The social network

How social media gives voters insight into candidates’ campaign styles

A 140-character tweet can be worth a thousand words when it comes to learning about candidates in a school board race.

And so far this campaign season, there are two competing narratives across social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

As the race for seats on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education begins, the candidates’ activity on social media — or lack thereof — can provide voters an insight into each candidate’s campaign and a preview of the debates in the coming months.

Southeast Denver incumbent Anne Rowe and northwest candidate Lisa Flores are using social media sparingly and keeping positive. Both Rowe and Flores have said they believe DPS is on the right track with a number of educational reform policies that include more school choices for families, an emphasis on teacher evaluations, and using results from standardized assessments to make decisions about how schools operate.

Meanwhile, southeast candidate Kristi Butkovich and northwest candidate Michael Kiley actively use social media and are often critical of those same DPS policies. They also believe that DPS officials often operate in a vacuum and shut out public input when making decisions.

There should be a thoughtful strategy behind how a candidate uses social media, said independent political analyst Eric Sondermann.

Meet the candidates
Read previous interviews with DPS board incumbents and candidates here:
Kristi Butkovich
Anne Rowe
Michael Kiley
Lisa Flores

When it comes to candidates like Butkovich and Kiley, the abundance of opinionated posts is a way to connect with like-minded people, Sondermann said.

“There’s an element of social media which often becomes a ‘bitch session,’ for lack of a more artful phrase,” Sondermann said. “For some who are less than enamored with the current direction of DPS…they turn to social media to find like-minded people.”

And on the other end, candidates such as Rowe and Flores who are less vocal on social media do so to “avoid getting dragged down into the muck,” Sondermann said.

Sondermann added some candidates with less experience may also be using social media for no other reasons than it’s the thing to do.

“Any campaign has to have a social media presence. To not have a social media presence is not an option,” Sondermann said. “I think candidates, particularly in these district races where it’s much more personal, much smaller geography, social media becomes all the more important.”

Candidate Flores has a Facebook page and Twitter for her campaign. Her personal Twitter has been inactive since 2011, with the exception of two tweets about her candidacy.

She said she was less active on social media prior to July due to a busy schedule but is now using Facebook more frequently, which is evident in a slight increase in posts during the past two weeks. She frequently uses her page to spotlight nonprofit organizations and share photos from the campaign trail.

“I’m a nonprofit girl at heart,” she said. “That’s where I spent my 20s and 30s…for me, there was a real value alignment in choosing to highlight a nonprofit of the week that has a strong presence in supporting DPS students.”

Flores said that is a deliberate decision not to use her social media pages to discuss hot topics such as charter schools or enrollment zones.

“I have a different message and a different style of leadership and a different path that I’m running,” Flores said. “I think every candidate needs to run the race that’s in line with their own values and their own sense of integrity and that’s what I’m working to do.”

In stark contrast, Flores’ opponent Kiley uses social media avidly and is much more vocal on education’s most controversial topics on both his personal and campaign Facebook pages.

But Kiley said he doesn’t feel his posts are bold.

“People don’t tell me ‘this is a bold stand you’re taking,’” Kiley said. “They just want to know more about the issues [I post].”

But his posts draw an audience, Kiley acknowledged.

“I have a pretty steady upwards trend in people liking [the campaign’s Facebook page] and I suspect its because they like what I post,” Kiley said. “We don’t have a relentless campaign to get people to like us, we don’t do contests or anything like that. It’s organic and I can only assume it’s because people like the information I’m sharing.”

So far, Flores and Kiley are the only candidates running for the open board seat in northwest Denver. Butkovich is running against incumbent Rowe for the southeast Denver seat. The southeast candidates were unable to be reached for comments on their social media usage.

Here’s a snapshot of the candidates on social media.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.