DPS father, graduate, and full-time volunteer running to represent northwest Denver on the school board

Images shows Lacy McDonald posing in front of a school. He is a Black man wearing a dark suit and a cowboy hat. He has a neatly trimmed beard and a huge smile on his face.
Lacy McDonald is running for the District 5 school board seat to represent northwest Denver. (Courtesy of Lacy McDonald)

Update, Sept. 7: Lacy McDonald did not qualify for the ballot to run for Denver school board, according to the Denver Office of the Clerk and Recorder. An office spokesperson said McDonald did not meet the requirement of having been a registered voter in the district he was seeking to represent for at least 12 consecutive months before the Nov. 7 election.

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A father of four who volunteers full time at the Denver middle school where his wife is principal is running for a seat representing northwest Denver on the school board.

Lacy McDonald runs The Outer Haven, a nonprofit organization that mentors students at Lake Middle School, where his wife Amanda is principal.

McDonald takes students into the wilderness to do engineering and carpentry projects, facilitates classes in DJing and podcasting, and promotes physical fitness. He also tends school vegetable gardens at Lake Middle School and Colfax Elementary School.

McDonald, 42, said he decided to run for school board after the contentious process this year to close schools with low enrollment. His youngest three children attend Colfax, which was at risk of closure. Colfax was spared in the last round but could face a closure threat again.

“There was no authentic communication with community,” McDonald said. “It was more of a one-size-fits-all, you gotta do this, sorry, here you go.

“I’m like, whoa! DPS is always drumming this thing about equity and yet you haven’t come to each of our schools to see what each of us individually have to deal with.”

Three of the seven seats on the Denver school board are up for grabs Nov. 7. McDonald will be among the candidates to challenge Charmaine Lindsay, the sitting board member for northwest Denver’s District 5. Lindsay was appointed last year and is now running to keep the seat

The election has the potential to shift the dynamics of the board, which has been plagued by infighting and power struggles between some members. Also at stake is how the board will deal with pressing issues such as declining enrollment and school safety.

McDonald said the “silencing” of Black and brown people by DPS also pushed him to join the race. He cited the district’s attempt to trademark the name of a podcast, “Know Justice, Know Peace,” that was started by four Black students — a fight DPS eventually dropped. He also cited the district’s ban of an outspoken Black critic, which a judge overturned.

McDonald grew up in Denver and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. He said he joined the U.S. Army after the 9/11 attacks and served two tours in Afghanistan. 

As he was transitioning out of the military eight years ago, McDonald heard Denver activist Jeff Fard talking about how Black boys were being disproportionately suspended from an elementary school in Montbello. So, he said, he went to volunteer at the school.

His interaction with a third grade boy changed his life, McDonald said.

“He told me, ‘Staff Sgt. Mac, you can tell me I can make it from A to Z, but you’re not going to be here to show me,’” McDonald recalled. “It was such a mature and deep response. And I took up the challenge from this kiddo, and I told him I would be there next Friday. And then next Friday turned into every other day.”

McDonald said he’s been volunteering in DPS schools ever since. The issues he cares the most about are communication, culture, and accountability, he said. 

The district’s lack of communication was evident in the school closure process, McDonald said. He was especially disappointed that Superintendent Alex Marrero didn’t personally attend meetings at each school that was at risk of closure, instead sending other district administrators. He said he disagrees with the pay raise the board recently gave Marrero.

“If you’re going to close down schools like that, you need to come and you need to talk to the people in the community,” McDonald said. “I don’t want to listen to your third-string quarterback.”

McDonald said he doesn’t relish the thought of closing schools, but if it needs to happen, then DPS should think creatively about how to repurpose the buildings. One idea he floated was using vacant buildings as housing for families experiencing homelessness.

School safety has been a high-profile issue in DPS since a March shooting inside East High School and the school board’s decision to bring police officers back to schools. McDonald said that if DPS is going to have SROs, those officers need to get to know the culture of a school and build relationships with students, not criminalize them.

“I don’t want a reactive police force involved with our community,” he said.

Successful candidates for Denver school board have historically gotten endorsements and funding from one of two sources: the teachers’ union or groups supportive of education reform. A dividing line is often candidates’ opinions on independently run charter schools. Most groups haven’t yet endorsed in this election.

McDonald said he understands the purpose of opening innovative charter schools. But he said the way it’s happened in Denver has been problematic at times. His wife’s school shared a building for many years with STRIVE Prep - Lake, a charter that closed this past spring. The arrangement caused a lot of tension and competitiveness in student recruitment, McDonald said.

“If you’re going to have shared campuses like that, it needs to be built with purpose — with authentic, harmonious purpose,” he said.

Paid DPS employees are barred from serving on the school board, but the ban doesn’t include employee spouses or volunteers. If he’s elected, McDonald said he’d refrain from voting on any issues that could be a conflict of interest. Lake Middle School lies within District 5.

McDonald said his collaborative spirit sets him apart from the other candidates in the race. His campaign’s slogan is “Together We Rise.”

“I can be tender and kind, but I can also be extremely dangerous and demanding when needed,” McDonald said. “There’s a time for lambs and there’s a time for lions. And we have to be able to maneuver between the two to get what we want accomplished.”

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

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