Needed: Experienced Leadership for Our Denver Public Schools (May 30, 2023) by John Youngquist
“Never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny your own convictions.” That quote by UN Secretary- General Dag Hammarskjold was shared with me years ago on a paperweight gift from a wonderful teacher. I was a middle school dean of students at the time. It has stuck as a reminder of the value of personal integrity: say what you mean and do what you say and others will trust you.
I am a Denver Public Schools graduate, parent, volunteer, former teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent, and I am considering running for a seat on the DPS Board of Education. School board leadership requires a heart for service and integrity is at the heart of public service. A school board director should be a leader, someone who will make hard decisions, own the outcomes, and work to improve our district into the future.
I know what it is like to teach in our classrooms, to lead in our schools, and to support principals as a supervisor, coach and mentor. Doing those things brings me great joy. I also know what it is like to stand outside of the school where my two children are trapped because a shooting has occurred.
Experiencing that moment at East High School broke my heart. I had been the principal of East for many years. Many people I care for were inside that building. My heart hurt because of the fear that was felt inside of the school and because I knew that DPS leadership could have acted to mitigate the likelihood of the event. We need leaders who will take action not after such an event but before by creating a context that is protective and supportive of every young person every day.
Safety is the concern that dominates conversation in our city’s schools. What I know from decades of experience working in our district and several neighboring systems is this: safety is not the concern that should dominate daily conversation. A school district needs to be so good at ensuring the safety of our children that our constant conversation is about teaching, learning, and preparing our young people for future success in life.
For us to get back to our children’s learning as our most important work, we need our Board of Education to shift its priorities and put our students at the heart of every conversation. There are significant decisions that need to be made to move DPS forward. After securing a safe learning environment for every student and staff member, I believe the following three priorities should be the focus for our Board of Education: create a vision for greatness to strengthen the organization that is DPS; hire and retain the best teachers and principals to serve in our schools; secure the academic gains that every child deserves.
I look forward to continuing my exploration of these priorities and the possibility of becoming a candidate for our DPS Board. I believe my experience as an educator would help create a DPS where every child will have a safe, fun, and academically successful journey through school and into a bright future. Let’s work together to bring the joy back into our schools.
Youngquist grew up a student in the Denver Public Schools and has served in leadership roles in the Cherry Creek, Aurora, Summit County, and Denver school districts. Currently, he serves as President of PrincipalEd Consulting, coaching principals and partnering with school districts on strategic action and change. He is also the part-time Chief Operating Officer for the Denver Youth Program, a nonprofit working to reduce youth violence in our community.