by Amy Allen
The Nov. 1 election ballot
includes contests for three seats on the Denver Public Schools Board of
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.
DISTRICT 1 CANDIDATES
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
DISTRICT 5 CANDIDATES
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.
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
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
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
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.
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