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.

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.”