A Denver teacher who wants to reduce educator turnover and opposes school closures has entered the race for an at-large seat on the Denver school board.
Anna DeWitt teaches French at North High School. She is running for the school board seat currently held by Happy Haynes, who is barred by term limits from running again.
DeWitt faces two challengers: Alexis Menocal Harrigan, who grew up in Denver and worked for Denver Public Schools, and Tay Anderson, who is a restorative practices coordinator at the same high school where DeWitt works. Anderson ran unsuccessfully for a different school board seat in 2017.
Insofar as there are sides in Denver school board politics, DeWitt and Anderson are on the same one. Both hope to “flip the board” in the November election and change the direction of Denver Public Schools.
DeWitt touts her perspective as a teacher who has experienced firsthand the downsides of district policies, such as the conflict that arises when two schools share the same building. District employees are not allowed to serve on the board, but DeWitt is prepared to leave her job to accept the unpaid board seat. If elected, she would join three other former teachers on the seven-member board, giving those who’ve worked in a classroom a majority on the board.
“As I’ve talked to other candidates for school board, it has become evident to me that it is absolutely critical to have someone on the board who has that experience in the classroom to truly understand the problems and the solutions,” DeWitt said.
She added that she’s running “for something,” and not “against someone.”
DeWitt has been a teacher for nine years and worked in Denver Public Schools for five. One of the biggest crises facing the district, she said, is teacher turnover. District statistics show a 14 percent teacher turnover rate from last school year to this one.
DeWitt believes the higher teacher pay and new salary structure negotiated during the strike will alleviate some of the problem. But she thinks the district can do more. She said she would push to raise the salary of every Denver teacher by $5,000, which she said would take up only a small slice of the district’s billion-dollar budget.
DeWitt participated in the three-day teacher strike in February. At one point, she said, “I realized I was essentially on the street begging for money, and that’s what my profession had been degraded to.” However, she said the strike wasn’t all bad: The camaraderie she felt with her fellow educators was inspirational and the support from the community was heartwarming.
Part of the reason she decided to run for school board was the frustration she said she felt when she attended bargaining sessions between the union and district officials, who she said seemed to have “little understanding” of what it was like to be in a classroom.
DeWitt also had a disappointing experience with the Denver City Council, in which she lost a fight to bring more-affordable housing to the neighborhood where she lives. That, plus what she saw at the bargaining sessions, inspired her to become involved in politics, she said.
“It made me realize I can be active, I can meet, I can teach, I can educate, but in the end, it’s up to these people to make these decisions,” DeWitt said of elected officials.
DeWitt said she’d use her platform as a school board member to push city officials to build more affordable housing to benefit both students and teachers, many of whom can’t afford to live where they work.
She said she opposes closing low-performing district-run schools, which she believes should be given resources rather than punished, and thinks independent charter schools would be unnecessary if district-run schools were given the same freedom to be innovative.
If elected, DeWitt said she’d advocate for revising the district’s school rating system to incentivize hiring more psychologists and social workers, and de-incentivize preparing students to take standardized tests. Test scores are a big part of current ratings. She also believes the district should put solar panels on every school and adopt a curriculum about climate change, which she describes on her website as “the biggest issue our students will face in their lifetimes.”
In all, three seats on the seven-member school board are up for grabs in November. The other two represent specific regions of the city instead of the city at-large.
Candidates must file at least 67 days before the election. No incumbents are running.
Thus far, four candidates are vying for the southeast Denver seat held by Board President Anne Rowe, who is barred by term limits from running again. Three candidates are competing for the seat to represent northwest Denver currently held by Lisa Flores, who is not running for re-election.