The Education Dept. is touting the achievements made by a Denver-area school district as an example of how effective school leadership can eliminate racial barriers while at the same time improving classroom success.
Colorado’s Adams County School District 14 Superintendent Patrick Sánchez accomplished transformative change against very tall odds. When Sanchez took over in 2012, the district was in the midst of racial unease.
According to a department investigation, Sanchez worked to fix what had become a very hostile environment for Latino students, parents and staff. Prior to Sanchez’ arrival, the district had prohibited students from speaking Spanish at school, even in social settings. Staff reportedly used racially hostile language toward Latino students and denigrated students’ cultural backgrounds.
A Latino staff member told ED that a principal justified messy bathrooms because “Mexicans are poor and don’t use toilet paper,” and “there are few restrooms in Mexico.” As a cause of the racially hostile environment, many Hispanic staff were forced to resign or were removed from their jobs.
Sánchez began reaching out to community advocates who had been marginalized and sought the help of experts in equity and multi-culturism. He hired new district staff to focus on equity, language instruction and STEM, and hosted speakers, such as Dr. Pedro Noguera, actor Edward James Olmos, Mexican author Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sánchez, and NASA engineer Homer Hickam, Jr., who spoke about the importance of the combination of education, academic achievement and justice.
He created a Spanish-speaking parents’ advisory group, in addition to the public focus group and invited back previously marginalized members of the community to take an active role in their children’s schooling. Sánchez has also stressed the importance of bilingualism, emphasizing that, “we want to set the stage for our [bilingual] kids not just to graduate but to really excel.”
At the same time district schools have made tremendous academic progress under his leadership. The district made exceptional academic gains in 2013, when it saw the largest single-year increase in Transitional Colorado Assessment Program scores since 2007.