Success by Any Other Name

Antwan Jefferson, PhD

Welcome to the summer 2022 issue of the Denver Journal of Education and Community (DJEC: n. dee-jeck). Since we are at the beginning of a new school year, one that is possibly the closest to the start of a “normal” school year since August 2019, we are taking this opportunity to invite you to join us in thinking about what it means for our children to obtain success as a result of their time in our public schools. How will we know that this school year will sufficiently advance student learning, post-COVID? When will we know enough about the results of remote instruction for students who are nearing completion of high school, and about what adjustments employers and higher education systems are prepared to make? As the parent of an official high school senior, these questions have provoked in me some uncertainty, some worry. 

Youth and their families–and the broader community–around the region often are thinking about public school as a step towards a range of possible outcomes, often unevenly distributed. For some high schoolers, success is a direct next-step into a competitive college or university; while, for others, success is much more complex, nuanced, a winding path of risk-taking, discovery, and curiosity. Which is the right path, and who decides?

As we are thinking about our own success as a community-sourced publication focused on public education in the Denver metro region, we cannot help but think about the metrics typically imposed on publications that assess their viability, sometimes used to justify their existence. Readership? Subscriptions? “Likes” or “follows”? Site visits? Budget shrinkage and growth? For us, these are not the signals of our success. We may be a bit more like that metaphorical high school student who is endlessly encouraged to attend a university, but who really just wants to learn a trade, something tangible, practical. Can’t this also be cool?

Now that we’ve been creating content for 3 years–does this mean we’re almost seniors? We have a much clearer sense of where we belong; about what our inputs and outputs are. And we have a much better sense of what success means for us. I’ll share about this in future quarterly issues, small bites over time. For us, success means that we can succeed at a trade–by doing something practical and specific, like making repairs to the systems that determine whose voices should inform public education in the region. We aren’t general contractors–we do one thing, and one thing only: community-sourced writing about public education in the Denver metro region.

Let’s see if this metaphor holds. Repairs to the system–public education will continue to be necessary–this is true of all aging systems–and it’s the system-users who experience system failures. These are our inputs, and this journal–along with the digest and accompanying digital content–is our output–to local education professionals, funders, and policymakers.

We won’t know that we’ve achieved success until we see community-sourced changes. But we are clear about what success means to us, and we’re directing all of our resources to this end. It may be risky, but this is the journey for us. 

We aren’t the only ones who are clear about what success means, as we see in the main article that Chief Writer Allan Tellis offers in this issue. His community-sourced journalism reveals that high school students very often hear prescriptive definitions of success–college, anyone? And these definitions do not acknowledge success as many of these students envision it for themselves. These definitions also overlook the values of our students’ families and communities.

There is much more to success than college attendance, and if we can acknowledge this by supporting educational policy and funding that broadens post-secondary pathways, then we can see change. We can see change by developing a broader definition of success, one that is collaborative, community-sourced, and responsive to our youth and their vision of society’s future. Through this, we can also see change. BUT, without a broader definition, we’ll continue to see system failures. So, in this issue, we will practice our trade by recommending indicators of system failure. And in our digest, we recommend some actions that will help to repair it.

Happy reading.