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Wednesday churn: Easley recall approved

Updated – A petition to recall Denver Public Schools board president Nate Easley has been accepted by the city’s elections division. Here’s the letter.

John McBride, who sought an at-large seat on the DPS board in 2007 but lost to Theresa Peña, filed the petition. His original petition effort was rejected Friday but McBride resubmitted the documents on Monday and elections officials approved them today.

Under the law, McBride now has 60 days to gather 5,363 signatures – an amount equal to 40 percent of the votes cast in the last election for the board seat representing Far Northeast Denver.

According to the statement submitted with the petition, the recall is being sought because of Easley’s position as deputy director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, the non-profit which helps DPS graduates pay for college.

“As a board member, Dr. Easley supervises the DPS superintendent, who is also a member of the foundation’s leadership team, thereby having direct influence over Dr. Easley’s employment status.

“As a result of this conflict of interest, Dr. Easley has voted for policies that are not reflective of his constituents’ interests, closing schools, supporting an atmosphere of distrust among District employees and failing to provide sound fiscal oversight of DPS monies.”

Easley questioned the timing of the recall effort since his position at the foundation has not changed since he was elected. He said he was threatened with a recall effort by McBride, and other members of the group DeFENSE or Democrats for Excellent Neighborhood School Education, if he did not vote in November against a reform plan for schools in Far Northeast Denver.

“My question is, where does that stop?” Easley said. “If I were to say, OK, I’ll do what you want me to do, vote the way you want me to vote, what would be next? Would those things have anything to do with student achievement?

“I believe all students can learn and if we’re not getting the outstanding results that we need from schools … we need to continue to make adjustments in our strategy.”

The recall effort already has sparked plenty of debate, with the Denver Post calling it “a joke” in an editorial and DeFENSE members rallying behind it on their website.

Dana Smith, communications manager for the scholarship foundation, said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg is an ex-officio member of the foundation’s board, meaning “he is welcome to come to the meetings but he doesn’t vote at the meetings.”

Smith said the foundation board hires one employee, executive director Cindy Abramson, and that Abramson is then responsible for hiring, evaluating and deciding compensation for those who work for her. Abramson hired Easley.

More than a year ago, Smith said, the foundation consulted a DPS attorney and an outside attorney on the potential for conflict of interest if Easley were elected. She said both attorneys agreed as long as Easley recused himself from any DPS board votes related to any type of resources for the foundation, “there wouldn’t be any conflict on interest between the two roles.”

Henry Roman, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union will not take a public stance on the recall or help finance the effort. Easley was supported by the union in his election bid but has since voted in support of initiatives that the teachers’ association opposed, including the reform plan in Far Northeast Denver.

“We respect the democratic process,” Roman said, and will let the recall effort play out without the union’s involvement.

What’s churning:

President Obama highlighted a Denver school, Bruce Randolph 6-12, as an example of “what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate” in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Randolph was on the brink of state closure in 2004-05 when Kristin Waters, then the principal of one of Denver’s highest-performing middle schools, and her teacher Chrisanne LaHue created a reform plan. Former Superintendent Jerry Wartgow approved the proposal, gave Waters the ability to hand-pick her staff and implementation began in fall 2005.

That spring, at the end of a year that some teachers called the toughest of their careers, an eighth-grader named Deidra Ward thanked Waters “for showing DPS families and communities that we are smart and we can make it.”

Test scores did not rise quickly at Randolph and, while the school has received national attention before, in the form of a visit from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, some say they’re still not exemplary. In the spring of 2005, 7 percent of students at the former Bruce Randolph Middle School were proficient on state math exams and 11 percent were proficient on reading tests. In spring 2010, 17 percent of students at the combined middle and high school were proficient or advanced in math and 32 percent were proficient in reading.

Still, staff at the school – which had one of the district’s highest percentages of unionized teachers – has led the way in various reform efforts, from piloting the ProComp teacher pay plan to voting to become Denver’s first autonomous school, with more freedom in budgeting, hiring and instruction. And last May, 97 percent of the new Bruce Randolph’s first class of seniors graduated.

“Most will be the first in their families to go to college,” the president said in Tuesday night’s address. “That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.”

Read the portion of Obama’s speech dealing with K-12 and higher education. And National Public Radio reporter Claudio Sanchez offered this take on Obama’s speech related to education and the Republican reply at www.npr.org.

The latest (in this case, 2009) National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores are in, and Colorado 4th and 8th graders scored a bit better than the national average.

In 4th grade, 39 percent of participating Colorado students scored proficient or above compared with 32 percent nationally. In 8th grade, 36 percent of participating Colorado students scored proficient or above compared to 29 percent nationally. Colorado performed higher than 24 states in grade four and 22 states in grade eight. Science test scores also were released.

The NAEP program, invariably referred to as “the nation’s report card,” periodically tests representative samples of students in every state in a variety of subject areas. CDE release, with links to more information.

What’s on tap:

State Board of Education members and execs from the Department of Education gather this morning for their annual meet-and-greet and grilling from the House and Senate education committees. The annual “oversight” hearing will be in room 0112 of the Capitol basement, starting whenever floor work wraps up in the morning.

The Capital Construction Assistance Board, which administers the BEST program, meets starting at 1:30 p.m. in room 101 at the Department of Education, 201 E. Colfax Ave. Agenda

The Mesa State College trustees meet Wednesday, starting at 2 p.m., and Thursday at the Magnolia Hotel, 818 17th St. in Denver. Agenda

Good reads from elsewhere:

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