As a principal and as a parent I am consistently overwhelmed by the difference between what parents say they value in schools and the decisions they make when choosing schools with and for their children. Parents will often claim that their priority when choosing a school is the wellness, wholeness and inclusion of students but will make decisions about schools based on short-sided metrics that prioritize academic outcomes and test scores over the wellness and wholeness of their children. I am the principal of Manual High School, a school that was selected by Denver Public Schools as a “Whole Child Distinguished School” and a school in which over 95% of parents and students express having a sense of belonging. And yet, this is the same school that deals with enrollment challenges because our test scores have yet to meet the mark.

Currently, more than 70% of students in our enrollment zone choice out of Manual, likely due to an inaccurate reputation and lagging test scores, and choice into schools that have data suggesting students feel less safe, less connected and less known but have higher scores. In truth, Manual prioritizes connection, wellness and restoration over test scores. Our data is not bad, it is a reflection of our priorities. Anecdotally, the schools communities and school leaders in Denver who I believe do the best work in creating safe, welcoming, warm and whole communities often have some of the lowest test scores. This is not because these school communities do not care about student outcomes but rather they prioritize student wellness.

This brings me to the choices that we make. Parents in our city will enroll our children in schools that prioritize academic outcomes over safety and social emotional wellbeing. Parents will claim they want their students to attend schools that prioritize the social and emotional well being of their child but put them in environments that are not designed to obtain that outcome. In our city there are serious conversations that parents need to have around the disconnect between what we claim to want for our students and where we send our kids to school. And as a city there are serious conversations that need to be had about what we desire in our schools. If our priority is the wellness, wholeness and connection of our kids then we must alter the decisions we make. If our priority as a city is the continued prioritization of achievement over relationship then we must admit that the decisions we make as parents are resulting in a school system that prioritizes competition over community.

By: Chris DeRemer

1 Comment

Dr. Asia Lyons · April 19, 2024 at 12:31 pm

Thank you for your piece, Chris. My question is, where are the schools that have both the academic rigor that parents seek as well as the social-emotional support that youth need? Where is the both/and option?

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