Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Local educators discuss challenges in education at Bridges to the Future event

A panel of educators spoke about the challenges and successes in K-12 education to an audience of about 350 at the University of Denver Bridges to the Future program Feb. 9.

“Education is the civil rights question of this generation,” said Michael Johnston, principal of Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts.

Johnston, along with Jerry Wartgow — interim dean of DU’s Morgridge College of Education and the former superintendent of Denver Public Schools — and Jen Phillips, a teacher at Euclid Middle School — took questions from 9news political reporter and panel moderator Adam Schrager.

During the panel’s opening remarks, Wartgow said that goals set by the nation’s governors in 1990 still have not been met. U.S. students are not ahead in math and science, high school graduation rates are not up to 90 percent and children are not entering school ready to learn.

Johnston agreed that the challenges are extreme but said they can be achieved through accountability at every level and autonomy for individual schools. At Mapleton, where Johnston says he has autonomy, he and his staff were able to get 100 percent of their 2008 graduates admitted to four-year colleges.

“Our belief was that it is possible to radically change our belief about what is possible,” Johnston said. “The excuse no longer holds that these kids can’t do this; it is now a question about what these adults can do.”

Phillips, who teaches math and science, agrees that her students are eager to learn. At Euclid, she said, the teachers benefit from technology to share tools and education lessons that work.

“Our students are invested,” she said. “Teachers use research-based strategies to learn and help our students achieve at high levels.”

While panelists pointed out many challenges, they expressed their optimism during closing remarks.

“There’s exciting things happening in education now. Students are achieving,” Johnston said. “We have gifted people, and there are great things happening in education.”

This is the seventh year of Bridges to the Future programming. DU created Bridges in 2002 as a way to engage Coloradans in an exploration of American history, values and expectations in a post-9/11 world.

For those unable to see the Feb. 9 panel, the full discussion will be on the Bridges site by Feb. 13. The panel will also be featured in a one-hour special on Rocky Mountain PBS in April. Look for air date information at

Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You, will continue the discussion of this year’s theme, “A Nation Still at Risk: The Future of Education,” on March 31.

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