Show of support

Denver students walk out to protest end of DACA, and to call on Congress to act

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver students chant after walking out of school on September 5, 2017 to protest Trump's decision to end DACA.

Students from more than 20 Denver schools walked out of class and converged on a downtown college campus Tuesday morning to protest President Trump’s order to end a federal program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

“What do we do when students are under attack?” organizers with microphones shouted at the crowd, which they estimated numbered 2,500 students, teachers and supporters.

“Stand up! Fight back!” the crowd chanted.

The atmosphere at the rally was less intense than at the school walkouts that occurred in the wake of Trump’s election in November, which were marked by visceral disbelief and uncertainty. Tuesday’s rally felt more like a battle cry and a call to action.

“I am here to let them know we are not disposable!” said Paul Yumbla, a teacher at DSST: College View in southwest Denver, who first applied for the protections afforded by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, when he was in college. The program, which began in 2012, is for immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Trump has delayed the end of DACA for six months, allowing Congress time to come up with a plan to address immigration legislatively.

Two girls who said they are DACA recipients were among the students who walked out Tuesday.

Flor Canales, 16, a student at DSST: Cole High School, said she felt hurt when she heard the news that DACA would end, but said hope isn’t gone.

“I will keep going to school and I will keep fighting,” Canales said.

She said she felt supported by the crowd and by her school. She said teachers took time to talk with her last week about the news that DACA was about to end.

Ana Rios, 16, a senior at STRIVE Prep Excel, said she has been in the country for 11 years.

“I’m a little heartbroken,” Rios said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen now.”

When she got DACA status almost a year ago, her plan had been to get a business degree to help her family start a welding business. Her brother, also a DACA recipient, wasn’t able to go to school, she said, because his school at the time didn’t support him and he didn’t find a way to afford college.

She said she now sees a difference in support for immigrant students like her.

“If it wasn’t for my school I wouldn’t be thinking about college right now,” Rios said. “They’re all about showing us there is a space for us, there are are scholarships, there are opportunities. I didn’t know there were so many people who supported us.”

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg released a statement calling Trump’s decision to end DACA “shortsighted, heartless and harmful.”

“Our DACA students and educators have tremendous capacity, potential and desire to contribute to our community,” he said. “…We know these young people, we welcome and respect them, and we will do all we can to right this wrong.”

Students from several west Denver high schools met at local parks and marched to the college campus together. At the front of the pack with a bullhorn leading chants of, “Whose streets? Our streets!” was 17-year-old Gianella Millan, a senior at the Denver Center for International Studies whose mother is a community organizer and whose father was deported several years ago.

Although Millan isn’t at risk of deportation herself, she said she’s fighting for her community.

“I know so many students with a 4.0 GPA who could have scholarships but can’t because they don’t have that nine-digit number,” she said, referring to a Social Security number.

Alexandra Payan, 16, a student at North High, said she also walked out for friends and family.

“I was lucky enough to be born here,” Payan said. “It was an advantage I didn’t know I had until I saw some of my family and friends struggling with how to go to school.”

Alondra Prado, a 16-year-old student from the Rise Up Community High School in Denver, said she was there to show support for people like her sister’s husband.

“If he can’t get his DACA renewed, it’s going to be really hard for them to pay their rent,” Prado said. “It makes a big difference.”

He couldn’t be at the rally himself because he was working, she said.

Ulises, a 15-year-old sophomore at West Leadership Academy who declined to give his last name, said he’s the first child in his family to be born in the United States. Several of his cousins have benefitted from DACA, he said, and he thinks rescinding it is unfair.

“We just come here to make our lives better,” he said.

Jorge Resendez, a high school social studies teacher at Contemporary Learning Academy, marched with a group of his students. Resendez has a work permit under DACA. He said his biggest fear is that if Congress doesn’t act, he’ll no longer be able to teach.

“Now more than ever we have to come out and push back,” he said.

As they were wrapping up, crowd organizers chanted the names of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, both Republicans, asking DACA supporters to call them.

Gardner announced Tuesday he would join U.S. Sen Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, in backing a bipartisan bill that would shield young immigrants from deportation and give them a path to citizenship.

Coffman has proposed forcing action on a bill he introduced in January that would halt for three years the deportation of any immigrant enrolled in DACA. That effort is considered a longshot.

A school district spokeswoman said DPS “worked with students to provide activities that allow their voices to be heard on campus,” but also made efforts to ensure the students who did walk out were safe. Denver police and district security officers were on hand for the march and rally.

At North High School, sophomore Viviana Chavez watched her math class shrink from 32 students to seven as her peers left for the rally. She did her part, joining other students in a second-floor lecture hall over lunch to make pro-DACA posters for a rally later that afternoon at a nearby park.

“I am here, trying to make as many posters as I can, but I can’t afford to walk out,” she said. “America is meant for people to come here to restart their lives. That’s how our country was founded.”

Seventeen-year-old Kandrick Pacheco Fluker, a senior at Denver Center for International Studies, said he’d never walked out of school before Tuesday. But he said the current political climate left him with little choice but to use whatever power he has to fight back.

“Donald Trump isn’t a joke anymore,” Pacheco Fluker said.

“He’s scary, but we’re showing we aren’t scared.”

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.

saying goodbye

Here’s how the local and national education communities are responding to Boasberg’s exit

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As the news of Tom Boasberg’s departure ricocheted through the local and national education community, critics and champions of the Denver schools superintendent sounded off.

Here’s a roundup of comments from teachers, parents, school board members past and present, elected officials, and some of Boasberg’s colleagues.

Alicia Ventura, teacher

“I am shocked! I understand his decision as I have one (child) grown and out of the house and one in middle school. Time with our children is short and precious! I will always remember how fun and open-minded Tom was. He would do anything for children and truly lived the students first vision! We will miss you!”

Michael Hancock, Denver mayor and Denver Public Schools graduate

“I am saddened that DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will be stepping down but full of gratitude for his close partnership with the city on behalf of Denver’s kids and families. As a DPS graduate and a DPS parent, I know firsthand that Tom has led DPS with integrity and commitment. His focus on success for all kids has greatly improved our schools and provided better opportunities for all students to live their dreams.

“We have much work still to do in DPS, but we have an incredible foundation for moving forward and we are committed to continuing in partnership with the next DPS leader.”

Corey Kern, deputy executive director, Denver Classroom Teachers Association

“We were a little surprised by it ourselves. For us, we obviously wish Tom the best. The big focus for us is making sure the selection process for the next superintendent is something that is fair and transparent and open to the public; that it’s not a political appointment but talking to all stakeholders about who is the best person for the job for the students in Denver.”

Anne Rowe, president, Denver school board

“He has given … 10 years to this district as superintendent, and it is an enormous role, and he has given everything he has. … My reaction was, ‘I understand,’ gratitude, a little surprised but not shocked, certainly, and understand all the good reasons why he has made this decision.

“With change, there is always some uncertainty, and yet I look at the people here and their dedication to the kids in DPS and I have full confidence in these folks to continue driving forward while the board takes on the responsibility to select the next superintendent. We won’t miss a beat, and we have a lot of work to do for kids.”

Jeannie Kaplan, former school board member critical of the district’s direction

“I was very surprised. … I wish Tom well. I still do believe that working together is the way to get things done. I’m sorry we weren’t able to do that.

“My one hope would be that one of the primary criteria for the next leader of the district would be a belief in listening to the community – not just making the checkmark, but really listening to what communities want.”

John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor and former Denver mayor

“Tom Boasberg has invested a significant part of his life into transforming Denver Public Schools into one of the fastest-improving school districts in America. As a DPS parent, former mayor, and now governor, I am deeply grateful for the progress made under Tom’s leadership. I applaud Tom and Team DPS for driving the innovations that are creating a brighter future for tens of thousands of young people in every corner of the city.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who preceded Boasberg as Denver superintendent from 2005 to 2009 and has known him since childhood

“As a DPS parent, I thank him for his commitment, his compassion, and his extraordinary tenure. As Tom always says himself, we have a long way to go, but his transformational leadership has resulted in extraordinary progress over the past 10 years. Our student achievement has substantially increased, the number of teachers and other school personnel serving our children has grown tremendously, and the school choices available to children and their families have never been greater.”

Bennet also penned an op-ed in The Denver Post with this headline:

Ariel Taylor Smith, former Denver Public Schools teacher and co-founder of Transform Education Now, a nonprofit that focuses on improving schools through parent advocacy

“I was a teacher during Tom’s first half of his tenure at DPS and was amazed at how often he would walk the halls of North High School during our turnaround. Tom has dedicated 10 years to this work and for that I am grateful. I also believe that we have a long way to go to getting where we need to be. I believe that we are ready for new leadership who operates with the sense of urgency that we need to see in our city. There are 35,000 students who are attending ‘red’ and ‘orange’ (low-rated) schools in our city right now. One out of every three third-graders is reading on grade level. We need a new leader with a clear vision for the future and an evident sense of urgency to ensure that all our kids are receiving the education that they deserve.”

Brandon Pryor, parent and member Our Voice Our Schools, a group critical of the district

“You have a number of people he works with that are reformers. They think he’s leaving an awesome legacy and he did a lot to change and meet needs of the reformist community. You ask them and I’m sure his legacy will be great. But if you come to my community and ask some black folks what Tom Boasberg’s legacy will be, they’ll tell you something totally different.

“I think he has time with this last three months in office to follow through with some of the promises he’s made us (such as upgrades to the Montbello campus) to improve his situation.”

Jules Kelty, Denver parent

“He personally responded to an email that I sent him about my school. I appreciated that.”

Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado

“On the one hand, I’m not surprised. And on the other hand, I’m surprised.

“I’m not surprised because he’s had a track record of pretty remarkable service for a decade, which is amazing. Nobody else has done that. The district has improved pretty dramatically. He deserves a great deal of credit for that. …The surprise is that we’ve all become so used to him being the superintendent, it’s just a little weird (to think of him leaving).”

Lisa Escárcega, executive director, Colorado Association of School Executives

“Tom’s longstanding commitment and service to DPS have made a significant impact on the district. He is strongly focused on ensuring student equity, and the district has seen improvement in several areas over the last 10 years under his superintendency. Tom is a strong and innovative leader, and I know he will be missed by the DPS community and his colleagues.”

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education

“Under Tom Boasberg’s leadership for the past decade, Denver Public Schools has made remarkable academic progress and has become one of the most innovative school districts in the country. Tom has brought tremendous urgency and a deep commitment to closing both opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. For many school districts throughout the country, Denver’s innovative and collaborative approaches serve as a valuable model.”

Katy Anthes, state education commissioner

“I’ve appreciated working with Tom over the years and know that his personal commitment to students is incredibly strong. I thank Tom for his service to the students of DPS and Colorado.”

Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a national group of district and state superintendents 

“Tom Boasberg is an extraordinary leader who has dedicated his life to expanding opportunities for all of Denver’s children. During his tenure, the district has made remarkable gains on virtually every measure of progress. Denver Public Schools is a national model for innovation, district-charter collaboration, and teacher and school leader support. Every decision Tom has made over the course of his career has been focused on helping students succeed. No one is more respected by their peers. As a member of the Chiefs for Change board and in countless other ways Tom has supported education leaders across the nation. He leaves not just an impressive legacy but an organization of talented people committed to equity and excellence.”

David Osborne, author of the book “Reinventing America’s Schools,” which included chapters on Denver’s efforts

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