First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

DPS hears 11 new school proposals

Proposals for what would be Denver Public Schools’ first all-boys schools were among the 11 presentations made Wednesday night to school board members under the district’s “call for quality schools” process. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Pueblo schools find more in reserve

PUEBLO – The Pueblo school district’s board of education learned Tuesday that the district will end up with more money in its reserves because of unanticipated changes in general fund revenue. Read more in the Pueblo Chieftain.

school busBrighton, Adams County districts debating bus fees

DENVER – Two more Denver metro-area school districts are debating whether to create and or raise bus fees to help offset budget cuts. Watch the 7NEWS report.

Boulder Valley educators learn inclusion strategies

The research from classroom observations that California inclusion expert Richard Villa presented was sobering. Clear learning objectives were few, worksheets were a staple and higher-level learning was sparse. But, he said, the job of today’s teacher is to provide a quality classroom experience for students with a wide range of needs and backgrounds. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Sixth- and ninth-grade academies jump start student success

DENVER – Thousands of Denver students are getting a head start on middle and high school this summer through the Denver Public Schools Sixth Grade Academy and Ninth Grade Academy programs.

The programs combine learning, leadership development and team-building activities to give students the confidence to achieve academic success throughout their middle and high school years.

High school students having an examThis is the fifth year that incoming ninth-graders across the city have had the chance to spend a couple of weeks over the summer on campus, getting acclimated to a new school environment and taking part in academic and school-readiness classes.  Early results – based on approximately 4,500 students attending Ninth Grade Academy over the past four years – have shown that participation in the program improves students’ future attendance and overall performance.

Based on the program’s success, DPS extended the summer-academy program two years ago to include incoming sixth-graders for the summer.

To register for Ninth Grade Academy, parents may e-mail or leave a message at (720) 424-8277. Parents must provide the student’s name, student ID, address, phone number and the school he/she will be attending for the 2011-2012 school year.

To register for Sixth Grade Academy, parents must call the school their child will attend for the 2011-2012 school year. Transportation is provided for students who live beyond the walk zone.

Pilot programs help DPS fine-tune teacher-evaluation system

Feedback provided by teachers in 16 pilot programs is helping Denver Public Schools retool its new teacher performance framework as it prepares to try it at more schools.

“We’re very happy to see overwhelming support for the system,” said DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg. “We look forward to even more constructive feedback.” Read more in the Denver Post.

Virtual learning could eliminate school snow days

Could the Internet mean the end of snow days? Some schools think so, and they are experimenting with ways for students to do lessons online during bad weather, potentially allowing classes to go on during even the worst blizzard. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Boulder-area schools intrigued by virtual snow day idea

School districts and universities across the country are replacing snow angels and hot cocoa with online algebra and English during snow days and other school cancellations. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Some teacher jobs uncertain in Far Northeast Denver

One in five teachers in schools affected by the dramatic turnaround underway in Far Northeast Denver are without district jobs for the coming school year. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Hall Passages: A year inside Missoula’s schools

The best way to get to know Missoula’s schools is not by showing up to school board meetings or reporting on the latest round of teacher negotiations, or even talking to the people who run the schools themselves.

The best way, it turns out, is to walk through the school doors and witness what happens inside the classroom walls, where teachers and students engage with each other 180 days out of the year.

That was the philosophy behind the Missoulian’s yearlong series “Hall Passages,” where the newspaper visited 28 separate schools and school districts throughout the year, from schools ranging in population from one to 1,300. Read more in this in-depth series in the Missoulian.

Standards mean more math for youngest students

STERLING  – After much discussion, revised preschool through 12th grade math frameworks were approved by the RE-1 District Accountability Advisory Committee (DAAC) at a special meeting on Wednesday. Read more in the Sterling Journal-Advocate.

Denver schools train teachers for diverse classrooms

In its first two years, an innovative “teacher residency” program has placed 55 teachers with special training in hard-to-staff Denver classrooms. All the teachers are trained to teach children for whom English isn’t their first language. Read more in the Denver Post.

Douglas County voters support teacher pay-for-performance

CASTLE ROCK – A new poll released by the Douglas County School District on Friday shows that 62 percent of voters in Douglas County support initiatives that tie a teacher’s performance to their pay.

The poll, commissioned by RBC, shows even more voters support the work DCSD teachers are doing in the classroom (73 percent) and agree with providing higher salaries for great teachers (66 percent).

Based on those results, it is clear Douglas County voters support the work currently being done by DCSD. The district unveiled its strategic plan in March, which included a pay-for-performance and an assessment system for educators. The goal of these programs is to provide professional and competitive salaries for DCSD teachers, in an effort to celebrate and retain those who are doing a great job, while also encouraging the recruitment of new, innovative educators.

Dougco Superintendent Liz Fagen is planning on recommending a bond election and mill levy override to support the pay-for-performance program, as well as other initiatives.

Several scenarios are being considered for the election, all of which would cost an average homeowner $7.60 a month.


First Person

I’ve been mistaken for the other black male leader at my charter network. Let’s talk about it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I was recently invited to a reunion for folks who had worked at the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was a privilege for me to have been part of that work, and it was a privilege for me to be in that room reflecting on our legacy.

The counterweight is that only four people in the room were black males. Two were waiters, and I was one of the remaining two. There were definitely more than two black men who were part of the work that took place in New York City during that era, but it was still striking how few were present.

The event pushed me to reflect again on the jarring impact of the power dynamics that determine who gets to make decisions in so-called education reform. The privileged end up being relatively few, and even fewer look like the kids we serve.

I’m now the chief operating officer at YES Prep, a charter school network in Houston. When I arrived at YES four years ago, I had been warned that it was a good old boys club. Specifically, that it was a good old white boys club. It was something I assessed in taking the role: Would my voice be heard? Would I truly have a seat at the table? Would I have any influence?

As a man born into this world with a black father and white mother, I struggled at an early age with questions about identity and have been asking those questions ever since.

As I became an adult, I came to understand that being from the suburbs, going to good schools, and being a lighter-skinned black person affords me greater access to many settings in America. At the same time, I experience my life as a black man.

Jeremy Beard, head of schools at YES, started the same day I did. It was the first time YES had black men at the leadership table of the organization. The running joke was that people kept mistaking Jeremy and me for each other. We all laughed about it, but it revealed some deeper issues that had pervaded YES for some time.

“Remember when you led that tour in the Rio Grande Valley to see schools?” a board member asked me about three months into my tenure.“That wasn’t me,” I replied. I knew he meant Jeremy, who had worked at IDEA in the Valley. At that time, I had never been to the Valley and didn’t even know where it was on the map.

“Yes, it was,” he insisted.

“I’ve never been to the Valley. It wasn’t me. I think you mean Jeremy.”

“No, it was you, don’t you remember?” he continued, pleading with me to recall something that never happened.

“It wasn’t me.”

He stopped, thought about it, confused, and uttered, “Huh.”

It is difficult for me to assign intent here, and this dynamic is not consistent with all board members. That particular person may have truly been confused about my identity. And sure, two black men may have a similar skin tone, and we may both work at YES. But my life experience suggests something else was at play. It reminds me that while I have the privilege of sitting at the table with our board, they, as board members, have the privilege of not having to know who I am, or that Jeremy and I are different black dudes.

It would be easy to just chalk this all up to racial politics in America and accept it as status quo, but I believe we can change the conversation on privilege and race by having more conversations on privilege and race. We can change the dynamics of the game by continuing to build awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can also advocate to change who has seats at the table and whose voices will be heard.

I remain hopeful thanks to the changes I have witnessed during my time at YES. The board has been intentional in their efforts to address their own privilege, and is actively working to become more diverse and inclusive.

Personally, I have worked to ensure there are more people of color with seats at the table by mentoring future leaders of color at YES Prep and other black men in this work. Jeremy and I also created Brothers on Books, a book club for black men at YES to find mentorship and fellowship. Through this book club, we can create a safe space to have candid discussions based on literature we read and explore what it means to be black men at YES.

When I think about privilege, I am torn between the privilege that has been afforded to me and the jarring power dynamics that determine who gets to have conversations and make decisions in so-called education reform. White people are afforded more voices and seats at the table, making decisions that primarily impact children of color.

It is not lost on me that it is my own privilege that affords me access to a seat at the table. My hope is that by using my role, my voice and my privilege, I can open up dialogue, hearts, minds, opinions, and perceptions. I hope that readers are similarly encouraged to assess their own privileges and determine how they can create positive change.

Recy Benjamin Dunn is YES Prep’s chief operating officer, overseeing operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy for the charter school network. A version of this piece was first published on YES Prep’s blog.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.