Vail Daily column: Our two valleys | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Our two valleys

Don Rogers
My View
Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

The elephant in the room of the school board election comes down to an inconvenient fact for the Eagle County Charter Academy: 94 percent of its students are white.

The academy is not the only school out of sync with a school district in which more than half the students are Hispanic.

But the 21-year-old academy does have a contract stating it will reflect the ethnic mix of the district. Its leadership has lawyered up and been in sometimes tense negotiations with the school board over how to do a better job with this. And a small bloom of candidates with children attending the academy decided to run for the school board now.

Have to say I do see something walking like a duck here.

I don’t believe ethnic prejudice lies at the heart of this. For the Eagle County Charter Academy, it’s all about academic rigor, parental attention and giving willing learners the best shot at success.

Charter school parents are no different than you and me. We want the best for our kids, that’s all. And the academy does a good job.

It just so happens the school has more barriers to entry for students living in poverty, perhaps speaking a different native language, and with parents who may not fully understand the value of an education in America.

Transportation, requests for $2,000 annually in donations and high expectations for parents to volunteer at the school are among the main obstacles to a more balanced student body.

The academy has no busing but encourages car pooling. It doesn’t participate in the district free and reduced-price lunch program but covers the current need on its own. And the school works with parents who don’t have the money or time to give. Academy representatives post fliers and knock on doors as outreach, as well, while trying to attract students to a school that doesn’t look at all like them.

The Eagle County Charter Academy is making an effort, in other words.

Still, while not easy, these problems look solvable with some genuine teamwork between the academy and district if each is committed to its fair share of the expense and effort.

Academy parents are not wrong to point out that the Ski and Snowboard Academy is nearly as white as the charter academy. Or that de facto segregation plays out at a number of schools in the district, mainly the neighborhood ones.

I’d only add this shouldn’t be offered as reason to fail to follow the academy’s charter, its contract, its promise.

The election has cast a rather warm spotlight on the Eagle County Charter Academy, no question. But the underlying issue is larger than this. Much larger.

If we dial back a bit from the schools, we’ll see our community leadership looks lily white, just like our ski slopes. So does our civic participation generally, although I was happy to hear an interpreter translate for a clutch of Spanish-speaking parents at last week’s school board candidate forum. That was a great sign.

We don’t only suffer from barriers, after all, but also from a lack of participation across the spectrum of community life.

Participation is the wheel that turns our public institutions. You have to step up to make a difference, whether showing up, voting or taking the next step and running for office.

We have well-qualified citizens of Hispanic descent who could run for a board or council position, but haven’t. That’s far more a problem of participation than of barriers to entry, frankly.

Like other candidates, charter academy parents have a right and responsibility to run for the school board if they feel the calling. Still, they and their supporters should understand questions and criticism come with the territory of public service. Yes, some of it will feel unfair, too.

Still, elephants cannot be ignored, especially in elections. They need to be recognized, understood and fully considered for the voters to make their best decisions about the community’s future.

Let’s just understand this isn’t only the Eagle County Charter Academy’s elephant. We all own this one. Both of our communities.

Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.