First Person

Voices: Some reasons why a 7-0 DPS school board is not a good thing

Outgoing Denver Public Schools board member Jeannie Kaplan argues that a school board that unanimously supported district reforms would be damaging to the city’s schools.

 “We’ve got a 4-3 majority for continuing to move forward, and if the board flipped the other way, then I think it would be disastrous to DPS,  I would love to see a bigger majority. I’d love to see a 7-0 majority so that what we were arguing about wasn’t whether or not we’re going to move forward, it’s arguing about what’s the best way to move forward and how fast can we move forward.”

–Michael Johnson, Candidate for DPS Board, District 3, speaking to the Colorado Statesman July 19, 2013

DPS board member Jeannie Kaplan, right, frequently questions the district's pension numbers. At left is Mary Seawell, chair of the board's finance and audit committee.
DPS board member Jeannie Kaplan, right, frequently questions the district’s pension numbers. At left is Mary Seawell, chair of the board’s finance and audit committee.

I was disturbed and frankly scared after reading those comments by a candidate who is running for a position on the DPS board, one who until very recently (May 6, 2013) was the DPS bond counsel for the past 10 years.

First of all, if Mr. Johnson thinks we have been arguing about whether or not to move forward, he hasn’t been paying attention. If he thinks we aren’t arguing about how to move forward, he hasn’t been paying attention. I suggest he take a serious look at the data in this data-driven district and tell us all why a 7-0 board would possibly serve the children of Denver better.  A 7-0 board would just make more excuses for the failures we are seeing, and it is my belief and experience a 7-0 board would not question the decision-making that has produced the following results:

  • A 9 percent increase in the achievement gap.
  • A 60 percent remediation rate, meaning six out of 10 DPS graduates who enter a Colorado institution of higher learning need to spend time and money in high school courses, courses they already took in high school.
  • A 58.8 percent graduation rate, not coming close to the Board-dictated policy of a 5 percent per year.  Had we met that goal, the 2012 graduation rate would have been 82 percent. (I have seen differing percentages of increase. I have been using the CDE number from 2005 which showed 51.7 percent.  I realize the way for calculations has changed. Therefore, I won’t quote my percentage nor the higher percentage others quote. We all agree the 2012 rate is 58.8 percent.  We aren’t where we ought to be.)
  • A stagnant ACT score of 17.6.  A score of 21 is considered the college-ready benchmark.
  • District-wide proficiency rates of 52 percent in reading, 43 percent in math and 41 percent in writing. With such slow progress and with the increases averaging around 2 percent per year (the board goals are 3.5 percent per year which would have produced proficiencies of 68 percent, 57 percent, and 57 percent respectively), it will take 24 years, 28, and 29 years to get all students to proficiency. That is two entire generations of students in DPS. Our children can’t wait for this snail’s pace of “moving forward.”

And if Mr. Johnson thinks 7-0 decisions are something desirable for the students, employees and residents of Denver, let me point out just a few of the decisions that would most likely have turned out differently with a board comprised of 7-0 rubber stampers:

  • The Modified Consent Decree would have gone forward without an independent monitor to ensure compliance.
  • The $750 million PCOPs  (Pension Certificates of Participation, taxable bonds to fund our pension) from 2008 would not have been fixed out in two stages, both by unanimous votes.
  • There would have been no independent financial advisor for the two refinances of the PCOPs.
  • The historic Emily Griffith building would have been sold with no public knowledge.
  • Parkland at Hentzell Park would have been secretly traded for a downtown building with no public knowledge.
  • Stephen Knight Early Childhood Center would not be in existence.
  • The Innovation Policy would not have school leadership succession written into it.
  • Manual would have been the home of the DPS administration with air conditioning for just the third floor.
  • The teacher “do not rehire” “practice” would not have been addressed. No earth-shattering changes have occurred, but not being banned for life is a good thing.
  • District wide discipline issues that have teachers concerned for the safety of their students as well as their own safety would not be addressed.
  • The 2012 General Obligation Bond would not have addressed the open classroom situation.
  • GALS charter school, one of our highest achieving charter schools, would have been co-located at Manual High School rather than having its own building at the former Del Pueblo Elementary School site.

Finally, Mr. Johnson repeatedly points out how he and his law firm have, on May 6, resigned their 15-year affiliation with DPS as the district bond counsel. It is time to point out the final PCOP and Stapleton COP transaction was concluded on April 23, 2013, a short two weeks before the resignation for which Kutak Rock received a  a paycheck of $444,000 from Denver’s taxpayers. This followed a paycheck of $270,500 just months before for the sale of the 2012 General Obligation Bonds.  And this followed a paycheck of $375,000 in April 2011 for the first round of refinancing of the 2008 PCOPs. Denver taxpayers have paid Michael Johnson and Kutak Rock $1.1 million from April 2011 through April 2013.

7-0. No thanks. At that point you have the equivalent of mayoral control. Maybe that is what this election is all about. Just that possibility should scare the residents of Denver.


First Person

To close out teacher appreciation week, meet the educators whose voices help shape the education conversation

From designing puzzles to get kids fired up about French to being christened “school mama” by students, teachers go above and beyond to make a difference. Chalkbeat is honored to celebrate Teacher Appreciation week with stories of the innovation, determination, and patience it takes to teach.  
Check out a few of the educator perspectives below and submit your own here.

  1. First Person: When talking about race in classrooms, disagreement is OK — hatred is not by David McGuire, principal at Tindley Accelerated Schools and previously a teacher in Pike Township. McGuire is also a co-founder of a group called Educate ME.  
  2. First Person: What my Bronx students think about passing through scanners at school by Christine Montera, a teacher at East Bronx Academy for the Future in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators 4 Excellence-New York.  
  3. First Person: What 100 ninth graders told me about why they don’t read by Jarred Amato, High School English teacher and founder of ProjectLITCommunity.
  4. This fourth-grade teacher doesn’t take away recess or use points to manage the class. Instead she’s built a culture of respect by Liz Fitzgerald, a fourth-grade teacher at Sagebrush Elementary and Colorado Teaching Policy fellow.
  5. First Person: Why I decided to come out to my second-grade students by Michael Patrick a second grade teacher at AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary.
  6. Meet the teacher who helped organize the Women’s March on Denver, a profile of Cheetah McClellan, Lead Math Fellow at Denver Public Schools.
  7. First Person: At my school, we let students group themselves by race to talk about race — and it works, by Dave Mortimer, and educator at Bank Street School for Children.
  8. What Trump’s inauguration means for one undocumented Nashville student-turned-teacher a profile of Carlos Ruiz, a Spanish teacher at STRIVE Prep Excel and Teach for America fellow.
  9. First Person: ‘I was the kid who didn’t speak English’ by Mariangely Solis Cervera, the founding Spanish teacher at Achievement First East Brooklyn High School.
  10. First Person: Why recruiting more men of color isn’t enough to solve our teacher diversity problem by Beau Lancaster, a student advocate at the Harlem Children’s Zone and  Global Kids trainer teaching, writing, and developing a civic engagement and emotional development curriculum.
  11. Sign of the times: Teacher whose classroom-door sign went viral explains his message a profile of Eric Eisenstad, physics and biology teacher at Manhattan Hunter Science High School.
  12. First Person: How teachers should navigate the classroom debate during a polarizing election year  by Kent Willmann, an instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. He previously taught high school social studies in Longmont for 32 years.
  13. First Person: I teach students of color, and I see fear every day. Our job now is to model bravery by Rousseau Mieze, a history teacher at Achievement First Bushwick charter middle school.
  14. Pumpkin pie with a side of exhaustion: Why late fall is such a tough time to be a teacher by Amanda Gonzales, a high school special education teacher in Commerce City, Colorado.
  15. This teacher was a ‘class terrorist’ as a child. Now he uses that to understand his students by Andrew Pillow a technology and social issues teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle.
  16. What this teacher learned when her discipline system went awry — for all the right reasons by Trilce Marquez, a fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 11 in Chelsea.
  17. Here’s what one Tennessee teacher will be listening for in Haslam’s State of the State address by Erin Glenn, a U.S. history teacher at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts and Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
  18. An earth science teacher talks about the lesson that’s a point of pride — and pain a profile of Cheryl Mosier, a science teacher at Columbine High School.
  19. A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice: trusting kids to handle their bathroom business by Shanna Peeples, secondary English language arts curriculum specialist for Amarillo ISD.
  20. How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate by Jean Russell, a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School,  2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year and TeachPlus statewide policy fellow.

First Person

I’m a black man raised on the mistaken idea that education could keep me safe. Here’s what I teach my students in the age of Jordan Edwards

The author, Fredrick Scott Salyers.

This piece is presented in partnership with The Marshall Project

I worry a lot about the students in the high school where I teach. One, in particular, is bright but struggles in class. He rarely ever smiles and he acts out, going so far recently as to threaten another teacher. As a black, male teacher — one of too few in the profession — I feel especially compelled to help this young black man reach his potential. Part of that work is teaching him the dangers that might exist for him, including the police.

The killing of Texas teenager Jordan Edwards proves, though, that it’s not just black boys with behavior issues who are in danger. Jordan — a high school freshman, star athlete and honor student — was shot dead by a police officer last month while leaving a house party. As he rode away from the party in a car driven by his older brother, officers who’d been called to the scene fired multiple rifle rounds at the car. One bullet went through the passenger window, striking Jordan in the head. Murder charges have since been filed against the officer who fired the fatal shot.

It’s a near impossible task to educate black children in a society that constantly interrupts that work with such violence. Still, it’s incumbent on educators like me to guide our students through the moment we’re living in — even when we can’t answer all their questions, and even if we’re sometimes confused ourselves.

I began teaching in 2014, the year the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice dominated headlines. The tragedies have piled on, a new one seeming to occur every month since I first stepped into a classroom. I currently teach ninth-graders at a predominantly black charter school in Brooklyn, and I often find myself struggling to make sense of the events for my students.

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them.

I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It’s instruction and advice that can feel pointless when a “good kid” like Jordan Edwards can have his life cut short by those sworn to serve and protect him. Still, I try in hopes that good grades and polite behavior will insulate my students from some of society’s dangers, if not all of them.

The Monday after police killed Edwards, I asked the students in my college readiness class to watch a news clip about the shooting and write out their feelings, or sit in silence and reflect. Many of them were already aware of what happened. I was proud that so many of them were abreast of the news but saddened by their reflections. At just 14 and 15 years old, many of them have already come to accept deaths like Jordan’s as the norm, and readily expect that any one of them could be next. “Will this police officer even be fired?” one asked. “Was the cop white?”

The young man I worry about the most was more talkative than usual that day. During the class discussion, he shared his guilt of being the only one of his friends who “made it” — making it meaning being alive, still, and free. The guilt sometimes cripples him, he said, and high-profile police killings like Jordan’s compound that guilt with a feeling of hopelessness. They make him think he will die in the streets one way or another.

I didn’t know what to say then, and I still don’t have a response for him. I’ve always taught students that earning an education might exempt them from the perils of being black in America, or at least give them a chance at something more. I was raised on that notion and believed it so much that I became an educator. But deaths like Jordan’s leave me choking on the reality that nothing I can teach will shield my students from becoming the next hashtag.

In lieu of protection, I offer what I can. I provide a space for my students to express their feelings. I offer love and consideration in our day-to-day interactions and do my best to make them feel seen and, hopefully, safe for a few hours each day.

Fredrick Scott Salyers teaches at a charter high school in Brooklyn. He began his career in education as a resident director at Morehouse College. Find more of his work here.