The closure of schools has been a moral travesty. However, not all schools and school leaders have kowtowed to school employee union pressure and failed to properly serve our kids for most of the last year. In Colorado, there are some standout leaders who deserve recognition for doing what’s right, for doing what our kids need by offering safe, in-person learning.
One such leader is Mike Miles, who runs a network of high-quality public charter schools in Aurora and Colorado Springs that managed to stay open all last fall and even offer in-person learning last summer, while many schools in Colorado kept their doors closed.
Miles has been vocal in arguing for others to follow the path of his schools and do what’s right by kids. And he has done so by making an important point that seems to have been entirely lost by leaders in our education system — schools provide an essential service to our communities.
“A police department is not going to close, even if half their force tests positive. They’re going to figure out a way to continue to serve the public because it is that important,” Miles told the website Board Hawk. “We’re not police officers, we’re not nurses, but we’re pretty doggone close.”
About three-quarters of the students at Miles’ schools qualify for free or reduced lunch. His schools provide far more than just reading, writing and arithmetic to their students – they represent stability, mentorship and opportunity for so many underserved kids.
As a mom to three elementary school students, I can attest he did indeed do what was right by kids. We tried online schooling last spring and it was a mess. My kids were stressed, frustrated and they certainly were not learning a lot. My husband and I were so concerned that we actively pursued another option, finding a school that would commit to doing all they could to teach in person if possible. I can happily report that our kids are doing much better.
My heart aches for families that haven’t been able to do the same. In a sane and just world, with good leadership, we would make that happen. As Coloradans we owe all of our kids that.
Good leaders like Mike Miles, and my own kids’ principal Matt Cartier, have worked tirelessly to keep schools going live. And they deserve our respect and deep gratitude for their efforts.
Unfortunately, leadership in education has increasingly been the exception to the rule lately. For some reason, it appears the concerns and political desires of adults seem to drive decision making far more than the impacts on our kids — despite mounting evidence of widespread learning loss and an escalating mental health crisis among students.
Colorado is lucky to have leaders like Mike and Matt, willing to conduct a clear-eyed assessment of the whole situation and make the kinds of tough decisions that will have profound, positive impacts for years to come.
Mike has demonstrated that type of leadership before, like before the pandemic when he chose to open his schools from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., so as to help support children from working-class families. The marketplace of ideas took notice and nearby traditional public schools decided to follow in his footsteps, offering extended school days, when parents realized that such a situation was possible — thanks to the leadership of Mike Miles.
Too often in politics and public policy these days, it is the bad behavior that seems to rub off on others. That is all the more reason we should lift up those who do the right thing, hoping others will seek to emulate the better parts of their leadership.
Instead of judging the decisions of public policy leaders by the lowest common denominator, we should seek to make comparisons to those leading the way — those courageous enough to do what’s right for our children no matter how hard it is.
When schools close, the initial reaction shouldn’t be “well, other schools nearby are closing so it makes sense.” Instead, we should ask why and how some schools have managed to stay open. What best practices can they share, what are they doing to make it work?
We should hold our public officials accountable based on a higher standard. We should expect more, not settle for less.
In the case of a schools serving kids in person, we should be asking why can’t other school leaders do what people like Mike Miles and Matt Cartier are doing?
We should be asking — how do leaders like them manage to put the interests of the kids they serve before the politics of the adults they employ?
Heidi Ganahl is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, author and at-large member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, to which she was elected as a Republican in 2016.