DPS board cuts candidate list to three

In a meeting that resembled a “Survivor” episode, the Denver school board Wednesday whittled down a list of nine candidates for the Northeast Denver seat to three.StockDPSLogo92511

The three finalists are Landri Taylor, head of the Denver Urban League; lawyer Taggart Hansen, and urban teacher educator Antwan Jefferson.

While the tallies were anonymous, it became clear that board members Arturo Jimenez, Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan were supporting Jefferson while board President Mary Seawell and members Anne Rowe and Happy Haynes were backing Taylor and Hansen.

“One of the reasons I have come to support or like Antwan Jefferson is because of his focus on both family involvement in the schools and community involvement,” Kaplan said. “He is pretty a up-to-date expert … in terms of teaching and teacher quality.”

Kaplan said if she was asked what side of the DPS philosophical divide Jefferson was on, she couldn’t say.

Seawell said she too was impressed by Jefferson – but also by Taylor and Hansen.

Taggart Hansen
Taggart Hansen

“As I weigh Taggart Hansen and Landri Taylor I think they both could be exceptional board members,” Seawell said. “It appeals to me that Taggart was a teacher. That perspective is very important.”

Seawell said all of Taylor’s life experiences have “shown a commitment to the values we’ve been talking about.”

Board members now will take the next couple of weeks to learn more about the three candidates then reconvene to select the winner during the week of March 11. The deadline to fill the seat is March 18.

After taking turns describing the characteristics each board member would like to see in the seventh member –  a critical swing vote on the oft-divided board – the board set to work ranking.

First the six sitting board members each chose two people from the list of nine, whittling it down to Hansen, Jefferson and Taylor, plus Vernon Jones Jr., assistant principal at Manual High School, and Mary Sam, a retired DPS teacher. Contenders who were kicked off the proverbial island in the first round were Fred Franko, MiDian Holmes, Lisa Roy and Sean Bradley.

Landri Taylor
Landri Taylor

Then each board member was allowed to choose one person from the shorter list. Nothing changed, so another vote was taken. This time, Jefferson emerged with three votes, Hansen with two and Taylor with one.  During a later tally, Hansen lost one vote to Taylor.

The candidates are vying for the seat held by Nate Easley, who announced his resignation Jan. 9 to take over the helm of the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

The vacancy is key due to the divided nature of the board. Whoever fills it may also have a small leg up in the November election. Other open seats this fall include those held by Kaplan, who’s term-limited, Merida and Seawell. Seawell and Merida have said they both plan to run again. One candidate, Meg Schomp, surfaced this week as a candidate for Kaplan’s seat.

Easley was a staunch supporter of Superintendent Tom Boasberg and a range of reforms underway in the 84,000-student district, from charter schools to innovation schools to schools sharing a single building.

Antwan Jefferson
Antwan Jefferson

Under state law the board has 60 days to choose a replacement. If the board can’t agree, Seawell has the authority to fill the vacancy.

Initially, 25 people submitted applications to serve on the board. The board used an anonymous and weighted ranking system to whittle that list to nine.

The process to fill the seat hasn’t been smooth. Kaplan and Jimenez, for instance, backed a plea from the Colorado Latino Forum that the process be re-opened so to ensure Hispanic representation.

None of the nine finalists were Latino. A review of the first round of tally sheets found that neither Kaplan nor Jimenez selected one of the three Hispanic candidates in the pool of 25.

Kaplan has urged selecting an interim board member so that voters can decide who fills the seat in November.

Seawell said she would still like to see unanimous support behind the board pick. But she said she would also take a 4-2 or 5-1 vote.

“Every vote matters and counts,” Seawell said.

Jimenez participated in the process even though he said he still has complaints about a lack of transparency since the rules are made up each step of the way.

“I don’t think that’s a good way to govern in terms of due process,” Jimenez said. “I could leave … but the kids and constituents I represent would expect I stay and engage in conversation.”

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

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