Alex Medler is the executive director of the National Network for District Authorizing, an organization that helps districts authorize and oversee charter schools. “I am committed to public education and my career and volunteer activities have focused on improving outcomes for kids,” he said.
According to a June 2023 presentation from district officials, Latino students and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch score lower than white students on literacy and math tests, reflecting a longstanding disparity in academic achievement. How would you seek to close this gap?
BVSD has made progress, but there is still significant work ahead to address opportunity and achievement gaps. I support the district’s investments in the last few years in schools that serve more low-income students, students with disabilities, English Learners, and other historically under-served populations. These investments work and should be continued — ideally with “hard money” and permanent district policies.
We should think expansively about historically underserved populations and continue to support programming, budgets, and partnerships that address the needs of our schools serving larger proportions of such students. In schools with lower percentages, we must also remain focused on all students and student groups.
We can use all sorts of information on achievement gaps to drive resources and support to schools that help educators make progress. And the district can play a supportive role in these school-level strategies to increase achievement and meet other student needs. I want to help us de-escalate the angst over the role of testing data and to support educators, parents, administrators, and the community to engage in responsible data-based decision-making, the exploration of evidence-based practices, and data-driven inquiry by educators.
Overall, out-of-school suspensions declined during the 2022-23 school year, according to BVSD data. But, Latino students were still about three times more likely to be suspended than white students. How would you help reduce disproportionate rates of student punishment in BVSD’s schools?
Addressing disproportionate and exclusionary discipline is crucial to promoting strong outcomes for Latine students and other student groups subject to these threats. Students with disabilities, for example, are also subject to excessive discipline too often.
In my professional work, I have helped design professional development forums and materials highlighting exemplary practices on these topics for the U.S. Department of Education. Schools can make great progress on disproportionate discipline when it is a shared priority among all the leaders and staff in the school, who are acting with support from system administrators. Families and community partners should also be part of this work.
Efforts to make progress require consistency, and support from expert partners can help school teams manage and sustain this work. There are strong partners in Colorado to bring to this work. Efforts to address these problems begin with a strong effort to gather and consider available data and information on what is happening in schools.
BVSD should maintain a spirit of transparency and be open to learning about how their efforts are working and what the data says. These efforts should also not be done in isolation from other initiatives, including efforts around mental health and student engagement.
For various reasons — including the cost of housing in the City of Boulder — student enrollment districtwide has been declining over the last decade. It is also expected to decline in future years, requiring the district to spend disproportionate resources on smaller schools or face the tough question of closing schools. What should the district do to address declining enrollment?
Declining enrollment is the most serious challenge facing the district. This trend is a state and national issue as well as a local concern. I support the recommendations of the Long Range Advisory Committee. BVSD should be transparent with families about the trade-offs of under-enrolled schools, including reduced staffing and programs and possible closures.
We should work with families to explore all options to maintain overall district enrollment and encourage sufficient enrollment in small schools to support strong programming, such as adjustments to attendance boundaries and new program offerings.
Forty percent of BVSD parents already choose their public school. We could attract families to under-enrolled schools with programs they want. These programs need district support to succeed and should be implemented with fidelity. Just labeling a school with a new program won’t work. The district is already soliciting input from parents about the types of programs they would like. Ideally, we can support programs in under-enrolled schools that meet parents’ needs and generate viable enrollment. As we leverage families’ choices, we must carefully manage our open enrollment process to avoid exacerbating student stratification.
Ultimately, our budget and long-range decisions should reflect the district’s and the community’s values.
Earlier this year, the Denver school board voted to reinstate police offices in schools. Some parents have called on Boulder to do the same. What are your thoughts on BVSD’s decision to remove school resource officers from its schools?
Student safety is BVSD’s primary responsibility. We must ensure all students are safe from external threats and issues within their school.
Boulder has tragic experience with violence. And despite hotly contested debates about encampments, regardless of how this fall’s other races play out, the district must be a good partner with all the city governments, police, and emergency responders. Partnerships must include planning for emergency evacuations and partnering to address shared issues like encampments and violent threats from outside schools. These should be done regardless of the district’s approach to School Safety Advocates (SSAs).
I support the district’s decision to use SSA as a comprehensive and evidence-based strategy to make all our students feel safe. All students deserve to feel safe and included in school, which requires the district administration, school leaders, and staff to collaborate. Initial feedback appears positive. The SSA initiative can be part of efforts to build more inclusive school cultures that address bullying and students’ mental health and well-being.
This new program and other initiatives around school safety, climate, and culture should be monitored and evaluated — and adjusted as needed — to meet student needs and to address community concerns.
Last year, the Colorado Board of Education updated the state’s social studies standards to include references to racial and ethnic groups and LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, parent groups and activists are raising school districts to ban books that contain LGBTQ content. What are your thoughts on BVSD’s academic policies related to LGBTQ people?
I support BVSD’s policies related to LGBTQ people.
As the parent of an LGBTQ student, I saw directly how important the district’s approach is to students’ safety, well-being, and learning. Students’ issues with gender identity and sexual orientation can be intense for students and families. The district and our schools should be sources of support to all students and families. LGBTQ students, families, and staff deserve support, respect, and transparency in their interactions with the district.
I support the state’s social studies standards. All students deserve to see their families, their culture, and their heritage represented in the materials and content in their schools. Our history needs to accurately reflect all people’s experiences, challenges, and accomplishments.
I am concerned about the presence of advocates in our community who do not believe in the rights of LGBTQ students and families, as well as threats from those who want public schools to reflect or act on extreme ideologies. I will work to prevent the infringement of students, families, and staff’s rights and sense of belonging. Our schools must reflect everyone and be places of reflection and learning, not hate or denial.
Emergency department visits for suicidal ideation by Boulder County residents ages 10 to 17 were 18% higher in 2022 than in 2021, and the highest since at least 2019, according to data from Boulder County Public Health. What can the school district do to improve the mental health of students?
Students’ mental health and well-being should be a shared responsibility and a top concern for BVSD. Our youth are facing a mental health crisis here in the district. I believe addressing this must be a high priority for BVSD.
There is no single policy or program that will address this. We must pursue various strategies, evaluate them, and adjust our approach as it evolves. Educators and school leaders need support; various organizations and partners can help us do this well. Research demonstrates how important it is to implement strategies with fidelity.
We know some levers can be powerful. Every student should have an adult they trust in their life, we should expand mental health screening, and we should identify and reduce obstacles to students and families seeking help.
Mental health is related to school safety issues and students’ sense of belonging. We must address bullying and promote a sense of belonging. There is still work to do to protect students from sexual violence and harassment, and our LGBTQ students should feel safe, welcome, and celebrated. Teachers and families need help to find ways of addressing the unique needs of each student.