Colorado

DPS board bids Easley farewell

To Happy Haynes, he is a person who never thinks of himself as “special” (despite having pulled himself up by his bootstraps and earned a Ph.D.), and yet he has become a role model for Denver students.

File photo of Denver school board member Nate Easley

To Andrea Merida, he is someone with whom she shares a common background – both minorities who grew up in proud, hard-working Denver families, graduated from Denver high schools in 1983 (him Montbello; her Lincoln) and started their own families at a young age but still managed to make their marks in the world.

To Mary Seawell, he is a mentor and friend who taught her to be tough – but not lose heart.

To Superintendent Tom Boasberg he is a man with a great – and sometimes “salty” – sense of humor with an unwavering commitment to Denver’s students even as he faced critics who tried to unseat him through a recall effort.

But wait, Nate Easley is still here – and accessible by cell phone. He just won’t be serving on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education anymore. He attended his last board meeting Thursday, where he was celebrated and roasted by board colleagues and the superintendent.

“It’s almost like I’m hearing my eulogy but I’m still around,” Easley joked.

Easley, who represented Northeast Denver, recently announced his resignation citing increased time commitments and concern over the appearance of a conflict of interest as he takes over the helm of the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

After the compliments, the board also discussed plans to replace him. Under state law, the board has 60 days to fill the vacancy. If the six remaining board members can’t agree on a replacement, board President Mary Seawell can appoint a new member.

The deadline to apply is Friday, Jan. 25.

Forum in works for those interested in Easley’s seat

Board member Arturo Jimenez proposed that a forum be held so that people interested in the seat can toss in their names, make pitches to the community and the board can hear more about what that part of the city wants in a board member. The board did not come to a final decision on how to gather community input.

In some quarters, there is lingering resentment over Easley’s support of the sweeping turnaround plan for schools in the Far Northeast. While some key academic indicators are now pointing in the right direction, there is still some feeling that the community was shut out of that process.

Far Northeast resident Earleen Brown said the fairest thing the board could do would be to ask runner-ups from the 2009 election if they’re interested in the post. While Easley won 33.8 percent of the vote; the second runner-up, Vernon Jones, won 28.2 percent, she said.

“Names of people whom individuals, groups and organizations want to replace Nate, have surfaced like ants at a picnic,” Brown told the board. “The potential for even a perception of unfairness, personal influence, favoritism, personal bias and partiality is strong. However, it is avoidable with my recommendation.”

The board did not discuss Brown’s proposal, opting instead to debate the merits of holding a board candidate forum.

Landri Taylor

Seawell said board members have received many calls and emails from interested applicants. One name that has surfaced frequently is that of Landri Taylor, president and CEO of the Denver Urban League and former member of the RTD board. When contacted recently by EdNews Colorado, Taylor, who was a key player in the Far Northeast turnaround, said he was definitely interested.

Board member Jeannie Kaplan said the Colorado Black Round Table specifically requested that the board be open and transparent in in its process and seek community input. “I think people interested enough to apply have a right to be heard.”

“That could be 100 people,” Seawell responded.

Haynes, though, said the board doesn’t have to interview 100 people – just get input on the selection process or potential candidates.

“Send me your ideas and I’ll do my best to create something that works,” Seawell said. “I would ask that we all be willing to give a little to make this work. The best thing to do is to make the best decision that is unanimous in February. That is my hope and my goal.”

Brown, though, had little faith in the idea of a forum.

“It will be very complicated and messy,” she said. “Ultimately the electors in the district will not have a voice in the final decision.”

The person named to replace Easley will have to run in next fall’s board election. Merida and Seawell have said they are running for reelection. Kaplan is leaving the board because of term limits.

Board celebrates Easley’s contributions

The Easley lovefest came at the start of Thursday’s meeting.

Haynes she will especially miss the way Easley gets into a thoughtful pose, taking in and pondering lots of information before offering his “thoughts and insights in a measured and thoughtful way.”

Merida acknowledged that she disagrees with Easley’s vision of school reform, but that she has a lot of respect for him.

“It’s no secret you and I have different philosophies on what education reform looks like,” Merida said. “Having lived the life you did, having had the experiences you had, your intentions are well-grounded. I think you are very concerned about the future of all of our kids in DPS.”

Easley, in turn, roasted and toasted all of his colleagues – and the superintendent, with whom he has developed a close relationship, as evidenced by Easley’s knowledge of Boasberg’s ability to dance “like John Travolta” when disco music comes on.

Only Jimenez didn’t jump on the love train.

He pointedly asked Easley to use his influence to open up scholarships offered by the Denver Scholarship Foundation to undocumented students. His request came at the same meeting the board voted unanimously to put their support behind ASSET legislation, which would allow undocumented students to pay resident tuition at public Colorado colleges and universities.

Board agrees to busing changes at Hamilton

In other business, the board voted 5-2 for a district plan to phase out transportation for students who attend the International Preparatory Magnet program at Hamilton Middle School. District staff indicated that no other magnet school offers transportation. Kaplan and Merida voted against the change.

Board member Anne Rowe said parents choose the program “because it is the right fit for their children.”

“I believe they will continue to stay in this program,” Rowe said.

Kaplan, though, said the district needs to decide if it was a choice district or not.

“I am horrified by the thought that people who actually can choose are being denied a chance to bus to their school,” she said. “We talk about choice, but choice really only means if people have a means to get there. … If we really are a choice district, we need to give choice to everybody.”

The board also voted in favor of innovation status, which releases a school from certain district rules and policies, for Compassion Road Academy, Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High and DCIS at Fairmont. Jimenez raised questions about staff involvement in the turnaround plans.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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