Even though it’s Colorado’s third-biggest city, Aurora can often seem virtually forgotten compared to its neighbors. And as usual, the children are most in danger of being left behind.
The numbers are grim: Fewer than one in 10 schoolchildren who start kindergarten in Aurora will go on to graduate from college, and only five in 10 will finish high school. Of the two in 10 Aurora kids who will enroll in a four-year college, one of them is likely to need remedial help to catch up to his or her peers.
A collection of area activists and organizations are aiming to change these dismal statistics. On Wednesday, the group released a report called “If Not Now: Transforming Aurora Public Schools From Failing to Great.” The comprehensive study was compiled by more than 15 organizations, including A+ Denver, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds, Colorado Latinos for Education Reform, The Stapleton Foundation, and Urban Land Conservancy. This report examines Aurora’s historical trends and anticipates the emerging need for a more highly trained workforce—by 2020, 70 percent of all new jobs in Colorado will require at least a postsecondary education, yet only one in 10 students in the Aurora system currently meets that basic qualification.
Among the report’s recommendations to improve Aurora’s educational outlook are developing strategies that set specific performance benchmarks, creating better community engagement with students and their families, and providing more accountability metrics to ensure that goals are being met. These initiatives must account for Aurora’s unique demographic makeup, as just under 70 percent of the district’s nearly 42,000 students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch and almost 40 percent of them are English-language learners. (Each of these percentages has risen over the past five years.)
Improving a school district that lags behind even the still-struggling Denver Public Schools will be no easy task. But as Aurora’s grownups seek to make the city more attractive to corporations, local businesses, nightlife, and other recreational activities, citizens must do whatever is possible to ensure that their children can reap some of these benefits now—and be given the ability and opportunity to produce even more of them later.