Over 400 people came to listen to the speakers discuss the climate, culture, and leadership of AHS.
BY FREDA MIKLIN
An open forum to permit public comment on the climate, culture, and leadership at Arapahoe High School (AHS) was held by the LPS board of education on May 2 in response to the results contained in an anonymous survey presented to the board a month earlier. The group who circulated the survey calls themselves the Arapahoe High School Community Coalition (AHSCC), comprised of “a group of parents, educators, and alumni.”
AHS has experienced a rash of terrible events in recent years, starting with the murder of senior Claire Davis by a classmate who then took his own life in 2013, followed by eight suicides and the arrest of two teachers for suspected sexual assault this year. The questions raised by AHSCC are largely around the lack of effective action taken in the aftermath of the tragedies. A report issued in 2016 about the 2013 shooting pointed out numerous instances during which school administrators failed to act on signs that pointed to the possibility of the type of horrendous event that eventually occurred.
After AHSCC’s survey was presented to the school board on April 2, students, parents, and community members began to take sides publicly, most standing with current AHS administration. Multiple students acted to protect their principal by circulating surveys of their own to “prove” that the AHSCC survey did not reflect the feelings of most students and parents. Natalie Pramenko, AHS principal, issued a 500-word open letter to the community addressing the issues raised by the survey.
Jessica Roe spoke on behalf of the group that circulated a survey about the culture, climate, and leadership of AHS and brought it to the LPS board. Photos by Freda Miklin
Speaking to the 400-person crowd who filled the auditorium, AHSCC’s Jessica Roe, AHS graduate and current parent, alleged that school leadership had failed to create and maintain a culture and climate of safety and fair treatment of all students, favoring “4.0+ students, football players, and cheerleaders, “ an arguably common occurrence at many high schools in and out of Colorado. AHSCC presented evidence it believes demonstrates the dependability of its survey data that elicited “1,169 reliable responses,” including 498 from parents and 292 from students. According to Roe, “73 percent (the slide did not specify whether that statistic applied to responses or respondents) support changes to the administration at AHS.”
Following Roe’s presentation, Dr. Jack Reutzel, board president, asked Roe if she believed that multiple AHS parents and students have differing opinions about the conditions at the school and whether it was the group’s goal to have the principal removed ? Roe agreed that there were differing opinions about the questions at issue and said her group wanted an evaluation of the principal. Robert Reichardt, board secretary, criticized the survey’s methodology and asked Roe how much money had been spent on this effort. Roe became emotional, saying she had spent a significant amount of her own money because she felt this was very important, and added, in response to the question about money, “This is why people are afraid to talk to you.”
Laura Mutton spoke a short time later. She described herself as a parent who sits on the district accountability committee and financial advisory committee. Hers was a highly polished, professional power point presentation that included results from “Surveys currently used by LPS,” the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory administered to students, parents, and school personnel in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and Teaching and Learning Conditions Colorado administered to school-based licensed educators.” Mutton’s results were as positive as Roe’s were negative related to AHS leadership. Mutton also pointed out what she saw as significant weaknesses in Roe’s survey methods. Mutton’s presentation concluded that the surveys she cited showed a “positive or neutral school climate at AHS” and that staff supports the AHS administration.
Rolf Asphaug rose to say that tragic deaths and the arrest of two teachers are “serious issues that need to be addressed in a serious, professional way, not with social media and a witch hunt,” citing a quote from AHSCC’s attorney, Jessica Peck, calling for the resignation of the AHS principal. He went on, “Fourteen hundred real people have signed their name to a petition supporting AHS staff.”
The other speakers were mostly students who came to demonstrate sincere support for their principal, largely due to interactions they and their peers had had with her during which they felt she heard, understood, and cared about them.
Senior Maggie Coan addressed the board, saying, “None of you and none of us were ever trained to deal with the types of things that we’ve had to deal with at AHS.” The mood in the room lightened up when LPS board president asked Coan, “It has been reported that the hallways at AHS are chaos. Is that true?” Coan thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t think the freshmen know how to walk.”
Having heard the public comments expressed at the meeting on May 2, it is expected that the LPS board will address the issues raised at its next regular board meeting on May 9.
LPS board members Kelly Perez, Robert Reichardt, Superintendent Brian Ewert, President Jack Reutzel, Jim Stephens, and Carrie Warren-Guily listened to speakers and asked pointed questions.
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