The Time Is Ripe For Action

Originally published in Greater Park Hill News – April 2nd, 2019

By Erin Pier

Recent focus group hosted at Stedman Elementary. Clockwise from left: parent Alli Horst, PHNEE policy team member Scott Esserman, parent Toni Christman; parent Jessica Bowen, grandparent Marilyn Mills, PHNEE policy team chair Reola Phelps; parent Janeel Williams. Photo courtesy of PHNEE

PTA fundraising. Material resources. Toxic Stress. Mental health support.

Park Hill Neighbors for Equity in Education (PHNEE) hopes that by addressing these issues in past issues of the Greater Park Hill News, we have sparked awareness about just some of the many inequities facing our neighborhood schools.

While thoughtful dialogue is pivotal in changing hearts and minds, it is action that drives meaningful change. So what actions are being taken? How is PHNEE affecting change? And, who is PHNEE again, exactly?

PHNEE began in August of 2017, when a group of neighbors identified a significant need to address diversity, equity and inclusion in our neighborhood elementary schools. Inspired by Park Hill’s rich history of social justice activism, these concerned community members determined that if they could pinpoint needs and inform policy changes, they could help transform our community’s education and potentially serve as a prototype for the whole of Denver Public Schools.

PHNEE’s aim is to empower our community to drive positive change in Park Hill elementary schools to ensure all of our children have access to an equitable education and opportunities to thrive.

Led by James Roy, Andrew Lefkowits and a steering committee of 12 volunteers, PHNEE has three main focus areas: awareness building, shared resources and policy changes.

The awareness building team is responsible for the articles you read in GPHN, as well as a newly-developed website ( and the monthly We PHNEE’d to Talk conversations held at our local libraries. The shared resources team is working to identify resources within each school, and to develop an approach to sharing them more equitably across all Park Hill elementary schools. Finally, the policy team is working to identify substantive actions that can be taken to improve equity across our neighborhood elementary schools. This includes proposing actions that could be implemented in partnership with schools and the broader community, as well as working to create potential policy solutions that can be brought to the school board.

With a new superintendent, several new members of the school board, and simmering discontent among DPS parents, teachers, and community members, the time is ripe for action.

Through “Learning Journeys” facilitated by the policy team members, PHNEE has reached out to those closest to the issue of inequity in education: the parents, teachers, and principals at our Park Hill schools. By offering confidential opportunities to speak without fear, these pivotal voices have been able to dive deep into the systemic barriers that prevent equity from happening such as the choice process, the School Performance Framework (SPF), transportation, school boundaries, cultural biases and discipline systems.

Reola Phelps, the policy team chair, notes how impactful these interviews have been. “Of course, they have informed us, but beyond that they have been emotional. We have felt from these groups what these inequities are causing, and we have deeply heard the vision that various stakeholders have for their schools.”

In one Learning Journey, the policy team heard, “SPF doesn’t reflect the quality of the school. When a school is red or orange, parents don’t want to send their kids there, so the problem is perpetuated.”

In another, a source shared, “Choice is fundamentally anti-equity. Affluent parents who can navigate the system and who have resources for transportation get to use choice. Others don’t.”

Once the Learning Journeys are complete in early April, the team will develop specific recommendations to be vetted by the community, refined, and, if appropriate, brought to the school board for consideration.

Before any recommendations are presented to the board, the team will seek feedback, holding sessions in churches and other places throughout Park Hill, writing additional articles for the newspaper, and participating in other public events where the ideas can be presented, discussed and refined.

If any of the barriers to equity that we’ve described have resonated with you, or you are aware of inequities that we have yet to address, consider bringing your voice to the table. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent or guardian of an elementary-age student within the boundary of Park Hill schools, a school staff member, or a concerned resident, your voice matters in making change. We want to hear from you.

PHNEE has no political affiliations or financial motivations, and we are always looking to broaden the diversity of voices that make dynamic change succeed. Consider joining one of our teams, or just share your thoughts by sending an email to