Friday Churn: Voucher appeal

Updated – Three families who received Douglas County vouchers have appealed an Aug. 12 ruling stopping the pilot to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

“We are confident that the Court of Appeals will correct the trial court’s decision, which ignored or attempted to rationalize away existing Colorado and U.S. Supreme Court precedent that clearly authorizes the scholarship program,” said Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which represents the Oakley, Doyle and Anderson families of Douglas County.

Douglas County school board members voted 7-0 in March to create a pilot using public funding to help up to 500 Dougco students attend private schools. A Denver judge halted the program last month after a handful of parents and civil-liberties groups filed a lawsuit.

See the full press release from the Institute for Justice and read EdNews’ archive of voucher stories.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

Leaders of the Denver education community gathered for the first in a series of three monthly forums on Denver Public Schools Thursday night, and a primary theme that evolved from the session is a desire to de-emphasize the significance of labels.

The trio of forums is being jointly hosted by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, A-Plus Denver and the Donnell-Kay Foundation.

Close to 100 DPS district officials, school board members, candidates for the board, parents and other community members gathered at the downtown Grand Hyatt for the initial installment of “More From Our Schools: Deeper Dialogue on Education Issues.” 

Thursday’s session’s advertised focus was “Priorities.” The next scheduled forum, Oct. 11, is to key on “Strategies,” while the Nov. 15 installment is to highlight “Next Steps.”

The first gathering was moderated by Frederick Hess, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and widely published author on education policy. Hess noted he was one of the few people in the room who “knows essentially nothing about DPS and Denver’s educational challenges,” and mostly deferred to those in the audience who had questions – or short policy statements sometimes framed as questions.

One of the more impassioned speakers during the evening was Hilltop neighborhood resident Kristen Tourangeau, a DPS graduate and parent. She spoke about efforts she and other parents in her immediate community had made to improve the culture and level of achievement at three different schools, which she later identified as Steck Elementary, Carson Elementary and Hill Middle School.

“Nobody ever gives parents and communities a chance to turn around regular schools,” she said. “When we do that, we’re considered ‘non-reformers.’ I take offense to that.”

Tourangeau was just one of several people who declared that framing every discussion about DPS progress around the reform/anti-reform divide, and assigning people to one side or the other of that split, was counterproductive.

Also, although the second and third More From Our Schools forums will sandwich the Nov. 1 DPS board election – and all but one of the nine declared candidates for the three seats being contested were on hand – overt politicking was at a minimum.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association president Henry Roman commented on the civility of the discussion, saying he had worried if it was going to be an atmosphere of “Do you want a piece of me? Let’s go!”

“I think it’s very important to have this discussion,” said Roman, who encouraged the forum hosts to open up the remainder of the series to as broad an audience as possible.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Disgraced Atlanta supt. defends her tenure: Beverly L. Hall discusses the massive cheating scandal for the first time. New York Times

Union to Bloomberg: No more layoffs: With budget projections for next year looking grim, the United Federation of Teachers fires a warning shot across the bow.

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.”