educators of color

Denver’s newest group of teachers is its most diverse ever

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Ashley Elementary School third-grade teacher Tyrone Johnson works with his students in this 2011 photo.

Thirty percent of the nearly 750 new teachers who will join the Denver school district this fall are teachers of color, making this year’s class of recruits the most diverse in recent history.

Hiring more teachers of color has long been a goal for the urban district, where 76 percent of the 92,000 students last year were students of color but 73 percent of teachers were white.

The district’s newest hires bring that percentage down to 71.7 percent, district data shows. The change is slight, but it represents progress for a district that last year did not move the needle on the percentage of teachers of color, despite significant efforts to recruit diverse candidates.

Paige Harris is one of the 736 new teachers hired thus far by Denver Public Schools to teach in 2018-19 (the district is still filling some open positions), and one of 222 new teachers of color. She moved from California to take a job as a third-grade teacher at the Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment, an elementary school that serves many refugee students.

A Google search led Harris to Denver. She said it was important to her to work for a district that honors diversity, and when she came across a joint statement from the superintendent and the mayor welcoming refugee students to the district, “I knew I wanted to teach here.”

“I never had a teacher who looked like me,” said Harris, who is black. “It’s so important to see people of color in leadership roles. … That’s so powerful. That’s going to change the city.”

Research shows students of color benefit when they’re taught by teachers who share the same background. A recent study found black students from low-income families who have even one black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate high school.

District officials celebrated the diversity of the new hires Monday at a welcome event for teachers new to Denver Public Schools. About a third of the new teachers are brand-new to teaching and about two-thirds are experienced educators, officials said.

Of the 222 new teachers of color, 143 are Hispanic, 28 are black, 25 identify as two or more races, 21 are Asian, and 5 are Native American, according to district data.

“You all, this class of new teachers, is the most diverse class of new teachers ever in the Denver Public Schools,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg told a downtown theater filled with new teachers. “We worked very, very hard to recruit both nationally and grow our own folks locally.”

The district has used a variety of strategies to diversify its teacher workforce, including making recruiting trips to colleges and universities across the country that graduate high numbers of teachers of color, and launching a program that pays for teacher’s aides, most of whom are people of color, to earn a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license.

This year, district officials said recruiters made personal contact with prospective candidates earlier than ever before. The district also honed its messaging around why Denver Public Schools would be a great place to work, they said, including that Denver teachers get “deep professional support” through a program that has standout teachers coach their peers.

“The team personally engaged with candidates to help them realize what their potential and impact could be,” said Katie Clymer, the district’s director of talent acquisition.

The city of Denver has also taken an interest in recruiting more black and Latino teachers. A joint effort between Denver Public Schools and the city, called Make Your Mark, has resulted in a website that offers testimonials from current teachers of color, as well as information about living in Denver. Interested educators can upload their resumes right to the site.

“Teachers are one of the very few professionals who actually touch eternity,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a Denver Public Schools graduate, told the teachers assembled in the theater Monday. “If I asked you to tell me about your first-grade teacher, I bet you could do it.”

Joseph Rojas Cascante is another of the district’s new teachers. He is from Costa Rica and will soon begin a job teaching English language learners at Kepner Beacon Middle School.

Rojas Cascante said that in his home country, he was simply seen as a teacher. Here in the United States, he said, he’s viewed as a teacher of color. He said he wants to represent the Hispanic community and serve as a role model, especially for young Hispanic boys.

“I want to lead by example,” Rojas Cascante said.

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. 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. 

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. However, neither side is required to take the full time, state labor officials said. That means this could all play out before the end of the week, clearing the way for a strike, or drag into February.

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 declined to 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.