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Xochitl Gaytan said she's not afraid to get into the boardroom and "fight for those issues" she thinks should be at the forefront of conversation in Denver Public Schools.
A mother of two children - one who attended DPS and a 9-year-old who still does - she's a real estate agent who works and lives in southwest Denver's Harvey Park neighborhood.
Gaytan said she wants to support undocumented students and rectify what she says are inequities in how money is allocated. She said District 2, which encompasses southwest Denver, doesn't get its fair share.
Gaytan is "a product of DPS" herself, she said, a graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School.
The District 2 seat is currently held by Rosemary Rodriguez, who passed on her option to run for a second term. Gaytan is running against Angela Cobian.
Why did you decide to run?
I'm a concerned mother that cares. I'm well aware of what's happening and the issues that are occurring right now in DPS.
As a kid, I was undocumented, born in Mexico. And now I'm a proud U.S. citizen... We moved around a lot - we lived in poverty. I attended four elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools, all in DPS. So I know DPS, I know the system very well and I know what our families are going through.
There will be a fear of (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) coming after them or coming after their family. DPS has done a great job of putting policies in place to protect our undocumented students. I think we can do more.
What are the most important issues facing DPS?
Overall, we're seeing stagnant academic performance. We're not seeing the graduation rates that we should have. There's just been too much of a focus on testing our children and overtesting.
Our 9-year-old had to go through two weeks of testing, and that's outrageous. It takes an entire household to prepare a child for that when that comes around. Making sure your child gets fed a good dinner, gets rest, gets up early enough to have breakfast ... to be able to start his day of testing, because it's an all-day thing for many days in a row. Who's to say that other houses, single-parent or with kids being raised by their grandma, that those children are getting the dinner and rest that they should have to be able to have a good outcome from that test?
People are asking, where's the money? We're not seeing it in our neighborhoods in District 2. The traditional neighborhood schools in southwest Denver have been overlooked in the last three bonds in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Most of the big money has gone to charters like Denver School of Science and Technology College View and STRIVE Prep Ruby Hill.
With rising rent in Denver and concerns of gentrification, is DPS seeing enrollments fluctuate? Are student demographics changing?
There is fluctuation in enrollment, and that totally affects student demographics. Parents are taking their kids out of DPS in general. We're finding that DPS is undermining rather than investing in our traditional neighborhood schools. The fluctuation happens because families look at neighborhood schools and see a lack of resources, and they take their kids to JeffCo Schools.
We're seeing some racial and economic segregation when that happens. And when that happens, we're going to see the achievement gap. I'm courageous enough to have those conversations and encourage those conversations on the board.
Some DPS schools will have air conditioning installed this summer. Are there other renovations necessary for District 2 schools?
Some of the hottest schools in the entire district are in southwest Denver. Many old schools, some range from 40 to 60 years old; I think the average age is 43.
But I can tell you our southwest Denver schools are being neglected. I'm that candidate that's going to hold (DPS) accountable to their tax dollars.
What else do you want people to know about you?
I am the candidate for change. I believe that education can lead us all into prosperity, and that equitable education is key. Equitable education creates civic-minded leaders. I also believe if we strengthen our neighborhood schools, we can strengthen our community.
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