the selection

Denver parent activist and Montbello High alum MiDian Holmes appointed to school board

DPS parent MiDian Holmes spoke at a Thursday rally supporting the district's reform proposals.

A Montbello High School graduate and longtime parent activist was appointed Tuesday to fill a vacant seat on the Denver school board.

MiDian Holmes will represent northeast Denver and finish out the term of former board member Landri Taylor, who resigned in February. Her term will expire in the fall of 2017.

Holmes works as a regional operations manager at Randstad Technologies, a nationwide staffing organization. She’s the mother of three DPS students: two attend George Washington High School, which is district-run, and one goes to DSST: Green Valley Ranch charter school.

Holmes was for years an active member in the school reform advocacy group Stand for Children. She currently sits on two district committees, including one that is crafting a request for a tax increase this fall.

Board members voted by secret ballot to appoint Holmes. Beforehand, they lauded her track record of participating in difficult community conversations about school culture and closures.

“I feel like she’s almost a board member already, she’s been so involved in the district for so long,” said board member Mike Johnson.

Holmes wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting due to a prior commitment. Reached afterward, she said she’s humbled, excited and “very anxious to get started.” She will be sworn in at the board’s April 18 meeting.

Holmes will represent DPS District 4, a large geographic area that includes older city neighborhoods such as Whittier and Cole and newer areas such as Stapleton. The district also includes the neighborhoods of Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, which are arguably home to Denver’s most ambitious and controversial school turnaround efforts.

Holmes, who lives in Green Valley Ranch, supported the district’s plan, which included shuttering her struggling alma mater.

“Something had to really change to ensure the quality of education was something we could be proud of,” she said of the turnaround efforts.

But the district’s actions upset some residents, who felt their concerns were ignored. Holmes said her first order of business will be repairing the relationship between DPS and the far northeast Denver community.

“The ambition and drive of the district is definitely strong,” Holmes said. “But because that vision has been so heavily focused on results, I don’t think anyone is turning their eyes to the community and saying, ‘We want this to happen with you, not to you. How can we bring your voice to the table?'”

District 4 is DPS’s most racially diverse region. Holmes is African-American.

Twenty-two candidates initially applied to fill the vacant seat on the seven-member board. Last month, the board members narrowed the field to 10 finalists, one of whom withdrew.

On Tuesday, the board took an initial vote to winnow the finalists down to three: Holmes, Jennifer Bacon and Rachele Espiritu. After discussing the merits of all three, the board voted a second time to appoint Holmes.

For years, the DPS board was divided between members who supported the district’s aggressive school reforms and those who didn’t. That’s changed over time.

Last November, voters elected three pro-reform candidates — two incumbents and one newcomer — making it so all seven seats were occupied by members who support strategies such as paying teachers based on performance and closing chronically struggling schools.

Holmes’s appointment likely won’t upset the board’s calculus.

My position is that I’m going to support students first,” she said. “My hope — and what I’m assuming — is that we do have a like-minded board, and that’s a great thing.”

By the numbers

NYC announces it will subsidize hiring from Absent Teacher Reserve — and sheds light on who is in the pool

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman

Ever since the city announced a new policy for placing teachers without permanent positions into schools, Chalkbeat and others have been asking questions about just who is in the pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Now we have some answers.

The education department released figures on Friday that show a quarter of teachers currently in the the pool were also there five years ago, and a third ended up in the ATR because of disciplinary or legal issues. The average salary for teachers this past year was $94,000, according to the data.

The city also said it would extend budget incentives for schools that hire educators from the ATR, a change to its initial announcement. Principals have raised concerns about the cost of hiring from the ATR, since its members tend to be more senior, and therefore more expensive, than new teachers.

The ATR is comprised of teachers who don’t have regular positions, either because their jobs were eliminated or because of disciplinary issues. It cost almost $152 million in the last school year — far more than previously estimated — and currently stands at 822 teachers.

In July, the city announced a plan to cut the pool in half by placing teachers into vacancies still open after the new school year begins — even potentially over principals’ objection.

Critics have argued that the city’s new placement policy could place ineffective teachers in the neediest classrooms. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called the move “shockingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple,” she said.

But Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who is now responsible for helping to shrink the pool, called the new policy “a common sense approach to treating ATR teachers like all other teachers,” since they now have the opportunity to be evaluated by a school principal.

Here’s what the latest numbers tell us about who is in the pool.

How did educators end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve?

Most of the educators in the ATR were placed there because their schools had closed (38 percent) or due to budget cuts (30 percent.)

Another 32 percent entered the pool because of a legal or disciplinary case.

How effective are they?

A majority — 74 percent — received an evaluation rating of “highly effective,” “effective” or “satisfactory” in 2015-16, the most current year available. Current ratings for teachers citywide were not immediately available, but in 2014-15, 93 percent of teachers overall were rated effective or highly effective, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a “developing” rating, one step up from ineffective.

Some teachers in the ATR say evaluations can be unfair since teachers are often placed in classrooms outside of the subjects they are equipped to teach and because they are bounced between classrooms.

Asked whether teachers with poor ratings would be placed in classrooms, Asher said “all” teachers in the ATR have traditionally been placed in school assignments.

“They’re in schools, no matter what. It’s a question of what is their role in the school, and how are they supported and evaluated,” he said. “Obviously we will look at each individual teacher and each individual assignment on a case-by-case basis.”

How experienced are they?

Teachers in the ATR have an average of 18 years of experience with the education department, and earn an average salary of $94,000. By comparison, the base salary for a New York City teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000.

How long have they been in the pool?

Almost half the educators who are currently in the pool were also there two years ago. A quarter were in the ATR five years ago. That doesn’t mean that teachers have remained in the ATR for that entire time. They could have been hired for a time, and returned to the pool.

Still, the figures could be fuel for those who argue educators in the ATR either aren’t seriously looking for permanent jobs — or that the educators in the pool are simply undesirable hires.

How will schools pay for them?

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.”

Under the policy announced Friday, the education department will subsidize the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired, paying 50 percent of their salaries next school year and 25 percent the following school year.

Where have they worked previously?

This question is important because the answer gives a sense of where educators in the ATR are likely to be placed this fall. The education department’s original policy called for an educator to be placed within the same district they left, but the change announced in July allowed for placement anywhere within the same borough.

Almost half of ATR members, as of June 2016-17, came from high schools. That isn’t surprising: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein targeted large high schools for closure, breaking them up into smaller schools as part of a turnaround strategy.

Of the school districts serving K- 8 students, District 19 in Brooklyn’s East New York and District 24 in Queens had among the most educators in the ATR. Each had 26.

What subjects do they teach?

The largest share of teachers in the ATR — 27 percent — are licensed to teach in early childhood or elementary school grades. Another 11 percent are licensed social studies teachers, 9 percent are math teachers and 8 percent are English teachers.

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the teachers in the pool had skills that were too narrow or out of date. A 2010 Chalkbeat story found that a quarter of teachers then in the pool were licensed to teach relatively obscure classes like swimming, jewelry-making and accounting.

share your story

Teachers: How does your district handle family leave? How did it affect your life?

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

New York City is in the news because a petition there is calling for the city to create paid family leave for teachers, who currently must use accrued sick days if they have a child and are limited to six paid weeks off.

Chalkbeat wants to know: How do other districts and schools compare? What implications do these policies have for educators and their families?

If you have an experience to share, or can simply explain how this works where you work, please tell us here. Your answers will help guide our reporting.