Our families have used the Denver Public Schools SchoolChoice process to enroll our kids in schools that meet our families and our children’s unique needs.
We’ve used school choice to find schools with Spanish immersion programs, full-day early childhood education programs, or necessary support for our kids with special education needs.
We’ve also used school choice to find schools that are conveniently located near where we work — versus where we live — which helps working families better manage their schedules and responsibilities.
And we’ve used school choice to find schools where our children’s teachers and classmates look like them; where equity, diversity and inclusion aren’t just buzzwords — they’re a part of the fabric of our school communities. Culture is important to us, and we want our kids to learn in environments where they feel safe, seen, and supported.
We are all motivated by our desire to do what’s best for our kids and our families. Collectively, we are enrolled in all types of schools—district-run, charter and innovation. We’re not motivated by a desire to send our kids to one school over another. We’re simply looking for the best fit for our children’s specific needs.
Sometimes, that means using school choice to find a school that isn’t our neighborhood school or a school in our enrollment zone.
Sometimes, that means wanting and finding a school in another neighborhood that better meets our needs.
And sometimes, a district-run school is just what we need to provide the best education for our kids.
There are so many reasons we’ve used choice, and so many ways our families and our kids have benefited from choice.
This is what we want for every family and child in Denver.
In Denver, school choice has helped level the playing field for families who don’t live within walking distance of a school that best fits their needs.
Without school choice, children would be required to attend a particular school, even if that school was persistently low-performing or couldn’t meet the child’s learning needs, including language services or special education.
A family’s ZIP code or income should not determine the opportunities available to their children, which is why school choice is needed and important.
With school choice, families have access to the opportunities that, in the past, were only available to those who lived in neighborhoods with the best schools or with higher-income households. School choice can be a powerful tool in bridging some disparities.
However, while our families have benefitted from school choice, we have also had a challenging experience with the process.
Choice is valuable, but it can also feel confusing or limiting for families.
The process can be overwhelming, competitive and time-consuming, and transportation to and from chosen schools isn’t guaranteed.
That means families can spend hours researching and reaching out to schools, only to receive no response because the school does not have a dedicated choice or marketing team.
Families can also discover that in general, schools don’t provide information about seat availability. That makes it difficult to know whether their children have a high or low chance at enrolling in schools that may be in high demand.
Or, families may find schools that meet all their needs and are too far from home to provide safe and reliable transportation.
Often, we hear people in school board meetings and sources quoted in the media blame school choice or charter and innovation schools for some of the enrollment problems plaguing public schools. Schools, teachers, families and communities are divided and shamed by anti-choice, anti-charter or anti-innovation rhetoric, when our focus should be on making choice more transparent, accessible and equitable.
Our school districts should provide more data that helps families better understand our children’s chances of enrolling in a particular school.
They should create standards for schools to meaningfully participate in and support families during choice. This can mean schools providing parent tours outside work hours, for example, and providing information about seat availability.
They should expand the choice window and increase access to resources to help families make informed decisions.
They should focus on finding transportation solutions for families to choose the best schools for their kids, regardless of where they live.
The truth is, one size fits some, not all. Some families want arts-based learning programs for their kids; some want curriculum with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math; some want dual-language programs or Spanish immersion programs; some need more robust access to high-quality special education services; and some need before- and after-school care.
Not every school can meet every need. But, we can improve and expand choice so that every child has equitable access to schools that do.
Audra Burgos, of Denver, is the mother of a fifth-grade student enrolled in a public charter school in Denver.
Brittney Cardwell, of Denver, is the mother of two first-grade students enrolled in a district-run school in Denver.
Claudia Carrillo, of Denver, is the mother of a fourth-grade student enrolled in a district-run school and an eighth-grade student enrolled in an Innovation Zone school in Denver.