new blood

Denver Public Schools parent, behavioral health specialist appointed to fill vacant board seat

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
DPS board vice president Barbara O'Brien. left, and board president Anne Rowe.

A mother of two Denver Public Schools students who works in behavioral health was appointed Monday by the Denver school board president to fill a vacant board seat after the previous appointee stepped aside more than two weeks ago.

Rachele Espiritu is set to represent northeast Denver until the fall of 2017. She will finish the term of former board member Landri Taylor, who resigned in February.

Previous appointee MiDian Holmes declined the seat last month after details about a decade-old misdemeanor child abuse conviction and her mischaracterization of it came to light.

The task to fill the vacancy fell to school board president Anne Rowe after the 60-day window state law provides school boards to fill a vacancy had closed.

Rowe didn’t have many candidates to choose from in the end. After Holmes dropped out, the board president announced she’d pick a new member from among a group of finalists. But several finalists withdrew, leaving just three choices, including Espiritu.

In announcing her pick, Rowe said Espiritu would “engage deeply” with all the communities of northeast Denver.

She also spotlighted the diversity Espiritu will bring to the board in representing District 4, the largest and most racially diverse district in DPS. Espiritu was born in the Philippines, grew up in the United States and has lived in Denver for more than three years. One of her children attends a traditional DPS school and the other goes to a charter school.

“We are so fortunate on the board of education to have a truly diverse board of education — different lived experiences, different professional talents bringing different things to the board,” Rowe said.

Espiritu (photo provided by DPS).
Espiritu (photo provided by DPS).

Espiritu, who attended the meeting, said she believes in meeting the needs of every child regardless of background and station in life. She said she will advocate for great schools in every neighborhood that address the interests of the “whole child” — a DPS priority.

“Our families, the community, the district and the board need to work collaboratively together to achieve our common mission,” she said.

Espiritu, 46, is a project director for the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health and serves on the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Colorado. She is also a member of the Denver Asian Pacific-American Commission.

The process of appointing someone to fill the vacant seat on the seven-member DPS school board has been long and marred by district missteps and candidates dropping out.

Initially, more than 20 candidates applied. The six remaining board members narrowed the field to 10 finalists, one of whom withdrew shortly thereafter.

The nine remaining candidates were interviewed by the board members in early April. In her interview, Espiritu said she and her family were drawn to Denver partly because of the school district’s reputation for being innovative and transformative.

She touted her ability to find common ground and ask questions. And she framed her relative newness to Denver as an asset because she doesn’t have longstanding ties to any one group.

On April 12, the board took two votes by secret ballot. The first winnowed the pool of nine finalists to three: Holmes, Espiritu and Jennifer Bacon. In a second round of voting, Holmes got four votes, Bacon got two and Espiritu got none, making Holmes the appointee.

But on April 14, she announced she wouldn’t accept the appointment, saying she would be doing the district “a great disservice” if she allowed the facts surrounding her 2006 child abuse conviction to continue “to be a distraction.”

On April 18, Rowe said she would likely choose a new member from among the finalists who received votes on April 12, whether or not they made it into the top three. Those finalists were Holmes, Espiritu, Bacon, Makisha Boothe and Dexter Korto.

But by Monday, only Espiritu was still in the running.

In an email to the DPS board and the district’s general counsel, Bacon said she was dropping out of the race “in consideration of my need for growth and readiness for this position as well as my interests in supporting the board.” She told Chalkbeat by text it wasn’t the best time for her to serve on the board and she wanted “to do a little more learning and reflecting.”

Boothe wrote an email to Rowe and the board’s assistant explaining that the April 12 vote tally contributed to her decision to drop out. In a separate email to Chalkbeat, Boothe said she knew Rowe hadn’t voted for her. “Knowing that, I was just ready to move on,” she said.

Rowe voted for Holmes and Espiritu in the first round and Holmes in the second round, according to vote tallies obtained by Chalkbeat through an open records request.

Korto, a DPS charter school teacher, wrote in an email to Chalkbeat that he decided to “pursue leadership opportunities elsewhere.”

On Monday, the district’s website listed just three remaining candidates: Espiritu, Jo-Nell Herndon and Adrienne Tate. Herndon and Tate were among the original top 10 finalists.

Editor’s note: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

seizing the moment

On first day for most Denver schools, gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston calls for better school funding

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston's children listen to him announce his gubernatorial bid. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston sent his son Emmett back to school Monday — and sent a message to voters at the same time about one of his longtime causes.

On the first day of school for most Denver students, Johnston recorded a video of his son carting off two large cardboard boxes full of supplies. In the video posted to Twitter, the former state senator called it another example of how Colorado is shortchanging its public schools.  

“People often ask what does it mean to have cuts to the statewide budget to education,” he said.  “Well it means a lot of those bills get passed on to parents and to kids who have to bring their own paper towels, their own wipes, their own crayons, their own boxes.”

Johnston, a national figure in the education reform movement, led an unsuccessful push to increase taxes for schools in 2013.

“We count ourselves lucky,” Johnston said in the video, adding that knows many families in Denver often feel the pinch of buying new school supplies and fees. “We think the state has an obligation to do better.”

Though the governor’s race is in its early stages, back-to-school season is a logical time for candidates to take out education positions. Earlier Monday, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is also running, released an online ad spotlighting his pledge to expand full-day kindergarten and preschool.

sending a message

Memphis school board leader wants to declare that ‘all are welcome here’

PHOTO: Marcus Villa/Latino Memphis
Immigrant students display their career aspirations during a visit to the State Capitol in March to support an unsuccessful bill that would have extended in-state tuition to them.

A school board member wants Shelby County Schools to send a unified message to immigrant students and parents: “You are safe in our schools.”

Teresa Jones will ask the board Tuesday to officially go on the record about protections for undocumented students in the wake of this summer’s federal immigration arrests in Memphis by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“There are speculations among parents of, ‘Should I send my child to school?’” she said Monday about the impetus for her proposal. “I want the board to take a formal stand.” 

The resolution backs up the district’s current policy of protecting student privacy and restricting the release of confidential information about immigration status to immigration enforcement agencies.

It also asks the superintendent to elevate partnerships with community-based organizations aimed at supporting families impacted by immigration raids.

If the resolution is approved, Shelby County’s school board would join elected school officials across the nation who have spoken out about President Donald Trump’s crackdown on people who have entered the United States illegally. Last fall after Trump’s election, Nashville school board members took a similar stand.

Memphis school officials sought to assure parents of the district’s policy earlier this month when the new school year opened.

Shelby County is now home to approximately 57,000 Hispanics, and 14 percent of the district’s student population is Hispanic.

Teresa Jones

The resolution by Jones, who is an attorney, cites the 1982 Texas court case Plyler v. Doe, which established that a public school district cannot deny children access to education based on their immigration status.

She said a school board vote would send a strong message to Shelby County and across the nation.

“An individual speaking is just opinion,” Jones said. “But when we have a resolution, that speaks for the entire board. It’s a different level of … commitment to our students.”

Kevin Woods, another board member, said he’ll back the position wholeheartedly.

It makes “a statement loud and clear to families of our immigrant population that they are welcome at our schools, we want them there and they are members of our communities,” he said.