Colorado

Vouchers a tricky issue in DPS races

Vouchers have popped up as an issue in two of three Denver school board races, even though all nine candidates in the three races this year have expressed opposition to using public money for private schools.

The issue has been raised by two candidates who have tried to tie vouchers to groups that have opposed them or endorsed other candidates.

Arturo Jimenez
DPS board member Arturo Jimenez appeared at a rally on Oct. 11, 2011. At left is Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, a former DPS board member.

The issue surfaced most recently in northwest Denver’s increasingly heated District 5 battle between Jennifer Draper Carson and incumbent Arturo Jimenez.

When a newly-formed committee called Latinos for Education Reform placed ads in several community newspapers criticizing the records of both Jimenez and board member Andrea Merida – who is not up for re-election this year – the Jimenez campaign initially complained of “race-baiting.”

But Jimenez followed that with a newsletter to supporters claiming LFER is misrepresenting itself and that its ads “are being pushed by pro-voucher individuals and special-interest groups,” making reference to “radical pro-voucher activists from Douglas County.”

Jimenez, backed by about 100 supporters, appeared at a noon event Tuesday at Viking Park in Denver near North High School. A series of supporters passionately declared their support for Jimenez, including former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

“Negative campaigning in Denver does not work,” said Webb, who has recorded a robo-call for Jimenez that went out Tuesday across the northwest district.

Following the event, Jimenez said in a brief interview that vouchers are relevant in the race.

“We’re not just talking about LFER,” said Jimenez. “We’re talking about all the groups who are outside special interests. All have ties that have varying degrees of support to privatization of public schools, and I think the people of Denver reject that soundly.”

Thirty-eight names appeared on the LFER ad, including Myles Mendoza, who lives in Douglas County, having moved there from Jimenez’s district. Mendoza hosted a reception at his home in May in support of National School Choice Week, which was honoring the Douglas County school board’s passage of a voucher pilot. That program has been halted by a Denver judge.

“It is no surprise that he (Jimenez) is doing this now,” Mendoza said in a prepared statement. “In the past week, the focus on his voting record has gained prominence with articles in EdNews Colorado (“Claiming Credit for West Denver Prep” 10/5/11) and in The Denver Post (“Pity Denver’s Voters” by Vincent Carroll, 10/9/11). He is trying to avoid accountability for these actions by deflecting criticism into other areas.

“His voting record has been consistently against ed reform policies our kids need.”

Marco Antonio Abarca, a spokesman for LFER said, “It is absurd to say that we are pro-voucher. It’s typical of the cynicism of Arturo Jimenez to draw that conclusion from one event hosted by one person on our list.”

Abarca cited former state Sen. Polly Baca, listed on Jimenez’s campaign website as a supporter. “She has vouchers in her background. It would be unfair to say that Arturo supports vouchers because one of his supporters did. If we were to do that, we would be guilty of the same cynicism as Arturo Jimenez.”

Baca is also listed on the host committee for a Thursday community leadership luncheon organized by ACE Scholarships, co-founded by Colorado voucher proponent Alex Cranberg, and featuring Howard Fuller, who was the superintendent of the Milwaukee Public School District when the city started the nation’s first publicly-funded school voucher program.

Others appearing both as supporters on Jimenez’s site and as hosts for the Fuller event are Escuela Tlatelolco president and CEO Nita Gonzalez, and Zee Ferrufino, owner and CEO of the KBNO Spanish Radio Group.

At Tuesday’s event, Jimenez said “reform” is a term too often used as a wedge in Denver.

Jennifer Draper Carson
Jennifer Draper Carson

“We’ve had enough of those who claim to support reform and progress but waste our time and our money deliberately trying to divide us into opposing sides,” Jimenez told his supporters.

Draper Carson, Jimenez’s opponent, recently reiterated her opposition to vouchers.

“Public funds belong in the public education system, not in the parochial or private school systems,” she said. “Our public education system is sorely underfunded as it is, and we need to focus every dollar possible on improving our public schools so that every child has access to a great public school.”

Vouchers also raised in District 1

Before vouchers surfaced in the northwest district race, they popped up in the District 1 race between Anne Rowe and Emily Sirota in southeast Denver.

Following endorsements of Rowe, Draper Carson and at-large candidate Happy Haynes by the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, Sirota on Aug. 16 wrote “Saying NO To Vouchers” for Huffington Post Denver. (See EdNews story on the endorsements.)

Emily Sirota
Emily Sirota

Labeling DFER a “front group” with a pro-voucher agenda, she wrote, “Most troubling of all, the group’s Colorado affiliate is advised by an outspoken advocate for vouchers who also runs a local education policy organization my opponent co-chaired.”

The piece didn’t name Van Schoales, who assumed his post as executive director of A+ Denver on Aug. 1, and previously was executive director of Education Reform Now. Rowe prominently cites her service as a founding co-chair of A+ Denver in her campaign literature.

“I am not now, nor have I ever been, what I would describe as a strong voucher proponent,” said Schoales, who said his comments were offered as his own perspective, not that of A+ Denver. He added that he considered vouchers a “total red herring” in the DPS races.

“I haven’t heard the issue raised except as a means of disparaging somebody else,” said Schoales, who is listed as an advisory committee member for DFER. “But nobody is proposing it as a policy agenda or as an initiative for Denver on any side.”

Rowe has issued a flat “no” at candidate forums when asked about support for vouchers.

“I want to continue my focus on creating great educational environments within DPS. … I don’t think vouchers play any role in that,” Rowe said on Tuesday. “Hopefully now we can put this to rest.”

The Sirota campaign may not be ready to do that.

Anne Bye Rowe
Anne Rowe

“Vouchers are still a valid issue for discussion,” said Sirota campaign spokesman Kevin Paquette. “Anne has stated at forums she does not support vouchers. However she is endorsed by an organization who, from all appearances, is pro-vouchers despite their best efforts to conceal that fact from the public.

“Emily welcomes the conversation with Anne so the voters of SD-1 can make an informed decision on where Anne really stands on this issue.”

Haynes, the at-large candidate endorsed by the DFER-Colorado chapter, also disavowed vouchers – again – after the issue sprung back to life in the northwest Denver race.

“I unequivocally oppose vouchers because we need to have public accountability for public dollars,” Haynes said. “We have the charter process in place that enables independent school ideas to become part of the public education system.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.