'Responsible discourse'

Opposing groups call for all sides to play nice in Denver schools superintendent search

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools headquarters.

Two groups that often disagree about the direction of the Denver school district have issued an unusual joint statement calling for “responsible discourse” in the selection of Denver’s next superintendent.

“In an age of hot-take vitriol, social media bullying, and fake news, we must do better here in Denver,” said the statement, which was signed by Henry Roman, president of the Denver teachers union, and Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado.

The statement did not identify any specific incident that crossed a line, but it quickly prompted a backlash on social media from community members who have been critical of the district.

One Denver parent and activist who is often on the same side as the union in disputes over district policy tweeted in response that the Denver Classroom Teachers Association needs to “get your house in order by any means necessary.”

“This is what betrayal of the working class looks like!” tweeted Hasira “H-Soul” Ashemu.

A group of teachers within the Denver union, called the Caucus of Today’s Teachers, that is focused on social justice also denounced the joint statement, saying Roman had “spoken well out of turn.”

“To the students, families and stakeholders of DPS, let us apologize for this undemocratic and oppressive mistake in our name,” the caucus said in a statement of its own. “We stand behind you, we stand with you, and will fight together.”

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced last month that he will step down in October after nearly 10 years at the helm. On Monday, the school board laid out a tight timeline for finding his replacement, but promised robust opportunities for public input.

The debate over who should lead Denver Public Schools has already become heated, in part because there is sharp disagreement over whether its strategies, such as closing struggling schools or collaborating with independent charter schools, are helping or hurting. Those who want the district to change course have been vocal in their demands about the next superintendent.

One parent, Brandon Pryor, posted a video Monday night on Facebook Live in which he walks up to Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova, a likely internal candidate, and tells her, “Before you go, I want to tell you to your face that we don’t want you as superintendent,” and “we are going to see to it that you don’t get that job.” On Wednesday, in response to the joint statement, Pryor posted again on Facebook, saying, “You will never silence us.”

Asked what prompted the joint statement, Schoales did not point to a specific incident.

“We’ve heard stuff on social media or seen people just being completely disrespectful and nasty in regard to who should lead the district and who shouldn’t lead the district,” he said.

“Regardless of where we may stand,” Schoales added, “most people would agree we need a process and a level of engagement that is high and respectful of everybody.”

Roman said the Denver Classroom Teachers Association felt the need to call for civility because of the “intense dialogue around the potential next superintendent,” which he said is heightened by the short timeline. The board intends to name finalists by Oct. 15.

“There are strong feelings,” Roman said. “It’s important to get civil dialogue.”

Schoales said the two groups working together to issue a statement was meant to catch people’s attention. “We each thought it would be thought-provoking and maybe interesting, or people might pay attention, if it was two groups like A Plus and DCTA that said this,” he said.

A Plus has supported many of the district’s school improvement strategies, including replacing low-performing schools with those deemed more likely to succeed. The union has not.

Read the entire statement below.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association and A+ Colorado join together to support respectful and open processes for choosing the next Denver Superintendent

This week, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education began its discussion around how the Board chooses the next superintendent. The opportunity to select a new superintendent should be a moment in our community to bring us together and create a dialogue for what is possible. We all must consider what it will take to ensure the success of every child in Denver. Early in the conversation, the Board identified the values of such a process: Students First, Inclusivity, Stewardship, All Voices, Deep Listening. These values should be embedded in our discourse in this critical time. The Board has an enormous responsibility over the next two and half months, a very quick timetable to: engage stakeholders, recruit talented applicants, vet these applicants, name finalists, and eventually select the person to lead our school system.

Our organizations have sometimes represented different sides of policy and practice regarding education in our city. Sometimes we have agreed and worked together. In this moment, we come together again to call for responsible discourse in this incredibly important moment in our community. In an age of hot-take vitriol, social media bullying, and fake news we must do better here in Denver. This does not mean that it won’t get passionate or we won’t disagree on key issues. We will not seek false agreement for the sake of getting along. What it does mean is that we must all be committed to the open, free, and fair exchange of ideas. We must be committed to the core values that the Denver Board proposed along with a process that would make our kids proud.

We ask that all organizations and individuals commit to a responsible public dialogue. We believe that we have a collective responsibility to steward our community and school system. We believe that we benefit when all voices are included and when we deeply listen to each other. We can put students first by modeling a conversation for the future of our kids that we can be proud of: a search for an amazing leader that can bring our community together, not tear it apart.

Henry Roman, DCTA President
Van Schoales, CEO A+ Colorado

election 2019

College student, former candidate jumps into Denver school board race – early

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Tay Anderson speaks to students at Denver's South High School in May 2017.

A Denver college student who as a teenager last year unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the district’s school board announced Wednesday that he plans to try again in 2019.

Tay Anderson, 20, said he will run next November for the board seat currently occupied by Happy Haynes. Haynes, a longtime Denver politician who is executive director of the city’s parks and recreation department, does not represent a particular region of the school district. Rather, she is one of two at-large members on the board. Haynes was first elected to the school board in 2011 and is barred by term limits from running again.

Haynes supports the direction of Denver Public Schools and some of its more aggressive improvement strategies, such as closing low-performing schools. Anderson does not.

He is the first candidate to declare he’s running for the Denver school board in 2019. Haynes’ seat is one of three seats that will be open in 2019. There is no school board election this year.

In 2017, Anderson ran in a heated three-way race for a different board seat representing northeast Denver. Former teacher Jennifer Bacon won that seat with 42 percent of the vote.

Anderson, a vocal critic of the district, campaigned on platform of change. He called for the district to improve what he described as weak community engagement efforts and to stop approving new charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run.

Bacon also questioned some of the district’s policies. The Denver teachers union endorsed her over Anderson, who raised the least amount of money of the three candidates. Bacon was one of two new board members elected in 2017 who represent a more critical perspective. The 2019 election is likely to involve many of the same debates over education reform.

Anderson is a graduate of Denver’s Manual High School. He is now a student at Metropolitan State University, where he is studying education. He said he also works at Hinkley High School in neighboring Aurora, helping with the school’s restorative justice program, a method of student discipline that focuses on repairing harm rather than doling out punishment.

Anderson posted his campaign announcement on Facebook. It says, in part:

After a lot of thought, prayer, and seeking guidance from mentors, I decided this is the path I need to pursue to fulfill my commitment to the students, teachers, and community of Denver. I learned many valuable lessons during my campaign in 2017 and I know that I need to prepare and ensure that I have the adequate time to be in every part of Denver to connect with as many voters as possible, which is why I am getting to work now!

My dedication to Denver Public Schools has always been deeply personal and this campaign is reflective of that. As I gear up for another campaign, I am once again driven and motivated by my grandmother, who was an educator for over 35 years. Her tenacity to never give up is what drives my passion for the students in Denver Public Schools. I am determined to follow in her footsteps. I have organized students around school safety and more importantly impacted students’ lives in Denver Public Schools and Aurora Public Schools. These students have a voice and I am prepared to fight for their agency in their education.

more back-and-forth

Eighteen legislators show support for TNReady pause as 11 superintendents say press on

Tennessee lawmakers listen to Gov. Bill Haslam deliver his 2016 State of the State address at the State Capitol in Nashville.

School leaders and now state lawmakers continue to pick sides in a growing debate over whether or not Tennessee should pause state testing for students.

Eighteen state legislators sent the superintendents of Nashville and Memphis a letter on Tuesday supporting a request for an indefinite pause of the state’s embattled test, TNReady.

“As members of the Tennessee General Assembly responsible for helping set policies and appropriate taxpayer funds for public education, we have been dismayed at the failed implementation of and wasted resources associated with a testing system that is universally considered — by any set of objective measures – to be a colossal failure,” said the letter, signed by legislators from Davidson and Shelby counties, where Nashville and Memphis are located.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat from Nashville, spearheaded the letter. Representatives Johnnie Turner, G.A. Hardaway, Barbara Cooper, Antonio Parkinson and Sen. Sara Kyle were among the signers representing Memphis.

Clemmons told Chalkbeat that he believes Tennessee should have a state test, but that it shouldn’t be TNReady.

“We are showing support for leaders who are representing students and teachers who are incredibly frustrated with a failing system,” Clemmons said. “We have to come up with a system that is reliable and fair.”

The lawmakers’ statement comes a day after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen responded to the Nashville and Memphis school leaders in a strongly worded letter, where she said that a pause on state testing would be “both illegal and inconsistent with our values as a state.”

The growing divide over a pause in TNReady testing further elevates it as an issue in the governor’s race, which will be decided on Nov. 6. Democratic nominee Karl Dean, who is the former mayor of Nashville, and Republican nominee Bill Lee, a businessman from Williamson County, have both said their respective administrations would review the state’s troubled testing program.

“We are hopeful that the next governor will appoint a new Commissioner of Education and immediately embark on a collaborative effort with local school districts to scrap the failed TNready system,” the 18 state lawmakers said in their statement.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Director Shawn Joseph launched the back-and-forth with an Aug. 3 letter they said was sent to outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam and McQueen declaring “no confidence” in the troubled state test. McQueen’s office said Tuesday that neither her office nor the governor’s office had yet received the letter.

However, a spokeswoman for Nashville public schools told Chalkbeat on Monday that the Aug. 3 letter was sent to Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Fiveash, who reports to McQueen. While some legislators backed the two superintendents, 11 district leaders from around the state released an email statement on Tuesday supporting state testing. Superintendents from Maryville, Alcoa, Sevier, Johnson, Dyersburg, Loudon, Clinton, Marshall, McKenzie, Trousdale, and Lenoir signed the statement, which they said was also sent to McQueen.

“Test items and question types are directly linked to the standards and are pushing students to deeper critical thinking,” the email said. “The comprehensive accountability model holds schools and districts accountable for improved student performance…. Challenges remain, but together we must be positive as we continue the work.”

The state has struggled to administer TNReady cleanly since its failed online rollout in 2016, prompting McQueen to cancel most testing that year and fire its testing company. Except for scattered scoring problems, the next year went better under new vendor Questar and mostly paper-and-pencil testing materials.

But this spring, the return to computerized exams for older students was fraught with disruptions and spurred the Legislature to order that the results not be used against students or teachers.

For the upcoming school year, the state has hired an additional testing company, and McQueen has slowed the switch to computerized exams. The state Department of Education has recruited 37 teachers and testing coordinators to become TNReady ambassadors, tasked with offering on-the-ground feedback and advice to the state and its vendors to improve the testing experience.

Read both the state lawmakers’ letter and the superintendents’ statement below:

Signers are: John Ray Clemmons, Bo Mitchell, Sherry Jones, Dwayne Thompson, Brenda Gilmore, Darren Jernigan, Antonio Parkinson, Jason Powell, Bill Beck, Mike Stewart, Barbara Ward Cooper, Larry Miller, G.A. Hardaway,  Karen D. Camper, Harold Love,  Johnnie Turner, Sara Kyle, and Joe Towns.

August 14, 2018
District leaders across Tennessee understand and validate the disappointment and frustration our teachers, students, and parents felt with the glitches and errors faced during the spring’s administration of the TNReady student assessment. It was unacceptable. However, it is important that we, as leaders, step up to say that now is the time to press on and continue the important work of improving the overall education for all Tennessee students.  
We are optimistic about where we are heading in education – ultimately more students will graduate prepared for the next steps in their lives. The foundation is solid with (1) rigorous standards, (2) aligned assessments, and (3) an accountability model that focuses on student achievement and growth.  We are now expecting as much or more out of our students as any state in the nation. Test items and question types are directly linked to the standards and are pushing students to deeper critical thinking. The comprehensive accountability model holds schools and districts accountable for improved student performance across all subgroups.  Challenges remain, but together we must be positive as we continue the work.
Our students have made strong and steady gains in achievement and growth over the past few years, earning recognition at a national level. Our students now have the opportunity to be more fully prepared and competitive to enter college and the workforce. This is not the time to press the pause button. Even with the improvements in student performance, there is much work to do. Achievement gaps for subgroups are too large and not enough students are graduating “Ready” for the next step.
We must hold the course on rigorous standards, aligned assessments, and an accountability system focused on student achievement and growth. We, the directors of Tennessee schools, believe this rigor and accountability will impact all students. We embrace the priorities outlined in Tennessee Succeeds with a focus on foundational literacy and pathways to postsecondary success. Tennessee students have already demonstrated a determination to reach the mastery of rigorous state standards and will rise to the newly established expectations. We have work to do, and we should keep the focus on instruction and closing the gaps to ensure every student in Tennessee is ready for their future. We want to send a message of confidence and determination, a relentless ambition to reach our goals. We must step up and hold the line. We cannot expect anything less than excellence. Our students deserve it. 
Mike Winstead, Maryville City Schools
Brian Bell, Alcoa City Schools
Jack Parton, Sevier County Schools
Steve Barnett, Johnson City Schools
Neel Durbin, Dyersburg City Schools
Jason Vance, Loudon County Schools
Kelly Johnson, Clinton City Schools
Jacob Sorrells, Marshall County Schools
Lynn Watkins, McKenzie Special School District
Clint Satterfield, Trousdale County Schools
Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City Schools