Photo above: District 2 DPS Board candidate Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan
District 2 candidate seeks to bring transparency to Board decision making
Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan is a small business owner and real estate agent in southwest Denver. She’s also mother to two sons, one of whom is a DPS graduate and a second currently attending elementary school. Both Sochi and her husband, Jaime Estrada, are products of a DPS education themselves, having both graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in the 1990s. Sochi earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Metropolitan State University of Denver and serves as President of the Harvey Park Improvement Association.
Having worked shoulder to shoulder with educators, Sochi knows how important it is for teachers to have support and resources to inspire the next generation of scientists, artists and thinkers of all types. She believes that students deserve a quality education regardless of where they live and that strong neighborhood schools build stronger communities. Sochi shared with DCTA why she’s running for the open School Board seat in District 2:
As a Denver businessperson, DPS graduate and parent of DPS students, why is education such an important issue?
Having the right school for our son was one of the top reasons we chose the neighborhood and house we live in today. Education leads us all into prosperity, and creates confident, civic-minded leaders that will make a positive impact in their communities. Equitable public school education is a right for all. Children from all communities, backgrounds and ethnicities should have a strong neighborhood school to attend in the community or neighborhood where they live.
Why are you running for the school board?
I am running to reinvest in our neighborhood schools, to return transparency and accountability to our budget and to increase the quality of education for all students. As President of the Harvey Park Improvement Association, I promote and foster a sense of community and respectful interaction between neighbors. I encourage the Harvey Park board to work toward creating and developing programs and events that engage our neighbors, set meetings that provide relevant community information that comes from different perspectives and foster a creation of community. I want to take this shared vision of community and respect for learning to the DPS Board of Education to make a positive difference for our teachers and children.
What lessons from your business experience will you take to the board?
Working as a Project Administrator and real estate agent provided me with the tools and skills to understand budget priorities and the importance of transparency. This does not imply that I want to run our schools like a business. I believe in providing our society with public services and I want to ensure we protect public education. We must ensure taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly and effectively. Here are some business skills I will take to the boardroom:
- Budget management
- Team-building and conflict resolution
- Project management
- Construction/facilities/real estate experience, including contract negotiations, risk reduction and an emphasis on prevailing wage
What do you see as the biggest issues facing the district?
Excessive, ineffective and expensive standardized testing is damaging our children. Teachers spend nearly a third of their year preparing, administering and reviewing multiple standardized tests. The board should be a catalyst for modeling respect and partnership with our teachers. Let’s make teachers our partners!
In addition, students are tested on subjects that they have not been taught or, in the case of our English language learners, in a language they may not fully understand. Redundant standardized tests reduce curriculum options and course offerings. Let’s put a focus on curricula that enhances learning.
The current board has unraveled a “portfolio” approach to our school governance models that means schools are regularly closed as a matter of policy. The equation for the School Performance Framework (SPF) that determines which schools get closed is not transparent to the public, is a moving target and too complex for even school principals to delineate. School closures destabilize our communities, disrupt security for our children and communities and waste money on starting new educational experiments on our most vulnerable kids.
As a mother and a business owner, how do you think you might approach district problems differently?
My experience raising two sons through DPS schools over decades informs my understanding of what children and families need from our school district. My political ambitions end with the school board; I am a community-minded person with the perspective of being a mother, wife and daughter who can help solve the real problems our communities face.
Being a small business owner helps me understand how to prioritize budgets and the importance of transparency. A perspective of large corporate business and finance mentality that has limited applications has dominated the administrations of today and of the most recent past. The strategies that work for those worlds do not work for young people and the schools that are the backbone of our community.
I want to approach the school board with a mindset of empathy, community building, communication, problem solving, optimism and service.
How has your background prepared to serve on the Board?
Being Mexican-born and now a proud U.S. Citizen, I lived the experience of being an undocumented child within DPS schools. I attended several elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools; Knapp Elementary School, Valverde Elementary School, Cheltenham Elementary School, Valdez Elementary School, Lake Middle School, North High School and Abraham Lincoln High School. Due to minimal education and low-paying jobs, my parents always had to look for an affordable rent option. As we moved around Denver, I quickly realized I had to learn to socialize, make friends, adapt to new beginnings and learn to be tolerant and empathetic to children of all communities. Being part of the underserved and living on the margins of society was a difficult experience for me as a child. However as an adult I realize that it helped shape me into the empathetic, strong leader I am today.
Emerging now as a leader in my community, I know that I can empower others to do the same. I’ve also come to realize that, unless I show the courage through my actions, no one will follow. When I decided to audition for a role in the play Real Women Have Curves, I knew I would be stretching my courage and vulnerability. As I stood on stage facing the audience, I took a deep breath and stated my powerful lines. Lines that told the women in the audience that we are not our bodies but the soul, courage and mind we desire to be in the world. As a woman, I am more empowered now and I strive to share my knowledge and experience in order to empower others.
For more information on Sochi visit her campaign website at www.xochitlgaytan.com.