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DPS board bids Easley farewell

To Happy Haynes, he is a person who never thinks of himself as “special” (despite having pulled himself up by his bootstraps and earned a Ph.D.), and yet he has become a role model for Denver students.

File photo of Denver school board president Nate Easley
File photo of Denver school board member Nate Easley

To Andrea Merida, he is someone with whom she shares a common background – both minorities who grew up in proud, hard-working Denver families, graduated from Denver high schools in 1983 (him Montbello; her Lincoln) and started their own families at a young age but still managed to make their marks in the world.

To Mary Seawell, he is a mentor and friend who taught her to be tough – but not lose heart.

To Superintendent Tom Boasberg he is a man with a great – and sometimes “salty” – sense of humor with an unwavering commitment to Denver’s students even as he faced critics who tried to unseat him through a recall effort.

But wait, Nate Easley is still here – and accessible by cell phone. He just won’t be serving on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education anymore. He attended his last board meeting Thursday, where he was celebrated and roasted by board colleagues and the superintendent.

“It’s almost like I’m hearing my eulogy but I’m still around,” Easley joked.

Easley, who represented Northeast Denver, recently announced his resignation citing increased time commitments and concern over the appearance of a conflict of interest as he takes over the helm of the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

After the compliments, the board also discussed plans to replace him. Under state law, the board has 60 days to fill the vacancy. If the six remaining board members can’t agree on a replacement, board President Mary Seawell can appoint a new member.

The deadline to apply is Friday, Jan. 25.

Forum in works for those interested in Easley’s seat

Board member Arturo Jimenez proposed that a forum be held so that people interested in the seat can toss in their names, make pitches to the community and the board can hear more about what that part of the city wants in a board member. The board did not come to a final decision on how to gather community input.

In some quarters, there is lingering resentment over Easley’s support of the sweeping turnaround plan for schools in the Far Northeast. While some key academic indicators are now pointing in the right direction, there is still some feeling that the community was shut out of that process.

Far Northeast resident Earleen Brown said the fairest thing the board could do would be to ask runner-ups from the 2009 election if they’re interested in the post. While Easley won 33.8 percent of the vote; the second runner-up, Vernon Jones, won 28.2 percent, she said.

“Names of people whom individuals, groups and organizations want to replace Nate, have surfaced like ants at a picnic,” Brown told the board. “The potential for even a perception of unfairness, personal influence, favoritism, personal bias and partiality is strong. However, it is avoidable with my recommendation.”

The board did not discuss Brown’s proposal, opting instead to debate the merits of holding a board candidate forum.

Seawell said board members have received many calls and emails from interested applicants. One name that has surfaced frequently is that of Landri Taylor, president and CEO of the Denver Urban League and former member of the RTD board. When contacted recently by EdNews Colorado, Taylor, who was a key player in the Far Northeast turnaround, said he was definitely interested.

Board member Jeannie Kaplan said the Colorado Black Round Table specifically requested that the board be open and transparent in in its process and seek community input. “I think people interested enough to apply have a right to be heard.”

“That could be 100 people,” Seawell responded.

Haynes, though, said the board doesn’t have to interview 100 people – just get input on the selection process or potential candidates.

“Send me your ideas and I’ll do my best to create something that works,” Seawell said. “I would ask that we all be willing to give a little to make this work. The best thing to do is to make the best decision that is unanimous in February. That is my hope and my goal.”

Brown, though, had little faith in the idea of a forum.

“It will be very complicated and messy,” she said. “Ultimately the electors in the district will not have a voice in the final decision.”

The person named to replace Easley will have to run in next fall’s board election. Merida and Seawell have said they are running for reelection. Kaplan is leaving the board because of term limits.

Board celebrates Easley’s contributions

The Easley lovefest came at the start of Thursday’s meeting.

Haynes she will especially miss the way Easley gets into a thoughtful pose, taking in and pondering lots of information before offering his “thoughts and insights in a measured and thoughtful way.”

Merida acknowledged that she disagrees with Easley’s vision of school reform, but that she has a lot of respect for him.

“It’s no secret you and I have different philosophies on what education reform looks like,” Merida said. “Having lived the life you did, having had the experiences you had, your intentions are well-grounded. I think you are very concerned about the future of all of our kids in DPS.”

Easley, in turn, roasted and toasted all of his colleagues – and the superintendent, with whom he has developed a close relationship, as evidenced by Easley’s knowledge of Boasberg’s ability to dance “like John Travolta” when disco music comes on.

Only Jimenez didn’t jump on the love train.

He pointedly asked Easley to use his influence to open up scholarships offered by the Denver Scholarship Foundation to undocumented students. His request came at the same meeting the board voted unanimously to put their support behind ASSET legislation, which would allow undocumented students to pay resident tuition at public Colorado colleges and universities.

Board agrees to busing changes at Hamilton

In other business, the board voted 5-2 for a district plan to phase out transportation for students who attend the International Preparatory Magnet program at Hamilton Middle School. District staff indicated that no other magnet school offers transportation. Kaplan and Merida voted against the change.

Board member Anne Rowe said parents choose the program “because it is the right fit for their children.”

“I believe they will continue to stay in this program,” Rowe said.

Kaplan, though, said the district needs to decide if it was a choice district or not.

“I am horrified by the thought that people who actually can choose are being denied a chance to bus to their school,” she said. “We talk about choice, but choice really only means if people have a means to get there. … If we really are a choice district, we need to give choice to everybody.”

The board also voted in favor of innovation status, which releases a school from certain district rules and policies, for Compassion Road Academy, Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High and DCIS at Fairmont. Jimenez raised questions about staff involvement in the turnaround plans.

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