More names surface in DPS board races

Updated – At least three people – including former Colorado Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll – are toying with the idea of running for the at-large seat on the Denver school board now held by Mary Seawell.StockDPSLogo92511

Meanwhile, two names have surfaced in southwest Denver, a district in which board member Andrea Merida will be seeking re-election.

Seawell surprised backers and critics alike when she announced Monday that she would not seek re-election when her term is up in November after saying for months that she would. Seawell said work and family demands are making board service beyond November untenable.

Seawell’s announcement opens a void in what is expected to be a hotly contested election in which the political direction of the school board hangs in the balance. The slim 4-3 board majority firmly backs reforms underway in the district, including an open arms approach to charter schools that meet district standards  and expanded school choice. The minority, on the other hand, has raised concerns about district initiatives they believe could undermine the quality of traditional neighborhood schools.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Terrance Carroll

Carroll, an attorney and civic leader whose legislative career was marked by a passion for education reform, said Thursday that he was pondering running for Seawell’s seat. Carroll also co-chaired the Community Planning Advisory Committee (known as CPAC), which met early in 2012 to define pressing school district needs leading up to the $466 million bond and $49 million tax increase on the November 2012 ballot.

lisa flores
Lisa Flores

“Right now it’s an intriguing idea for me,” said Carroll, noting that he planned to have an answer within a week or two.

Lisa Flores, a senior program officer for the Gates Family Foundation, also considered running for Seawell’s seat but said she has decided not to because of the time commitment – but did not rule out a future campaign.

“I very much care about the Denver public school system,” Flores said. “But it seems that in order to serve on the Denver school board, people really need to have some give either at work or home.”

Jones considers another run

Vernon Jones, Jr., an administrator at Manual High School, said he too is considering running for either the at-large seat or the seat in District 4, which represents northeast Denver and is now held by Landri Taylor, head of the Denver Urban League.

Jones also applied to serve the remainder of Nate Easley’s term in District 4. In the end, Seawell selected Taylor, who plans to run for re-election.

In 2011, Jones filed paperwork necessary to run for the at-large seat then held by Theresa Pena, but later decided to pull his name from the mix. Former Denver City Councilwoman Happy Haynes won that at-large seat, one of two on the board.

Vernon Jones, Jr.
Vernon Jones, Jr.

Jones narrowly lost a run for the northeast Denver board seat to Easley in 2009.

“Folks always try to pull you back into it,” Jones said. “For me, I always evaluate what is the best position for me to be able to make an impact. We have achievement gaps that need to be eliminated, and tons of issues we need to focus on. Would I be able to make a bigger impact as a school leader or … as an elected official?”

Jones said he is meeting with a group of his “confidantes,” parents and DPS employees, to determine a course of action.

“What’s the best thing for the school long-term and what’s the best thing for the community long-term.”

Under district policy, Jones would have to leave his job as assistant principal at Manual High School, a school focused around social justice and experiential learning that embraces longer school days and a longer school year than most Denver schools. It is proud to pump out of its doors not only graduates, but what the school calls “revolutionaries.”

“I love what I’m doing at Manual and that is my priority,” Jones said. “Whatever is decided, I have that at the forefront – what is the best thing for Manual High School.”

Jones said he would make his decision based, in part, on who commits to run for both seats.

“They are two very different fundraising challenges,” Jones said.

Big money marks school board races

For instance, Seawell raised a record-setting $240,605 for her campaign in 2009, while Haynes raised $234,972 two years ago. Also in 2011, board member Anne Rowe raised $197,645 and won the southeast Denver seat; while board member Arturo Jimenez raised $72,248 and, despite being outspent by $133,000, won the seat in northwest Denver.

Because of the big bucks it takes to win an at-large seat on the Denver board, Rosemary Rodriguez, state director for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, said she is considering running against Merida in southwest Denver, but not the at-large seat.

Bennet was superintendent in DPS before being appointed to the Senate seat in 2009 and launched a slate of reforms still being championed by Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

“I have been focused on the southwest …I just think that would make more sense,” Rodriguez said. “Citywide, you’ve got to raise a whole bunch more money, do a lot more knocking and walking. I think I can attempt a district.”

Jose Silva
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Jose Silva

Meanwhile, Jose Silva, who unsuccessfully attempted to launch a recall campaign against Merida in late 2010, indicated on his Facebook page that he was considering another board run. He ran for the board unsuccessfully in 2007. During the recall talk,  Silva and his supporters cited Merida’s failure to disclose that she was a paid field organizer for U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff while she was criticizing a DPS pension transaction approved under Romanoff’s primary competitor, Michael Bennet. She subsequently resigned as a Romanoff staffer.

“OK I HAVE A HUGE DECISION TO MAKE,” Silva wrote on his Facebook wall. “With Mary Seawell not seeking re-election for DPS At Large Board seat, do I run? During this moment I feel like I can add great value to DPS but with the division of the board, could we actually get work done.”

Lucero opts not to run

Others whose names have surfaced have pondered a run, but opted against it. That is the case with businessman Gene Lucero, co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum.

gene lucero
Gene Lucero

“It’s a major challenge and somebody really needs to have the time and energy and passion and commitment to do that type of position,” Lucero said, noting that he’s putting his support for the at-large seat behind Michael Kiley II, unless a very strong Latino candidate emerges.

Kiley, a critic of the current brand of school reform in Denver who was outraged by the co-location of a charter school at North High, last month officially announced plans to run for the at-large seat now held by Seawell.

“I think he has a balanced type of approach to the issues,” Lucero said. “Hopefully, he would be able to bridge some of the differences between the different factions there on the board. That board is just an example of some of the most dysfunctional type of government I’ve seen.”

In addition to Kiley, the only other person who has formally announced plans to run is Meg Schomp, a DPS parent and volunteer seeking to replace term-limited Jeannie Kaplan.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede