Colorado

Schomp, Johnson emphasize differences over mill levy, school choice

Updated: We’ve now added the complete video of the debate.

Central Denver school board candidates Meg Schomp and Michael Johnson went one-on-one Wednesday night, throwing into relief their differences over everything from the school board’s role in community engagement to school choice to the oversight of 2012’s bond and mill levy funding.

“There’s a real choice here,” Johnson said. “Meg and I have some real differences.”

The debate was the first in a series sponsored by the advocacy group A+ Denver, along with EdNews and KDVR Fox31. KDVR’s Eli Stokols moderated the debate using his own versions of questions provided by A+ Denver and by members of the public who submitted questions online.

Each candidate used the debate to emphasize the priorities of their campaign: Schomp focused on community engagement and broadening the curriculum beyond the basics of math and reading, while Johnson advocated for increased school choice and greater school-level control over budgets and programming.

In ten years, Johnson said, he wants the district to graduate every student either prepared to go to college without remediation or ready to enter a career path.

“I think we need to raise our expectations, we need to raise our standards,” Johnson said.

Schomp said that vision needed to be made broader, to ensure that students were not only equipped with the basic academic skills but also with a strong basis in subjects like art and civics.

“I think that college and career readiness are extremely important, but I also think there are other elements that are important for a child’s success in life,” Schomp said.

Here are some of the highlights of major topics discussed over the course of the debate:

School choice

Schomp said that her preference is to create a system where the first option for families is to have an excellent neighborhood school that their children can walk to and from.

“I support alternative options for our children,” Schomp said, noting her own child’s enrollment at the Denver Green School, which is an innovation school. “However, I don’t support the possibility of our neighborhood schools being starved as a result of it.”

Schomp argued that the proliferation of charter schools and district-run “innovation” schools that have exemptions from certain district requirements are hurting traditional schools’ ability to function.

“When we’re giving innovation schools and charter schools some latitudes that we don’t give our traditional schools, that’s not a fair playing field,” Schomp said.

Johnson replied that the solution to that problem is to give neighborhood schools the same kind of bureaucratic freedom enjoyed by charter and innovation schools.

“I’d like to see the neighborhood schools have the same kind of flexibility in organizing their day and how they run their schools,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that his priority is to give families access to whatever school program works best for their student, a goal that he said requires the expansion of school choice.

“I would like for us to come as close as we can to have an individualized education plan for every child,” Johnson said.

Community engagement

Both candidates agreed that the district should do a better job engaging families and community members, but they articulated slightly different approaches to how school board members should move to the front lines.

“I think that parents too often have been engaged in problems with our schools too late,” Schomp said. “We don’t have early and often engagement. Our families at times find it hard to access the district.”

As a solution, Schomp proposed that the school board have quarterly meetings outside of the district’s administrative buildings.

“I like that idea,” Johnson responded, “But I think that the first job for community outreach is the elected school board members. I think it’s our obligation to reach out to the community; I think it’s our obligation to go to PTA meetings.”

Stokols asked what the candidates thought the board should do to help schools that are struggling and losing students. In response, Johnson raised an idea that he would emphasize throughout the evening: pushing more decision-making down to the school level.

“Give all the local schools more autonomy so they can develop a program that works well for the community,” Johnson said. “I think if we got rid of the rigid, top-down rules that controls what we do on a daily basis, that would make a big difference.”

Bond and mill levy oversight

Disagreement over the merits of the $466 million bond issue and $49 million property tax measure that passed last year prompted some of the liveliest exchanges of the debate.

Johnson, who helped design and campaign for the mill levy and bond and who currently serves as the co-chair of the levy’s oversight committee, described the measures as an essential step to bring to Denver’s schools the type of arts, physical education and enrichment activities that Schomp argued schools need.

“I wonder how you can run for the school board having opposed that funding,” Johnson said.

Schomp, however, was a prominent critic of the measures, and characterized the design and implementation of them as lacking in community involvement and oversight.

“If I felt it was a good bond, I would support it,” she said. “And I would like to see a new bond.”

Amendment 66

Both candidates said they support the proposed $950 million tax increase for education.

Teacher evaluations

Johnson is a strong proponent of the evaluation plan, known as LEAP, that Denver is developing, while Schomp expressed reservations about the weight that the evaluation system places on students’ standardized test scores.

“At this point we are evaluating teachers based on achievement tests that teachers cannot control the factors for,” Schomp said, noting that the results of tests are often influenced by socioeconomic factors such as whether a child has eaten on the day of the exam.

Schomp also expressed concern about the classroom experience level of LEAP’s peer evaluators and principals, arguing that often the evaluators have spent less time in classrooms than the teachers they are rating.

Johnson downplayed those concerns, arguing that the results of the evaluation system has been instrumental in helping support teachers as they improve their practice.

“We’ve developed a system that has buy-in from teachers,” he said. “It’s very fair.”

The next debate, featuring the candidates for the at-large seat, will be held next Thursday, September 26. If you have a question for the candidates, submit it here.

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.