Alternative proposals, impassioned pleas

A Montbello High School student was among those lining up to ask questions about reform plans in Far Northeast Denver at Tuesday's community meeting.
A Montbello High School student was among those lining up to ask questions about reform plans in Far Northeast Denver at Tuesday's crowded community meeting.

A second meeting in as many weeks in a crowded school cafeteria in Far Northeast Denver produced two alternate proposals to a district plan to improve its struggling schools there.

But there was no consensus on any one plan from the 40-member community committee that’s been meeting since April to advise Denver Public Schools on how to reform Montbello High School and five feeder schools.

Instead, as the meeting stretched past its allotted 8:30 p.m. end time, members agreed to complete an emailed survey that will weight their priorities for implementing whatever proposal is approved by Denver school board members next month.

It’s still unclear how far the committee will go in supporting – or not – a district proposal that has prompted protests from some activists throughout the city.

Learn more
  • See the district proposal and read about the committee’s work on its website.
  • See an EdNews’ video of four Montbello High students talking about the proposed plan for their school here.
  • See EdNews’ coverage of the first meeting, including a video of the protest, here.
  • Sign up to speak at DPS’ board meetings on Nov. 8 and Nov. 18 by calling 720-423-3210 by 5 p.m. the day before.

A draft committee statement to the board includes the phrasing that the DPS “comprehensive regional proposal for school improvement will achieve its goal of providing high quality outcomes …”

At least two committee members, Kat Parker and Thad Jacobs, said they don’t expect to weigh in specifically on the district plan. They said their statement will focus on areas such as the implementation requirements needed for any successful reform effort.

Examples of such requirements discussed Tuesday include urging DPS to commit to tasks such as producing a detailed reform timeline by Jan. 31 that includes identified staff and a series of workshops to provide job help for displaced teachers.

Laurie Zeller, the executive director of A+ Denver, the district advisory group that’s facilitating the community process, said committee members will weigh in on the draft statement and “say whether it’s gone too far.”

The survey and its resulting statement are expected to be completed by the board’s Nov. 4 meeting. Public comment hearings are scheduled Nov. 8 and Nov. 18, the night the board is expected to vote.

Alternate proposals aired

A couple hundred parents, teachers and community members filled the cafeteria at Rachel B. Noel Middle School on Tuesday night for a second all-community meeting on changes proposed at six schools in Montbello and Green Valley Ranch.

The district’s plan – which drew heated opposition at an Oct. 12 meeting – calls for replacing some of Denver’s lowest-performing schools with other district-run and charter programs that have been more successful in other parts of the city.

DPS officials tout the proposal as a way of offering more, and better, options for an area that more than 1,000 students opt to leave daily for public schools elsewhere.

Some of the replacement programs, however, have little track record in DPS, including the Denver Center for International Studies as an elementary school and a second SOAR charter campus.

In addition, hundreds of teachers would have to re-apply for their jobs or face losing them altogether as two charters move into what are now traditional neighborhood – and unionized – schools.

Both alternate proposals presented Tuesday call for greater input from teachers, which some argue has been lacking.

One plan, put together with the help of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, wants teachers and community members at each of the six affected schools to be allowed to come up with their own reform proposals. The plan passed out at Noel is here and a longer, easier-to-read version is here.

A second proposal came from Elet Valentine, a Montbello High School parent active in education issues. She said it represents what she’s been hearing in the community.

“We’re just parents and community members that came together,” she said.

Components include adding an hour of instructional time to every school day, requiring parent input on teacher selection and mandating Montbello High remain a single school – rather than converting to three smaller schools on one campus.

Read her proposal here and see highlights by clicking in the video below:

‘The process wasn’t perfect’

Tuesday’s meeting did not feature the organized protest that occurred at the Oct. 12 meeting at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, where some chanted “Say No!” to the DPS plan and criticized a lack of transparency about the committee’s work.

“The process wasn’t perfect, I’ll be the first to say that,” said Jacobs, the committee member and father of a fourth-grader at DPS’ Florida Pitt Waller School in Far Northeast Denver.

“I think there were issues in communicating what the makeup of the committee was and that the meetings were open. The meetings were open from April and we did have community members at every meeting and they did participate.”

Parker, another committee member and a teacher at Oakland Elementary, which would be replaced by a charter school next year under the DPS proposal, said the changes would hit more quickly than she had anticipated.

“We really need to have grassroots buy-in for these things to work and not just the middle-class folks, all of the families that are affected by these changes,” she said. “I know, as a teacher at one of these affected schools, plenty of our parents were not aware of what was going on – and some of them still are not aware.”

Neither Jacobs nor Parker would offer an opinion on the DPS proposal, saying they wanted to see it in its final form before doing so. The district has yet to formally present it to board members.

One of the more passionate speakers at Tuesday’s meeting was Michael Hancock, who has served as the area’s elected Denver City Council member since 2003. His son, 15, rides the bus from Montbello to East High School near downtown for school.

Hancock said he recently asked his son, in a conference with a teacher, why he wasn’t turning in his homework on time, every time.

“He looked at me and he said, ‘Daddy, I’m tired when I come home from that hour and 15-minute bus ride,’” the father said.

“Folks, I’m telling you today as a city council representative, as your neighbor, I don’t care if you ever vote for me again, stand in the gap for every child in this neighborhood so they never, ever have to make that decision again.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”