School district comes to grips with racism

The Durango School District is currently coming to terms with racism in an effort to close what it is calling "an achievement gap" between white and minority students. A task force has been researching ways to end an endemic racism problem and get all students in the local district on level. This fall, 9-R Superintendent Mary Barter formed a community task force of teachers, parents, administrators and other district residents to develop an action plan. The district reports that a gap exists between its minority and white students. Average CSAP test scores and graduation rates for Latino and American Indian students are lower than those of their Anglo counterparts.

According to Barter, the task force is studying the latest research on successful initiatives in other districts. It also will analyze individual student records to better understand the unique factors that support or hinder each student's success and clarify the roles that schools and parents should play.

To launch the initiative, the Board of Education hosted a series of discussions in September and early October with the district's minority students, parents and teachers. The district also has hosted four dinner meetings with adult parents and guardians, six discussion groups with students, and a teacher discussion group. Participants totaled 85 adults and 78 students. Mediators Peg Christian and Bill Bolden recently published a report and arrived at conclusions "based upon what we heard, observed and read." The report was presented to the 9-R School Board on Oct. 26.

The broadest conclusion in the report is that the district has serious racism issues to overcome. "Racism in the 9-R School District is systemic and universal," it states. "It is encompassing, and largely unrecognized by those participating in and contributing to its practice. We liken it to asking a 'fish to notice water.' Racism is evident throughout the 9-R educational experience and is well established, as indicated by the testimony of similar experiences from parents who attended 9-R schools 10, 20 and 30 years ago."

The report goes on to state that the problem is not exclusive to 9-R, but that racism is part of the "larger fabric of U.S. American society." However, the report relates an "oppressive culture within middle and high schools," where there is a "prevalence of ignorance and intolerance."

The report also raises a serious allegation, saying, "Some teachers and other 9-R personnel participate in this oppression but may not be aware of the greater impact of their behaviors due to their delegated authority."

Deborah Uroda, 9-R spokeswoman, said that the district is not surprised by the findings and has long recognized issues of inequality. "The conclusions that they draw are no surprise based on what those folks said in the discussion groups," she said. "The school district is a reflection of the community and is dealing with the same issues. Like our community, we need to do a lot of work to better understand how our policies are inhibiting student achievement."

Uroda said that the crucial step will be finding tangible solutions to the problem. She noted that the task force has broken into subcommittees and plans to formulate an action plan by the spring of 2005.

November flood planned for Grand

In spite of concerns about drought and levels at Lake Powell, a Thanksgiving flood is planned for the Colorado River as it runs through the Grand Canyon. Beginning this Sunday, Nov. 21, the Bureau of Reclamation will begin upping levels on the Colorado to purge Powell of silt and hopefully regenerate the river environment in the Grand Canyon. Flows are expected to top out at 45,000 cubic feet per second.

In August, members of the Glen Canyon Adaptive Management Work Group recommended that high-flow tests be considered for later in the year if sufficient accumulations of sediment were present in the Colorado River near the confluence of the Paria River. The primary purposes for conducting the high-flow tests are to restore sandbar deposits in the upper reaches of the Grand Canyon and recreate numerous backwater channels that serve as prime spawning areas and habitat for the humpback chub and other native fish species.

However, members of the conservation groups, the Glen Canyon Institute and River Runners for Wilderness, are skeptical.

"The only thing that will give the Grand Canyon what it really needs is to breach the dam and allow all that sediment built up behind to flow downriver," said Jo Johnson, co-director of River Runners for Wilderness. "Anything less than that is patchwork. It does not solve the problem."

The Bureau of Reclamation last attempted a "high flow test" on the Grand in 1996.

Colorado in midst of energy boom

Colorado's energy boom, of which natural gas development in La Plata County is no small part, reached a record high last week. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued its 2,379th drilling permit for the year, beating the former high point in 1980, according to a report in the Denver Post .

The boom is a result of a combination of strong demand for natural gas and high prices. According to the article, Colorado energy companies are drilling as fast as they can find available rigs. In addition, the value of Colorado's energy production this year is expected to hit $6.6 billion, well over last year's $5 billion.

Colorado's most active area for drilling this year is Weld County, with 29 percent of total permits. Next is Garfield County with 26 percent, followed in order by Las Animas, Yuma, Rio Blanco, Washington and La Plata counties.

Final meeting on the HDs scheduled

The public has a final opportunity to comment on the controversial proposal to drill for natural gas in the HD Mountains, a roadless area near Bayfield. This Friday, Nov. 19, a final public comment session will be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon in the Eolus Room at the Durango Community Recreation Center.

The Northern San Juan Basin Coalbed Methane Draft Environmental Impact Statement studies a proposal by BP America, Pure Resources, XTO Energy, Elmridge Resources, Petrox Resources and Exok to develop about 300 coalbed methane wells in the region. More than 100 of these would be located in the HDs. Conservationists and residents charge that these wells would threaten stands of old-growth ponderosa pine, wildlife and the health and safety of their homes and families. The proposal would also put 60 miles of roads into a designated roadless area.

The Bureau of Land Management's Southwest Resource Advisory Council holds a final meeting on the proposal beginning a 9 a.m. From 10:30 a.m. to noon, public comment will be accepted. The committee will discuss public input and make suggestions for the final EIS at 1 p.m.

The 15-member resource advisory council advises the secretary of the interior on planning and management issues associated with public land in Southwest Colorado. For more information, contact the San Juan Public Lands Center at 385-1219.

- compiled by Will Sands





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