DPS candidates dodge ‘slate’ label

Some candidates early in this Denver Public Schools board elections season are racing to distance themselves from a five-letter word that already has surfaced frequently.

That word is  “S-L-A-T-E.”

It made one of its first appearances last month in connection with a fund-raising event benefiting three candidates for the DPS board: Happy Haynes, campaigning at-large, Anne Rowe, running in southeast Denver’s District 1, and Jennifer Draper Carson, a candidate in northwest Denver’s District 5.

Invitation to the June 13 fundrasier

A flier publicizing the June 13 event at the Denver home of Kristin and Blair Richardson solicited contributions to those three candidates’ campaigns.

An accompanying e-mail from the Richardsons urged, “Please consider supporting the slate of candidates that have pledged to continue the nationally recognized reform movement that Denver has achieved.”

Kristin Richardson is the board chair for the Denver Public Schools Foundation, which also includes DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg as an ex-officio board member.

A contribution form attached to the Richardsons’ invitation solicited donations to Carson, Haynes and Rowe. It said that checks, made out to candidates individually, could be hand-delivered at the event, or mailed to the attention of “DPS Candidates” to a Denver address which is that of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC), a coalition of business leaders, non-profits and foundations advocating for the advancement of the early childhood system in Colorado.

EPIC’s executive committee includes Janice Sinden, named last week as Mayor-elect Michael Hancock’s chief of staff. Its “CEO roundtable” includes Oakwood Homes boss and Colorado Concern board member Pat Hamill. Sinden and Hamill were both listed as co-hosts of the June 13 fundraiser.

Slate “a poor choice of words”

Kristin Richardson said last Friday she was surprised the word “slate” was in her email, and called it “I guess a poor choice of words.”

“They’re not a slate,” said Richardson. “The only reason I hosted a fundraiser for all three is that I was going to be gone all summer, and it was just more efficient.

“They are just people who, I’ve listened to their platforms, and I agree with their positions on education. I am very supportive of Tom Boasberg and the Denver Plan. I just take the time to listen to what the candidates are about, and I like those three.”

Contacted in recent days, each of the candidates promoted by the Richardsons’ event – or the candidates’ campaign managers – also disavowed the notion that they constitute a “slate.”

“I don’t perceive, and I don’t think either of the other two, perceive us as a slate,” said Haynes, a former president of the Denver City Council, who resigned as chief community engagement officer for DPS in May to focus on her campaign.

Carson’s campaign manager, Greta Twombly, said, “Jennifer is not part of any slate.”

Anne Bye Rowe
Anne Bye Rowe

Rowe said she only became aware the word “slate” was being used in connection with the June 13 fundraiser after the fact.

“We’re not a slate, and I actually don’t think it would be a healthy thing” to promote any group of candidates as a slate, said Rowe, a founding co-chair and executive board member of A+ Denver.

Running against Rowe in southeast Denver is Emily Sirota, a community activist who, like Rowe, is campaigning for the DPS board for the first time.

“My sense is there most certainly is a slate, and the candidates will most probably continue to deny that,” Sirota said.

“I do know that there are folks out there, quite obviously from that fundraising invitation, who believe the stakes are very high and they must win at all costs,” she said.

Sharing advice from a prominent political consultant

One thing the three campaigns have in common is contact with prominent Denver political strategist Craig Hughes, a partner at the RBI Strategies & Research political consulting firm. While the three campaigns said they aren’t paying Hughes (the first financial reporting forms aren’t due until mid-October), they have been talking to him or seeking his advice.

Emily Sirota
Emily Sirota

It’s unclear whether any outside party is paying Hughes to advise the candidates.

Hughes managed former DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet’s successful 2010 campaign for one of Colorado’s two U.S. Senate seats.

Haynes said Hughes “is helping me out with a few things, although now that I have actually hired a campaign manager, we’ll be doing most of what needs to be done.

“Craig is a political advisor who advises a lot of people in town. He’s one of the best, and you know he’s familiar with these issues and it makes sense for people to lean on him, particularly for research and finding issues, or when it comes time to doing any polling or work of that type.”

Rowe confirmed she has talked to Hughes, but said she has not retained him, and that she was still in the process of hiring a campaign manager. She said she has hired John Britz to work as a strategic consultant to her campaign.

Twombly, the campaign manager for Carson, said, “While Jennifer is glad to have Craig’s support, and advice, neither he nor RBI is currently employed by our campaign.”

Hughes said he is “proud to help these three great candidates in any way I can. I think (they) will be tremendous leaders for Denver and will take the Denver school board in the right direction for the future.”

Term-limited board member Theresa Peña’s at-large seat is being contested by Haynes, Park Hill business consultant Roger Kilgore and South High School social studies teacher Frank Deserino. Deserino initially planned to run in southeast Denver, along with Rowe and Sirota. He ran unsuccessfully for that seat in 2007.

But Deserino said he determined that if he stayed in that race, he and Sirota would split potential votes between themselves, ensuring a Rowe victory in the southeast.

“Everybody who is on the ground knows that Anne Rowe, Happy Haynes and (Carson) are part of the slate of candidates that are being managed by the majority board members of DPS,” said Deserino.

“From what I’ve heard, their concerns are that the minority board members, or anyone elected against their candidates, is part of a slate that wants to change things, doesn’t like the Denver Plan, doesn’t want to do reform, and wants to fire Tom Boasberg.”

A slate “that represents parents, teachers and kids”

Deserino predicted, “I’m going to be labeled as part of a slate of candidates sponsored by the board minority. And if you want to look at this honestly, yeah, I’m part of a slate. I’m part of the slate that represent the parents, teachers and kids, because they feel they don’t have a voice.”

Peña, a member of the 4-3 majority consistently supportive of Boasberg’s reform policies – and also listed on the Richardsons’ invitation as a co-host of their June 13 fundraiser – suggested that to determine the true existence of a “slate,” a dictionary might be useful.

“It depends on, what is your definition of a slate?” Peña said. “Just because there was a fundraiser for three candidates which used the word, I don’t think that makes them a slate. What is their ideology? What are their platforms? What are their issues?

“If you look at their personal experience and the work they have done, I don’t think you could predict how they would vote on any of the most controversial decisions the board has made in the last few months.”

School board candidates can’t start circulating nominating petitions for their required-minimum of 50 voters’ signatures until Aug. 3. They must be turned in by Aug. 26.

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led to changes in school improvement strategies. Leaders also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

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 [email protected]

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