I just had an interesting experience with a recent Alameda High School graduate. I had to take my car into the dealership, gone are the days where dealing with car keys involved a simple trip to the hardware store. I was directed to the parts desk, where an attractive young Latino man smiled at me.
“I was directed here because I need a new battery in my key fob. Can you help?”
“Sure!” he said pleasantly. He took my key and disappeared behind desk. A few minutes later he bustled out and said-
“Take this to your car and try it out. If it doesn’t work, we’ll go from there.”
I hustled out to my car, and the thing started right up, low battery woes are gone!
I brought the key back to the young man, and prepared to pay.
“OK, that’s eight dollars and thirty five cents. ”
I was delighted! I know nothing about cars, and a small car bill is a pleasant surprise. I handed the young man a ten dollar bill and four dimes. He looked at it, and scowled for a minute. He hemmed and hawed, then disappeared in the back again.
Oh, dear, I thought. He can’t possibly be struggling about making change. Say it isn’t so. He came back through the door to the back, beaming.
“OK, here we are! Change of a dollar sixty five. ”
Oh, goodness. I sighed inwardly and asked him-
“Are you, by any chance, a recent Jefferson County graduate?”
“Sure am! I went to Alameda High School! ” Oh dear. He handed me a dollar sixty five in change. Gracious. I put on my friendly old lady math teacher mien and smiled back.
“Look, hon, I owe you 8.35, right? I gave you 10.40. There is two dollars difference between eight and ten. So you give me two dollars. There is a nickel between 35 cents and 40 cents, right? So now, give me a nickel. Two dollars and a nickel back, make sense?”
The kid slapped his forehead and said “Oh! Right! Brain fart! Sorry!”
Sigh. Well, that’s instructive. Friends, those of you who have been with me for a while know that education issues, especially to kids who present unique challenges, are very important to me. I’ve been a teacher since I graduated in 1986, and challenging kids are fascinating.
My brother, John Newkirk, shares the same desire for an excellent education for all, which was why he was elected to the Jeffco School Board two years ago.
When he and the other two members of the conservative majority were ousted last week, some really ugly facts about the typical pro-recall voter began to surface. (A “pro” vote meant that you voted to replace the current conservative majority with the liberal, union-backed candidates).
Outright lies, lack of respect for law and order, and teachers advocating for the union point of view in the classroom dominate the list of ugly things that marked the race. But there is a very real, very profound racism running through this election that I would like us to visit.
Consider Alameda High School. Jefferson county is huge, at 85 thousand students it is, I believe, the largest district in the state, and thirteenth in the nation. The demographics of Jeffco are all over the map, from white affluent mountain dwellers, to racially diverse populations in the Alameda articulation area. Currently, Alameda HS has about 850 students, grades 9-12. Eighty three percent of Alameda students are not white. Eight out of ten of these kids qualify for free or reduced lunch, which means they’re poor. NINE out of ten graduating seniors cannot do math on an eighth grade level. Nine out of ten. Sit with that for a minute, friends, and build a mental profile of a typical Alameda graduate.
Much like my parts helper, an Alameda graduate is not white. He likely was raised in poverty, and got substandard instruction during his stay at Alameda. She doesn’t have the money to go to college, or even trade school. Instead, he got shunted aside, trapped in a poorly-performing school that the white kids can avoid. She depended upon Jeffco to provide an exceptional education, and Jeffco failed her miserably.
Friends, the conservative majority addressed this issue for the first time, ever. The conservative majority diverted resources to improve reading and math instruction at Alameda, and even changed curricula, all of which are beginning to show improvements for the students at that, and other racially diverse schools.
Enter the Jefferson County Education Association, or the Jeffco Teacher’s union, as we call it here. One of the candidates that was vetted and inserted by the union was Ron Mitchell. Ron is a thirty year veteran of Jeffco, starting as a teacher, going for two stints as a principal, and then retiring ten years ago due to health reasons.
Who ran Alameda for ten years? Ron Mitchell. Who is responsible for not meeting the special challenges of a diverse population? Ron Mitchell. Who disengaged from his position enough to let Alameda become a talking point for poorly performing schools? Ron Mitchell. Who did the Jeffco voters mistakenly think is more competent than the ousted majority? Ron Mitchell.
Who is now in charge of a billion dollar budget, very little of which supports the racially and linguistically diverse student? Ron Mitchell.
Well. You might ask, “I voted for the recall. I couldn’t stand the noise. How on earth does that make me racist?”
Friends, it makes you racist because ignorance of profound inequality is no excuse. If you have any sense of social justice, you have a responsibility to address these nagging social problems, like the failure of Alameda High. Your vote is how you do that, and you voted to keep Alameda the way it is. You voted to keep instruction substandard. You voted for an incompetent administrator in Ron Mitchell and his union-supported colleagues; you voted for a return to the status quo. You voted to continue to produce class after graduating class of Alameda kids who can’t make change. You voted to keep an underclass from getting the tools to make a better life. You voted for yourself, and not for these kids who depend on an education to improve their circumstances.
That makes you racist. Please, reconsider in 2017.