survey says

Denver school board candidate used others’ words in campaign questionnaire, Chalkbeat review finds

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich.

Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich on multiple occasions used the words and work of others in filling out a Chalkbeat Colorado election questionnaire without crediting the sources.

Portions of the southeast Denver education activist’s answers were nearly identical matches to passages from a blog post from education historian and writer Diane Ravitch, a prepared statement from a national union leader and an opinion piece by another DPS board candidate.

In an interview, Butkovich said she didn’t see a problem with “using someone else’s wording to get a point across” and doesn’t consider it plagiarism. Later, she sent a statement taking “full responsibility for not attributing the professionals for the work I respect and commend.”

“It is my writing style to quote the experts,” Butkovich wrote. “I know I cited several sources. In my haste to send in the questionnaire (it was already one day late), I should have asked someone to proof it before I hit submit. It was never my intention not to credit the appropriate author.”

Chalkbeat identified the passages in question — seven in all — while preparing the DPS board candidates’ responses for publication. In replies to the 10-question survey sent Sept. 24, Butkovich did include attribution in two instances in quoting extensively from Ravitch and the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Among the instances in which Butkovich did not cite source material, and the sources:

Butkovich response:

Students are individuals and human. Not data points in a multi-level statistical model.” 

From May 2013 blog post from Ravitch:

“Students are individuals and human. Not data points in a multi-level statistical model.”

Butkovich response:

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity. Where there’s a diverse teaching workforce, kids thrive.” 

From American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in a 2015 press release, quoted in The Huffington Post:

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity. Where there’s a diverse teaching workforce, all kids thrive.” 

Butkovich response:

“On June 18, 2015 the DPS school board voted 6-1 to replace neighborhood school boundaries with a wider “enrollment zone.” The board majority ignored objections of the one school board member who represents Northwest Denver, Arturo Jimenez. If elected, my voting record will reflect the desires of DPS parents, students, neighbors, taxpayers and teachers.” 

From Denver Post June 27 guest opinion piece co-written by DPS board District 5 candidate Michael Kiley:

“On June 18, 2015 the DPS school board voted 6-1 to replace neighborhood school boundaries with a wider “enrollment zone.” The board majority ignored objections of the one school board member who represents Northwest Denver, Arturo Jimenez. If elected, my voting record will reflect the desires of DPS parents, students, neighbors, taxpayers and teachers.” 

Chalkbeat reviews of the other five DPS candidates’ replies using the same search methods turned up nothing similar.

In an interview Thursday, Butkovich said she has a network of people providing information for her to use in her campaign.

Kristi Butkovich
Kristi Butkovich

“I don’t think it’s problematic because those of us that are speaking publicly on this topic area are all using the same language. We are trying to get the same message across,” she said. “ …. This has not just come up in education but it has come up with other issues. Immigration, the gun laws. That language that has been expertly written that clearly gets the message across is used over and over again by other people so that we all are speaking the same language.”

She cited other circumstances, too, including the length of the questionnaire, its timing during “the busiest time of the campaign” and that she lost her original replies because of a computer issue and had to start over after the deadline had passed.

When told that Butkovich had used his work, Kiley, who is running for an open DPS board seat in northwest Denver, said that if he were to quote someone, he would follow “the established protocol.” He said he isn’t sure what that would be in this case.

“I think everyone when they write should follow generally accepted practices about that — and if you don’t, it’s a mistake,” said Kiley, who like Butkovich opposes the district’s direction under the current board majority. “In the heat of a political battle, mistakes are made. And I have made them, too.”

Butkovich in her responses also used large sections of a piece published by Angela Engel, a local author and former teacher, without citation. Engel said she is volunteering help to the campaign and gave Butkovich permission to use any of her language or work.

“This is a David vs. Goliath issue,” Engel said in an email. “Kristi is a mom running for a volunteer school board position, her campaign doesn’t have the resources to hire a PR firm or a communications director. She is not a journalist and she is not trying to get something published for profit, she’s relying on experts and trying to answer the questions as best she can.”

Elizabeth Skewes, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information, reviewed Chalkbeat’s findings and said she considers it a case of “significant plagiarism.”

“If you’re going to be taking somebody else’s words — and more importantly, their ideas — you have to tell people it is not your original thought,” Skewes said.

“I understand it’s not running for the presidency,” she said. “But it’s not that hard to stop and think, ‘What do I really think about this?’ Even running for school board, you have to step back and ask, ‘How does this come together for me?’ … If I am a voter, I want to know what she thinks — not what a good friend thinks or what Diane Ravitch thinks.”

Skewes said attitudes about plagiarism vary depending on the context. While the realms of academics and journalism have their own standards, interpretations are looser in politics, where ghostwriting and talking points penned by staff are the norm, she said.

Butkovich, executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education, is taking on incumbent Anne Rowe for the seat representing southeast Denver. Butkovich has said too many DPS decisions are made without community input and criticizes the district for a “top-down approach” and supporting the “privatization” of education.

The questionnaire material flagged by Chalkbeat — which accounted for nearly 20 percent of Butkovich’s overall responses — has been removed from her responses published Friday as part of a 2015 Election page.

You can read the responses that were removed — and citations of the original source material and online links  — here:

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.”