Andrew Brandt is a cybercrime investigator at Sophos X-Ops, a cybersecurity firm headquartered in Oxford, U.K. He has two high school kids who he said have attended BVSD schools for all of their schooling. He said he and his wife, Clare, helped create a school garden at Eisenhower Elementary School.
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’s current budget structure designates additional resources to schools with greater needs, as defined by elements like performance and factors like the need for paraeducators or supplemental support staff. This differentiated funding model has demonstrated some early success. Based on the progress so far, I’d support continuing using this funding model to help those student populations that need the extra help. The budget plan places most of the district – 37 out of 52 total schools, more than 70% of schools – in either the “high” or “targeted” support category. That to me means the district still has more work ahead of it, but the success so far is promising. Since contemporary research indicates that mental health is a component of student success, I’d like the district’s existing mental health services to stay funded, and expanded to more schools.
BVSD’s Grad Plus program, the Latino Parent Council (CAPL), and the District Accountability Committee (DAC) have all also been focused on ways that we can better identify students of color for advanced and gifted programs, promote the importance of biliteracy in education and increase the number and quality of bilingual pathways in BVSD. Universal preschool programs should also be supported and increased so that all children start with a strong early childhood education, alleviating the burden on working families and families who cannot afford the cost of expensive preschool programs, and helping to level set our incoming Kindergarten classes.
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?
BVSD is not immune to the wider problems in society involving prejudice. But there’s hope that, in the future, we can start to make repairs. Recent studies on the use of restorative justice practices in school settings  show that student outcomes are better when a person who harmed something or someone else goes through this process. Kids reflect on their behavior and make meaningful amends for wrongs, and learn empathy and social skills. Those same studies found that traditional punishments not only alienate the punished student, but make it more likely they quit before graduating high school. While BVSD has made significant strides in the transparency we need to do additional work around supporting schools in mitigating these discrepancies and in having clear standards and expectations for our staff around these issues, including additional implicit bias training and ensuring more oversight of subjective discipline.
For a variety of reasons — including the cost of housing in the City of Boulder — student enrollment districtwide has been declining over the last decade. It is expected to decline in future years, too, 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?
The district’s declining enrollment is directly tied to an affordability crisis we now find ourselves in, an unfortunate downside to the city of Boulder’s reputation as one of the best places to live in the country, and a recent history where new housing supply doesn’t come close to meeting demand. As a board candidate, (and if elected, as a board member) I will lend a voice of support for the local, county, and state leaders who are working on this problem: for example, lifting restrictions on building new, family-suitable housing, or removing restrictions like occupancy limits on the existing supply. BVSD schools are in high demand due to the quality of our education, yet too few families with young children can afford to live within the district boundaries. The problem is that every 1% of student population loss (about 300 students) costs the district $3 million in annual funding.  This is just a knock-on effect of the high cost of living here.
 Presentation from BVSD board meeting, Sept. 12, 2023
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?
BVSD’s shift to remove armed, uniformed police from schools has been a huge success, improving safety and inclusion for our kids. After an input-driven process involving a lot of stakeholder and community input, the BVSD board voted to replace SROs with our current School Safety Advocates (SSAs). The board asked two school community groups – the District Accountability Committee and the Equity Council – to engage in a large-scale effort to fully work through the complexities of the issues and to make recommendations to the board. Each group worked independently over the course of months to look through data, engage with stakeholders, and review best practices; each group recommended independently to the board that BVSD remove SROs from schools and put together an alternative safety and response plan that better meets the needs of students and staff. This was a decision that was voted on by the board, but made by our community.
SROs were replaced by School Safety Advocates (SSAs), and the new program has been very successful. The highly trained SSA professionals are focused solely on the security and safety of the kids, full time. SROs only worked in schools about twice a week, and on those days they mostly wrote tickets. SSAs sole responsibility, every day, is to plan and think about protecting kids and staff from physical, cyber, bullying and privacy threats. SSAs prioritize their relationships with the student body, building trust that helps them do their job.  SSAs also sweep the area around Boulder High School for threats early each weekday, well before students arrive.
SSAs are able to handle most situations without law enforcement intervention and they work closely with law enforcement to discuss situations as they arise. If an issue is found to require law enforcement intervention, our SSAs call outside help in and work to ensure that those interactions are smooth and clear for all involved.
The Colorado Board of Education last year updated the state’s social studies standards to include references to racial and ethnic groups and LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, parent groups and activists are urging school districts to ban books that contain LGBTQ content. What are your thoughts on BVSD’s academic policies related to LGBTQ people?
Representation matters, and I support the LGBTQ community in BVSD’s schools. BVSD has a very good track record with equity and inclusion, but there are no guarantees for the future if we don’t step up in support of those things. We’re seeing school districts and school systems around the country make decisions that limit knowledge a student can access about the history of our world and the country. School boards are not supposed to restrict what people can learn. That’s not a job. The school district employs educators and experts in child development, and those experienced, specialist professionals in their field should be the ones making decisions about what constitutes developmentally appropriate study materials.
It’s good for children to be aware of the fact that LGBTQ+ families and relationships exist as they are aware of the fact that hetero families and relationships exist.
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 in BVSD need mental health support. After the Marshall Fire, Monarch High School developed a mental health drop-in space, in a collaboration with Impact on Education,the goal of which is to help students move forward successfully after many in the community had experienced a major loss. The school counselor who spearheaded the project counted tens of thousands of visits in that semester. The drop-in centers have been highly effective at delivering ground-level mental health support to kids in schools, and we know that supportive mental health resources help kids succeed.  The right approach is to keep centers like these running and collect more data about their effectiveness, so we can make data-driven decisions, while also expanding programs like these drop-in centers, advisory periods, social and emotional learning programs, and partnerships with counseling services and mental health agencies that can deliver additional no-cost resources to our students. There’s obviously a vast unmet need for mental health supports, and we need to find ways to leverage grant money, community partnerships, and state and federal dollars to offer more support to our students.
The region has experienced several major disasters in the past decade – fires, floods, shootings, suicides, tornadoes, and the ongoign affects from a multi-year global pandemic – is not a surprise that students have experienced a lot of trauma from those events. When schools listen to students and recognize a call for help, they save lives. What should we do to improve mental health? Everything!
Editor’s note: Andrew Brandt’s age is accurate as of Sept. 26, 2023. He declined to share his date of birth with Boulder Reporting Lab, citing privacy concerns.