Opinion: Tribalism, Enrollment and the Woodland Park School District
Please thank your local Woodland Park School Board member and the Superintendent when you see them or perhaps drop them a congratulatory e-mail. Their actions after 20 years of mismanagement and resulting enrollment decline avoided a local scene like the one described in the Gazette Telegraph on March 9th:
“In an emotional special meeting Thursday, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education voted — with tears — to shutter three low-enrollment schools by the end of the academic year, ending months of public speculation and staff uncertainty….The closures mark an effort by the district to address a decade of declining enrollment, the basis for school funding. Denver Public Schools has a roughly $9 million budgetary shortfall this school year.”
A similar scenario has been talked about, studied, expensively consulted upon, and feared for over a decade in the WPSD. Numbers from the WPSD website show enrollment peaked at 3,333 students in 2002 and declined to just 1832 last year. The iceberg is upon us. The time to avoid it is now. No more talk, just, as Churchill used to mark on his memos, “Action This Day!”
Some folks are emotionally, weepily, and somewhat incoherently, opposed to the actions the Board took to increase enrollment in the district at large and specifically in the elementary schools by retaining 6th grade at those locations. This will not only help balance enrollment across district facilities but also aligns with studies that show children do better with starting off K-6th grade and then moving into a true junior high school 7th and 8thgrade arrangement. Lord knows that after the COVID overreaction that was so damaging to children’s education, things that help should be pursued vigorously.
Given the threat of low enrollment shuttering a school, why would anyone balk at the much less dramatic move of retaining students for a year in a school with which they are familiar? Perhaps commentator Bill Whittle best described this phenomenon in his 5 September 2005 essay about Hurricane Katrina. In it, he described an America populated by two tribes. In his words:
The Pink Tribe is all about feeling good: feeling good about yourself! Sexually, emotionally, artistically nothing is off limits, nothing is forbidden, convention is fossilized insanity and everybody gets to do their own thing without regard to consequences, reality, or natural law. We all have our own reality one small personal reality is called science, say and we Make Our Own Luck and we Visualize Good Things and There Are No Coincidences and Everything Happens for a Reason and You Can Be Whatever You Want to Be and we all have Special Psychic Powers and if something Bad should happen it’s because Someone Bad Made It Happen. A Spell, perhaps. The Pink Tribe motto, in fact, is the ultimate Zen Koan, the sound of one hand clapping: EVERYBODY IS SPECIAL.
Then, in the other corner, there is the Grey Tribe the grey of reinforced concrete. This is a Tribe where emotion is repressed because Emotion Clouds Judgment. This is the world of Quadratic Equations and Stress Risers and Loads Torsional, Compressive and Tensile, a place where Reality Can Ruin Your Best Day, the place where Murphy mercilessly picks off the Weak and the Incompetent, where the Speed Limit is 186,282.36 miles per second, where every bridge has a Failure Load and levees come in 50 year, 100 year and 1000 Year Flood Flavors. The Grey Tribe motto is, near as I can tell, THINGS BREAK SOMETIMES AND PLEASE DON’T LET IT BE MY BRIDGE.”
These tribal identities were on full display in the 8 March WPSD Board meeting as Pink Tribe opponents of the new arrangement vented, sobbed, and emoted against this improvement. They did everything - except - offer a feasible alternative. After twenty years of cratered family participation in the WPSD, their solution is stay the course. Costing the district 45% of its enrollment over two decades is evidently insufficient.
Luckily for Teller County students, families, taxpayers, and residents, the Grey Tribe is in charge. They are looking at the numbers, reviewing the past, peering into the future, and taking action this day to steer the ship away from the icepack. Whether you have children in the school system or not, we can all be thankful that these leaders are acting swiftly to change to a safer course. So drop them a note of thanks – they deserve it.