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Survey Reveals Strong Dissent Among Denver Teachers: 'We Are Drowning'

DENVER (CBS4) - Staffing shortages and unmanageable workloads are among many issues raised in an anonymous survey of teachers and staff within Denver Public Schools. The survey was conducted by the District Accountability Committee of DPS, a group of 28 parents, staff members, and community members.

The volunteers conducted the survey in December and released the results publicly this week.

"It tore my heart in two," said committee member and DPS parent Karen Mortimer. "It just felt like these teachers, these educators, are doing everything they can to try to help our children, but they don't have the resources. They are stretched so thin that they're at the end of their ropes."

The results come as staffing shortages are affecting districts across the state and the threat of turnover continues to be a major concern. In the 2020-2021 school year, Denver saw 3,111 staff members leave, which the Colorado Education Association said was the most in the state.

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(credit: CBS)

"COVID has made things a lot tougher," said Dana Berge, an early childhood teacher at Pascual LeDoux Academy. "Parents are on edge, students are frequently sick, we have to be constantly worried about the safety of our staff and students."

Two years into the pandemic, Berge remains as passionate about teaching as she's ever been, but things aren't getting any easier. Among her biggest concerns are staffing and an increased workload, which she worries may drive colleagues away.

"We just keep on getting more and more added to our plate without the necessary resources or supports that we need to do our job properly," Berge said.

The new DAC survey of more than 500 anonymous DPS staff members paints a similarly grim picture. Not only did the educators describe unsustainable workloads, but also a lack of time and resources to do their jobs, as well as care for students still dealing with the repercussions of an education system flipped upside down by a pandemic.

"Please tell the district that we are drowning in work," said one teacher.

"Many of us have a plan to leave in the near future. I don't quite think people are taking this as seriously as they should be," said another.

"DPS is in crisis - it needs to stop pretending like it isn't." said a DPS school-based academic support staff member.

Mortimer described the findings as devastating.

"Educators in our survey told us, 'We can't go on like this. This is not sustainable, we need help,'" Mortimer said.

"Workload was a huge issue, lack of staffing and resources. The huge problem is there's not enough substitute teachers and so teachers have to cover for each other, and when you have to cover for each other you're not preparing for your own classes."

In a statement sent to CBS4, Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero said the district remains intensely focused on supporting educators.

"Since the survey was completed, we have deployed hundreds of the Central Office staff into our schools to support the wonderful work that our school staff does every day," Marrero said. "I continue to stay closely connected to our educators through my time in schools and my frequent discussions with school leaders and my Teacher Advisory Council."

A spokesperson for Denver Public Schools said the district will also be releasing the results of its own comprehensive staff survey in the coming weeks.

"Their input and feedback are incredibly valuable in informing the way we support and show our appreciation for our educators and the work they do on behalf of our scholars," Marrero said.

Mortimer said, at the very least, educators need to see a light at the end of the tunnel. She's calling on the district and community to listen to teachers and be part of the solution.

"If we as a community don't listen to them, what is going to be their motivation to stay in this profession?"

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