Colorado

Landri Taylor newest DPS board member

Landri Taylor, head of the Denver Urban League and a key player in the Far Northeast school turnaround, will represent northeast Denver’s District 4 on the Denver school board.

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Board President Mary Seawell announced her decision Monday.

“I feel elated,” Taylor said. “I’m prepared. I was prepared weeks ago. There’s no time to waste. I am excited to jump right in and move the ball forward.”

Taylor pledged to view any issue through one lens: Does it actually impact the achievement of kids in the classroom?

“If I’m only on the board for the next few months or next few years, that is my number one objective. The number one human rights issue, in this community and this county, is to eliminate the achievement gap. This gives me the additional platform to push forward on.”

Under state law the board had 60 days to fill the vacancy. That period ended Sunday without board agreement, giving Seawell the power to pick the new member.

Seawell’s decision ended two months of collecting applications from people interested in serving on the board, lengthy interviews with applicants and continuing controversy on the board and in the community over who should fill the seat.

“The biggest thing he brings is a lot of experience with the district, working with communities…,” Seawell said Monday.

Seawell said she’s happy to have someone “who can hit the ground running and who really understands the work and how important it is.”

Seat considered swing vote

The seventh seat, vacated in January when Nate Easley resigned because of new responsibilities as head of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, is considered a swing vote on the divided school board. Taylor is also expected to have an edge in the November election, a point that concerned critics of the process.

Easley tended to join the board majority in its support of district reforms, including the School Performance Framework, which is used to evaluate schools, and support of charter schools, campus sharing by charters and traditional schools and expanded school choice.

“Landri is a great choice,” said Van Schoales, head of A+ Denver and one of the city’s most visible advocates for school reform. “He’s been involved with a variety of DPS efforts for a decade or more as an active community member. His work with the district in the far NE turnaround efforts puts him in a great position to help oversee DPS.”

The board received 25 application and whittled that pool to nine in a secret balloting process. The six board members narrowed that list to three people – Taylor, lawyer Taggart Hansen and urban teacher educator Antwan Jefferson. Hansen dropped out Friday.

While board member Andrea Merida was putting her support behind Jefferson, she said she looked forward to getting to work on important issues with Taylor.

“Landri brings a lot of ties to the community, and I look forward to working with him to deepen those ties with the Spanish-speaking families of Northeast Denver,” Merida said via email. “I am commited as well to collaborating with him on bringing the authentic voice of the families of our 72 percent free/reduced lunch students to the fore. These families pay for everyone else’s designer school programs but see little else but privatization and high-stakes testing for their own children.

“It’s time this district understands how policymaking from the perspective of privilege impacts our working-class families, and I know Landri can help.”

Colorado Latino Forum raised concerns

After the nine finalists were chosen, the Denver metro branch of the Colorado Latino Forum asked the board to scrap the process and start again to ensure that a Latino candidate would have a shot at the seat. There were three Latinos in the original pool of 25 but none was selected.

The group also filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Federal officials have not yet determined whether they have jurisdiction over the matter.

“They must believe we were born under a rock and can’t follow the shell game happening before our eyes to select the anointed candidate they wanted all along,” Rudy Gonzales, league Metro Chapter co-chair, said in a news release when Hansen announced plans to pull his name. “It’s time to return the school board to community leadership rather than the puppetmasters behind the scenes directing the show.”

Seawell said it was not her intention to name Taylor to the seat from the get-go.

“I think a lot of people recognized Landri would be strong, because of his involvement in education issues,” Seawell said. “I wasn’t sure until I really listened and talked to a lot of different people.”

Hansen took his name out of the hat Friday after complaining about the “political posturing on display by select members” at a special board meeting Thursday. (Read EdNews story). He was referring to board member Arturo Jimenez’s decision last week to no longer participate in the process.

In a letter read to the board Jimenez wrote:

“I absolutely remain firm in my belief that we have not provided a meaningful process for appointment of a qualified individual to fill the vacant Board of Education post for Director of District 4 … and I refuse to be a part of this false presentation to the community.”

In response, Hansen said the events at the meeting “made it increasingly clear that I am unable to devote the time or energy necessary to help you overcome the dysfunction this type of behavior engenders.

“At a time when we should be focused on the needs of students, some have chosen instead to spend time focused almost exclusively on the needs of adults,” Hansen, a lawyer who lives in Stapleton, wrote.

Wide interest in open seat

Former Mayor Wellington Webb also got involved in the search, urging the board to hold a special election so that voters would make the decision.

Landri Taylor
Landri Taylor

With only Taylor and Jefferson left in the final pool, Seawell on Saturday said she still was committed to make her final selection from the pool of nine candidates – a concession she made earlier to keep board members Jimenez, Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan involved in the process.

Taylor was expected to be sworn into office at the board’s regular meeting Thursday.

Several major issues are coming up that Taylor will consider, including revisions to the Denver Plan, which guides DPS in key decisions and work on a modified consent decree, which governs how the district deals with English Language Learners.

Prior to taking the helm of the Urban League, Taylor was vice president of community affairs for Forest City Stapleton, the development company behind the mixed-use neighborhood. In that job, he was responsible for small business development, job training and outreach to minority-owned and woman-owned businesses.

Taylor has served on numerous boards and commissions. In 1998, he co-chaired Denver’s successful $100 million neighborhood bond campaign. He also served as board treasurer on the Regional Transportation District Board and as chair of the Denver Democratic Party from 1997 to 1999.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.