Colorado

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.

terrance
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.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”