Opinion | Bruce Butler: What if the school board embraced real progressive teaching?

In my columns, I have repeatedly stated that it is difficult to sit in the big chairs in the front of the room and to serve as an elected official. In the universe of public service, there is perhaps no more challenging environment than serving on a local school board. So, it was with interest that I read last week’s Summit Daily front page article: “Summit School District leaders defend inclusionary LGBTQ resolution following ‘aggressive’ public meeting.”

As an elected official who sat through his share of emotional and contentious public meetings, I affirm the need for clear guidelines for public comments, including reasonable time limits so all interested parties have an opportunity to speak, prohibitions on the use of expletives, and absolutely no threats of physical harm or violence. However, so long as the comments and discussion are professional, citizens with divergent viewpoints have a right to be heard.

It has generally been my experience that people will accept an outcome that is not their preference so long as they believe the process was fair and transparent, they had an opportunity to state their position— and they were listened to rather than dismissed, and the decision-making body explained the reason(s) for their decision. While I’m not suggesting the Summit School Board failed to do any of the above with respect to the LGBTQ+ Representation in Curriculum Standards they adopted last October, they affirmatively chose to insert politically charged gender and sexual identity politics into the Summit School system’s curriculum, which is controversial on its face — even if some of it is state mandated —but it is especially contentious and controversial when it is applied to kindergarten through third grade teaching materials. My takeaway for the school board, is toughen up! You passed the resolution, don’t act indignant when some parents express passionate objections to the school system’s choice to expose their 5- to 8-year-olds to overt and covert gender and sexual identity messaging.

My wish for the school board would be, place the gender and identity politics on hold and focus your efforts on items that will unite the community, improve education, and meaningfully prepare students for productive life after high school. For the youngest children, let them be kids! They have the rest of their life to be confused, angry, jaded, politically divided and depressed. We don’t need kindergarten killjoys.

In my last column, I wrote about Summit County’s minimal population growth and Colorado’s overall decline in age 0-17 individuals. The Summit School system hoards a lot of property — presumably to accommodate future population growth and school construction that the state demographer’s data says is not happening — that could be put to other beneficial use.

Before the old Silverthorne Elementary School on Brian Avenue was demolished, there was interest in converting the building into a trade/vocational facility. That was a good idea and a very needed educational amenity in the county and across the country. Such a facility would be better located near the Summit Middle School/Snowy Peaks High School or the Summit High School, but let’s give students who are more interested in trades the opportunity to learn, live, and stay in our community — and provide much needed skilled workforce for local businesses. At the very least, let’s embrace more robust shop class offerings.

On the old Silverthorne Elementary site, and at Summit Middle School and Summit High School, let’s build some workforce housing for teachers and other critical support staff, like school bus drivers and mechanics, so we can keep good teachers in the county and provide some annual continuity in the classroom. Let’s make a genuine commitment to reversing the multi-year academic decline in Summit Schools by intensively focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education across the entire school system. Let’s bring bilingual or multilingual education to the forefront in every school. The ability to speak multiple languages is a valuable life skill, and it promotes genuine understanding and communication, which is a far superior way to diminish cultural divides and barriers. These academic ideas are real core, lifelong, skill-based improvements.

The Summit County public school system seems caught between cultural activism and the soft bigotry of low expectations. It is not working, and it is time for some real progressive change.

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