Parent of 3, former teacher Adam Slutzker running for northwest seat on Denver school board

A dad, a mom, two daughters, and a son smile at the camera. They are outside with snow-capped mountains in the background.
Denver school board candidate Adam Slutzker poses with his son Charlie, daughters Noa and Kaia, wife Leah, and dog Mocha. (Courtesy of Adam Slutzker)

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A former elementary school teacher whose three children attend Denver Public Schools is running for a seat on the Denver school board.

Adam Slutzker, who taught in a neighboring district, is running to represent northwest Denver. His children attend Columbian Elementary School, which was one of 10 schools Superintendent Alex Marrero initially recommended closing last school year for low enrollment. Though Columbian was spared, Slutzker said that experience pushed him to run for the board.

“I don’t really believe that they did their job in effectively communicating with the potentially impacted communities in a way that gave people the opportunity to process and engage in a thoughtful manner,” Slutzker said of the district’s school closure process.

However, he said declining enrollment in DPS means more closures could be coming.

“We are going to have to find a way — whether it’s closures or consolidations or different ways of appropriating our funding” to deal with declining enrollment, he said.  “Hard decisions are going to have to be made. We need to be conscious of how we’re making those decisions.”

Slutzker, 39, is one of three candidates running to represent District 5 on the board. He’ll face two opponents: incumbent Charmaine Lindsay and challenger Marlene De La Rosa.

Three of the seven Denver school board seats are up for grabs Nov. 7, and a total of nine candidates are in the running. Two of the seats, including District 5, represent specific regions of the city and the third seat represents the entire city at large.

The election has the potential to change the dynamics of the board, which has been criticized for power struggles and infighting among some members. Also at stake is how DPS will deal with pressing issues including declining enrollment and school safety.

After a shooting inside East High School in March, the school board reinstated police officers in some DPS high schools. A previous board had voted in 2020 to remove school resource officers, or SROs, over concerns that SROs were over-policing students of color. 

Slutzker said he’d rather the district spend money on social services and mental health support than on stationing police in buildings.

But since SROs are currently being funded by the city and not by DPS, Slutzker said he would be open to keeping them as long as they’re properly trained, and as long as the SROs are “there to protect and serve our students and not necessarily in a disciplinary fashion.”

Slutzker said he worked as an elementary school teacher from 2009 until 2014, mostly in neighboring Jeffco Public Schools. He said he left teaching when his oldest child was born and has spent the past nine years working part-time as a real estate agent, contractor, and carpenter while his wife works full-time as a nurse practitioner. 

For the past two years, Slutzker said, he’s chaired Columbian Elementary’s collaborative school committee, a group of parents and teachers who advise school leaders.

“I left the classroom because it was a better financial decision for me to stay at home with our children,” Slutzker said. “I’ve always wanted to go back … I couldn’t think of a better way to be politically engaged than running for school board and making an impact on the education system.”

Slutzker said he believes it’s important for district decision-makers to listen to teachers.

“I consider myself an educator advocate, first and foremost,” he said. “Before I wear my parent hat, I put on my teacher hat.” 

On issues such as how to boost teacher recruitment and retention, Slutzker said DPS needs to base its policies on educator feedback. 

“They’re the experts and we need to be listening to them,” he said.

Successful Denver school board candidates are often backed either by the teachers union or by organizations supportive of education reform and independent charter schools. Asked his opinion on charter schools, Slutzker said that while he supports DPS having a variety of school types, he believes charter schools need more oversight.

He also said the expansion of charter schools in DPS has contributed to the district’s declining enrollment crisis because “we’ve opened too many schools.” In the few parts of the city where new housing is being built and school enrollment is increasing, Slutzker said he’d potentially be open to approving new charter schools, but not districtwide.

“I’m not anti-charter school, but I want to make sure every neighborhood has a thriving neighborhood school their child can attend before we go granting new charters,” he said. The term neighborhood school often refers to traditional, district-run schools. 

Slutzker said his dual experience as both a former educator and a current parent make him stand out among candidates for the District 5 school board seat.

“My background in education and living it day to day, dealing with headaches of child care, the pickups and dropoffs, the healthy school start times, and how to get off of work and pick kids up at 2:40, is something I carry that other candidates are not directly experiencing,” Slutzker said. 

Healthy start times is a district policy that pushes elementary school start times earlier and middle and high school start times later to ensure teenagers get more sleep.

 “I think I can really empathize with other families in the district for the challenges we’re all facing in being parents in 2023,” Slutzker said.

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

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