erasing hate

Denver superintendent pledges to stand with elementary school defaced by anti-Semitic graffiti

PHOTO: Eric Gorski
Messages of love that replaced graffiti at Denver's Isabella Bird Community School.

The top school official in Denver on Monday condemned anti-Semitic graffiti found at an elementary school over the weekend and pledged to stand with students and staff.

Community members came together Sunday to erase the graffiti, which included a swastika as well as the words “Die DJ Can” spray-painted on a door and some playground equipment at Isabella Bird Community School in northeast Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the school district is “working closely with Denver Police to identify those involved.”

“To our students and staff at Isabella Bird, we stand with you,” Boasberg said in a statement Monday. “To our families and community at Isabella Bird, we are deeply grateful for the outpouring of compassion and support demonstrated by your quick action in removing the graffiti and your thoughtful messages of love and acceptance.”

Josie Villalobos said she reported the graffiti to police and school officials after discovering it Saturday morning when she brought one of her daughters to the school playground. She said she felt sick, unsafe and stunned it could happen in a community that practices inclusivity.

On Monday afternoon, Villalobos was back at the playground pushing her daughter, Emma, on a swing. The graffiti had been scrubbed clean. A rainbow of paper cutout hearts had been taped to a nearby brick wall bearing words of encouragement, peace and love.

Some of the graffiti found at Isabella Bird Community School.
PHOTO: Courtesy Denver Public Schools
Some of the graffiti found at Isabella Bird Community School.

“I was just so heartened by the response from the community, and the cleanup, and the hearts. It’s just fantastic,” said Villalobos, who has another daughter in the school. “It’s just a great lesson for the kids to know that this does happen and that this is going to be our response.”

A Denver Public Schools spokeswoman said the district hasn’t heard of similar incidents at other schools, nor have officials gotten reports of increased bullying or hate speech as have been reported at some schools around the country in the wake of the presidential election.

The Denver school board last week approved a resolution affirming the district’s goal to celebrate diversity and “act quickly to prevent and address any and all issues of discrimination and harassment in our schools.” After the election, teachers comforted students made fearful by campaign rhetoric. Students walked out of school to protest president-elect Donald Trump. The district also produced a fact sheet answering families’ immigration-related questions.

Isabella Bird Community School is one of several elementary schools in the growing Stapleton neighborhood. Named for a British explorer and author of A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, the school opened in the fall of 2013.

Last year, 20 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, which was below the district average of 69 percent. Thirty-seven percent of students were children of color.

In the fall of 2015, Isabella Bird Community School opened a DPS Newcomer Center that serves refugee students and others who are learning English.

Chalkbeat bureau chief Eric Gorski contributed to this report.

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”