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May 2015 • Online Edition

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School Board Candidates Grade DPS Progress – Or Lack Of Progress | Print |  E-mail

by Amy Allen

The Nov. 1 election ballot includes contests for three seats on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education.

The Profile submitted three questions to each candidate: 1) How do you grade DPS as far as honoring its mission of providing a quality education to all students? 2) At this point in time, where should DPS put its efforts as far as education delivery vehicles – neighborhood schools, charter schools, other? 3) If you could wave a wand and institute any policy you would like, immediately, what would that be? Please be as realistic and pragmatic as possible. Following are their responses.

Southeast Denver

Emily Lipp Sirota

Honoring its mission: DPS has done a highly unsatisfactory job in providing a quality education to all students. Not only do the data show this to be true – a 51.8 percent graduation rate and a nearly 60 percent remediation rate for those who go on to college – but I hear every day the failings of DPS when I am talking with voters. While out knocking on doors, I’ve heard countless stories of how DPS did not meet the needs of a variety of children. Certainly, there are success stories out there, but we are failing too many of our children.

Education delivery vehicles: It is time for DPS to prioritize developing excellent schools in all of our neighborhoods. I’ve heard from too many parents around the district whose needs are ignored by the administration. The DPS administration and board have opened up new schools around the city at such a rapid pace, without an overarching plan for how we will support the schools we already have. It’s time to create a clear vision and road map for what we want this district to look like. I, like the majority of people I’ve met, want to see our neighborhood schools supported and nurtured, not ignored until they present an opportunity to house a new school.

Institute any policy: The development of this vision must involve our primary stakeholders – parents, teachers, principals and students. The community engagement process must be completely overhauled. From the numerous DPS-sponsored meetings I have observed, the DPS administration thinks “community engagement” means telling the community what is going to happen to it, after the decision has already been made. As a board member, I will ensure that we start our conversations with our communities, that we work collaboratively for the best interests of our children, and that we are responsive to the needs and demands of our communities.

Anne Rowe

Honoring its mission: DPS’ mission – “... to provide all students the opportunity to achieve the knowledge and skills necessary to become contributing citizens in our society” – only becomes possible if we provide successful schools for our children, their parents and our community.

In more than two decades as a community leader, 15 years as a DPS parent and countless meetings with parents, teachers, administrators and community members, I have learned that all successful schools exhibit the following characteristics: Strong leadership and excellent teachers who are held accountable; engaged parents who participate fully in their children’s education and their school community; students who strive to meet high expectations.

Education delivery vehicles: DPS has shining examples of successful schools formatted as neighborhood schools, charter schools and schools with magnet programs. The district deserves a grade of A for its work in nurturing and supporting these schools and, for giving parents access to the best education options for their children.

Sadly, not all DPS schools fall in this category. For its efforts in these schools the district deserves a C, a grade that we – you, me and the entire community – must push the district to improve.

Institute any policy: There are no magic bullets to improving schools, it takes all of us doing a lot of hard work. If I could institute an immediate, pragmatic policy, it would be the following: Before any decision is made that impacts students, parents or the community, the district must engage all stakeholders for their input and ensure that the entire decision process is transparent, strategic and what is in the best interest of the children.

We’ve seen this type of engagement work in 1996 at Slavens and last year in northeast Denver and we are currently seeing it fail in the discussions surrounding Merrill Middle School. When the community is engaged and the elements of school success are present, the DPS mission can be achieved.


John Daniel

Honoring its mission: DPS gets an F. The problem is not that they have not tried. DPS is improving. They have a 51 percent graduation rate. A 51 percent score on a test is a failing grade. We cannot afford to grade on a curve where our children’s education is concerned.

Education delivery vehicles: We need to renovate the education in our neighborhood schools. It will happen one school at a time. We need to give more autonomy to the principals and teachers of our neighborhood schools. With the help of the parents, we can raise the bar in each classroom to get more effective education in the neighborhood schools.

Institute any policy:I would reduce the budget at 900 Grant St. and take that money and put it into bonuses for teachers who have demonstrated measurable improvement in student performance. We need to give more support to the teachers. They have the most contact with our students. They will make the difference in our success.

Frank Deserino

Honoring its mission: As a Denver Public School teacher, I would give the district a D. From inflating statistics that claim we are better than other parts of the metropolitan area, to the reluctance in implementing the Denver Plan’s promises in addressing student responsibility, this district selectively excels in cheating our children out of a quality education. It ignores the needs of students, parents and the community, and in turn blames the teachers for their own (the district’s) mistakes. An example is the cookie cutter approach to treating all schools the same in educational expectations regardless of the building’s unique population, thus leaving many children ignored, based solely on a test score.

Education delivery vehicles: Denver Public Schools should now place its efforts into the “public” part, and remove itself from the “private” aspects of our school district. Last June the board voted for a slate of new charter and innovation schools, which will do much to serve the public, but now DPS must address the needs of its parents who only want to have equal access to their neighborhood school. A school that is free of application and lottery, where teachers spend more time teaching and less time testing, and where the emphasis of educating a child is on more authentic assessments and not standardized testing.

Institute any policy: I would allow the teachers to do what their licensure and training should allow, the ability to teach. Currently, we spend more time with benchmarks and other forms of standardized testing than we do teaching. We sit through hours of professional development that has little or nothing to do with what goes on in the classroom rather than using the time establishing relationships with our children and parents. I would in essence end everything that takes us away from doing our job, that is to serve and educate Denver’s children.

Allegra Happy Haynes

Honoring its mission: Using a similar approach as the district does with its School Performance Framework, I would give the district an overall rating of “yellow” or “accredited, on watch.” This acknowledges that progress is being made in a number of areas, but it does not yet meet the standard or proficiency level that is expected. It recognizes the district’s academic growth has outpaced the state, that enrollment has grown substantially, the achievement gap has shrunk and that hundreds more students are graduating each year. Still, a graduate rate of just 51 percent, a still very wide achievement gap and overall academic performance levels that are well below state standards indicate that dramatic improvement is desperately needed.

Education delivery vehicles: The district’s efforts should be focused on providing good schools in every neighborhood no matter what type they are. If a school serves kids on an equitable basis, serves them well, and is accountable for producing positive academic outcomes, the district should do as much as it can to support that school. While much emphasis the past few years has been, appropriately so, on turning around failing schools and creating new school options, it is time to turn more attention to the vast majority of the district’s schools that are in the middle.

Institute any policy: 1) Provide full-day Early Childhood Education and full-day kindergarten for every child who desires it. The district has already made most of this goal within reach using city and district  resources. 2) A change in philosophy and approach to parent engagement to reach out to parents, to meet them where they are and to empower them to support their students in their own ways, rather than expecting them to engage with the district on its terms, on its schedule and on its turf.

Roger Kilgore

Honoring its mission: I would give the DPS administration a B- in achieving its mission. That grade acknowledges that the effort is strong and many dedicated people work to achieve the best possible outcome. The grade is not higher because the focus is on top-down, test-driven strategies based on introduction of new schools and competition. This misses the mark. Public schools should be about educating the whole child, providing the opportunity to experience the joy of learning, developing critical thinking skills, preparing children to create their futures, and nurturing a habit of lifelong learning. Although the administration is doing some good things, it is missing the mark for two reasons. First, it is introducing new schools (in a nonsystematic way) throughout the district and relying on competition to raise quality in all schools (or be closed). Competition, or the free market, determines who gets what and at what price. It has never delivered a good product to everyone for free. That is what public education is supposed to do. Second, the reliance on quantitative measurements as the primary means to define student achievement and school effectiveness shifts the emphasis away from educating the whole child.

Education delivery vehicles: New schools, including new charter schools, have provided an opportunity to experiment with new ideas about education. That is positive. However, to have a dynamic, healthy school system and community, we must always focus on maintaining good schools in every neighborhood.

Institute any policy: I will work to implement my Sustainable Educational Excellence Plan. It features three specific policies: 1) substitute top-down district decision-making with school-centered decision making by the principal, teachers, parents and the community; 2) provide teachers and principals with autonomy commensurate with the responsibility we place on them for teaching our children; and 3) subordinate the test-taking regime to educating the whole child.

Jacqui Shumway

Honoring its mission: Since my 2009 run for school board, I’ve been learning, serving, and trying to understand this massive entity called DPS; I would give DPS an A for effort and a B- for results. We need to somehow increase DPS/community connection so we can prevent schools from failing before we take notice.

Education delivery vehicles: Neighborhood schools build community and promote business. Community is all we have in tough times. “Reformers” vs. “Neighborhooders” was an issue in my 2009 school board campaign. Today, parents just want their child to get the best education within the closest distance to their home because kids who can walk/bike to their school are healthier. We need to support making neighborhood schools the best choice for parents to make for their child AND support parents who choose schools outside their neighborhood. My finance degree taught me to “Never put all your eggs in one basket.”

Institute any policy: I teach Tai Chi, which inspires excellence through the Scholar Warrior Approach to balancing ourselves and society. Formerly skeptical people are embracing my expertise and the research on the impact of art, music and physical fitness on learning strategy, science, math, engineering and technology to create well-rounded adults.

My masters program taught me that physically healthy people are happier overall. Happier people show respect for others ... that includes my 8th grader and school board members.

Financial responsibility starts with how we run our campaigns and will carry over into how we run DPS. Increased tax revenues need to go to teacher resources and salary. I think teachers are the hope of our kids’ and our nation’s future.

Northwest Denver

Arturo Jimenez

Honoring its mission: While we have made many improvements, such as West High School reopening as the most innovative school in the district, staffed to meet the needs of a diverse community, we still have a lot of work to do. That was accomplished through six months of meetings with teachers, parents and the community. We need to bring the community together across the district. We also have a lot of work left to do with early childhood education, ensuring that future students and their parents are ready for K-12.

Education delivery vehicles: The two are not opposed, but can complement each other. Neighborhood schools and charter schools both have important roles to play. I am proud to have supported the bond that allowed North High School, a 100-year-old neighborhood school, to be completely renovated. Now students have a modern facility. I’m equally proud of the work we’ve done with alternative charter schools, serving the needs of students who don’t thrive in a traditional setting. I have been the strongest advocate for the alternative charter schools that provide the safety net for many students who need a second chance or a pathway back to our traditional schools.

Institute any policy: I would ensure every school has a capable, trained and caring school leader. Even without a magic wand, we can accomplish this through robust professional development, a thoughtful selection process, and a reform of our human resources department. Principals and other school leaders set the tone for the entire school.

Additionally, I want to provide full-day kindergarten and preschool to every child at no cost to the families. We will need continual support from the Denver Preschool Program and more funding from the voters. This will be tough, but a directed fund for such an important and specific program will be supported if explained properly.

Jennifer Draper Carson

Honoring its mission: DPS earns a solid ... D+. While there are glimmers of performance, too many children attending DPS schools are being failed by the system. I am heartened by the solid performance results being delivered as a result of the Denver Plan and the last six years of reforms; however, the pace is too slow and too few children are able to attend high-performing schools. The dearth of choice schools is especially pronounced in District 5, the sub-district in DPS with the highest choice-out, highest dropout, and highest remediation rates in the city.

Education delivery vehicles: DPS must invest in models that produce high academic outcomes for students. That is the purpose of public education. As far as the vehicle, I am in favor of strong public charters, public traditional, public innovation, and public magnet schools. Northwest Denver does not have enough variety of high-performance choices and thus we have the highest dropout and choice-out rates in the city. Colorado is a ‘choice state’ and I believe parents and families are the most empowered and know their children’s respective learning styles the best and can make the most informed choice for their own children.

Institute any policy: Learn to Read; Read to Learn. Children who are functionally illiterate in third grade do NOT pass on to fourth grade. The state of Florida instituted this policy in 2001 and the results have been dramatic – justreadflorida.com/docs/Read_to_Learn.pdf. One offshoot is that parental involvement has dramatically increased, as no parent wants his or her child held back a grade. But more importantly, the literacy levels in early childhood have increased as the focus has been so defined, the academic performance in later elementary and middle school has greatly increased, and this tracks towards a hugely decreased dropout rate into high school. With models like this and proof points that hold up year after year, Denver would be remiss to not adopt a similar policy for our students.

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