Denver teachers union backs Spearman for school board seat, while reform group endorses Youngquist

Denver Public Schools’ logo, with “Discover a World of Opportunity” imprinted on glass.
Three of the seven seats on the Denver school board are up for grabs Nov. 7. (Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat)

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The Denver teachers union on Monday endorsed Kwame Spearman, a DPS graduate and co-owner of the Tattered Cover bookstores, for an at-large seat on the Denver school board.

Another organization — Denver Families Action, which was formed with the backing of several local charter school networks — has endorsed candidate John Youngquist, the former principal of Denver’s East High School, for the at-large seat representing the entire city.

A third candidate, Brittni Johnson, was not endorsed by either group.

Three of the seven seats on the Denver school board are up for grabs Nov. 7. The union’s latest endorsement helps define a race that has been in flux due in part to candidates dropping out, not making the ballot, or jumping into the race later than usual. 

The current board, made up of six union-backed members and one who was appointed to fill a vacancy, has been criticized as dysfunctional for infighting among some members. The incumbent in the at-large seat, board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson, is not seeking re-election, leaving the race for that seat wide open.

“We were taking our time to really make some careful considerations,” union President Rob Gould said about this year’s endorsements, which are coming later than in past years. 

“We’ve made some endorsements in the past where we’ve seen that candidates that we’ve endorsed have followed through with their promises and some that haven’t,” he said. “And we’ve taken the time to make sure we were right.”

In endorsing Spearman, DCTA cited Spearman’s experience as a DPS student and graduate. The union also noted that Spearman comes from a long line of educators. In a press release, Gould said Spearman “deeply understands that when educators have the vital support that they need, students are able to reach their full potential.” 

In endorsing Youngquist, Denver Families Action cited Youngquist’s 30-year career as a teacher and administrator, and his experience as current DPS parent. The organization also noted Youngquist’s commitment to equity, school safety, “and guaranteeing that every student, irrespective of their background or geographical location, receives a high-quality education.”

Endorsements have been key to winning school board races in Denver because they come with money, both in the form of direct donations to the candidates and spending by outside groups. Volunteers also knock doors and make calls and texts on behalf of endorsed candidates.

Typically, the teachers union endorses one set of candidates, and organizations that favor education reform and charter schools endorse a different set of candidates. Reform organizations tend to have deeper pockets than the teachers union, though a recent national study found that teachers union endorsements are the most influential.

This year, just one pro-reform organization is endorsing. In addition to backing Youngquist for the at-large seat, Denver Families Action endorsed former KIPP Colorado charter network CEO Kimberlee Sia in District 1 seat and longtime DPS advocate Marlene De La Rosa in District 5.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, meanwhile, endorsed Scott Baldermann, an incumbent who represents southeast Denver’s District 1, for a second term. 

The union has yet to endorse a candidate for a seat representing northwest Denver’s District 5. That race features three candidates: De La Rosa, parent and former teacher Adam Slutzker, and current District 5 representative Charmaine Lindsay, an attorney with grandchildren in DPS who was appointed to the seat last year after the former member resigned.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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