Politics & Policy

IPS names newest board member: A Center for Inquiry parent who speaks Spanish fluently

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
School 27

A parent at School 27 who speaks Spanish fluently will be the newest member of the Indianapolis Public Schools board — and the only member with a child enrolled in the district.

The current board chose Dorene Rodriguez Hoops by a 4-2 vote to fill the vacancy created by LaNier Echols’ surprise resignation last month. The other candidates, Michael Brown and Eugene Hawkins, each received one vote.

A native of California, Hoops has lived in Indianapolis since 2011. She is a first-generation Mexican American who has a background running human resources for a large nonprofit.

Hoops will represent District 5, which includes the northwest side of the school district, and she will serve some heavily Hispanic neighborhoods. That is one reason why board member Kelly Bentley said she voted for Hoops.

“We heard loud and clear the last time we filled a position that we needed some Hispanic representation,” Bentley said. “She’s got a big background in human resources that I think will benefit the board and the district, and she’s a parent in the district of a special needs student, which I think is going to be really important as well.”

Although several board members have relatives who attend IPS, Hoops will be the only board member with a child enrolled in the district when she starts in January. Her son attends School 27, a Center for Inquiry magnet on the near north side.

A parent organizer from the group Stand for Children, which trains parents to advocate for their children and endorses board candidates, also highlighted Hoops Latina background.

“Like so many students in IPS, Dorene has had to overcome the challenges of learning in a non-native language,” Cesar Roman said in a statement. “She’s faced the struggles that go along with being from an immigrant family and having to assimilate into a culture, all while trying to take full advantage of her educational opportunities.”

Hoops could not immediately be reached for comment. When she interviewed for the seat last week, Hoops said her work advocating for her son, who has special needs, has increased her commitment in ensuring that every child has access to a good school.

“I really am passionate about ensuring that all children of all backgrounds and abilities have the educational experience that they need in order to make the choices that they want to make in the future,” she told the board.

One of the other candidates vying for the seat was Michael Brown, a 16-year veteran of the board who lost his seat to Echols in 2014. Board member Gayle Cosby, who did not run for reelection, said she voted for Brown because of his experience on the board.

Echols, who was not up for reelection until 2018, told Chalkbeat just hours ahead of the November election that she planned to resign. Cosby said that Echols should have resigned earlier in the year so the position could appear on the ballot.

“I believe that had that seat been elected in an election that Mike Brown would’ve been a clear choice,” she said. “He, in my opinion, was a clear choice based on his many years of experience to the board.”

Michael O’Connor, who was chosen last year to fill a school board seat midterm, said there is a steep learning curve for board members who are appointed rather than elected.

“If you are running for a full term, you are getting up to speed on issues that the board is facing because you are going to forums and other stuff,” O’Connor said. “This is drinking from a fire hose.”

early running

Denver school board race opens up as Rosemary Rodriguez announces she won’t seek re-election

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Board member Rosemary Rodriguez speaks at Abraham Lincoln High (Chalkbeat file)

Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election, putting her southwest Denver seat up for grabs in what will likely be a contentious school board campaign this fall with control of the board at stake.

Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she is retiring from her job as senior advisor to Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and plans to sell her home and buy a smaller one that belonged to her grandparents.

That home is not in her school board district, District 2, but in the district represented by board member Lisa Flores. With the exception of at-large members, Denver school board members must live in the districts they represent.

“If it weren’t the case, I would still be running,” Rodriguez said.

During her four-year tenure, Rodriguez worked with community groups and others to spotlight student achievement in southwest Denver, leading to new schools and better transportation.

Former Denver Public Schools teacher and Denver native Angela Cobian announced Wednesday that she is running for the seat. Rodriguez has endorsed Cobian, a political newcomer who works for the nonprofit Leadership for Educational Equity, which helps Teach for America members and alumni get involved in politics and advocacy.

All seven current board members support Denver’s nationally known brand of education reform, which includes a “portfolio” of traditional district-run, charter, magnet and innovation schools.

With four of the the board’s seats up for grabs this November, the campaign presents an opportunity for opponents of those reforms to again try to get a voice on the board.

The field is still very much taking shape. The most competitive race so far involves District 4 in northeast Denver. Incumbent Rachele Espiritu, who was appointed to the seat last year, announced her campaign earlier this month. The board chose Espiritu after its initial pick, MiDian Holmes, withdrew after a child abuse case came to light and she was not forthcoming with all the details.

Also filing paperwork to run in District 4 is Jennifer Bacon, who was a finalist in the process that led to the board picking Espiritu. Auontai “Tay” Anderson, the student body president of Manual High School, declared his candidacy for the northeast Denver seat in April.

Incumbents Mike Johnson and Barbara O’Brien have not yet filed election paperwork with the state. Two candidates have declared for O’Brien’s at-large seat: Julie Banuelos and Jo Ann Fujioka.

equity issues

A report found black students and teachers in Denver face inequities. Can these 11 recommendations make a difference?

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post
A student at Ashley Elementary School in Denver.

Helping African-American families understand their children’s school choices, offering signing bonuses to prospective black teachers and making student discipline data count in school ratings are among the recommendations of a task force that tackled inequities faced by African-American students and educators in Denver.

“Once we were able to get past some of the hurts that people experienced, once we were able to come up with the root causes and understand this process is going to be uncomfortable, we were able to come together in a way to do the work we need to do,” Allen Smith, the associate chief of Denver Public Schools’ Culture, Equity and Leadership Team, said Wednesday at an event to reveal the recommendations and solicit feedback at Bruce Randolph School on the city’s northeast side.

The DPS African-American Equity Task Force, which was comprised of more than 100 members, made 11 recommendations in all. (Read them in full below.) They include directing the district to:

— Design a tool to assist African-American families in understanding which schools best match their students’ needs and interests, and “generate personalized recommendations.”

— Require every school to create an Equity Plan “designed to strengthen relationships between African-Americans and schools” through strategies such as home visits by teachers.

— Ensure curriculum is culturally responsive to African-American students.

— Develop a plan to increase black students’ access to “high value learning opportunities,” including the district’s gifted and talented program, and concurrent enrollment courses.

— Create a human resources task force that would, among other things, ensure African-American job candidates receive equal consideration and once hired, equal pay.

— Incentivize black educators to come to DPS and stay, and create a pipeline program to encourage black students “to return to serve their own communities.”

The recommendations do not include a price tag. Nor have they “been evaluated for legal compliance,” according to the document.

The task force was created in the wake of a critical report documenting the concerns of 70 African-American Denver educators. The educators said black teachers feel isolated and passed-over for promotions. Black students are being left behind academically, the teachers said, in part because of low expectations and harsh discipline by teachers who are not black.

Thirteen percent of the district’s approximately 92,000 students are African-American. Last year, just 4 percent of DPS teachers were black. Seventy-four percent were white.

District statistics show that the percentages of African-American students who are proficient in English and math, as measured by state tests, trail district averages. Only a third of black students graduated college-ready last year, which is lower than white or Latino students.

Meanwhile, more black students are identified as needing special education. And African-American students have the highest suspension rate in the district.

The district has taken some steps to address the inequities. DPS is part of a multi-year campaign along with the mayor’s office and charter school operators to recruit more than 70 teachers of color and 10 school leaders of color to Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg noted at Wednesday’s event that DPS is starting to see results; one-quarter of new principals hired to lead schools next year are African-American, he said.

For the first time this year, the district required its new teachers to take a previously optional three-hour course on culturally responsive teaching in which they were asked to share fears about working with students and families from different backgrounds.

DPS also added a new measure this year to its color-coded school rating system that takes into account how well schools are educating traditionally underserved students. However, the district has since tweaked its “equity indicator” in response to concerns from school leaders, and the task force recommended even more changes. In addition to looking at student test scores, it is calling for including discipline data, as well as teacher hiring, retention and promotion data.

And the district has announced plans to eliminate out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for preschool through third-grade students except in the most serious incidents.

The set of 11 recommendations includes one overarching one: the creation of an African-American Equity Team to ensure the district executes the ideas it adopts.

“A deep thank you for your work and a deep thank you in advance for the work we will be doing together,” Boasberg said.

The recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the Denver school board in June.

Read the full recommendations below.