue to fester.

We cast our respective votes after spending time with various community members, including teachers, leaders, families and students who work in or are served by our innovation schools. Between us, we visited with stakeholders at 26 innovation schools. In addition to the Pause and Reflect report and the Innovation Council self-analysis, we received hundreds of emails from teachers, leaders, families and others across our community regarding the EL, as well as feedback from the survey the Board asked DPS staff to issue. The night of the voting Board meeting, we both listened – with cameras on – to each and every individual who shared their voice at public comment.

Across the stakeholders with whom we engaged directly, we certainly heard support for the EL. We also heard some deep concerns, especially around potential unintended consequences for our innovation schools and around the fact that both drafts of the EL – the initial draft and a subsequent revision – were created without directly impacted stakeholders at the table. We both centered concerns and voices of dissent in our discourse with colleagues at public Board meetings. 

At the Board meeting on the night of March 24th, we heard the Superintendent say clearly that he needed resolution to this issue in order to move the District forward. His assertion echoed a sentiment we both had also heard from innovation stakeholders and central staff: prolonging the process was untenable, given other stressors our schools and school teams are encountering.

In the end, we each voted to adopt the EL. At the same time, it is our joint view that the EL, which was intended to unite our District around a consistent set of bargaining protections for teachers, ended up functioning as a tool of division and caused distress for many in our community.

We must acknowledge that our votes in support of the EL translates as an additional harm for members of our community. For us, that means we must make a concerted and transparent effort toward repair. As first steps, we jointly make the following commitments:

1. We commit to leveraging the ELs that are now in place to ensure “reasonable interpretation” by the Superintendent as part of our Policy Governance. 

Under the Policy Governance model the Board uses, a tool the Superintendent controls is the development and implementation of Administrative Policies. Under policy governance, the Superintendent is empowered to issue Administrative Policies to meet the Ends statements established by the Board, even in areas for which the Board has not provided specific guidance through its own policy set. 

The fact that the Board now has this EL in place means the Board retains the right to change the EL – and thus influence changes to companion Administrative Policies – should the EL result in unintended consequences for our innovation schools. 

2. We commit to evaluate the impact of the EL on each of our innovation schools now, in preparation for the Board’s vote on the innovation plans, which will happen next school year. 

Due to DPS’s “Pause and Reflect” around innovation and the State’s “Pause and Reflect,” our innovation schools have not had the opportunity to go through the innovation renewal process since prior to COVID. Most will thus go through renewal next school year. Leading up to this will be an additional, important juncture at which the two of us can raise up to the entire Board changes that may be needed to the EL. 

We have received assurances from District staff that, with some exceptions, innovation schools will be able to continue implementing their innovation plans under the new EL. Although the Board is still working to create shared understandings of technical aspects of policy governance and how we want to practice policy governance as a body, in this moment, we want to be transparent about two expectations we hold:

  1. We expect the DCTA to show up as a cooperative partner as they have promised to, in order to resolve unique challenges that innovation schools may encounter.

  2. We expect District staff to locate third-way solutions with innovation schools where unique challenges may exist.

3. We commit to use our Board seats and our voices at that table to ensure the Board grounds future behavior in the principle of “community-led, District-supported.” 

Under policy governance, our opportunity to do this is through work the Board already has begun around the conversation regarding “community linkage.” The two of us will do everything we can to ensure that the community linkage framework the Board ultimately adopts will protect against Board behavior that does to, rather than with.

We honor all of our colleagues’ votes. However, we specifically want to lift up Vice-President Anderson and Secretary Quattlebaum who voted “no” on the EL. We both honor that their votes of dissent further codified in the public record the concerns we all heard from so many regarding the process. We appreciate the time they have taken to engage in conversations with each of us since the vote, and we thank them for their willingness to work with both of us on this issue.

Finally, we recognize that this joint public statement cannot and will not, by itself, undo the harm caused. In DPS, we embrace restorative justice as a fundamental practice in our schools. Essential to that practice is repairing relationships, which necessarily requires two-way dialogue. 

For school communities who might want to take that step with us, we commit to show up with you. We will, to paraphrase Jewish activist and author Marge Piercy, come with empty hands to those we have harmed and seek to make amends in ways that are meaningful to you. It is our mutual hope that we might ultimately restore relationships and locate pathways that bridge divides and help us move forward, together.

Scott Esserman

At-Large Director & Treasurer, DPS Board of Education

Dr. Carrie Olson

District 3 Director, DPS Board of Education