star treatment

Meet the Cherry Creek science teacher who won a major award — and a $25,000 check

Grandview High School science teacher Lisa Rodgers, being hugged by fellow teachers, is stunned to find out that she is the winner of the 2017-2018 Milken Educator Award at Grandview High School on October 31, 2017. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

A Cherry Creek teacher on Tuesday was surprised with a unique award — one that comes with a $25,000, no-strings-attached check.

When Lisa Rodgers heard her name called Tuesday at an all-school assembly in the gym, she said other school staff next to her had to push her out of her chair.

“I thought, I haven’t applied for anything, so why would it be me?” Rodgers said.

Teachers can’t apply for the Milken Educator Award. Teachers are identified through a confidential process. Then a state-appointed panel reviews those who show “student learning results in the classroom and school” and consider that and other factors. The Milken Family Foundation —  founded by the Milken brothers, who had a role in creating the junk-bond market in the 1980s — gives final approval.

Last year, two Colorado teachers received the award, including an elementary teacher in Aurora Public Schools. This year, Rodgers is the sole recipient in the state.

Grandview has almost 2,700 students, about 42 percent of whom are students of color. The school performs above state averages on state tests, graduation rates and other measures.

Rodgers wasn’t planning on becoming a teacher. She said she decided instead to pursue a career working with wildlife, but soon after ended up at Grandview High School attracted by a teaching position for a wildlife course. The course no longer exists, but Rodgers, now in her 13th year of teaching high schoolers science, said she can’t imagine doing anything else.

Lowell Milken, president of the Milken Family Foundation, said at the assembly that society does little to honor or recognize the good work teachers do.

“That never made any sense to me,” he said.

Rodgers will join a team of teachers, all recipients of the same award, in getting access to extra teacher training and resources to help her become an even better teacher.

Rodgers said she was excited, but needed time to process the news, and to research the foundation and the award.

Principal Lisa Sprague said Rodgers stands out because despite the large high school, Rodgers makes time to help all her students as well as her fellow teachers.

Courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation

“She’s truly concerned about every kid,” Sprague said. “She knows every one of her students.”

Walking through the hallways after the award announcement, several students congratulated Rodgers.

Students described Rodgers as a helpful teacher because she guides them when they were stuck on their work.

“What I think is special about my classroom is I try to balance accountability and opportunity,” Rodgers said. “There’s nothing free. You’re going to have to earn it, but I am going to support and love you all the way.”

holding pattern

The Denver district asked for state intervention in a pending teacher strike. Here’s what that means.

PHOTO: Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat
Office of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

After meeting with Gov. Jared Polis for roughly an hour Wednesday morning, Denver Public Schools officials formally requested state intervention in a potential teacher strike.

The request is not a surprise — Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova said she would ask for state intervention almost immediately after the Denver teachers union on Jan. 8 filed its notice of intent to strike — and it does not necessarily mean the strike won’t go forward. It could, however, delay it.

Without state intervention, a Denver strike could start as soon as Monday.

However, no action can occur while a decision is pending. By law, the teachers union has 10 days to respond to the district’s request for intervention, and the department then has 14 days to make a decision. That could all play out before the end of the week or drag into February.

Now that the district has filed its request, teachers cannot legally strike until a decision about intervention is made. That potentially provides time for more negotiations to occur.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association members voted overwhelmingly to go on strike after months of negotiations over teacher pay and the structure of ProComp, a system that provides bonuses and incentives to teachers on top of base pay, ended without an agreement.

The two sides are about $8 million apart and also disagree strongly about how much money should go toward incentives for teachers at high-poverty schools. The union wants more money to go toward base pay, while the districts sees the incentives as an important tool in attracting and keeping teachers at more challenging schools.

Typically, the Department of Labor and Employment only intervenes when both sides request it. However, the head of the department, who is appointed by the governor, can intervene if they believe it is in the public interest. The state cannot impose an agreement on the two sides, but it can provide mediation, conduct fact-finding, or hold hearings to try to bring the two parties together.

During the intervention period, which can last as long as 180 days, teachers and special service providers, like nurses, counselors, and school psychologists, also could not legally strike.

Denver Public Schools and the teachers union already have been working with a mediator for months. In the Pueblo teachers strike in May, the state declined to intervene because the two sides had already used mediation and fact-finding. 

“The governor is being thoughtful about the appropriate role he can take in helping settle this,” Cordova said as she left her meeting with the governor at midday.

Shortly afterward, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor and Employment confirmed that Denver Public Schools had filed a request for intervention with the department.

Representatives of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association could not immediately be reached for comment. They are also scheduled to meet with the governor Wednesday.

“This is his effort to hear from both sides, to give both of us a chance to explain why we’ve created our proposals the way we have, and think about next steps,” Cordova said.

Cordova said she believes an outside party can help make progress where the two sides could not.

“There is deep mistrust on the part of our teachers,” she said. “Being in a place where we all feel confident we understand the facts would be really helpful.”

This morning, Denver Public Schools parents received an automated message from Cordova assuring them that school will continue as usual this week.

District officials are asking parents to make sure their contact information and any student medication records are up to date in the Parent Portal as they expect to use substitute teachers and redeployed central office staff — people who will not know students and their families the way classroom teachers do — to keep schools operating.

silver screen

United Federation of Teachers drops more than $1 million on new ad campaign

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/UFT
In a new ad released by The United Federation of Teachers, a teacher crouches at a student's desk and smiles.

Amid a wave of teacher activism nationwide and major threats to the influence of unions, the United Federation of Teachers is expected to spend more than $1 million on a primetime television and streaming ad featuring local educators.

The 30-second spot hit the airwaves on Jan. 23 and will run through Feb. 1, with an expected audience of 11 million television viewers and 4 million impressions online, according to the union.

Featuring a chorus of singing students, bright classrooms, and a glamour shot of the city, the ad is called “Voice.” A diverse group of teachers declares: “Having a voice makes us strong. And makes our public schools even stronger.” It ends with the message, “The United Federation of Teachers. Public school proud.”

The union, the largest local in the country, typically runs ads this time of year, as the legislative session in Albany heats up and city budget negotiations kick-off. But this time, the campaign launches against the backdrop of an emboldened teaching force across the country, with a teacher strike in Los Angeles and another potentially starting next week in Denver.

UFT is also eager to prove its worth after the recent Janus Supreme Court ruling, which could devastate membership by banning mandatory fees to help pay for collective bargaining. So far, membership has remained strong but the union could face headwinds from organized right-to-work groups and the sheer number of new hires that come into the New York City school system every year.

The ad will run locally during programs including “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Good Morning America,” on networks such as MSNBC and CNN, and on the streaming service Hulu. You can watch the ad here.