changing of the guard

DPS board vacancy: Landri Taylor, representing northeast Denver, announces resignation

Landri Taylor talks in 2010 at a hearing on school reforms in far northeast Denver (Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post)

A Denver school board member who was instrumental in advancing controversial school reforms in the far northeast reaches of the city announced his resignation Tuesday, creating an unexpected vacancy with uncertain implications.

In breaking the news to colleagues, Landri Taylor cited his wife’s health struggles and imminent plans to move to Aurora to be closer to their grandchildren.

Taylor’s departure will not shift the balance of the power on the governing board of the state’s largest school district, which unanimously supports the policies of Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Still, the board’s looming appointment of a replacement means a new voice will represent a part of the city that has long been a focal point for efforts to lift student achievement.

“I look forward to this next chapter in my life, my family’s life,” Taylor told colleagues Tuesday at a board work session. “At the same time, as I will say on Thursday, I am not invisible. I will be around.”

The school board will vote Thursday on a resolution accepting Taylor’s resignation, which will be effective that night. Under state law, the board has 60 days to choose a successor. Board president Anne Rowe said DPS soon will lay out details of how would-be candidates can apply.

Rowe said in an interview that Taylor shared his plans to resign about a week ago. While Taylor is not as vocal as other board members, “when he speaks and when he particularly speaks impassionately, it really moves you. He seems to have a true understanding of the community,” Rowe said.

“His legacy is extraordinary,” she said. “His commitment to serve Denver, its citizens and its children has been nothing less than remarkable. His impact is seen in so many ways, not just in our city at large, but particularly northeast Denver.”

Taylor, 65, was appointed to the District 4 board seat on an interim basis in 2013 after his predecessor, Nate Easley, resigned to run the Denver Scholarship Foundation. The board was divided when Taylor joined, and his seat often represented a swing vote on district policies. Taylor won election later in 2013, and his term was set to expire in 2017.

Last November’s election shifted the votes in favor of the Boasberg administration from 6-1 to 7-0 — though the board has pushed back at times, too.

Taylor has been a reliable supporter of DPS school reforms, although he chafed at the suggestion that he was simply a Boasberg yes-man. Boasberg in January began a six-month unpaid leave with his family in South America.

A longtime ally of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Taylor helped press the case for DPS reforms in Far Northeast Denver before he joined the school board.

Arguably the most ambitious school improvement effort taken on by DPS, the blueprint involved closing low performing schools, extending school days and opening charter schools.

Taylor previously served as head of the Urban League of Denver, and before that worked for the company that redeveloped the former Stapleton airport site into a nationally recognized mixed-use development. He has taken on a variety of civic roles, serving on board and commissions covering issues ranging from transportation and libraries to higher education.

The city’s northeast quadrant Taylor represents has long been diverse — it includes the heart of Denver’s African-American community — and has been gentrifying in recent years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

Here is the text of Taylor’s resignation: 

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.