the selection

Denver parent activist and Montbello High alum MiDian Holmes appointed to school board

DPS parent MiDian Holmes spoke at a Thursday rally supporting the district's reform proposals.

A Montbello High School graduate and longtime parent activist was appointed Tuesday to fill a vacant seat on the Denver school board.

MiDian Holmes will represent northeast Denver and finish out the term of former board member Landri Taylor, who resigned in February. Her term will expire in the fall of 2017.

Holmes works as a regional operations manager at Randstad Technologies, a nationwide staffing organization. She’s the mother of three DPS students: two attend George Washington High School, which is district-run, and one goes to DSST: Green Valley Ranch charter school.

Holmes was for years an active member in the school reform advocacy group Stand for Children. She currently sits on two district committees, including one that is crafting a request for a tax increase this fall.

Board members voted by secret ballot to appoint Holmes. Beforehand, they lauded her track record of participating in difficult community conversations about school culture and closures.

“I feel like she’s almost a board member already, she’s been so involved in the district for so long,” said board member Mike Johnson.

Holmes wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting due to a prior commitment. Reached afterward, she said she’s humbled, excited and “very anxious to get started.” She will be sworn in at the board’s April 18 meeting.

Holmes will represent DPS District 4, a large geographic area that includes older city neighborhoods such as Whittier and Cole and newer areas such as Stapleton. The district also includes the neighborhoods of Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, which are arguably home to Denver’s most ambitious and controversial school turnaround efforts.

Holmes, who lives in Green Valley Ranch, supported the district’s plan, which included shuttering her struggling alma mater.

“Something had to really change to ensure the quality of education was something we could be proud of,” she said of the turnaround efforts.

But the district’s actions upset some residents, who felt their concerns were ignored. Holmes said her first order of business will be repairing the relationship between DPS and the far northeast Denver community.

“The ambition and drive of the district is definitely strong,” Holmes said. “But because that vision has been so heavily focused on results, I don’t think anyone is turning their eyes to the community and saying, ‘We want this to happen with you, not to you. How can we bring your voice to the table?'”

District 4 is DPS’s most racially diverse region. Holmes is African-American.

Twenty-two candidates initially applied to fill the vacant seat on the seven-member board. Last month, the board members narrowed the field to 10 finalists, one of whom withdrew.

On Tuesday, the board took an initial vote to winnow the finalists down to three: Holmes, Jennifer Bacon and Rachele Espiritu. After discussing the merits of all three, the board voted a second time to appoint Holmes.

For years, the DPS board was divided between members who supported the district’s aggressive school reforms and those who didn’t. That’s changed over time.

Last November, voters elected three pro-reform candidates — two incumbents and one newcomer — making it so all seven seats were occupied by members who support strategies such as paying teachers based on performance and closing chronically struggling schools.

Holmes’s appointment likely won’t upset the board’s calculus.

My position is that I’m going to support students first,” she said. “My hope — and what I’m assuming — is that we do have a like-minded board, and that’s a great thing.”

new plan

Lawmakers want to allow appeals before low-rated private schools lose vouchers

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

Indiana House lawmakers signaled support today for a plan to loosen restrictions for private schools accepting state voucher dollars.

Two proposal were amended into the existing House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. One would allow private schools to appeal to the Indiana State Board of Education to keep receiving vouchers even if they are repeatedly graded an F. The other would allow new “freeway” private schools the chance to begin receiving vouchers more quickly.

Indiana, already a state with one of the most robust taxpayer-funded voucher programs in the country, has made small steps toward broadening the program since the original voucher law passed in 2011 — and today’s amendments could represent two more if they become law. Vouchers shift state money from public schools to pay private school tuition for poor and middle class children.

Under current state law, private schools cannot accept new voucher students for one year after the school is graded a D or F for two straight years. If a school reaches a third year with low grades, it can’t accept new voucher students until it raises its grade to a C or higher for two consecutive years.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author, said private schools should have the right to appeal those consequences to the state board.

Right now, he said, they “have no redress.”  But public schools, he said, can appeal to the state board.

Behning said the innovation schools and transformation zones in Indianapolis Public Schools were a “perfect example” for why schools need an appeal process because schools that otherwise would face state takeover or other sanctions can instead get a reprieve to start over with a new management approach.

In the case of troubled private schools receiving vouchers, Behning said, there should be an equal opportunity for the state board to allow them time to improve.

”There are tools already available for traditional public schools and for charters that are not available for vouchers,” he said.

But Democrats on the House Education Committee opposed both proposals, arguing they provided more leeway to private schools than traditional public schools have.

“Vouchers are supposed to be the answer, the cure-all, the panacea for what’s going on in traditional schools,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary. “If you gave an amendment that said this would be possible for both of them, leveling the playing field, then I would support it.”

The second measure would allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a private school accredited and allow it to immediately begin receiving vouchers once it has entered into a contract to become a “freeway school” — a type of state accreditation that has few regulations and requirements compared to full accreditation.Typically, it might take a year or so to become officially accredited.

Indiana’s voucher program is projected to grow over the next two years to more than 38,000 students, at an anticipated cost — according to a House budget draft — of about $160 million in 2019. Currently in Indiana, there are 316 private schools that can accept vouchers.

The voucher amendments passed along party lines last week, and the entire bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.

Betsy DeVos

‘Receive mode’? The D.C. school DeVos visited responded to her criticism with a withering tweetstorm

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Howard University.

Washington D.C.’s Jefferson Middle School Academy is standing up for its teachers after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said they are “waiting to be told what they have to do.”

DeVos made the comments in one of her first interviews since being confirmed last week. She said teachers at the school — the first one she visited on the job — were “sincere” but seemed to be in “receive mode,” which she said “is not going to bring success to an individual child.”

The school took to Twitter late Friday to make its case. In 11 messages, the school described several teachers who creating new programs and tailoring their teaching to meet students’ considerable needs.

“JA teachers are not in a ‘receive mode,'” read the final message. “Unless you mean we ‘receive’ students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.”

The former and current D.C. schools chiefs have also weighed in. Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who accompanied DeVos on her school visit, issued a statement praising the teaching at Jefferson Academy. And his predecessor, Kaya Henderson, tweeted her withering take on DeVos’s comments:

Here’s the full tweetstorm from Jefferson Academy, which D.C. Public Schools considered a “rising school” because of its good -but-not-great test scores.